Ticking Closer to Nuclear Midnight

Exclusive: President Obama embraced Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima bomb, but his policies, such as heightening tensions with Russia, have raised the potential for a far worse nuclear catastrophe, explains Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Even if you’ve never won an office raffle, a sports pool or a lottery, consider yourself supremely lucky. Unlike the atomic bomb victims who were recognized by President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, you’ve never experienced the horrors of nuclear war.

That’s nothing any of us should take for granted, says former Defense Secretary William Perry. On at least three occasions, he noted recently, the U.S. military received false alarms of a Soviet nuclear attack. At least twice the Soviet military went on high alert from similar alarms. And anyone who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 survived “as much by good luck as by good management,” he added.

The consequences of an accidental nuclear war would be staggering. Thousands of U.S. and Russian warheads, some of them orders of magnitude larger than the one that wiped out Hiroshima, are primed for launch on warning. Besides wiping out tens or hundreds of millions of people in urban centers, they would put a large fraction of the world’s population at risk from starvation.

A 2013 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility concluded that even a limited regional nuclear exchange — say between India and Pakistan — could “cause significant climate disruption worldwide” and jeopardize food supplies to as many as two billion people.

Many authorities believe the threat of accidental war is even greater today than during most of the Cold War. Last year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its famous Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, its “direst setting” since the nuke-rattling days of the early Reagan era.

The group cited continued bluster and brinkmanship between NATO and Russia, including the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey, as indicators of today’s risky nuclear environment.

Getting Lucky

National security experts and reporters such as Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control (2014), have compiled long lists of nuclear accidents and near-misses, some of which might have cost millions of lives but for a few quick-thinking heroes. Here’s a small sample:

–In 1958, a B-47 dropped a 30 kiloton Mark 6 atomic bomb into a family’s backyard in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. Its high-explosive trigger blasted the home and left a 35-foot crater. A few months later, another B-47 dropped a Mark 39 hydrogen bomb near Abilene, again setting off its high explosives but not a nuclear blast.

–In 1961, a B-52 exploded over North Carolina, dropping two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs. One of them nearly detonated after five of its six safety devices failed. The Air Force never did recover the uranium trigger.

–In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Soviet submarine thought it was under attack from U.S. warships, which were practicing dropping depth charges in the Sargasso Sea. The submarine commander ordered a launch of nuclear missiles, but was persuaded to stop by his second-in-command.

Other near misses during that mother of all nuclear crises in 1962 included a reckless U.S. spy plane over-flight of Siberia, the explosion of a Soviet satellite that U.S. authorities interpreted as the start of a Soviet missile attack, American test launches of two nuclear-capable ICBMs, and a screw-up at a Minuteman site that allowed a single operator to launch a fully armed missile.

–In 1966, a B-52 bomber collided with a refueling tanker over Palomares, Spain and broke apart, dropping its four hydrogen bombs. Two of them partially detonated, contaminating a wide region with radiation.

–Two years later, a B-52 crashed in Greenland, losing three hydrogen bombs and contaminating nearly a quarter million cubic feet of ice and snow.

–In 1979, a technician mistakenly confused NORAD’s computers with a war games simulation, triggering signals of a Soviet nuclear launch. The Strategic Air Command scrambled its bombers before learning of the false alarm.

–A year later, a defective computer chip prompted the Pentagon to waken President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser with reports of a massive launch of Soviet missiles from submarines and land-based silos.

–In 1985, a glint of sunlight confused a Soviet early-warning satellite, which reported that the United States had launched five intercontinental ballistic missiles. Fortunately, the watch commander risked his career by not reporting the alarm, saving the day.

–In 1995, Russia’s early-warning system confused a small Norwegian weather rocket with an incoming U.S. Trident missile. The Russian military went on high alert, notifying President Boris Yeltsin and preparing a possible counter-attack before recognizing the mistake.

Tensions Reduce the Odds

As MIT nuclear expert Theodore Postol noted last year, “Had the false alert of 1995 occurred instead during a political crisis, Russian nuclear forces might have been launched. American early warning systems would have immediately detected the launch, and this might then have led to the immediate launch of US forces in response to the Russian launch.”

Recent years have brought us accounts of missing nuclear missiles, drug use by Minuteman missile crews, shocking security breaches, crew commanders falling asleep, computer failures, a silo fire that went undetected by smoke alarms, and much more.

And just this week we were reminded by the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon’s “Strategic Automated Command and Control System” uses 8-inch floppy disks and 1970s-vintage computers.

The Pentagon insisted in 2014 that the system “is extremely safe and extremely secure” — after all, how many hackers know how to operate such ancient technology? — but Princeton University’s Bruce Blair, a former Air Force ICBM launch-control officer, said this week, “The floppy disks are associated with a nuclear-communications system that was unreliable even when the system was upgraded in the 1970s.”

No doubt the odds of any one of these accidents triggering a war or mass catastrophe were low. But odds increase with the number of incidents. If the probability of a disaster from one incident is only one in 100, the odds of ruin from 20 such incidents rise to nearly one in five. Those are not comforting numbers.

That’s why it’s critical that the United States and Russia get serious about promoting world security by eliminating first-use and “launch on warning” policies that heighten the risk of accidental wars. They must also sharply reduce the size of nuclear arsenals that are difficult to track, safeguard and maintain.

Instead, President Obama has embarked on a trillion dollar program of nuclear modernization and a dangerous policy of confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe. (Russia is not blameless in these matters, of course.) Such policies are, in turn, prompting China’s military to pursue a nuclear expansion program of its own — including a dangerous shift to hair-trigger alerts and a launch-on-warning policy.

Former Defense Secretary Perry warns that all of this is putting the world “on the brink of a new nuclear arms race.” That’s not what we expected from the President who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his call to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. Let’s hope Obama’s visit to Hiroshima rekindles his commitment to helping create a safer world.

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.” ]




Eerie Silence about a New World War

As the U.S. government plunges toward war with nuclear-armed Russia and/or China, there is an unsettling silence — or unnerving consensus — regarding the potential extinction of human existence, as John Pilger observes.

By John Pilger

Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention. The great counter revolution had begun.

The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King Jr., had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places.

“We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.” So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie.

The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a Marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, “Which side did you fight on?”

A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called “The Price of Freedom” at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa’s grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved “a million lives”; Iraq was “liberated [by] air strikes of unprecedented precision.” The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom.

No Debate about Endless War

The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened. … Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter.”

Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Take Obama. As he prepares to leave office, the fawning has begun all over again. He is “cool.” One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers – truth-tellers – than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried. Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone.

In 2009, Obama promised to help “rid the world of nuclear weapons” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama. He is “modernizing” America’s doomsday arsenal, including a new “mini” nuclear weapon whose size and “smart” technology, says a leading general, ensure its use is “no longer unthinkable.”

James Bradley, the best-selling author of Flags of Our Fathers and son of one of the U.S. Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, said, “[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”

Obama’s Legacy

On Obama’s watch, a second Cold War is under way. The Russian president is a pantomime villain; the Chinese are not yet back to their sinister pig-tailed caricature – when all Chinese were banned from the United States – but the media warriors are working on it.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has mentioned any of this. There is no risk and no danger for the United States and all of us. For them, the greatest military build-up on the borders of Russia since World War Two has not happened. On May 11, Romania went “live” with a NATO “missile defense” base that strengthens the ability of first-strike American missiles to strike at the heart of Russia, the world’s second nuclear power.

In Asia, the Pentagon is sending ships, planes and special forces to the Philippines to threaten China. The U.S. already encircles China with hundreds of military bases that curve in an arc up from Australia, to Asia and across to Afghanistan. Obama calls this a “pivot.”

As a direct consequence, China reportedly has changed its nuclear weapons policy from no-first-use to high alert and put to sea submarines with nuclear weapons. The escalator is quickening.

It was Hillary Clinton who, as Secretary of State in 2010, elevated the competing territorial claims for rocks and reef in the South China Sea to an international issue; CNN and BBC hysteria followed; China was building airstrips on the disputed islands. In its mammoth war game in 2015, Operation Talisman Sabre, the U.S. practiced “choking” the Straits of Malacca through which pass most of China’s oil and trade. This was not news.

Clinton declared that America had a “national interest” in these Asian waters. The Philippines and Vietnam were encouraged and bribed to pursue their claims and old enmities against China. In America, people are being primed to see any Chinese defensive position as offensive, and so the ground is laid for rapid escalation. A similar strategy of provocation and propaganda is applied to Russia.

A ‘Feminism’ of Bloody Coups

Clinton, the “women’s candidate,” leaves a trail of bloody coups: in Honduras, in Libya (plus the murder of the Libyan president) and Ukraine. The latter is now a CIA theme park swarming with Nazis and the frontline of a beckoning war with Russia. It was through Ukraine – literally, borderland – that Hitler’s Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million people. This epic catastrophe remains a presence in Russia. Clinton’s presidential campaign has received money from all but one of the world’s ten biggest arms companies. No other candidate comes close.

Sanders, the hope of many young Americans, is not very different from Clinton in his proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He backed Bill Clinton’s illegal bombing of Serbia. He supports Obama’s terrorism by drone, the provocation of Russia and the return of special forces (death squads) to Iraq. He has nothing to say on the drumbeat of threats to China and the accelerating risk of nuclear war. He agrees that Edward Snowden should stand trial and he calls Hugo Chavez – like him, a social democrat – “a dead communist dictator.” He promises to support Clinton if she is nominated.

The election of Trump or Clinton is the old illusion of choice that is no choice: two sides of the same coin. In scapegoating minorities and promising to “make America great again,” Trump is a far-right-wing domestic populist; yet the danger of Clinton may be more lethal for the world.

“Only Donald Trump has said anything meaningful and critical of U.S. foreign policy,” wrote Stephen Cohen, emeritus professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, one of the few Russia experts in the United States to speak out about the risk of war.

In a radio broadcast, Cohen referred to critical questions Trump alone had raised. Among them: why is the United States “everywhere on the globe”? What is NATO’s true mission? Why does the U.S. always pursue regime change in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine? Why does Washington treat Russia and Vladimir Putin as an enemy?

The Trump Hysteria

The hysteria in the liberal media over Trump serves an illusion of “free and open debate” and “democracy at work.” His views on immigrants and Muslims are grotesque, yet the deporter-in-chief of vulnerable people from America is not Trump but Obama, whose betrayal of people of color is his legacy: such as the warehousing of a mostly black prison population, now more numerous than Stalin’s gulag.

This presidential campaign may not be about populism but American liberalism, an ideology that sees itself as modern and therefore superior and the one true way. Those on its right wing bear a likeness to Nineteenth Century Christian imperialists, with a God-given duty to convert or co-opt or conquer.

In Britain, this is Blairism. The Christian war criminal Tony Blair got away with his secret preparation for the invasion of Iraq largely because the liberal political class and media fell for his “cool Britannia.” In the Guardian, the applause was deafening; he was called “mystical.” A distraction known as identity politics, imported from the United States, rested easily in his care.

History was declared over, class was abolished and gender promoted as feminism; lots of women became New Labour MPs. They voted on the first day of Parliament to cut the benefits of single parents, mostly women, as instructed. A majority voted for an invasion that produced 700,000 Iraqi widows.

The equivalent in the U.S. is the presence of politically correct warmongers on the New York Times, the Washington Post and network TV who dominate political debate. I watched a furious debate on CNN about Trump’s infidelities. It was clear, they said, a man like that could not be trusted in the White House. No issues were raised. Nothing on the 80 per cent of Americans whose income has collapsed to 1970s levels. Nothing on the drift to war.

The received wisdom seems to be “hold your nose” and vote for Clinton: anyone but Trump. That way, you stop the monster and preserve a system gagging for another war.

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com




America’s Worst Laid Plans

The U.S. government seeks to impose neo-liberal economics on the world even though those “free-market” policies funnel global wealth to a tiny fraction at the top, cause widespread despair and spark political turmoil, Michael Brenner explains.

By Michael Brenner

The United States has been pursuing an audacious project to fashion a global system according to its specifications and under its tutelage since the Cold War’s end.

For a quarter of a century, the paramount goal of all its foreign relations has been the fostering of a system whose architectural design features the following:

–a neo-liberal economic order wherein markets dictate economic outcomes and the influence of public authorities to regulate them is weakened;

–this entails a progressive financializing of the world economy which concentrates the levers of greatest power in a few Western institutions – private, national and supranational;

–if inequality of wealth and power is the outcome, so be it;

–security provided by an American-led concert that will have predominant influence in every region;

–a readiness to use coercion to remove any regime that directly challenges this envisaged order;

–the maintenance of a large, multi-functional American military force to ensure that the means to deal with any contingency as could arise;

–all cemented by the unquestioned conviction that this enterprise conforms to a teleology whose truth and direction were confirmed by the West’s total victory in the Cold War.

Therefore, it is inherently a virtuous project whose realization will benefit all mankind. Virtue is understood in both tangible and ethical terms.

American ‘Destiny’

The motto: There is a tide running in the affairs of man; so, now is the time for America to steer the current and fulfill its destiny.

The project has registered some remarkable successes (at least by its own definitions). The Washington sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its counterpart`, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTPI), ensconce a privileged position for corporate interests that supersedes that of governments in binding international law.

The towering financial conglomerates have emerged from the great financial panic and Great Recession, which they caused, not only unscathed but bigger, stronger and with a stranglehold over macro-economic policy across most of the globe.

The United States, the progenitor of neo-liberalism and its operational guide, has seen its democracy converted into a plutocracy in all but name. The more things change, the more they must be made to seem the same.

These tenets of neo-liberalism have been codified into an orthodoxy whose dogma permeates the intellectual fiber of academia, the media and the corridors of state power. Challengers are ruthlessly put down – as witness the crucifying of Greece’s first Syriza government. Political leaders who deviate find themselves the object of international campaigns to oust them, e.g., Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Iran and Russia.

As an indirect consequence of the project’s successes, political resistance now comes not from the Left but rather from a recrudescent nationalist Right as is occurring in Europe – the rebellion in both the East and the West against the European Union’s brave new world of technocracy of, by and for the corporate elites.

Trumpism represents the analogous phenomenon decked out in stars-and-stripes garb. This exacerbates the tensions generated internally by the guided globalization project. Within the decision centers of Washington power, that could either provide new impetus to the external dimension of establishing a global order under American aegis – or handicap it.

Whichever proves to be the case, the turn toward authoritarianism and xenophobia within the liberal democracies shows how ill-conceived and ineptly executed the design for a new world order is. For it has overreached at home and abroad.

Wealth Concentration

At home, the flaw (fatal or not) is the absence of all restraint in grabbing for riches and powers without leaving a reasonable portion, along with credible illusions of democratic control, for the mass of citizenry. Abroad, hubris fed by a combination of faith in American exceptionalism, the intoxication of power, and studied ignorance has generated fantasies of molding alien societies in our image – while ignoring the strength of countervailing forces as embodied by China, Russia and the multiple expressions of fundamentalist Islam.

It is in the political/security sphere that the historic American project faltered badly. Individual developments signal at once basic design flaws and obtuse implementation The upwelling of serious counter currents carries the message that setbacks are neither temporary nor readily containable.

The Middle East, of course, is where the pressure cooker of our own creation has exploded leaving a mess that covers the entire region, with the further risk of spreading beyond it.

Every major initiative has failed – and failed ignominiously. Iraq has fragmented into factions none of whom are reliable friends of Washington. Once a forbidden zone for Islamist jihadis, our intervention has spawned the most dangerous movement yet – ISIL, while inspiring Al Qaeda and its other spin-offs.

Syria, where we have dedicated ourselves to unseating the still internationally recognized government, is embroiled in an endless civil war whose main protagonists on the anti-Assad side are ISIL and Al Qaeda/Al Nusra & Assoc. So, the Obama people have put themselves in the position of feeding arms and providing diplomatic cover to groups who were our No. 1 security threat just yesterday.

Accordingly, for all of our bluster, we refuse to confront Turkey which has provided invaluable aid, comfort and refuge for both groups. Nor do we call out the Saudis for their succoring with money and political backing.

Embracing the Saudis

Washington’s deference to the Saudi royals has reached the extremity of its participating in the Saudi organized and led destruction of Yemen despite the cardinal truths that the Houthis, their enemy, is not a foe of the United States, and that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has made extensive gains as a result of the war (and ISIL has succeeded in implanted itself there as well).

For these contributions to the War on Terror, Secretary of State John Kerry effusively thanks Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman – the author of these reckless Saudi policies – for the fulsome contribution the Kingdom is making to suppress Islamic extremism. Why? American diplomacy is locked into the idea that it must reassure Saudi Arabia of our loyalty in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

Hence, we embrace an obscurantist autocratic regime whose self-defined interests are antithetical to our stated objectives, and whose behavior highlights the hypocrisy of America’s trumpeted crusade to promote democracy and to protect human rights. It has the added effect of vitiating any chances to engage Iran pragmatically to deal with the civil wars in Iraq and Syria.

Fifteen years ago, the United States launched its Middle East wars to make us secure from terrorism and to politically transform the region. Instead, we face a greater menace, we have destroyed governments capable of maintaining a modicum of order, we have registered no success in nation-building or democracy building, and we have undercut our moral authority worldwide.

Our leaders talk of “pivots” away from the turbulent Middle East, President Barack Obama voices an ambition to demilitarize foreign policy, yet the reality is that today there are American troops fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and now Libya with no prospect of those conflicts concluding.

The most stunning, and noteworthy, reaction at home to this unprecedented record of unrelieved failure is the lack of reaction. All the elements in America’s fantastic views of another, post-Cold War American Century not only survive, they exercise near total influence over our foreign policy elite – in government and outside it. The learning curve is flat.

The number of places where the U.S. is militarily engaged grows rather than diminishes. The definition of “terrorism,” of security, of American national interest broadens rather than narrows. The defense budget points upwards rather than downwards. The contradictions multiply. How to explain this perverse pattern?

Ignoring Consequences

Avoidance behavior is a natural if not universal response to stress and cognitive dissonance. It passes into the range of the pathological when it becomes persistent and diverges more and more from experienced reality. At that point, it enters the realm of fantasy – often, with fantasies succeeding each other in serial fashion.

To adapt what Clarence Ayres has written: “In important ways, (American foreign policy) is being run by a web of Belief that has been separated from Reason and Evidence. Its ways resemble … the network of mythological convictions” that characterize some primitive tribes. “The contradiction between experience and one mystical notion is explained by reference to other mystical notions.”

Hence, the Belief that human societies carry the innate political DNA for democracy (to be spontaneously recognized by Iraqis once liberated by the Americans) is supplanted by the belief in COIN (counter-insurgency warfare) which, in turn, is supplanted by faith in the power Special Operations forces … ad infinitum.

This behavior pattern matches that associated with classic avoidance devices. One feature is compulsive reiteration. In terms of actions, that means the repeated attempt to resolve complex political problems through the application of coercive force. The national instinct when confronted with a challenge is to hit out – from Congolese warlords and Nigerian thugs to Islamist jihadis and anyone whom our so-called friends dislike, e.g., the Houthis.

This is the mind-set of the muscle-bound bully whose mental development hasn’t caught up with his physical development. In Afghanistan, we continue fighting and spurring the hapless Kabul government to keep it up when there isn’t a snowball’s chances in hell of defeating the Taliban (an outfit that never has killed an American outside of Afghanistan).

In Iraq-Syria, we struggle mightily to check the ISIL irregulars while blithely allowing them to carry on a lucrative oil commerce without interference from the U.S. air force. There, too, we make believe that the Russian presence doesn’t exist even though it has done more to shift the balance away from the jihadist groups than we have. Why? The powers-that-be have decided that Putin’s Russia actually is a bigger threat to America than is ISIL and Al Qaeda.

Black Hats/White Hats

Reiteration also takes the form of populating the strategic map with good guys and bad guys whose identification never changes whatever the evidence says. Hence, the white hats include the Saudi royals along with their school of Gulf Cooperation Council minnows, Erdogan’s Turkey, and of course Israel.

The black hats include: Iran, the Baathist regime in Syria, Hezbullah, Hamas, some Shi’ite factions in Iraq (Moqtada al-Sadr), and whoever opposes our sponsored, obedient would-be leaders in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, or wherever (think Latin America). Washington’s costume department does not stock gray hats.

The Global War on Terror notwithstanding, this casting makes us friends of ISIL’s and Al Qaeda’s friends and enemies of their enemies. No intellectual effort is evident to make the reconciliation.

In extreme circumstances, one resorts to outfitting with white hats whatever bunch of guys you can round up through Central Casting. That is exactly what we currently are doing in cobbling together an odd lot of stray Libyans into an ersatz “government” which Washington and its more obedient allies literally escorted into a bunker outside of Tripoli last month where they are offering themselves as national saviors.

This so-called Government of National Accord (GNA), which no significant body of Libyans had asked for, is meant to supersede the democratically elected government whose parliament is seated in Benghazi and engaged in a multi-party civil war with an array of sectarian and tribal formations.

Our seven-man GNA controls no territory but has entered into tacit alliance with a variety of Islamist militias attracted by the money and arms which the United States and partners have transferred to them from official Libyan accounts abroad. Shades of Syria circa 2011 -2013.

Prolonged residence in one or another fantasy bubble is made all the more comfortable by eluding contact with any respected party who might offer a different perspective that more closely conforms to reality. An oddity of our times is that the only criticism within range of power centers comes from those whose answer to all these dilemmas is to “hit ‘em harder.”

That is to say, the John McCains and fellow travelers among Republican hawks reinforced by the aggressive neocon contingent ensconced in the think tanks and media. The unfortunate consequence is that the President, and his less than sterling foreign policy team, now add the belief in their own moderation and prudence to their complacent plodding along the same rutted paths to nowhere.

We got a candid, uncensored look at one member of Obama’s inner circle when Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser, was featured in that embarrassing Sunday New York Times Magazine story a few weeks ago.

Susan Rice, National Security Advisor and Presidential confidant since 2007, put herself on display via an interview with Fareed Zakaria (May 15) where she declared that “almost the whole Russia Air Force is deployed in Syria.” The truth is that the 70-odd Russian aircraft in Syria represent roughly 5 to 6 percent of their combat aircraft and about 2 to 2.5 percent of all aircraft in the Russian Air Force. It is one thing to off by a factor of 20 when spouting forth at a think-tank seminar where other participants’ minds are on their own next intervention or imagining whom they plan to latch onto during the coffee break. It is quite another to be so casually ignorant when you are in a position to shape actions that could affect the lives of millions and major interests of the United States.

This all too typical failure to recognize the difference helps to explain why the Obama administration’s foreign policy-making is so undisciplined and its diplomacy is so disjointed.

Pathological Element

There is yet another pathological element in this mix of illusion and faith. Manifest failure poses a threat to the powerful image of prowess and superiority imbued in our national leaders, and in the country’s collective personality.

Heavy doses of reality by now should have brought to light our ultimate “ordinariness” – however impressive the national record of accomplishment has been. That, though, is proving very hard for Americans to swallow.

Instead, we discern a pattern of denying manifest outcomes while relentlessly searching for fresh opportunities to establish our unique greatness. It took decades and much self-induced amnesia to come to terms with the loss of Vietnam. We seemingly shed that shroud in the first Gulf War. But then came 9/11 and the vengeful reaction of a scared country which led us into a new string of failures.

One psychological method for handling that dissonance is to claim that the game isn’t really over. The fat lady hasn’t sung (or if she did, we tuned her out). In Iraq, our most ignominious failure, the concrete manifestation of that failure in ISIL, gives us a second chance to demonstrate that Americans are winners after all.

In this warped psychology, if we are able to push them back and/or cripple them, that achievement somehow will confirm that we are winners. It just took a little while longer than expected. Political chaos in Baghdad and across the country? No one is perfect – only Allah. Besides, there are always the Iranians to blame.

What about Afghanistan? There, too, the final whistle hasn’t blown. There is no time limit – 48 minutes, 60 minutes, or nine innings – or 15 years. Operation Eternal Effort.

A quite different psychological coping mechanism, one that carries the seed of far greater risk, is to demonstrate macho self-confidence by searching out additional challengers to confront. That mechanism not only offers several new chances to prove to oneself and to the world how great we are; it also demonstrates our brave sense of duty.

So, we expand Special Operations and send teams of various sizes into scores of countries to take on the bad guys. More demonstrably, we make it known that our nuclear deal with Tehran notwithstanding, we’re ever ready to go one-on-one with the mullahs who just aren’t our sort of people.

Fighting the Big Boys

The ultimate expression of this psycho-mentality is to pick a fight with the really big guys: Russia and China. We know them from the last movie – and everybody remembers how we whipped the Russians’ ass – to use the hard-nosed parlance favored around Washington.

The extreme hostility toward a more assertive Russia and Vladimir Putin personally goes well beyond any realpolitik calculus. It has an emotional side clearly evident in the cartoonish exaggeration that marks almost all coverage of the country and the man – and the remarks of President Obama himself. Indeed, it is all the starker for the contrast to Putin’s cool rationality.

Obama, personally, cannot abide Putin. To continue the line of psychological analysis, we might find some clues why in the President’s behavioral record. He typically is uneasy around, and therefore tries to avoid, strong, independent-minded persons who are at least as intelligent as he is. None of his inner circle are exceptions to this generalization.

The real tough guys on Wall Street and in the Pentagon/Intelligence Establishment he defers to – anticipating what they want and holding them at a respectful distance. Putin fits neither category. In addition, he is as cerebral and exhibits as much self-control as does Obama – thereby challenging the latter’s sense of uniqueness and superiority. Putin also is an infinitely more skillful politically.

Of course, there is ample evidence that significant elements of the American government and foreign policy Establishment have long viewed Russia as a potential obstacle to the American grand design. Therefore, they have reached a calculated conclusion that it must be denatured as a political force or eliminated.

The resources that we expended in bending Russian institutions and policies to our will during the Yeltsin years testify to that. Putin, though, has shown himself a far sterner, autonomous character with his own pronounced view as to how the world should be structured and Russia’s place within it.

His objective from the first was to restore Russian dignity, Russian independence and a measure of Russian control over its strategic space. That inevitably brought him into conflict with the American plan to keep Russia dependent, weak and marginalized.

The central element of that strategy was the policy of bringing all of the former Soviet republics into Western institutions – Ukraine above all, as Zbig Brzezinski has explained with brutal candor. The Washington encouraged coup in Kiev two years ago was the culmination of a plan that temporarily had been thwarted by Moscow’s maneuvers that aimed at keeping Ukraine out of the E.U. (aka NATO) orbit.

Putin’s unexpectedly decisive action on Crimea, the Donbas and then Syria has changed the strategic map and upset American assumptions about the insignificance of its old foe. That in itself helps to explain the intensity and emotionalism of Washington reaction.

In the Middle East, in particular, the Russians have been useful partners: in winning Iran’s acquiescence to concessions that cleared the way for the nuclear accord; in resolving of the sarin gas crisis when Putin opened an avenue for Obama to escape the corner he had painted himself into by making hasty accusations that were contradicted by the intelligence community; and finally by forcing us to face up to the unwelcome truth that the only alternative to Assad is a radical jihadist dominated regime that would empower the very people we have been trying to exterminate since 2001.

Rejecting Logic

Rather than acting on that pragmatic logic, the Obama administration – egged on by the country’s entire foreign policy Establishment – has decided to treat Russia as America’s global enemy No. 1, officially.

In Syria, blocking the Russians at every turn and doubling-down on the ouster of Assad now shapes everything else we do in that country. In Europe, the United States has pushed NATO into a full-blown confrontation: stationing several brigades in the Baltics and Poland; staging a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Romania for the missile defense system that also can serve as a platform for nuclear tipped cruise missiles; conducting exercises in Georgia; and proposing to make Georgia and Ukraine de facto NATO members whose militaries would be integrated into the NATO command structure (the 28 + 2 formula).

These moves have been accompanied by a barrage of bellicose rhetoric from top American commanders and the Secretary of Defense to the President himself.  These are all steps that contravene long established treaties, some dating back to the Soviet era, and fly in the face of solemn promises made by President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev between 1989 and 1991.

This provocative strategy is justified as a response to Russia’s alleged aggressive and growing moves darkly portrayed as a precursor to a possible assault against former lands of the defunct Soviet empire. The empirical evidence for this dire assertion is lacking – nor is there interest in making the case with a modicum of empirical logic. For the impulses spring from within the American political psyche – not from our external environment.

There are those who calculatingly have actively sought to isolate Russia, topple Putin and remove both as thorns in the side of American grand strategy. And there are those, including President Obama, whose behavior reveals a deep compulsion to portray a complex situation in terms of a simple, exaggerated threat; to show their mettle; to strut; and to compensate for the frustrations and failures that have bedeviled the United States’ foreign policies.

This is foreign policy by emotion, not by logical thought. It is rooted in the psychological reaction to the hopelessness of the post-Cold War grand design. It stems as well from the unpalatable experience of being unable to live up to the exalted self-image that is at the core of Americans’ national personality.

And it is intensified by the need, compensating for heightened insecurities, to prove that America is Number One, always will be Number One, and deserves to be Number One. That maelstrom of emotion was almost palpable in Obama’s last State of the Union Address where he declaimed:

Let me tell you something. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close!”

So? Is this meant as a revelation? What is the message? To whom? Is it any different than crowds of troubled and frustrated Arab demonstrators shouting  “ALLAH AKBAR!” Words that are neither a prelude to action nor inspire others to act – nor even impart information – are just puffs of wind.  They are affirmations of self rather than communication. As such, they are yet another avoidance device whereby bluster substitutes for a deliberate appraisal of how to adjust to the gap between aspiration and declining prowess.

Making Narratives Fit

A complementary device for perpetuating a crucial national myth of exceptionalism and superiority is to stress systematically those features of other nations, or situations, that conform to the requirements of the American national narrative while neglecting or downplaying opposite features.

Currently, we are witnessing the unfolding of an almost clinical example in the treatment of China. The emergence of the PRC as a great power with the potential to surpass or eclipse the United States poses a direct threat to the foundation myth of American superiority and exceptionalism. The very existence of that threat is emotionally difficult to come to terms with.

Psychologically, the most simple way to cope is to define it out of existence – to deny it. One would think that doing so is anything but easy. After all, China’s economy has been growing at double digit rates for almost 30 years. The concrete evidence of its stunning achievements is visible to the naked eye.

Necessity, though, is the mother of invention. Our compelling emotional need at the moment is to have China’s strength and latent challenge subjectively diminished. So what we see is a rather extraordinary campaign to highlight everything that is wrong with China, to exaggerate those weaknesses, to project them into the future, and – thereby – to reassure ourselves.

Coverage of Chinese affairs by the United States’ newspaper of record, The New York Times, has taken a leading role in this project. For the past year or two, we have been treated to an endless series of stories focusing on what’s wrong with China. Seemingly nothing is too inconsequential to escape front page, lengthy coverage.

The current signs of economic weakness and financial fragility have generated a spate of dire commentary that China’s great era of growth may be grinding to a halt – not to be restarted until its leaders have seen the error of their ways and taken the path marked out by America and other Western capitalist countries.

This latest upwelling of China-bashing could well serve as a clinical exhibit of avoidance behavior. For it goes beyond sublimation and simple denial. It also reveals the extreme vulnerability of the American psyche to the perceived China “threat,” and the compelling psychological need to neutralize it – if only by verbal denigration.

At present, the United States has no strategic dialogue with either China or Russia. That is a failure of historic proportions. There is no vast ideological chasm to bridge – as in the Cold War days. There are no bits of contested geography that directly involve the parties. Putin and Xi are eminently rational leaders – whether we agree with them or not.

The Russian leader, in particular, has laid out his conception of the world system; of the Russo-American relations; of why Russia is pursuing certain polices – all with a concision and candor that probably is unprecedented. He also stresses the need for cooperation with Washington and offers guidelines for sustained exchanges. We have done nothing analogous. Indeed, it appears that no policy-maker of consequence even bothers to read or listen to Putin.

To take him seriously, to engage the Chinese on the strategic plane, require statesmanship of a high order. An America – and its leaders – who are tied into psychological knots by their inability to view reality with a measure of detachment and self-awareness never will muster that statesmanship.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu




All Donald Trump’s Men

Donald Trump claims to fight for the little guy against a rigged system, but the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has turned to political operatives who have scammed money for the rich and powerful, says Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Right after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, I flew off to Australia and New Zealand to attend a conference and take some vacation time. At the end of the long flight, when I got to Sydney, I picked up one of the local newspapers and read that the President-elect had chosen Rahm Emanuel, poster boy for corporate Democrats and the status quo, to be his chief of staff.

Uh-oh, I thought. If Obama was choosing him to guide his administration, we probably could say goodbye to any dreams of a New Deal-style, aggressive agenda to cure the ills of our country. Emanuel was less the type to Keep Hope Alive and more the guy who holds Hope at arm’s length with a blackjack threatening in the other hand.

You will know our presidents and presidential candidates by the company they keep. Just as Obama had Rahm and a gaggle of Wall Street Democrats advising him how to step away from the fiscal crisis without putting any of the guilty banksters in jail, so, too, have all our chief executives and nominees had their coteries.

Andrew Jackson had his kitchen cabinet, FDR his Brain Trust, JFK and LBJ their Best and Brightest, Nixon his Palace Guard – even Warren Harding had his poker pals, although that den of thieves reportedly led him to complain to the famous newspaper editor William Allen White, “I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my goddamned friends, White, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor nights!”

And now, here comes Donald Trump, presumptive Republican presidential nominee and thug-in-a-nice-suit. If for some reason you aren’t already appalled by the specter of a con artist occupying the Oval Office, a man who would lie about what he had for breakfast, look to those with whom he has chosen to surround himself.

Start with political dirty trickster and sleaze merchant Roger Stone, the man first introduced to Trump by Joe McCarthy acolyte Roy Cohn. Stone has had a 30-year, on-again, off-again relationship with the candidate and was publicly fired from Trump’s campaign staff last summer but still seems to be an unofficial advisor and mouthpiece.

Then there’s the abrasive campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, best known for that March incident with now former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields who said he roughly grabbed her when she tried to ask Trump a question. A charge of simple battery was dismissed.

But Stone and Lewandowski are small potatoes compared to some of the new hires Trump has brought aboard since he clinched the nomination and expressed the desire to appear more presidential.

Let’s start with Steven Mnuchin, now national finance chairman, chief fundraiser for a man who used to claim his campaign was totally self-financed and that he would not need money from outsiders. Mnuchin is a banker and chief executive of the Dune Capital Management hedge fund – remember, Trump has lashed out at hedge funds, calling them “guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.” He’s also a former Goldman Sachs employee and Trump has gone after Goldman, too, including Hillary Clinton’s association with it.

Among his other accomplishments, The Wall Street Journal reported, with its characteristic wonder at such financial legerdemain, “Mr. Mnuchin turned one of the biggest bank failures ever, IndyMac Bank, into a very lucrative investment for himself and a consortium that included some of the billboard names on Wall Street, including [George] Soros, hedge-fund manager John Paulson, and J. Christopher Flowers.

“IndyMac Bank, based in Pasadena, Calif., collapsed in the summer of 2008 as customers grew concerned about its souring mortgages and withdrew deposits. It was the third-largest bank failure in U.S. history at the time. The group bought IndyMac from the government for about $1.5 billion in early 2009 and eventually sold it to a larger bank for a more than $3 billion gain.”

But at The Nation magazine, Peter Dreier says there’s more to the story: “The FDIC was so desperate to unload IndyMac that Mnuchin and his colleagues were able to obtain, as part of the purchase deal, a so-called ‘shared loss’ agreement from the FDIC which reimbursed these billionaires for much of their costs for foreclosing on people unlucky enough to have mortgages from IndyMac.

“Within a year, the group that the Los Angeles Times called a ‘billionaires’ club of private financiers’ had paid themselves dividends of $1.57 billion. In other words, the FDIC took much of the risk by subsidizing the bank’s troubled assets, while Mnuchin and his colleagues pocketed the profits.”

Dreier notes, “Both Trump and Mnuchin have run businesses accused of widespread racial discrimination, and they both represent the excessive wealth and greed of the billionaire developer and banker class.”

But Mnuchin’s deeds pale compared to Trump’s new campaign chairman and chief strategist Paul Manafort, a longtime veteran of Republican politics, and a poobah of the lobbying industry that has helped make Washington the swell, dysfunctional place it is. Roger Stone was one of his partners in the lobby biz (and it was Roy Cohn who introduced Manafort to Trump, too).

So was the late, infamous Lee Atwater, the brutal, take-no-prisoners GOP strategist who gave the world the Willie Horton ads attacking Michael Dukakis and slickly dragged the smear and whispering campaign to new lows. (He repented on his deathbed.)

Their company, as described by Franklin Foer at Slate, was “a new style of firm, what K Street would come to call a double-breasted operation. One wing of the shop managed campaigns, electing a generation of Republicans, from Phil Gramm to Arlen Spector. The other wing lobbied the officials they helped to victory on behalf of its corporate clients. Over the course of their early years, they amassed a raft of blue-chip benefactors, including Salomon Brothers and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.” And Donald Trump.

Manafort and his cronies got into trouble during the Reagan years, when, as Foer explains, the firm “hired alumni of the Department of Housing and Urban Development then used those connections to win $43 million in ‘moderate rehabilitation funds’ for a renovation project in Upper Deerfield, New Jersey. Local officials had no interest in the grants, as they considered the shamble of cinder blocks long past the point of repair. The money flowed from HUD regardless, and developers paid Manafort’s firm a $326,000 fee for its handiwork. He later bought a 20 percent share in the project. Two years later, rents doubled without any sign of improvement.

“Conditions remained, in [Washington Post columnist] Mary McGrory’s words, ‘strictly Third World.’ It was such an outrageous scam that congressmen flocked to make a spectacle of it. Manafort calmly took his flaying. ‘You might call it influence-peddling. I call it lobbying,’ he explained in one hearing. ‘That’s a definitional debate.’” You know, potato, potahto…

The scandal barely left a scratch and Manafort’s ambition soon stretched far beyond America’s shores. Steven Rosenfeld at AlterNet notes a new report from the American Bridge 21st Century PAC, funded by Democratic donors and founded by David Brock of Media Matters. It states that Manafort “was responsible for representing some of the world’s most unsavory clients on behalf of what the press called the ‘Torturers’ Lobby.’”

Among those he billed were Lebanese-born arms dealer Abdul Rahman El-Assir, Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Nigeria’s Sani Abacha, Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi, Somalia’s Said Barre, and Angolan guerilla leader Jonas Savimbi.

“Savimbi and his UNITA army engaged in a decades-long civil war that terrorized and murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians,” the American Bridge report states, “with UNITA engaging in bodily mutilations, sexual slavery, child kidnapping, and witch burning. Savimbi funded his role in the gruesome civil war with proceeds of smuggled diamonds, aid from apartheid South Africa, and aid from the United States.”

Especially cozy was Manafort’s relationship with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukoyvch. “Some in the West felt Yanukovych could be an ally,” The Washington Post reported, “but ultimately he pursued ties to Russia and fled Ukraine amid violent clashes.”

Manafort was a political and media adviser to Yanukoyvch (as was Bernie Sanders consultant Tad Devine) and set about gilding the image of a man another consultant described as “a kleptocratic goon, a pig who wouldn’t take lipstick.” According to Franklin Foer in Slate, Manafort had the Ukrainian leader rail against NATO to gain political advantage, and when told by US Ambassador William Taylor that what he was doing flew in the face of official American policy “bluntly announced that he wouldn’t ask Yanukoyvch to dial back the rhetoric. It polled too well.”

Clearly, this is the perfect man for Donald Trump. But wait, there’s more. Manafort has brought along some of his other buddies, Ken Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf of Politico report, “including several whose lobbying histories seem to epitomize the special-interest influence against which the candidate rails.” Among them are Laurance Gay, “who worked with Manafort on an effort to obtain a federal grant that one congressman called a ‘very smelly, sleazy business,’” – that was the aforementioned HUD deal.

There’s also Doug Davenport, “whose firm’s lobbying for an oppressive Southeast Asian regime became a liability for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.” And don’t forget a “former Manafort lobbying partner named Rick Gates, who was identified as an agent of a Ukrainian oligarch in a 2011 racketeering lawsuit that also named Manafort.”

These guys shouldn’t be running a campaign, they should be bumping off jewelry stores or appearing in yet another remake of Oceans 11. They’re much better suited to a heist movie. If you needed further proof of Trump’s hypocrisy when it comes to Wall Street and government, money and politics, look no further than this gang of wheeler-dealers, flim-flam consultants and Washington insiders, the Goodfellas of American politics.

With friends like these…

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story appeared originally at http://billmoyers.com/story/presumptive-nominees-men/]




Risks of Citizens Suing Foreign Governments

Well-meaning legislation would permit 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the terror attacks but the principle of individuals suing foreign governments is fraught with problems, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The recent passage by the U.S. Senate of a bill labeled the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act elicited cheers from those wanting to see any kind of significant bipartisan action in Congress. The bill is intended to amend existing law regarding sovereign immunity to make it easier for U.S. citizens to haul foreign governments into U.S. court for involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks; Saudi Arabia is the unnamed but obvious target.

And as Daniel DePetris put it in his informative piece on the subject, “who wouldn’t support granting the 9/11 families a measure of justice?” But the bill, which Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Chuck Schumer pushed through the Senate by unanimous consent, raises even in its current amended and watered-down form some considerations that those giving bipartisan assent did not appear to think through carefully.

There are sound reasons behind the concept of sovereign immunity, which is incorporated into the decades-old statutory law that would be amended. The reasons apply just as much to terrorism as to other subjects. The reasons involve the effectiveness of U.S. policy and not only conformity with customary international law.

Lawsuits against foreign governments affect foreign relations and in effect become part of the foreign policy of the country where the litigation occurs. If there is to be any chance for a foreign policy to be coherent, it must be the product of the policy-making branches of government. It cannot be the inevitably haphazard product of individual lawsuits, the occurrence of which depends on the initiative of individual complainants and the results of which depend on the facts of the individual case, the skill of individual lawyers, and the judicial philosophy of individual judges who happen to get the cases.

Grievances also typically flow in two directions. Reciprocity and revenge thus become considerations. The authors of this bill do not seem to have taken full account of what other governments may do regarding handling of their complaints, or their citizens’ complaints, against the United States.

Handling grievances against foreign governments through diplomacy rather than trying to do so unilaterally through one’s courts is the only way one’s own government can bring all available leverage to bear regarding all outstanding issues, and in so doing to pursue one’s own national objectives as effectively as possible.

Those objectives may themselves involve international terrorism. An example were the Algiers Accords that served as the instrument for resolving the Tehran hostage crisis of 1979-1981. A key provision of the agreement was that both Iran and the United States agreed to end individual litigation of each side’s claims against the other.

Regardless of what one may think of the Algiers Accords — and aspects of them still have a bad odor, including the way the Iranian regime manipulated the timing of negotiations relative to the U.S. election cycle — they got the American hostages back. Shouldn’t the freedom of those hostages, who were victims of international terrorism, have gotten at least as much consideration as hypothetical future compensation for family members of other victims of terrorism?

There always have been trade-offs between the harms levied on individual citizens by foreign countries and broader foreign policy considerations involving those same countries. Terrorism is only one possible connection between a policy of a foreign government and harm, including lethal harm, inflicted on one’s own citizens.

Pollution-friendly policies of foreign states, for example, impair the health of people in other states. And for any state with conscription, individual citizens may be made to fight and to die in a war that was some other state’s fault. Given the difficulty often encountered in collecting from a foreign government that does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court that rendered the judgment, resorting to individual litigation often is not the best way to see justice served.

The substantive issues involved in the terrorism matters at hand in the current bill are, for at least two reasons, not very judiciable. One reason is the difference in standards of evidence applied in courts and those applied to executive branch decisions. The first is more demanding than the second.

Many executive branch decisions in foreign policy involve having to make choices in the face of much uncertainty, which is much different from proving something beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. This distinction comes up all the time in the handling of individual suspected terrorists.

It is one of the reasons, in addition to Congressional resistance, that the Obama administration has not been able to empty the detention facility at Guantanamo. There is enough information on some of the detainees to decide, as a matter of executive branch prudence, that they would be dangers if released, but not enough information or the right kind of information to serve as evidence that would assure a conviction in a court.

The other reason involving judiciability concerns the nature of the state involvement in question. Saudi Arabia’s policies and practices and specifically its use of religious ideology have for many years fostered extreme and intolerant versions of Islamism, including the violent form that manifested itself in the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Saudi policies in this regard have had harmful effects in ways that go far beyond 9/11 or even international terrorism generally. It is proper for these matters to be a major focus of U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia.

But the connections between Saudi policy and 9/11 are of a much more general and indirect sort than what normally makes for a tort that can be the basis of a cogent lawsuit. Notwithstanding all the malign effects of the Saudi regime’s handling of Wahhabism, no direct link has surfaced publicly between that regime and the 9/11 operation. An undesirable and counterproductive result would be for someone to try to make a lawsuit out of the matter and then, because of the insufficiency of suitable evidence, to lose the suit.

The bill that passed the Senate is thus another example of a feel-good measure that gets broad political support but that would entail significant problems if it ever were to be enacted. Underscoring this observation are two ironies and inconsistencies involving this bill.

One is that the Senate action comes not long after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding a previous act of Congress that took a matter of victims’ compensation for state-sponsored terrorism out of the hands of litigants and had the policy-making branches decide it instead.

The specific case concerned whether assets of the Iranian central bank were fair game for lawsuits seeking individual compensation for terrorism in the 1980s by Iran’s client Lebanese Hezbollah. Two of the justices dissented because the statute under consideration short-circuited pending litigation, making it look as if Congress was ordering a court how to decide a case before it. But a majority of the Supreme Court agreed with both Congress and the Obama administration that this was a proper matter for the policy-making branches to determine, regardless of any lawsuits that had already been initiated.

The other irony and inconsistency is that many of those who are supporting the Cornyn-Schumer bill’s movement into the courts of a response to international terrorism have long been proclaiming that terrorism is “war” not “crime” and have done their utmost to prevent accused terrorists from being tried in federal court. This is even though the federal judicial system has demonstrated repeatedly that it is well-suited to try fairly and to punish effectively individual accused terrorists.

Now by attempting to make states into defendants in civil suits in that same federal court system, the courts are being given a job for which they are poorly suited. States cannot be put in the dock or cross-examined, and their cases inevitably get into foreign policy issues. This combination of uses and non-uses of the courts — to put states on trial but not to put individual suspects on trial — has it all backward.

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.)




Clinton’s Imperious Brush-off of Email Rules

Exclusive: The State Department’s Inspector General issued a blunt report criticizing Hillary Clinton’s imperious refusal to follow email rules as Secretary of State, adding to Clinton’s credibility problem, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

State Department functionaries faced a hopeless task as they tried to spin their own Inspector General’s matter-of-fact critique of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s imperial attitude toward basic security measures everyone else is required by law to follow.

It turns out that she deliberately chose to use a hacker-friendly, unprotected email server, and not so much for convenience – unless you define “convenience” as the ability to operate in total secrecy with no possibility of being held accountable for your policies or behavior. In one email to an aide, Clinton explained, “I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.”

When some staffers had the temerity to voice concerns over the vulnerability of a non-governmental email system, they were warned by their seniors “never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.” The IG report establishes that Clinton’s claim that her use of an insecure email system for official business had been “allowed” is, well, disingenuous.

Pity the State Department spokespeople tasked with putting the best face on the IG’s stark criticism. Media representatives actually posed some direct questions to those applying the cosmetics, who showed themselves far more guilty than Socrates in “trying to make the worst case the better.” At several points, I sensed them wishing some hemlock came in their job jar.

Just doing their job, I know. But it was bizarrely clear that their instructions included taking a bullet for Secretary Clinton. It wasn’t really her fault, you see. It was actually the State Department’s fault, collectively. There were only a few variations on the meme: “We could have done a better job ensuring that people understand security policies;” “We could have done a better job at preserving emails;” “We have not lived up to all our obligations.” In other words, “we” failed the Secretary, not that Clinton failed in her duty to ensure that government information was properly secure.

I counted no fewer than 15 examples of this kind of self-criticism, and it was more than a little nauseating. But then, again, if Clinton becomes President, who wants to be assigned to be deputy chief of mission in Upper Slovobia? It was encouraging as it was heartening to notice that this time the press corps was not sitting still for the notion that it wasn’t really Clinton’s fault, after all.

The fly in the ointment preventing the usual careful orchestration of such announcements was an early leak of the IG report. Worse still, for the State Department spokespeople, several of the journalists had actually read the report and noticed that its declarative prose did not square with the collective self-flagellation serving as a diversion. Even the mainstream press corps could see through the transparent attempt to direct the public lashes onto a group of whipping boys and girls to spare the ex-Secretary and likely Democratic presidential nominee.

Again, some pity is in order for the briefers. It was not supposed to go down this way. Clearly, the State Department had intended to disclose the IG report this (Friday) afternoon to those few unlucky enough to be still around before the Memorial Day weekend. No doubt the spokespersons fully expected to have an extra day to do the homework required to be more plausible in the squaring-a-circle task they were given. The task would have been quite difficult with even a week to prepare.

Small Miracle

Opening my Washington Post, I encountered another surprise. For the first time since our Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity began writing corporate Memoranda for the President, the Post and VIPS were of one mind on something important.

The editors of the Post do not let us onto their pages, of course. But apparently they did read our open appeal to President Obama three days ago urging his administration to wind up the email investigation as quickly as possible and let the country know now what the FBI has learned – before the Democratic nomination is locked in. Where else would they have gotten such a good idea?

In the print edition, the Post lead editorial’s headline reads: “Ms. Clinton’s willful misjudgments: She repeatedly ignored warnings not to use private email during her tenure as secretary of state.” The online headline reads: “”Clinton’s inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.” The editorial ends with the recommendation: “We urge the FBI to finish its own investigation soon, so all information about this troubling episode will be before the voters.”

In the Post’s news columns, a report on the IG findings runs as the page-one lede under the headline “State Department watchdog rebukes Clinton over email: No approval sought for private server,” undercutting Clinton’s argument that her decision to operate an email tied to her home-based server “was permitted” by the State Department. Too early to tell, of course, but Ms. Clinton may begin to worry that the editorial page editors, who until now have enthroned her as their favorite neocon, may be getting wobbly.

Same goes for The New York Times, which led its Thursday editions with a factual report and included two articles on page A14, one of which includes a rebuttal of the lame demurral put out by the Clinton campaign. The take-no-prisoners headline of the other article by Amy Chozick is: “Emails Add to Hillary Clinton’s Central Problem: Voters Just Don’t Trust Her.”

Chozick points out that Secretary Clinton refused to be interviewed by the Inspector General as part of the security review and, in effect, questions Clinton’s insistence that the voters don’t care about the email controversy. Noting Clinton’s very high unfavorable opinion rating, Chozik notes that when voters are asked why they do not trust Ms. Clinton, “Again and again they will answer with a single word: Emails.”

As Sir Walter Scott observed in a memorable poem:

Oh what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practice to deceive!

Or as one might add in the context of modern politics:

But when we’ve practiced for a while,

We markedly improve our style

Secretary Clinton faces an immense task in trying to improve her style. A judgment on how well she’s doing may be recorded by the voters in the California primary on June 7.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, and is familiar with the damage that inevitably occurs when people with access to classified information are dismissive of the need to protect it from unauthorized disclosure.




Some Light in Iraq’s Dark Tunnel

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 blasted apart the country’s political structure and left behind widespread chaos, but Iraqis may be slowly digging out of the wreckage, says ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

Iraqi politics are in turmoil — nothing new here. Not surprisingly, the post-invasion order is taking a long time to shake down, given the destruction of the old. Entirely new relationships had to be forged under the new, radically changed environment.

What Iraq requires above all is the painful creation of a new sense of national identity and unity. That poses demands on both Shi’a and Sunni. Ironically, much of the Shi’ite — and even Sunni — religious establishment seem to be closer to a national vision than politicians who are pursuing narrow party agendas.

The Shi’a have not handled the post-Saddam situation well. As the numerical majority, the Shi’a quickly moved to ensure their electoral dominance over the political order after Saddam Hussein and have sidelined the once-ruling Sunnis from a major voice in governance. Worse, Shi’ite militias have behaved harshly against Sunni communities in an effort to reduce Sunni power and even to avenge the past. This very Shi’ite heavy-handedness is one reason why some Iraqi Sunnis have lent support to the “Islamic State” (ISIS, or Da’ish) with its militantly anti-Shi’ite policies.

This anti-Sunni bias of two successive Shi’ite administrations is both unacceptable and damaging to the country. Regrettably, it is also understandable — partially. After centuries-long exclusion from any meaningful role in Sunni-dominated Iraq and suffering oppression at the hands of the Sunni state, the Shi’a seized the moment after the fall of Saddam to ensure that their newly-won power via elections could never again be taken away from them.

Their fear was real: large segments of the Sunni population have viewed recent Shi’ite rule in Baghdad — the seat of great Sunni power for long centuries — as somehow something illegitimate, perhaps even transient. Saudi Arabia refused to even recognize the new Iraqi government for six years (even though Riyadh also hated Saddam) because it perceived the new Shi’ite-dominated Iraq as some kind of an artificial creation propped up by Iran.

That view has to change. The Sunnis of the region, and particularly Iraqi Sunnis, are going to have to suck up the new reality and acknowledge that yes, this is a major geopolitical turning point in the traditional sectarian balance of power in the Gulf. But Iraq is still Iraq, and once it stabilizes, it will play a new, albeit more complex role in the region.

And to the extent that this new reality becomes accepted in the region, the grounds for Iraqi Shi’a paranoia and the sidelining of Sunnis in governance should diminish.

A Big Thing

This is a big thing — we’re talking about the very identity of the new Iraq — historically Sunni in the regional power equation. But now its Shi’ite element is strong. So what is it then that defines an Iraqi — or a Shi’ite? After all, like all human beings, Shi’a possess more identities than simply being Shi’a all day long.

When sectarian identity in Iraq has been a matter of life or death, or the denied Shi’a political or economic well-being over long periods, of course the sectarian identity has dominated. As things calm, however, other facets of identity will emerge.

Shi’a themselves are diverse. They come from different regions of the country. Some are secular while some are religious, some are conservative, others are liberal or socialist, some are rich, some are poor, some are businessmen, some are laborers. Some favor Iran, some don’t. And personality clashes among them abound.

Sooner or later these multiple diversities should make up the natural stuff of Iraqi domestic politics like anywhere else. Sunni businessmen or bankers or socialists or engineers or farmers can make common cause with their Shi’ite counterparts — out of common interest. But we are not quite there yet.

Lately some interesting things have been happening. First, there have been strong demands from many Iraqis, and especially within the Shi’ite community itself, for a government of technocrats to replace the often incompetent and corrupt politicians currently in power.

Politicians can never be kept out of politics, but a more balanced and competent technocratic government would go a long way towards restoring confidence among many Iraqis, and especially among the Sunnis. And, if Shi’ite politicians think about it, they will want their voices to predominate over a united Iraq, not a partitioned Iraq. So they’ve got to run the country for the benefit of all Iraqis, or there will be no united Iraq to preside over. The country could even split apart.

Second, some key elements of the Shi’ite clergy are often more enlightened that their political counterparts. The impassioned young cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, bane of the U.S. occupation, is back yet again. Often mercurial, he also has a huge loyal following including a militia; his power and reputation rest particularly upon the impeccable clerical and nationalist credentials of his famed clerical father and uncle — both murdered by Saddam.

More to the point though, Muqtada has regularly demonstrated streaks of broader Iraqi nationalism even within his sectarian power base. He has spoken for all of Iraq against the U.S. occupation; he believes in a united Iraq and not just a Shi’ite Iraq. Lately he has made remarks critical of Iran, a country that has often offered him refuge in the past and has supported him with funding and weapons.

But Muqtada is his own man, and he is making it clear that Iraq, while grateful to Iran for all its help over the years, cannot let Iran run Iraq; Iraq must be independent and sovereign.

This development was in the cards. Indeed, in my book with Rend Rahim Francke (The Arab Shi’a,  2001), we underscored, even before Saddam fell, the latent tensions between Iran and Iraq. One country is Arab, the other is Persian; even their Shi’ite cultures demonstrate different colorations.

Iraq is historically the center of global Shi’ism, not Iran. Ayatollah ‘Ali al-Sistani in Iraq is the most important Shi’ite cleric in the world who has long spoken in the name of Iraq, not in the name of Shi’ite power.

And over the longer run Arab Shi’ia in the Gulf are more likely to look to Arab Iraq for support rather than to Iran. The two countries are destined to be rivals in the Gulf in the future; indeed the outlines of some of that rivalry are beginning to make themselves evident. Interestingly, the once very large Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, for the time being in momentary eclipse, also has a national Iraqi view more than a Sunni one.

What kind of a leadership role in the region will Iraq’s complex new mixed Shi’ite/Sunni character play? It will have to be an Iraqi outlook, and not a sectarian outlook. In the past Sunni-led Iraq played a powerful role in the pan-Arab nationalist movement. Even today Iraqi Shi’a will not cease being Arab. But where will their natural allies in the Arab world lie?

It’s still going to take a while for Iraq to shake down. ISIS alone is a deep source of conflict and instability. Worse, Saudi Arabia’s militant anti-Shi’ite campaign is highly destabilizing across the region. The Kurds are still negotiating their place in a new Iraq while Turkish foreign policies have now grown erratic. Syria is utterly unresolved. All these conflicts raging around Iraq make it hard for any country to settle down to stable politics.

Based on several of these straws in the wind though, Iraq may slowly be coming to acknowledge the lose-lose character of its present sectarian politics. Sadly, many of it political leaders are in it for themselves as much as for sectarian ideology.

But the Shi’a’s existential fears may now be slowly ebbing, especially if ISIS is defeated. And Iran itself may realize the need to tread cautiously in Iraq lest they lose major influence in a backlash against them.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com




Blaming ‘Too Much Democracy’ for Trump

The latest lament of the neocon establishment is that America is suffering from too much democracy – leading to Donald Trump – but the opposite is more to the point, how elite manipulation set this stage, explains Mike Lofgren.

By Mike Lofgren

British expatriate writer Andrew Sullivan recently returned to the public eye with a piece that has aroused considerable comment, some of it reasonably on point, and some bloviatingly incoherent.

What is all the fuss about? Sullivan, in critiquing the Donald Trump phenomenon and the political factors that gave rise to it, makes a few good points, but buries them under a ridiculous premise: The culprit responsible for Trump is too much democracy, and the cure is more elite control of the political process.

Sullivan gets everything backward. It is as if a safety inspector had gone aboard RMS Titanic, minutely examined her watertight hatches, boiler and steam turbine, and then declared her safe because he judged that the lack of lifeboats reduced the chances of capsizing from too much top weight.

In a nutshell, Sullivan attributes Trump’s nomination for the presidency by one of our two major parties to the rise of what he calls “hyperdemocracy.” Accompanying this alleged excess of democracy is a mania for equality that leads to all manner of pointless leveling of social classes along with an undermining of authority.

As chief witness for the prosecution, he calls to the stand no less than Plato, who argued that the ripening of democracy births manifold horrors like gender equality, the treatment of foreigners as equals, an abatement of cruelty to animals, and the rich mingling freely with the poor.

One wonders if Sullivan could have cited a more relevant critic of the contemporary political system of a continent-sized nation with 320 million people than a metaphysician dwelling in a tiny city-state more than 2,400 years ago. And a rather implausible critic at that: the bedrock of Plato’s philosophy was his belief that physical objects and events are mere shadows of their ideal forms, which exist only insofar as they crudely simulate the perfect idealizations of themselves.

This kind of patently silly epistemology may make for a great debate topic at the Oxford Union, but it’s hardly a usable tool for analyzing the world around us. Sullivan might better have used the testimony of Alexis de Tocqueville, who at least laid eyes on the political system he was critiquing. Sullivan produces as his killer quote a passage of Plato’s that sounds like a half-senile Fox News viewer grumbling about kids these days.

Serious thinkers like Karl Popper, who experienced the rise of fascism up close and personal, have considered Platonism not as a model for human society, but as an absolutist philosophy that buttresses a totalitarian mindset.

Sullivan employs the arguments of a profoundly anti-democratic elitist who held that wise philosopher kings ought to rule over the riffraff. But is his specific charge true that too much democracy is responsible for Trump’s Mongol devastation of the Party of Lincoln, allegedly because during the 1970s the parties adopted direct primaries as a substitute for the selection of candidates by party bosses? The evidence is wanting.

Hyperdemocracy or Elective Oligarchy?

Let us suppose our presidential nominees were still chosen for us via the smoke-filled room (a method known in Sullivan’s mother country as the old-boy system). In 2016, on the Democratic side, our nominee would be Hillary Clinton. On the GOP side it would be Jeb Bush, a truly exciting prospect.

In reality, of course, we have the direct primary system, but it has hardly given rise to a mob-instigated revolution: for 28 of the last 36 years, a Bush or a Clinton has occupied the presidency or the vice presidency, and we still have in Hillary the thrilling potential for a further eight years of the same dynastic dyad.

The other institutional features of Sullivan’s alleged hyperdemocracy do not strike one as particularly Jacobin. Gerrymandering has achieved such perfection that in many congressional districts it denies a large number of voters fair representation. Wherever they run state governments, Republicans have engaged in shortening voting timesclosing DMV offices, requiring onerous identification procedures and other measures to suppress voting by constituencies they dislike.

The population of California is 66 times that of Wyoming, and both states elect two U.S. senators. These arrangements do not resemble the systems of highly democratic states like Finland or New Zealand, but they would fit comfortably within the Whig oligarchy of Eighteenth Century England. The Electoral College is an archaic system that inflates the power of small states. The conventional wisdom is that “it has served us well,” but it has not: four times (1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000) it elected the candidate with fewer popular votes.

Sullivan might object that in any case he is not arguing in favor of majoritarian democracy. But would he suggest that the travesty of 2000, when the philosopher kings of the Supreme Court chose a president too stupid and incurious to pay attention to an intelligence briefing warning of imminent attack on the United States, was a better outcome than obeying the will of the people?

Trading Fort Wayne for Empire

This anti-democratic tendency suffuses much of our governance. The most recent Congress completed, the 113th, saw a record number of filibusters, whereby a minority of senators was able to thwart the majority.

Important trade bills, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are examples of oligarchical engineering at its most sophisticated. These trade pacts are negotiated in secret, with members of Congress not allowed to know what’s in them; on the other hand, task forces of corporate lobbyists and lawyers are an integral part of the negotiating process.

Once the agreements are complete, representatives and senators can only view them by going to a secure room; copying or note taking is not permitted. Only when the full Congress votes to “fast track” the agreement (thereby nullifying its ability to amend the agreement) is the measure made public.

It is only through an occasional leak that we learn what our corporate overlords are up to, such as bulldozing food safety standards in TTIP, or allowing corporations to sue governments for alleged “lost profits” due to health, safety or environmental laws. These schemes undermine the very concept of democratic self-governance in favor of rule by corporations.

But so-called trade bills are deceptive in their very name: they have little to do with trade as commonly understood, or at least the promotion of exports that might help an assembly-line worker in Toledo or Muncie. They are increasingly about making politically untouchable the prerogatives of the wealthy investor class, and a vehicle for the Beltway elites’ obsession with finding novel ways to protect their favorite client states.

It is not too much to say that “trade” agreements are actually our ruling class’s mechanism for hanging on to Pax Americana: they offer allies and satellites privileged access to our domestic market in exchange for those countries’ submitting to Washington’s foreign policy diktats. If, as a consequence, Joe Lunchbucket in Fort Wayne, Indiana, takes it on the chin, it’s a price our Beltway Metternichs are willing, nay, eager, to pay.

But Joe Lunchbucket has gotten a little tired of the charade, and he’s told the Republican and Democratic establishments what they can do with their trade agreements. If he is now following a charlatan like Trump, who at least makes noises pretending he is on Joe’s side, is the man entirely at fault? How about Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, or Paul Ryan, who never saw a trade bill they didn’t like, or enlightened voices of the Upper West Side, like Thomas Friedman at The New York Times, who once said he didn’t even have to know what was in a trade bill to be in favor of it? Don’t they share a little of the responsibility?

Or maybe Andrew Sullivan, another bard of the comfortable classes whose Nietzschean über-heroes Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher gleefully inaugurated the cutthroat Ayn Rand economics that gutted the social position of the working classes and left them prey to mountebanks promising relief? Sullivan now affects to be horrified by the outcome, what with the blue-collared rabble supporting Trump rather than the Bush dynasty’s latest pretender to the throne.

The Rule of Organized Money

These aspects of the American political system did not fall like an asteroid from outer space upon an unsuspecting country. And they are hardly the stigmata of hyperdemocracy, whatever Sullivan imagines it to be.

Some, like the Electoral College, are anti-democratic legacies handed down at our founding. But unlike slavery, female disenfranchisement or whipping at the pillory, they have not been reformed out of existence. Others, like gerrymandering and voter suppression, arise from the natural criminal instincts of political operatives when they are not kept on a short leash by a vigilant public.

The principal factor, however, is the dominance of money in politics. It has always polluted American public life, but ever since Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, and climaxing with the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions of 2010 and 2014, our system has been twisted and corrupted by money.

Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of North­western University examined almost 2,000 surveys of American opinion on public policy matters between 1981 and 2002, and discovered how those preferences correlated with policy outcomes.

“[T]he preferences of economic elites,” Gilens and Page conclude, “have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.”

In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Gilens added, “I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their govern­ment does in the United States (my emphasis). And economic elites and interest groups, es­pecially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policymaking over the last few decades reflects the prefer­ences of those groups – economic elites and of organized interests.”

President Obama concurs: During the 2012 election campaign, he in­formed a group of wealthy donors that included Microsoft moguls Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, “You now have the potential of 200 peo­ple deciding who ends up being elected president every single time.”

Contrary to Sullivan’s essay, the role of money in politics has not been a dud, some exceptions notwithstanding: In 2008, the supposed insurgent Obama turned down public financing in order to raise funds privately, and as we can see from his flattery of the tech tycoons in the quote above, he assiduously courted them.

The practical result of this dominance of money over politics is an appalling wealth inequality in the United States: The bottom 90 percent own a smaller share of the national wealth than in the 27 other countries that track such statistics. Sullivan gives a perfunctory nod to these conditions, but fails to consider that they are the logical outcome of the Reagan-Thatcher-Bush economic policies aimed at the so-called “ownership society.”

As economist Thomas Piketty has shown, the tendency of capital to accumulate faster than wage growth means that over time, the big owners of capital will acquire almost everything, including, increasingly, the political process.

Bernie Sanders is not entirely a walking refutation of the dominance of money, as Sullivan would have it, although his candidacy symbolizes the fact that many people are fed up with the status quo.

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, is a candidate with historically high negative favorability ratings. She is also a poor campaigner who cannot even state a compelling rationale for her candidacy in one sentence. Yet it appears she is about to prevail as the Democratic nominee, because oceans of money and control of the party organization have overcome both the enthusiasm of Sanders’ supporters and her own personal liabilities.

It is noteworthy that Sullivan takes a gratuitous swipe at Sanders as “the demagogue of the left,” implying a symmetry between Trump and the Vermont senator. This is the laziest sort of “both sides do it” false equivalence that the mainstream media habitually resort to, a practice that political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann have trenchantly skewered.

Now that he has sewn up the nomination, Trump has in any case already ditched one of the marquee attractions of his pseudo-populist appeal: his refusal to take money from big donors. He is now moving full-bore to buck-rake among the plutocracy, with one of his early catches being the saturnine Sheldon Adelson. The roster of his supporters also includes familiar names like Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens.

Calling Dr. Frankenstein

Superficially, we obtained an anomalous result from the most recent batch of presidential primaries, at least on the Republican side. Had Sullivan’s desire for elite control prevailed, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and his pals, backstopped by big money boys like the brothers Koch, would have anointed Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio or some other walking ATM machine for the plutocracy.

But notwithstanding the pearl-clutching by GOP mugwumps, the elevation of Trump was a natural culmination of the philosophies and tactics of the Republican Party over the last several decades. They engineered Trump the way Cold War biologists at Fort Detrick engineered a virulent, weaponized strain of anthrax. Or, more precisely, they engineered a constituency that would be enthusiastically receptive to his toxic tirades.

Going back to Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the GOP has employed dog whistles and code words to condition their base, and particularly the emerging white working-class core of that base, to respond on cue to the siren song of cultural resentment: against elites (invariably defined as college professors rather than bank CEOs), against ethnic and religious minorities, against homosexuals, against pretty much any group that needed to be scapegoated as the need arose.

In the last two decades, the party has built up a formidable Conservative Media-Entertainment Complex that allows a human guinea pig to immerse himself 24/7 in a fact-free, Manichean alternate universe. Trump’s bizarre performance art is merely a funhouse-mirror reflection of the propaganda construct the Republican Party had already created.

The delicious (or sick) plot twist is this: The GOP had spent more than three decades patiently explaining to its base the virtues of laissez-faire economics, free trade and small government (while baiting them with the standard culture wars baggage and dog whistles), only to discover that its voters didn’t care a tinker’s cuss about Sullivan’s precious Thatcherite economics, and they certainly were not about to sacrifice their own Social Security or Medicare on the GOP’s altar of entitlement reform.

The party intended the culture wars and the dog whistles purely as a sweetener, to make predatory capitalism digestible, but in an irony worthy of O. Henry, the only thing that really stuck was a gooey residue of cultural resentment, bigotry and xenophobia. That’s where Trump mopped the floor with his befuddled rivals, who thought they could keep ladling free trade and corporatocracy down the gullets of the proles as if they were Strasbourg geese.

Sullivan’s Travails

What really riles Andrew Sullivan in his essay is how the Trump candidacy is entwined with the crudest manifestations of popular culture. It is certainly true that American pop cult is an unedifying phenomenon. Sullivan presents as his Exhibit A an early incident in the ascent of Sarah Palin.

In 1996, according to the Anchorage Daily News, she turned out at an event to see Ivana Trump, “who, in the wake of her divorce, was touting her branded perfume. ‘We want to see Ivana, because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.’”

A nice story, but what’s Sullivan’s point, exactly? That the rubes in the backwoods are gauche for conflating glamour and culture? Sarah Palin would be a footnote to history had she not been discovered by Bill Kristoleminence beige among what passes for the neoconservative intelligentsia, and inflicted upon a suffering world by John McCain, son and grandson of Navy admirals and Annapolis ring-knocker, each an epitome of the neoconservative establishment that since the Reagan era has settled in on the Beltway like a permanent infestation. She became a key precursor of Trump.

It is all too easy to make sport of the Archie Bunker replicants on Staten Island or the miners in the West Virginia coalfields who cleave to Trump with dog-like devotion. Trump rallies typically do not reflect the better angels of man’s nature. With all that stipulated, who created him?

In one sense, the Republican Party created him, or at a minimum, as we’ve seen, the ideological space for him. But Trump, the actual personality, is a construct of the so-called gatekeepers of the corporate news media, centered in Manhattan. Because of their relentless hyping, Trump was able to inflate the market value of his name, which he then licensed to be sold as an appellation for a host of tacky products.

In the same way Lehman Brothers’ securities were backed by the grossly exaggerated value of subprime mortgages, the main prop to Trump’s empire has always been the media-inflated collateral of the Trump moniker.

During the late 1980s, the heroic Reaganesque Age of elbows-out acquisition, business cable channels like Financial News Network (a precursor of CNBC) drooled over The Donald’s every move. Later, NBC, an institution that once upon a time maintained its own symphony orchestra conducted by Toscanini, gave Trump his own reality TV show that was beamed to the remotest hollows of eastern Kentucky.

And now, the media are giving him $2 billion worth of free publicity. Les Moonves, chairman of CBS, once the network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, has half-confessed and half-boasted that Trump’s campaign has been “damn good for CBS.”

When we contemplate horrors like “Duck Dynasty” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” or the umpteenth sequel of some idiotic superhero franchise, it is hard not to feel sympathy with Sullivan’s critique of popular culture. But there is a factor that he misses. Who creates taste?

The populations of the Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Finland have a very high readership of serious newspapers and intelligent books; tiny Iceland has highest level per capita of book publishing in the world. These countries are notably democratic and egalitarian, the furthest thing from what Plato or Matthew Arnold had in mind when they thought of culture.

Ninety years ago, H. L. Mencken asked why the trackside towns near Pittsburgh yielded the most hideous habitations known to man. People commonly thought the miners and steelworkers who inhabited them didn’t know any better because they were mainly unlettered immigrants. But why, he inquired, did they build charming villages in their home countries?

There is something about the rawness of American capitalism that with an alarming lust surrenders to what Mencken called “a libido for the ugly.” That capitalism is not controlled at its commanding heights by the residents of trailer parks.

Trump: a stepchild of the Deep State?

Donald Trump is a product of elite structures like the Republican establishment and our corporate media, as well as the anti-democratic tendencies that have become an increasingly prominent accompaniment to this country’s wage-cutting, outsourcing, laissez-faire economic orthodoxy. But there is one other powerful faction with an equity stake in Trump: the national security complex.

For the past 15 years, the people who form the bipartisan elite consensus that makes up a crucial element of what I call “the Deep State” – politicians, generals, media personalities, think-tank experts – have been drumming into our heads the message that we must be very afraid of terrorism, despite the fact that we are more likely to die slipping in the bathtub than in a terrorist attack.

It has worked. Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina, where Trump won in a walk, declared terrorism their foremost concern, eclipsing a low-wage economy, deteriorating living standards leading to an increase in the death rate of GOP voters’ core demographic, and the most expensive and least available health care in the developed world.

This fear that our elite consensus fostered has awakened the latent authoritarianism and paranoia that lurk in all too many people. This dynamic explains why Trump’s candidacy took off like a moon rocket in November and December of 2015, the period of the terrorist attack in Paris and the murders in San Bernardino.

Government officials and the media whipped up a mood in the country that approached hysteria; Trump deftly exploited it. By being the only politician brazen enough to openly advocate torture – not merely to gain information (a dubious claim), but to inflict pain for its own sake – he tapped into the revenge fantasies of millions of Americans who have been fed a steady diet of fear since 9/11.

We delude ourselves in thinking that the United States could be a “normal” country while waging a seemingly endless war on terror. Sullivan, too, got swept up the mania that prevailed in the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. He became a militant proponent of the Bush administration’s “you’re with us or against us” foreign policy line by condemning “the decadent Left” for being a fifth column.

He later recanted his Trumpism avant la lettre, principally because the Bush administration botched the invasion and resorted to torture. But criticizing the effects of the invasion, which soon became obvious to any observer, rather than the original rationale for it, was a too-easy dodge of the moral core of the issue.

The decision to make aggressive war is the father of all the crimes that flow inevitably from it. As Justice Robert H. Jackson stated at the Nuremburg tribunal in 1946, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The torture and the other excesses, therefore, were logical outcomes of the decision to invade Iraq, not deviations from an initially exemplary desire to preempt Saddam Hussein from employing terrorism against us. Just as Sullivan was stampeded by the hysteria over Saddam’s fictive intentions, he now appears to lose confidence in democracy itself because of the dread apparition of Trump.

No Genteel Conservatism anymore

Like his fellow conservative David Brooks, Sullivan yearns for “elite mediation,” a polite term for letting our social betters from the Ivy League run the show. But how did that work out? The 1953 overthrow of Iran’s government by the CIA’s Yalies led to an inexorable chain of events culminating in a smoking debris field in lower Manhattan.

The Dulles brothers of Dillon, Read & Co. staged a coup against the first democratic government in Guatemala for the greater glory of United Fruit’s shareholders; in the repression that followed, hecatombs of corpses sparked a destabilization throughout Central America climaxing in the mass immigration to the United States that is the heart and soul of the Trump backlash. The best and the brightest, of course, engineered us into the quicksand of Vietnam, a disaster of almost Hegelian perfection.

For all of his occasional apostasy against the new Republican orthodoxy by being an openly gay conservative, Sullivan still has just enough emotional attachment to a patrician, largely imaginary version of “classic” conservatism as to want to protect his ideological mirage from contamination by the Trump craze. He favors some fantasy version of the conservatism espoused by his idol, the British political scientist Michael Oakeshott.

It is his delusion that there now exists a conservatism purged of its reactionary impulses that can function as an anti-ideology rather than the ideology it actually is. Contemporary conservatism, with its harping on tradition and values, is an elaborate evasion of the fundamental political question all societies face: Who gets what, and on which terms?

When Abraham Lincoln spoke of “the mystic chords of memory,” he did not mean the dead hand of custom, but rather a steady confidence in popular government derived from the inalienable rights of the governed.

As with other right-of-center polemicists of late, Andrew Sullivan seeks to distract us by playing down or ignoring the role of movement conservatism in creating the ugly carnival that is Trump by waving shiny objects in front of us labeled “political correctness” (so he can blame “the Left”) or popular culture (to diffuse the blame throughout society).

Sorry, Andrew: The conservative movement, and the elites who back them, built this Frankenstein monster. They own it.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, appeared in January 2016. [This article first appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/elites-vs-much-democracy-andrew-sullivans-afraid-popular-self-government/]




More Game-Playing on MH-17?

Exclusive: The West keeps piling the blame for the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Russian President Putin although there are many holes in the case and the U.S. government still withholds its evidence, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A newly posted video showing a glimpse of a Buk missile battery rolling down a highway in eastern Ukraine has sparked a flurry of renewed accusations blaming Russia for the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 killing 298 people. But the “dash-cam video” actually adds little to the MH-17 whodunit mystery because it could also support a narrative blaming the Ukrainian military for the disaster.

The fleeting image of the missile battery and its accompanying vehicles, presumably containing an armed escort, seems to have been taken by a car heading west on H-21 highway in the town of Makiivka, as the convoy passed by heading east, according to the private intelligence firm Stratfor and the “citizen journalism” Web site, Bellingcat.

However, even assuming that this Buk battery was the one that fired the missile that destroyed MH-17, its location in the video is to the west of both the site where Almaz-Antey, the Russian Buk manufacturer, calculated the missile was fired, around the village of Zaroshchenskoye (then under Ukrainian government control), and the 320-square-kilometer zone where the Dutch Safety Board speculated the fateful rocket originated (covering an area of mixed government and rebel control).

In other words, the question would be where the battery stopped before firing one of its missiles, assuming that this Buk system was the one that fired the missile. (The map below shows the location of Makiivka in red, Almaz-Antey’s suspected launch site in yellow, and the general vicinity of the Dutch Safety Board’s 320-square-kilometer launch zone in green.)

Another curious aspect of this and the other eight or so Internet images of Buk missiles collected by Bellingcat and supposedly showing a Buk battery rumbling around Ukraine on or about July 17, 2014, is that they are all headed east toward Russia, yet there have been no images of Buks heading west from Russia into Ukraine, a logical necessity if the Russians gave a Buk system to ethnic Russian rebels or dispatched one of their own Buk military units directly into Ukraine, suspicions that Russia and the rebels have denied.

The absence of a westward-traveling Buk battery fits with the assessment from Western intelligence agencies that the several operational Buk systems in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, were under the control of the Ukrainian military, a disclosure contained in a Dutch intelligence report released last October and implicitly confirmed by an earlier U.S. “Government Assessment” that listed weapons systems that Russia had given the rebels but didn’t mention a Buk battery.

The Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet on July 17 belonged to the Ukrainian government. MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014.

MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” capable of downing a plane at that altitude and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country,” whereas the MIVD said the ethnic Russian rebels had only MANPADS that could not reach the higher altitudes.

Ukrainian Offensive

On July 17, the Ukrainian military also was mounting a strong offensive against rebel positions to the north and thus the front lines were shifting rapidly, making it hard to know exactly where the borders of government and rebel control were. To the south, where the Buk missile was believed fired, the battle lines were lightly manned and hazy – because of the concentration of forces to the north – meaning that an armed Buk convoy could probably move somewhat freely.

Also, because of the offensive, the Ukrainian government feared a full-scale Russian invasion to prevent the annihilation of the rebels, explaining why Kiev was dispatching its Buk systems toward the Russian border, to defend against potential Russian air strikes.

Just a day earlier, a Ukrainian fighter flying along the border was shot down by an air-to-air missile (presumably fired by a Russian warplane), according to last October’s Dutch Safety Board report. So, tensions were high on July 17, 2014, when MH-17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, broke apart over eastern Ukraine, believed downed by a surface-to-air missile although there have been other suggestions that the plane might  have been hit by an air-to-air missile.

At the time, Ukraine also was the epicenter of an “information war” that had followed a U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, which ousted democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and replaced the Russian-friendly leader with a fiercely nationalistic and anti-Russian regime in Kiev. The violent coup, in turn, prompted Crimea to vote 96 percent in a hasty referendum to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Eastern Ukraine and its large ethnic Russian population also revolted against the new authorities.

The U.S. government and much of the Western media, however, denied there had been a coup in Kiev, hailed the new regime as “legitimate,” and deemed Crimea’s secession a “Russian invasion.” The West also denounced the eastern Ukrainian resistance as “Russian aggression.” So, the propaganda war was almost as hot as the military fighting, a factor that has further distorted the pursuit of truth about the MH-17 tragedy.

Immediately after the MH-17 crash, the U.S. government sought to pin the blame on Russia as part of a propaganda drive to convince the European Union to join in imposing economic sanctions on Russia for its “annexation” of Crimea and its support of eastern Ukrainians resisting the Kiev regime.

However, a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the analysts could find no evidence that the Russians had supplied the rebels with a sophisticated Buk system or that the Russians had introduced a Buk battery under their own command. The source said the initial intelligence suggested that an undisciplined Ukrainian military team was responsible.

Yet, on July 20, 2014, just three days after the tragedy, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on all Sunday morning talk shows and blamed the Russian-backed rebels and implicitly Moscow. He cited some “social media” comments and – on NBC’s “Meet the Press” – added: “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

Two days later, on July 22, the Obama administration released a “Government Assessment” that tried to bolster Kerry’s accusations, in part, by listing the various weapons systems that U.S. intelligence believed Russia had provided the rebels, but a Buk battery was not among them. At background briefings for selected mainstream media reporters, U.S. intelligence analysts struggled to back up the administration’s case against Russia.

For instance, the analysts suggested to a Los Angeles Times reporter that Ukrainian government soldiers manning the suspected Buk battery may have switched to the rebel side before firing the missile. The Times wrote: “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [Buk anti-aircraft missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.”

However, after that July 22 briefing — as U.S. intelligence analysts continued to pore over satellite imagery, telephonic intercepts and other data to refine their understanding of the tragedy — the U.S. government went curiously silent, refusing to make any updates or adjustments to its initial rush to judgment, a silence that has continued ever since.

Staying Silent

Meanwhile, the source who continued receiving briefings from the U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the reason for going quiet was that the more detailed evidence pointed toward a rogue element of the Ukrainian military connected to a hardline Ukrainian oligarch, with the possible motive the shooting down of President Vladimir Putin’s plane returning from a state visit to South America.

In that scenario, a Ukrainian fighter jet in the vicinity (as reported by several eyewitnesses on the ground) was there primarily as a spotter, seeking to identify the target. But Putin’s plane, with similar markings to MH-17, took a more northerly route and landed safely in Moscow.

Though I was unable to determine whether the source’s analysts represented a dissenting or consensus opinion inside the U.S. intelligence community, some of the now public evidence could fit with that narrative, including why the suspected Buk system was pushing eastward as close to or even into “rebel” territory on July 17.

If Putin was the target, the attackers would need to spread immediate confusion about who was responsible to avoid massive retaliation by Moscow. A perfect cover story would be that Putin’s plane was shot down accidentally by his ethnic Russian allies or even his own troops, the ultimate case of being hoisted on his own petard.

Such a risky operation also would prepare disinformation for release after the attack to create more of a smokescreen and to gain control of the narrative, including planting material on the Internet to be disseminated by friendly or credulous media outlets.

The Ukrainian government has denied having a fighter jet in the air at the time of the MH-17 shoot-down and has denied that any of its Buk or other anti-aircraft systems were involved.

Yet, whatever the truth, U.S. intelligence clearly knows a great deal more than it has been willing to share with the public or even with the Dutch-led investigations. Last October, more than a year after the shoot-down, the Dutch Safety Board was unable to say who was responsible and could only approximate the location of the missile firing inside a 320-square-kilometer area, whereas Kerry had claimed three days after the crash that the U.S. government knew the launch point.

Earlier this year, Fred Westerbeke, the chief prosecutor of the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team [JIT], provided a partial update to the Dutch family members of MH-17 victims, explaining that he hoped to have a more precise fix on the firing site by the second half of 2016, i.e., possibly more than two years after the tragedy.

Westerbeke’s letter acknowledged that the investigators lacked “primary raw radar images” which could have revealed a missile or a military aircraft in the vicinity of MH-17. That apparently was because Ukrainian authorities had shut down their primary radar facilities supposedly for maintenance, leaving only secondary radar which would show commercial aircraft but not military planes or rockets.

Russian officials have said their radar data suggest that a Ukrainian warplane might have fired on MH-17 with an air-to-air missile, a possibility that is difficult to rule out without examining primary radar which has so far not been available. Primary radar data also might have picked up a ground-fired missile, Westerbeke wrote.

“Raw primary radar data could provide information on the rocket trajectory,” Westerbeke wrote. “The JIT does not have that information yet. JIT has questioned a member of the Ukrainian air traffic control and a Ukrainian radar specialist. They explained why no primary radar images were saved in Ukraine.” Westerbeke said investigators are also asking Russia about its data.

Westerbeke added that the JIT had “no video or film of the launch or the trajectory of the rocket.” Nor, he said, do the investigators have satellite photos of the rocket launch.

“The clouds on the part of the day of the downing of MH17 prevented usable pictures of the launch site from being available,” he wrote. “There are pictures from just before and just after July 17th and they are an asset in the investigation.”

Though Westerbeke provided no details, the Russian military released a number of satellite images purporting to show Ukrainian government Buk missile systems north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk before the attack, including two batteries that purportedly were shifted 50 kilometers south of Donetsk on July 17, the day of the crash, and then removed by July 18.

Russian Lt. Gen. Andrey Kartopolov called on the Ukrainian government to explain the movements of its Buk systems and why Kiev’s Kupol-M19S18 radars, which coordinate the flight of Buk missiles, showed increased activity leading up to the July 17 shoot-down.

Necessary Secrets?

Part of the reason that the MH-17 mystery has remained unsolved is that the U.S. government  insists that its satellite surveillance, which includes infrared detection of heat sources as well as highly precise photographic imagery, remains a “state secret” that cannot be made public.

However, in similar past incidents, the U.S. government has declassified sensitive information. For instance, after a Soviet pilot accidentally shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Russian territory in 1983, the Reagan administration revealed the U.S. capability to intercept Soviet ground-to-air military communications in order to make the Soviets look even worse by selectively editing the intercepts to present the destruction of the civilian aircraft as willful.

In that case, too, the U.S. government let its propaganda needs overwhelm any commitment to the truth, as Alvin A. Snyder, who in 1983 was director of the U.S. Information Agency’s television and film division, wrote in his 1995 book, Warriors of Disinformation.

After KAL-007 was shot down, “the Reagan administration’s spin machine began cranking up,” Snyder wrote. “The objective, quite simply, was to heap as much abuse on the Soviet Union as possible. … The American media swallowed the U.S. government line without reservation.”

On Sept. 6, 1983, the Reagan administration went so far as to present a doctored transcript of the intercepts to the United Nations Security Council. “The perception we wanted to convey was that the Soviet Union had cold-bloodedly carried out a barbaric act,” Snyder wrote.

Only a decade later, when Snyder saw the complete transcripts — including the portions that the Reagan administration had excised — would he fully realize how many of the central elements of the U.S. presentation were lies.

Snyder concluded, “The moral of the story is that all governments, including our own, lie when it suits their purposes. The key is to lie first.” [For more details on the KAL-007 deception and the history of U.S. trickery, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War.”]

In the MH-17 case, the Obama administration let Kerry present the rush to judgment fingering the Russians and the rebels but then kept all the evidence secret even though the U.S. government’s satellite capabilities are well-known. By refusing to declassify any information for the MH-17 investigation, Washington has succeeded in maintaining the widespread impression that Moscow was responsible for the tragedy without having to prove it.

The source who was briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the Obama administration considered “coming clean” about the MH-17 case in March, when Thomas Schansman, the Dutch father of the only American victim, was pleading for the U.S. government’s cooperation, but administration officials ultimately decided to keep quiet because to do otherwise would have “reversed the narrative.”

In the meantime, outfits such as Bellingcat have been free to reinforce the impression of Russian guilt, even as some of those claims have proved false. For instance, Bellingcat directed a news crew from Australia’s “60 Minutes” to a location outside Luhansk (near the Russian border) that the group had identified as the site for the “getaway video” showing a Buk battery with one missile missing.

The “60 Minutes” crew went to the spot and pretended to be at the place shown in the video, but none of the landmarks matched up, which became obvious when screen grabs of the video were placed next to the scene of the Australian crew’s stand-upper. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Fake Evidence Blaming Russia for MH-17.”]

Yet, reflecting the deep-seated mainstream media bias on the MH-17 case, the Australian program reacted angrily to my pointing out the obvious discrepancies. In a follow-up, the show denounced me but could only cite a utility pole in its footage that looked similar to a utility pole in the video.

While it’s true that utility poles tend to look alike, in this case none of the surroundings did, including the placement of the foliage and a house shown in the video that isn’t present in the Australian program’s shot. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Reckless Stand-upper on MH-17.”]

But the impact of the nearly two years of one-sided coverage of the MH-17 case in the mainstream Western media has been considerable. In the last few days, a lawyer for the families of Australian victims announced the filing of a lawsuit against Russia and Putin in the European court for human rights seeking compensation of $10 million per passenger. Many of the West’s news articles on the lawsuit assume Russia’s guilt.

In other words, whatever the truth about the MH-17 shoot-down, the tragedy has proven to be worth its weight in propaganda gold against Russia and Putin, even as the U.S. government hides the actual proof that might show exactly who was responsible.

(Research by Assistant Editor Chelsea Gilmour.)

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).




Does Russia Have Reason to Fear?

Exclusive: NATO is putting an anti-missile base in Romania and brushing aside Russia’s fears, but – over the decades – the U.S. has reacted furiously to the possibility of nearby foreign military bases, recalls James W Carden.

By James W Carden

In April 1970, at what was roughly the halfway point in the 40-year Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon’s Nation Security Adviser Henry Kissinger thought he smelled a rat. Kissinger told an incredulous Nixon that the Soviets were stirring up trouble in the Middle East, attempting to provoke a war between the Israelis, Syrians and Jordanians in order to distract the United States from what it was really up to: building a naval base at Cienfuegos Bay in Cuba.

Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, recounts in his diaries that: “On September 18 we had received word that the Soviets were building a submarine base in Cienfuegos Bay, Cuba.” By Sept. 24 word had leaked to the press and that same day Nixon and Kissinger, according to Haldeman, “gave [Soviet Ambassador Anatoly] Dobrynin an ultimatum and over the next few weeks…the Soviets backed down and abandoned the base.”

Well, not quite. As NYU historian and Nation contributor Greg Grandin expertly lays out in his groundbreaking account of Kissinger’s legacy, Kissinger’s Shadow, the Cienfuegos affair was little more than a figment of Kissinger’s fevered imagination. According to Grandin, “The Soviets didn’t back down because there was nothing to back down from.” Indeed, “Reconnaissance flights photographed every inch of Cienfuegos and couldn’t find one piece of heavy equipment that could be put to building such a port.”

If various accounts of the Nixon era – by among others, Haldeman, Grandin, Robert Dallek and Richard Reeves – are anything to go by, Kissinger was more than a touch unsound. But the basic premise behind his imaginary Cienfuegos threat was not altogether baseless (even if there never was to be a Soviet base): the U.S. did have definable security interests in preventing the Soviets from developing a military base 90 miles from U.S. shores.

Today, as NATO places troops and missile defense installations in Eastern Europe, we might ask ourselves if the Russian Federation has similar definable security interests in its own backyard. Since the end of the Cold War, the American foreign policy establishment seems to have done a complete 180-degree turn and now, of late, has decided that countries, above all Russia (and as regards the South China Sea, China), do not.

American officials now commonly express their belief that “spheres of influence” are passé, and that the rest of the world best get with the (revised) program. We see this all too clearly in the row that has been unfolding these past weeks over the new NATO missile defense installation in Romania.

Does the U.S. have a clear and definable national security interest in placing a missile-defense shield in Romania? This would be news to most Americans who – unless their grasp of geography has miraculously improved since a 2014 poll revealed that only 16 percent of them could find Ukraine on a map –  would be hard pressed to place Romania on the right continent, much less is exact location.

The Generals and Pentagon policy wonks, of course, realize this and so they cling to the old chestnut that the missile-defense installations are meant to prevent an attack by Iran, with whom the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (plus Germany) just signed a far-reaching agreement on nuclear proliferation. According to Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, “As long as Iran continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles, the United States will work with its allies to defend NATO.”

What would Iran’s interest in firing ballistic missiles into Europe be? What exactly is America’s interest in setting these installations up? On these points the wonks are silent.

Oh, but never mind. Having abandoned any pretense that other great powers have definable (and eminently defensible) security interests of their own, American-led NATO is blithely plunging the Western world into fighting Cold War 2.0.

Yet, given the wide support candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have been receiving this election cycle, it is just possible that the heretofore somnolent American public may be waking up to the long post-Cold War con perpetuated by the country’s governing elites over the need for global American hegemony.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.