Trump’s Five Questions on US Foreign Policy

Along with his self-congratulatory bombast, Donald Trump has offered a rare critique of Official Washington’s “group think” about foreign policy, including the wisdom of NATO expansion and the value of endless war, notes John V. Walsh.

By John V. Walsh

“Only Donald Trump (among the Presidential candidates) has said anything meaningful and critical of U.S. foreign policy.” No, that is not Reince Priebus, chair of the RNC, speaking up in favor of the presumptive Republican nominee. It is Stephen F. Cohen, Emeritus Professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, a contributing editor for The Nation, that most liberal of political journals.

Cohen tells us here that: “Trump’s questions are fundamental and urgent, but instead of engaging them, his opponents (including President Obama) and the media dismiss the issues he raises about foreign policy as ignorant and dangerous. Some even charge that his statements are like ‘Christmas in the Kremlin’ and that he is ‘the Kremlin’s Candidate’ — thereby, further shutting off the debate we so urgently need.” (Cohen’s comment about the lack of a meaningful critique of U.S. foreign policy also covers the statements of Sen. Bernie Sanders.)

Cohen first enunciated Trump’s five questions during one of his weekly discussions on relations between Russia and the West on The John Batchelor Show, on WABC-AM (also on podcasts).

On the April 6 broadcast, Cohen said: “Let me just rattle off the five questions he [Trump] has asked. [First] why must the United States lead the world everywhere on the globe and play the role of the world’s policeman, now for example, he says, in Ukraine? It’s a question. It’s worth a discussion.

“Secondly, [Trump] said, NATO was founded 67 years ago to deter the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union ended 25 years ago. What is NATO’s mission? Is it obsolete? Is it fighting terrorism?  No, to the last question, it’s not. Should we discuss NATO’s mission?

“Thirdly, [Trump] asks, why does the United States always pursue regime changes? Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and now it wants a regime change in Syria, Damascus. When the result is, to use Donald Trump’s favorite word, the result is always “disaster.” But it’s a reasonable question.

“Fourthly, why do we treat Russia and Putin as an enemy when he should be a partner?

“Fifth, Trump asks, about nuclear weapons – and this is interesting. You remember he was asked, would he rule out using nuclear weapons – an existential question. He thought for a while and then he said, ‘No, I take nothing off the table.’ And everybody said he wants to use nuclear weapons! In fact, it is the official American nuclear doctrine policy that we do not take first use off the table. We do not have a no first use of nuclear weapons doctrine. So all Trump did was state in his own way what has been official American nuclear policy for, I guess, 40 or 50 years. …

“It seems to me that these five questions, which are not being discussed by the other presidential candidates, are essential.”

Batchelor then turned the discussion to the question of NATO. Cohen replied: “When we say NATO, what are we talking about? We are not talking only about the weapons and soldiers on land and sea. We’re talking about a vast political bureaucracy with hundreds of thousands of employees and appointees, that is located in Brussels. It’s a political empire. It’s an institution. It’s almost on a par with our Department of Defense, though it gets its money from the Department of Defense, mainly, as Trump points out …

“But it has many propaganda organs. If you look at the bylines of people who write op-ed pieces in many American papers, they are listed as working for the public relations department of NATO or they formerly did so. No, I would say along with the Kremlin and Washington, NATO is probably the third largest propagator of information, in this information war, in the world.

“But look, here’s the reality. And Trump came to this late. When they were discussing expanding NATO in the 1990s in the Clinton administration, it was George Kennan, who was then the most venerable American diplomat scholar on relations with Russia, who said: Don’t do it; it will be a disaster; it will lead to a new Cold War.

“Since George spoke his words – and I knew him well when I taught at Princeton where he lived – we have taken in virtually all of the countries between Berlin and Russia. NATO now has 28 membership states. But if you sit in the Kremlin and you see NATO coming at you over 20 years, country by country like PAC-man, gobbling up countries that used to be your allies, who appears to be the aggressor?

“So – the expansion of NATO has been a catastrophe. And that has been, in some ways, apart from fighting the war in Afghanistan – from which I believe it has now withdrawn, it is now solely American (I may be wrong about that) – and in addition taking on the American project of missile defense, expanding toward Russia has been NATO’s only mission since the end of the Soviet Union.

“So people can ask themselves, if they ask calmly and apart from the information war, … do we have less security risks, less conflict, today after this expansion to Russia’s borders, bearing in mind that the Ukrainian crisis is a direct result of trying to bring Ukraine into NATO as was the Georgian war, the proxy war with Russia in 2008. Are we, as [President] Reagan would say, are we better off today? We are not! So easily at a minimum, we have to rethink what it is NATO is doing.”

So get thee to the website for the American Committee on East West Accord and listen to the weekly Batchelor-Cohen podcasts. They are an ideal antidote to the avalanche of Russia-bashing and Putin-demonizing that we must endure. While you are at it, check out the other leading members of ACEWA, a superb and badly needed organization – and make a contribution.

John V. Walsh is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch.com, Antiwar.com, LewRockwell.com and DissidentVoice.org. He is a founding member of “Come Home America.” Until recently he was Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He can be reached at john.endwar@gmail.com.

 




Hillary Clinton’s ‘House of Cards’

Special Report: In promoting Hillary Clinton for President, the Democratic Party is betting that American voters are ready to venture back into the Clintons’ “House of Cards,” a structure long defined by scandals and self-interest, writes Greg Maybury.

By Greg Maybury

For “House of Cards” fans who can’t get enough of fictional President Frank Underwood and his First Lady Claire, it must be tempting to view Bill and Hillary Clinton as their real-life political doppelgangers. Certainly there’s fertile ground for those seeking parallels between the main protagonists of this quintessential political soap opera, and our more flesh and blood “heroes.” Like their imaginary foils, the Clintons’ moral compass is functionally impaired, so much so one suspects the HoC scriptwriters modeled their lead characters on the Democratic Party’s resident “royal couple.”

To be sure, a critical assessment of Hillary Clinton’s fitness for the Oval Office can’t be undertaken absent some reference to the respective roles she and her husband have played in each other’s professional lives. Many folks will recall their indelible slogan from Bill Clinton’s successful tilt at the top job in 1992, where the campaign pitch to voters was, “Two for the price of one.”

Again, one not unlike the mantra the Underwoods might concoct for voters. One wonders why the Clintons have not retooled that hoary old refrain for 2016, and here I’m thinking, “Buy one, get one free” might fit the bill.

The Clintons then (cue Frank and Claire again) are the consummate political “chancers” (British slang for “opportunists”), with style overwhelming substance, ruthlessness eclipsing truthfulness, and political expediency supplanting personal integrity. Occupying their own “house of cards” is a long, yet not so illustrious history of deception, malice, corruption, duplicity, careerism, avarice, turpitude, warmongering, hubris, incompetence, arrogance, media manipulation, venality, hypocrisy, influence touting, and everything in between that the ugly, sleazy side of politics has on offer.

This reality was first underscored most notably when — in what must be the modern American narrative’s most indelible “stand by your man” moment — the then “Tammy Wynette” of U.S. politics vigorously defended her husband against allegations of unbridled lechery and sexual predation. These allegations, along with many others in her view, were invented by what she later defined as a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” one that was unscrupulously trying to take them down and out.

But irrespective of whether this much touted “conspiracy” was actually a reality (the Clintons surely had powerful and well-heeled enemies), a product of Mrs. Clinton’s penchant for self-aggrandizing delusion, or simply dirty politics (the perfect tautology if there is one), it is now safe to say it was going to take much more than a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to stop the Clinton juggernaut in its tracks.

Powerful Juggernaut

That this “juggernaut” shows few signs of losing steam is evident; at the same time it continues to showcase all that’s wrong about Establishment politics — Republican or Democrat. And whilst we can say now the accusations against her husband contained more than a grain of truth (at least those related to womanizing and self-aggrandizement), both Bill and Hillary were in for the long haul. That she tendered her impassioned denials in the full knowledge that many were true is difficult to refute, and if nothing else, says much about the candidate’s capacity to deny reality in the service of a larger ambition.

And without placing too fine a point on it, this is one area where given the prevailing zeitgeist in Washington – in both neoliberal and neoconservative circles – Hillary Clinton is most definitely qualified as both the preferred candidate of Democratic insiders and the Establishment’s choice for president (including a number of erstwhile Republicans).

In any event, the Clintons themselves are no slouches when it comes to playing “dirty politics,” for whom we might say all’s fair in love, war and their chosen vocation. They embody moreover, raw political ambition at its hard-core finest, steeled by narcissistic megalomania, all of it unencumbered by accountability, transparency, humility, ethics, honesty, scruples or altruism. Her seemingly inevitable selection as the 2016 Democratic flag-bearer — and from there most likely the presidency — is ample indication of that “long haul” ambition.

To their credit as political survivors, they’ve been effectively dodging political snipers ever since they parachuted into public consciousness during the 1992 campaign. And if the current contest is any guide, the Clintons have not lost their innate talent in this regard. As for Hillary Clinton, one suspects even her most zealous detractors could not help but admire — if begrudgingly — the mix of chutzpah and resilience that have been key to her longevity, with her not always subtle campaign “trump” cards: “It’s my turn!” Even without playing the “elect me as your first woman president” card, the palpable sense of quasi-regal entitlement becomes icing on the Clinton cake!

We might argue that given the weight of mounting evidence against her fitness for office — a modicum of which would deep-six most politicians’ career ambitions — they have become ever more adept at keeping their political ducks flying in a row, and well out of the range of the shooters. Not that they’ve achieved this all on their own.

In this the Clintons have been ably served by the mainstream media (MSM), who’ve generally eschewed the forensic analysis — whether political, policy or personal — vital to objectively evaluating her fitness as the Democratic nominee (and therefore president).

Mistress of Malevolent Mayhem

The prospect then of another Clinton presidency should make all right-thinking Americans increasingly concerned – even afraid – about the direction in which their country is heading. I know I am, and I’m not even an American!

Like many of America’s key allies over recent years, our country Australia is no different in that more and more Aussies are harboring anxious — one might say existential — fears about the respective agendas of the U.S. neoconservative and neoliberal establishments. And notwithstanding her blandly reassuring campaign rhetoric on both counts, Clinton hasn’t just aligned herself with these agendas; it’s increasingly clear she’s the preferred standard bearer of the authors.

With this in mind, outside of her aforementioned Tammy Wynette moment, we should explore a little more of the aspiring president’s résumé. In an excellent book, aptly titled Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton, Diana Johnstone does just this. The author chronicles in a clear-eyed manner her subject’s back story in excruciating detail. What makes Johnstone’s tome all the more remarkable and essential is the depth and breadth of her narrative, one that goes way beyond the outwardly narrow focus suggested by the book’s title.

For Johnstone, Clinton’s “misadventures” aren’t simply a reflection of the warmongering misadventures of the country she aspires to lead and whose dubious “virtues” Clinton obsequiously and glibly extols at every turn. In Johnstone’s studied analysis of the candidate, Hillary Clinton embraces all the vices that distinguish the prevailing Washington “group think” on foreign, national security and military policy. Indeed, Clinton does so as promiscuously as her philandering spouse did in pursuing his own personal vices.

Moreover, along with being attendant to her husband’s career, the back story of Hillary Clinton’s political ascendancy is inextricably woven into the larger narrative of America’s preeminence as the “indispensable” empire du jour in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, itself coinciding more or less with Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency in 1992.

As Johnstone notes, in her youth, the then Hillary Rodham, a former Republican and “Goldwater girl,” “grew up with the viewpoint of a rich and dominant America obliged to maintain its position on top of an envious and resentful world. This was the standard attitude.”

It should be noted that it was her husband’s foreign and national security policies that in so many ways facilitated the rise of the “full-spectrum dominance” mindset that prevails in Washington to this day. In fact, Bill Clinton’s track record as POTUS is a singular pointer to how a Hillary Clinton presidency will shape up on the critical economic and financial, as well as the geopolitical and national security fronts.

Though we may never know the full extent of Hillary Clinton’s influence on her husband’s foreign and national security policies during his tenure, we can safely assume it was never less than substantive. In this we might point to her well-documented encouragement of Bill Clinton to bomb Yugoslavia, as just one example.

Bringing in Bubba

And now with her husband as a key fundraiser, campaign strategist and arguably her closest political confidant, it’s a safe bet that once Hillary Clinton is ensconced in the White House, “Bubba” Clinton will almost certainly reign behind the throne as her indispensible consigliore. In fact, we can’t rule out his appointment as a key player in the next administration.

As it is, such a prospect was announced just this past week when the candidate said she is likely to appoint her husband to a senior economic advisory position, purportedly to “revitalize” the economy. “You know, he knows how to do it,” she declared.

On the foreign policy front, the aptly designated “War Party” — the cabal of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who are the flag-bearers of America’s hegemonic ambition — are now more entrenched than in Bill Clinton’s heyday and key leaders are backing Hillary Clinton. This being the case, the die one imagines is already cast — America’s future preordained. There can be only one outcome from a Hillary Clinton presidency – more wars.

In an interview with Joan Brunwasser on OpEdNews, Johnstone explained there were two things [that] inspired her to write Queen of Chaos. The first was the Libyan intervention and accompanying “regime change” gambit. Johnstone described the war that eventually destroyed Libya as “totally unjustified” — a familiar refrain in the decades-long history of America’s war for the Greater Middle East. The author added that most people are “totally unaware [of] how much falsification was used to justify that war.”

It was Clinton as Secretary of State, Johnstone says, who cajoled President Obama into that war and is “quite ready to use it as model for further regime change in countries whose leaders she doesn’t like.” Clinton’s sniggering, grandiose exultation — “we came, we saw, he died” — upon hearing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s grisly demise at the hands of Western-aided anti-government rebels was clear evidence of this.

Her close pal (and now presumably, aspiring “presidential whisperer”) Henry Kissinger — himself a past master of malevolent mayhem and Machiavellian mischief — doubtless would’ve been mightily impressed with the way the Libyan debacle unfolded, although “Hank” one expects may have had the decorum not to gloat about it in public, if only for appearances’ sake.

As for her second reason, Johnstone points out it was, “the totally disproportionate hostility aroused against Vladimir Putin and Russia as a result of the Ukrainian crisis … [itself] incited largely by Washington and the European Union. That hostility was already brewing, and Hillary has kept it stirring. These events are part of a trend toward a much greater war than people today think possible.”

In a recent article at Counterpunch, Johnstone declared that she had hoped the occasion of the campaign might be seized upon not only to expose the lies of Hillary Clinton,” but, also to “seek freedom from America’s seven decades of subjugation to the military-industrial complex and its organic intellectuals who never cease conjuring up threats and enemies to justify the war economy. This entire policy needs to be exposed, denounced and rejected.”

The Regressive Progressive

Andrew Levine from the Institute for Policy Studies singled out so-called “progressive liberals” for their unstinting support of Hillary Clinton. In his view, no notable people within this nebulous constituency (one of her unabashed admirers Paul Krugman comes to mind here) have been able to come up with examples of anything progressive or worthwhile that Hillary has accomplished.”

Levine notes, somewhat acerbically, as First Lady Clinton, “set the cause of health care reform back a generation, laying the groundwork for all that is wrong with Obamacare; as a Senator, she did nothing noteworthy at all; and, worst of all, as Secretary of State, all she has been good for is facilitating world-endangering disasters.”

And on the neoliberal front, more people are now viewing secretive faux trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as Trojan Horses concocted to enhance corporate power and influence, allowing the transnationals to further enrich themselves at the expense of the national sovereignty, economic prosperity and self-determination of the countries who sign off on them. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill.”]

In Australia, our all but obligatory commitment to this agreement has many Australians doubtful not just about the alleged benefits of the pact itself, but our “no questions asked” vassal-status alliance with America in general. That few if any of these agreements do what their advocates claim they do is evident to all but the most myopic or deluded of observers of the political economy.

Bill Clinton’s own 1994 NAFTA agreement might be Exhibit A here. And Hillary Clinton’s flip-flopping on this issue is not a good “look” in the eyes of those increasingly opposed to these “trade” regimes.

Further, despite her earnest proclamations about reining in Wall Street, Clinton is not likely to do so. The Clintons’ respective presidential campaigns — indeed their political ascendancy, and by some accounts, their personal financial rehabilitation after Bill Clinton left office — were funded in large part and via various means by the “gangbanksters” of “grab-it-all” street.

These massive payments — essentially pay-to-play “payola” dressed-up as speaking fees, charitable donations or campaign contributions — could be viewed as Wall Street’s protection money guaranteeing that a President Hillary Clinton will use her office as the bulwark between the financial criminals and the folks with the pitchforks.

Pepe Escobar has noted that “Wall Street’s Golden Girl” likes to portray herself at least for public consumption as a dedicated disciple of the “No Bank Is Too Big To Fail” ethos and “fully committed” to financial industry reform. But she is “the reigning Queen of Turbo-Charged Casino Neoliberalism … the evidence insists to suggest that her actions do not exactly match her rhetoric.”

It seems then that few presidential aspirants have campaigned for office schlepping so much obvious “baggage” with them. In fact, it is a testament to the Clintons’ formidable, perpetual motion political machine that much of HRC’s “baggage” is either hidden from public view or is rarely subjected to the rigorous scrutiny that should accompany any candidate aspiring to the highest office in the land.

Paradoxically, this applies even more so now despite more informed folks having the Clintons’ political and personal measure. But as indicated, the MSM has dutifully shoved her dirty linen down the political laundry chute and welded the doors shut at both ends so the smell doesn’t offend the nostrils of the voting public.

In at least one case, the MSM appears to have been joined in pulling punches by some in alternative, independent media (AIM) circles. Fellow Australian, renowned filmmaker and journalist John Pilger noted recently, in reference to an article he published on Counterpunch concerning Clinton’s fitness for the White House, another well known and generally respected AIM outlet Truthout, refused to republish it in full until he excised some of what they viewed as his more contentious statements regarding the Woman who Would be President. Pilger said this was the first time he’d ever been asked to undertake such self-censorship. He was, as might be expected, less than impressed, saying like all censorship, this was unacceptable.”

Pilger added that Truthout said “my unwillingness to submit my work to a ‘process of revision’ meant [they] had to take it off their ‘publication docket’. Such is the gatekeeper’s way with words. At the root of this episode is an enduring unsayable. This is the need, the compulsion, of many liberals to embrace a leader from within a system that is demonstrably imperial and violent. Like Obama’s ‘hope’, Clinton’s gender is no more than a suitable facade.”

In this case, it was a news outlet positioning itself as a credible alternative to the glorified stenographers and perception managers populating the newsrooms and editorial boards within and across the NYT/WPost/LAT axis.

For Pilger and other like-minded observers, the broader challenge for those wishing to expose the leading candidate’s “dirty linen” to greater scrutiny when it is needed most is made more difficult as a result of her status as the anointed candidate amongst the Washington power elites.

Now that Clinton has fashioned herself as the “women’s candidate” and “champion of American liberalism” in its “heroic struggle” with those mostly unelected folks who dictate U.S. economic, foreign, military and national security policy, it is increasingly difficult given the existing political climate to counter this cockamamie narrative.

Or as Pilger put it: “This is drivel, of course; Hillary Clinton leaves a trail of blood and suffering around the world and a clear record of exploitation and greed in her own country. To say so, however, is becoming intolerable in the land of free speech.”

Surviving President Clinton-45?

What should be especially troubling for Americans contemplating their next commander in chief, Clinton clearly views herself amongst those elites whose position, profile, public persona and self-importance license them to see themselves being above the law. Of course, this phenomena is nothing new, but it is becoming increasingly obvious to ordinary Americans that those in power and/or those with influence aren’t routinely — without fear or favor — subject to the same rules and penalties as they would be, all things equal.

Given her legally suspect track record on so many issues, this alone should disqualify Clinton from consideration as President. Her arrogant, contemptuous dismissal of the very idea that she might face prosecution from her careless handling of sensitive information in the so-called “Server-gate” scandal — “it’s simply not going to happen” — is ample evidence that she sees herself as a member of the exclusive but expanding “Too Big to Jail” Club.

As former CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern sees it, with the FBI investigation into the matter about to wrap up, it’s anyone’s guess at this stage as to whether the U.S. Justice Department will find against her for using a private email account and server to conduct official, classified and/or top secret State Department business while Secretary of State, and from there prosecute her to the full extent of the law.

But McGovern goes on to add the following: “if there is something incriminating — or at least politically damaging — in Clinton’s emails, it’s a safe bet that at least the NSA and maybe the FBI, as well, knows. And that could make life difficult for a Clinton-45 presidency. The whole thing needs to be cleaned up before the choices for the next President are locked in.”

In a recent piece — querulously titled “Would The World Survive President Hillary?” — Paul Craig Roberts noted that the Clintons represent everything that is deeply flawed about the way Washington works as they serve as the “poster couple” for the corrosive graft, corruption, political perversion and criminal sleaze that infects the Beltway milieu.

Roberts writes: “government has been privatized. Office holders use their positions in order to make themselves wealthy, not in order to serve the public interest. Bill and Hillary Clinton epitomize the use of public office in behalf of the office holder’s interest. For the Clintons, government means using public office to be rewarded for doing favors for private interests.”

Part of the reason HRC’s fitness for the Oval Office has not been subjected to the sort of scrutiny we all should expect was the reluctance of her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders to go for the jugular throughout the primary campaign. Hillary Clinton might own the most vulnerable “jugular” in this battle, but she’s been extraordinarily adept at ensuring hers is a constantly moving, hard-to-hit target.

Yet even if Sanders had conducted a more aggressive campaign against Clinton based on her dubious record, it’s arguable the MSM would not have accorded such efforts that much attention, no matter how on the money Sanders was or how well such tactics might have played with voters. Insofar as the MSM is concerned, the nomination of Clinton as the Democratic — indeed, Establishment — candidate, was a foregone conclusion from the get-go. The MSM’s job is to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Neglecting Sanders

All this was underscored by the amount of MSM ink lavished on the respective campaigns, with Sanders receiving a fraction compared to Clinton (or certainly Donald Trump). Even then, the coverage of Sanders was often begrudging and dismissive (focused recently on why he won’t just concede the nomination and stop “hurting” Clinton).

Plus, there were the reports of vote rigging in various primary contests and Democratic campaign funding anomalies, all of which have been ignored or played down in MSM circles. For its part, the MSM have long since abrogated any and all responsibility for guiding voters towards the selection of a president who might begin to reverse the course America seems hell bent on pursuing, whether in the broad economic, financial, social, military, national security or geopolitical spheres. It wasn’t going to change gear this time around.

Last but not least is the aforementioned Clinton machine itself, whose principal drivers are doubtless leaving nothing to chance in their relentless, ruthless drive towards the “inevitable” nomination of their standard bearer and ultimately the presidency. This, coupled with the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) own “out of the starting gate” anointment of HRC as the presumptive nominee along with the crucial backing (above and below board) that accompanies said “anointment,” translated to Sanders having to work much harder to gain sufficient traction, and from there position himself as the more qualified, suitable candidate for nomination.

That he continues working harder as of this writing is both a testament to Sanders’s own determination and the undeniable level of grassroots support for him. It is also an indictment of the Democratic Party itself which seems determined to stop him — along with those among the “opinionocracy” equally determined to write him off — even if this means risking destruction of the party as a viable political entity.

In an interview with talk show host Ed Schultz, Sanders said “super-delegates” – party insiders who get to vote on the nominee without being elected as a regular delegate – had to “do some hard thinking” before deciding who to support at the convention.

The Vermont senator had this to say about the state of play: “‘Take a look at the polls, take a look at the nature of the campaigns. And I think if you do that, you’ll find that the energy, the enthusiasm, the voter turnout will be with us. We are the strongest campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton — to defeat Donald Trump, and hopefully Hillary Clinton as well here, and if that’s the case, I would hope they support us.”

Clinton’s Fitness

And though it may be too little, too late, some people within the AIM ranks are still calling into question Clinton’s suitability, qualification and fitness for the White House. To this end, in a recent article journalist Robert Parry of Consortiumnews posed a simple but seemingly vexed question about HRC — is she qualified to be president, not just based on her résumé but on her actual performance in office?

Parry wrote that Clinton “seemed incapable of learning from her costly errors — or perhaps she just understands that the politically safest course is to do what Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment wants. …

“That way you get hailed as a serious thinker in The Washington Post and at think-tank conferences. Virtually all major columnists and big-name pundits praised Clinton’s hawkish tendencies as Secretary of State, from her escalating tensions with Iran to tipping the balance of the debate in favor of ‘regime change’ in Libya to urging direct U.S. military intervention in Syria in pursuit of another ‘regime change’ there.”

Such fitness for office should be a fundamental consideration for selecting a U.S. president, along with an equally crucial question: What kind of individual is the best person to reverse the course America seems intent on pursuing at the expense of everything it purports to stand for? At one stage Obama held out this promise to America, and more recently for some, Sanders.

Hillary Clinton is, indeed, the “Queen of Chaos” inhabiting her own real-life “House of Cards,” one that’s been erected by a fawning, uncritical mainstream media, bankrolled by wealthy elites and the denizens of Wall Street and the military-industrial-security complex with its perimeter secured by the neoconservatives and their fellow travelers, the (not-so) liberal interventionists. In other words, the power enclaves that constitute the existentially toxic Washington political firmament.

All things considered, simply being “afraid” somehow just doesn’t cut it. When it comes to the Clintons, one imagines we’d all be safer and more secure with the conniving Frank Underwood as President and his calculating wife Claire as Vice President, or perhaps vice versa. Now, there’s a thought!

Greg Maybury is a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia.




Israel Veers Even Further Right

Hillary Clinton says she wants to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” even as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing regime plumbs new depths of extremism, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

There already shouldn’t have been any doubt about the orientation of the current Israeli government and the associated obduracy of that government in blocking any path toward resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is firmly rightist, dominated by those opposed to the relinquishing of occupied territory or the creation of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu, who comes across as one of the more moderate members of his own coalition, has paid more lip service than some other members of that coalition to the idea of an eventual Palestinian state, but he has made clear with other words and actions that he has no intention of any such thing coming into being on his watch, or of taking any meaningful steps toward such a state coming into being.

Now come reports that Netanyahu is offering the Defense Ministry to former Moldovan nightclub bouncer (and resident of a West Bank settlement) Avigdor Lieberman. This will bring into the ruling coalition Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, which even within the Israeli context is usually described as “hard right.”

Bringing Lieberman into the government is indicative not only of the overall orientation of that government but also of some larger disturbing trends in Israeli attitudes that the government has fomented more than it has discouraged.

If Lieberman is made defense minister he would replace Moshe Ya’alon, who in recent days has backed the Israeli military in prosecuting (though only for manslaughter, not the murder that occurred) an Israeli soldier who was caught on videotape shooting in the head, at close range, a Palestinian man who was wounded and lying on the ground, already subdued and obviously not a threat. Lieberman has joined other hardliners in expressing support for the soldier. (Netanyahu has visited the soldier’s family to express sympathy.)

Netanyahu had been trying to recruit another coalition partner to increase his government’s thin majority in the Knesset. Talks with centrist leader Isaac Herzog fell through; the government evidently had more in common with the crude hard right tendencies of Lieberman. Perhaps the timing of this latest political move was a natural outcome of this sequence of negotiations.

Or maybe it was at least as much another example of Netanyahu’s proclivity for poking a stick in the eye of foreign leaders who look like they might be getting on his case about the Palestinian conflict — such as timing an announcement of more settlement expansion to coincide with a visit of Vice President Biden. This time the stickee is the French government, which is organizing an international conference for later this year on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

All honest outside observers should use the report about Lieberman coming into the Israeli government as an occasion to remind themselves that this tragic and long-running conflict continues to run because one side refuses to end it. The gross asymmetry between the two sides is all-important.

One side, the occupying power — the side with the firepower — has the ability to end the occupation and resolve the conflict if it decided to do so. The other side has no such power. That other side, the Palestinian side, has tried to use violent resistance but has subsequently and correctly drawn the conclusion that such violence is not the answer; the violence, unsurprisingly, only stokes legitimate fears among Israelis about their security.

Violence has been continuing in the unplanned, spontaneous, and frustration-driven form of young people grabbing knives and stabbing the first Israelis they can find. The Palestinian leadership has turned to multilateral diplomacy, which, besides popular boycotts, is about the only tool it has left. And the Israeli government does everything it can to impede and to foil such diplomacy, as it is trying to do now with the French initiative.

A common urge to sound impartial leads to the common refrain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists because neither side has the political will to settle it. Nonsense. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians do not want to continue to live under Israeli occupation. They have the will but not the power to settle.

There certainly are divisions and political weakness on the Palestinian side — of which the Israeli government has striven to prevent any repair, such as in “punishing” the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority through withholding tax revenue whenever it has moved toward reconciliation with Hamas — but there is no significant pro-occupation party among Palestinians.

The hardliners who control Israel policy have the power but — as ample evidence, even without Avigdor Lieberman, has shown — not the will, as long as third parties do not make them suffer any meaningful consequences. They do want the occupation to continue.

The Netanyahu government’s repeated claim that it wants to negotiate with the Palestinians should be described as the charade that it is. It is understandable that Palestinian leaders have no desire to engage in talks that have no prospect of leading to anything, when such engagement would just mean participating in the charade while the occupation continues and more facts are built on the occupied ground.

The insincerity is all the more obvious when Netanyahu speaks of talks with “no preconditions” while at the same time insisting that the Palestinians pronounce Israel to be a “Jewish state” — a precondition that implicitly limits how the issue of Palestinian refugees and right of return can be resolved, and also would mean the Palestinian leadership formally signing on to a declaration that non-Jewish Israelis are second-class citizens. Those are the only things such a pronouncement would mean.

The Palestinian leadership long ago recognized, formally and unequivocally, the state of Israel. As Palestinian leaders have noted, that state is free to describe itself any way it wants.

With the American political system still wearing its usual straitjacket on this issue, the main hope right now for taking any steps out of this tragic situation lies with the French initiative. If the United States is to do anything helpful any time in the foreseeable future, it probably will have to come in the remaining eight months of the Obama administration.

One of the two presumptive presidential nominees speaks of taking U.S.-Israeli relations “to the next level” — and it is safe to assume she doesn’t mean that the next level will consist of imposing consequences for the continued occupation.

The other presumptive presidential nominee caused nervous moments in the Israel lobby when he talked about being impartial, but the nerves were soothed with a speech to AIPAC that said all the “right” things. And now he has Sheldon Adelson and Adelson’s heavyweight bankroll on his side, with everything that implies for this nominee’s future posture on Israel-related issues if he were to be elected.

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.)




Pushing Russia Toward War

NATO’s military pressure on Russia and the West’s economic sanctions have empowered Moscow’s hardliners, setting the stage for an escalation of the new Cold War into possibly a hot one, ex-British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke warns.

By Alastair Crooke

Something significant happened in the last few days of April, but it seems the only person who noticed was Stephen Cohen, a professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University.

In a recorded interview, Cohen notes that a section of the Russian leadership is showing signs of restlessness, focused on President Vladimir Putin’s leadership. We are not talking of street protesters. We are not talking coups against Putin — his popularity remains above 80 percent and he is not about to be displaced. But we are talking about serious pressure being applied to the president to come down from the high wire along which he has warily trod until now.

Putin carries, at one end of his balancing pole, the various elites more oriented toward the West and the “Washington Consensus“ and, at the pole’s other end, those concerned that Russia faces both a real military threat from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a hybrid geo-financial war as well. He is being pressed to come down on the side of the latter, and to pry the grip of the former from the levers of economic power that they still tightly hold.

In short, the issue coming to a head in the Kremlin is whether Russia is sufficiently prepared for further Western efforts to ensure it does not impede or rival American hegemony. Can Russia sustain a geo-financial assault, if one were to be launched? And is such a threat real or mere Western posturing for other ends?

What is so important is that if these events are misread in the West, which is already primed to see any Russian defensive act as offensive and aggressive, the ground will already have been laid for escalation. We already had the first war to push back against NATO in Georgia. The second pushback war is ongoing in Ukraine. What might be the consequences to a third?

In mid-April, General Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee (a sort of super attorney general, as Cohen describes it), wrote that Russia — its role in Syria notwithstanding — is militarily ill prepared to face a new war either at home or abroad, and that the economy is in a bad way, too.

Russia, furthermore, is equally ill-prepared to withstand a geo-financial war. He goes on to say that the West is preparing for war against Russia and that Russia’s leadership does not appear to be aware of or alert to the danger the country faces.

Bastrykin does not say that Putin is to blame, though the context makes it clear that this is what he means. But a few days later, Cohen explains, the article sparked further discussion from those who both endorse Bastrykin and do precisely mention Putin by name.

Then, Cohen notes, a retired Russian general entered the fray to confirm that the West is indeed preparing for war — he pointed to NATO deployments in the Baltics, the Black Sea and Poland, among other places — and underlines again the unpreparedness of the Russian military to face this threat.

“This is a heavy indictment of Putin,” Cohen says of the revelations from this analysis. “It is now out in the open.”

‘Mother Russia’

What is this all about? For some time there have been indications that a key faction within the Kremlin, one that very loosely might be termed “nationalist,” has become deeply disenchanted with Putin’s toleration of the Washington Consensus and its adherents at the Russian central bank and in other pivotal economic posts.

The nationalists want them purged, along with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s perceived Western-friendly government. Putin may be highly popular, but Medvedev’s government is not. The government’s economic policy is being criticized. The opposing faction wants to see an immediate mobilization of the military and the economy for war, conventional or hybrid. This is not about wanting Putin ousted; it is about pushing him to wield the knife — and to cut deeply.

What does this faction want apart from Russia preparing for war? They want a harder line in Ukraine and for Putin to reject U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s snares in Syria. In short, Kerry is still trying to force Assad’s removal and continues to push for further U.S. support for the opposition.

The American government is reluctant as well to disentangle “moderates” from jihadis. The view is that America is insincere in trying to cooperate with Russia on a settlement and more intent on entrapping Putin in Syria. Perhaps this is right, as Gareth Porter and Elijah Magnier have outlined.

What this means at a more fundamental level is that Putin is being asked to side with the nationalists against the internationalists aligned with the Washington Consensus, and to purge them from power. Recall, however, that Putin came to power precisely to temper this polarity within Russian society by rising above it — to heal and rebuild a diverse society recovering from deep divisions and crises. He is being asked to renounce that for which he stands because, he is being told, Russia is being threatened by a West that is preparing for war.

The prospect of the seeming inevitability of future conflict is hardly new to Putin, who has spoken often on this theme. He has, however, chosen to react by placing the emphasis on gaining time for Russia to strengthen itself and trying to corner the West into some sort of cooperation or partnership on a political settlement in Syria, for example, which might have deflected the war dynamic into a more positive course. Putin has, at the same time, skillfully steered Europeans away from NATO escalation.

But in both of these objectives the Obama administration is acting to weaken Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s hand, and therefore strengthening the hand of those in Russia calling for a full mobilization for war. It is not coincidental that Bastrykin’s alarm-raising article came now, as the Syria ceasefire is being deliberately infringed and broken.

American Strategy

Is this properly understood in the White House? If so, must we conclude that escalation against Russia is desired? As Cohen notes, “the Washington Post [in its editorial pages] tells us regularly that never, never, never … under any circumstances, can the criminal Putin be a strategic partner of the United States.”

Is the die then cast? Is Putin bound to fail? Is conflict inevitable? Ostensibly, it may seem so. The stage is certainly being set.

I have written before on, “the pivot already under way from within the U.S. defense and intelligence arms of Obama’s own administration” toward what is often referred to as the “Wolfowitz doctrine,” a set of policies developed by the U.S. in the 1990s and early 2000s. The author of one of those policies, the 1992 U.S. Defense Planning Guidance, wrote that the DPG in essence sought to:

“preclude the emergence of bipolarity, another global rivalry like the Cold War, or multipolarity, a world of many great powers, as existed before the two world wars. To do so, the key was to prevent a hostile power from dominating a ‘critical region,’ defined as having the resources, industrial capabilities and population that, if controlled by a hostile power, would pose a global challenge.”

In an interview with Vox, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was clear that this was broadly the bearing by which the Pentagon was being directed to sail. Then again, there is the rather obvious fact that, instead of the much-touted U.S. military pivot ostensibly being to Asia, the actual NATO pivot is being directed to Central Europe — to Russia’s borders. And NATO is plainly pushing the envelope as hard as it dares, up and against Russia’s borders.

Then there is the rhetoric: Russian aggression. Russian ambitions to recover the former Soviet Empire. Russian attempts to divide and destroy Europe. And so on.

Why? It may be that NATO simply presumes these envelope-pushing exercises will never actually come to war, that Russia somehow will back off. And that continuously poking the bear will serve America’s interest in keeping Europe together and NATO cohesive, its sanctions in place, divided from Russia.

NATO is due to meet in Warsaw in early July. Perhaps, then, the Western language about Russia’s “aggression” is little more than America heading off any European revolt on sanctions by stirring up a pseudo-threat from Russia and that the Russians are misreading American true intentions, which do not go beyond this. Or do they?

The extraordinary bitterness and emotional outrage with which the American establishment has reacted to Donald Trump’s probable nomination as a presidential candidate suggests that the U.S. establishment is far from having given up on the Wolfowitz doctrine.

So has Putin’s strategy of co-opting America in the Middle East been the failure that the Bastrykin faction implies? In other words, is it the case that the policy of gaining cooperation has failed and that Putin must now move beyond it, because America is not about to cooperate and is, instead, continuing the process of cornering Russia?

GOP Establishment Revolts

As the Texas Tribune reported on May 4, “For the first time since his own presidency, George H.W. Bush is planning to stay silent in the race for the Oval Office — and the younger former president Bush plans to stay silent as well.”

To get a sense of the war within the Republican Party (and the Democrats are no less conflicted), read this reaction to that story by the two-time Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Here’s a small selection:

“Trump’s triumph is a sweeping repudiation of Bush Republicanism by the same party that nominated them [the Bush’s] four times for the presidency. Not only was son and brother, Jeb, humiliated and chased out of the race early, but Trump won his nomination by denouncing as rotten to the core the primary fruits of signature Bush policies … That is a savage indictment of the Bush legacy. And a Republican electorate, in the largest turnout in primary history, nodded, ‘Amen to that, brother!’”

Buchanan continues in another piece: “The hubris here astonishes. A Republican establishment that has been beaten as badly as Carthage in the Third Punic War is now making demands on Scipio Africanus and the victorious Romans” — a reference to Paul Ryan’s attempts to make Trump adhere to Bush Republicanism. “This is difficult to absorb.”

But here, in this crisis, is an opportunity. America could be heading into recession, corporate profits are falling, huge swaths of debt are looking suspect, global trade is sinking and U.S. policy tools for controlling the global financial system have lost their credibility. And there are no easy solutions to the global overhang of increasingly putrid debt.

But a President Trump — were that to happen — can lay blame for any perfect economic storm on the Establishment. America is all knotted up at present, as the presidential nomination melee made clear. Some knots will take time to undo, but some could be undone relatively easily, and it seems that Trump has some sense of this. It could start with a dramatic diplomatic initiative.

Historically, most radical projects of reform have started in this way: overturn a piece of conventional wisdom and unlock the entire policy gridlock — the momentum gained will allow a reformer to steamroll even the hardest resistance — in this case, Wall Street and the financial oligarchy — into making reforms.

Trump can simply say that American — and European — national security interests pass directly through Russia — which they clearly do — that Russia does not threaten America — which it clearly does not — and that NATO is, in any case, “obsolete,” as he has said. It makes perfect sense to join with Russia and its allies to surround and destroy the so-called Islamic State.

If one listens carefully, Trump seems halfway there. It would cut a lot of knots, maybe even untie the policy gridlock. Perhaps that is what he intends?

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West. [This article originally appeared at Huffington Post.]




The Widening Cracks in Zionism

Zionism has imposed an ideological orthodoxy that seeks to lock Jews – and Western politicians – into unquestioning support for whatever Israel does, but more people are breaking ranks, observes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Ideological movements, be they religious or secular, are demanding and Procrustean movements. By ideological movements I mean those that demand of their adherents resolute belief in some “deep set of truths” posited by a deity, by supposed immutable historical laws, or by some other equally unchallengeable source. Their followers, once initiated, or even just born into the fold, are expected to stay there and, as the saying goes, “keep the faith.”

However, in cultural, political and religious terms, there are no eternal deep truths. History has an abrasive quality that erodes our beliefs in this god and that law. Though the process might take a longer or shorter time to manifest itself, yesterday’s faith will at some point start to ring less true. At some point followers start to fall away.

What happens when ideologically driven leaders start to lose their following? Well, they get very upset because those who are supposed to affirm everything the movement stands for are now having doubts. Such doubters are dangerous to the supposed true faith and so are usually dealt with in one of two ways: (1) the ideologues in charge attempt to marginalize the disaffected by denigrating them and then casting them out of the fold or (2) if we are dealing with totalitarian types, they send the dissenters off to a gulag, or worse.

This sort of unraveling – the loss of growing numbers of traditional followers of an ideological movement – seems to be going on within the Zionist community, particularly among American Jews.

Zionism is an ideological movement that preaches the God-given Jewish right to control and settle all of historical Palestine. Since the founding of Israel in 1948 the Zionists have also claimed that the “Jewish State” represents all of world Jewry, thus self-aware Jews owe allegiance to both Israel and its prevailing Zionist philosophy.

However, in the last decade or so, that allegiance has been breaking down. In the U.S. a growing “disconnect” has been noted between the outlook and actions of the ideologically rigid leaders of major U.S. Jewish organizations (who remain uncritically supportive of Israel) and the increasingly alienated Jewish-American rank-and-file whom, at least up until recently, the leaders claimed to represent. This gap has been repeatedly documented by several sources ranging from, Pew Research Center surveys, to the Jewish Forward newspaper, and the organization of Reform Judaism.

As characterized by the Jewish Forward the situation is that ordinary American Jews are “far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment.” Almost half of the American Jews surveyed by a Pew study in 2013 did not think the Israeli government was making a “sincere effort” to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Almost as many saw Israel’s expanding colonization of the West Bank as counterproductive.

Thus, this disconnect is not a sudden or new situation. The numbers of questioning American Jews have continued to grow, and things have only gotten worse for the Zionist leadership. Indeed, just as many young American Jews may be joining pro-peace activist groups as are cheering on AIPAC at its conventions.

Leadership Reactions in the U.S.

Following the two-option scheme described above, the main reaction of the leadership of American Jewish organizations is to try to marginalize these questioning Jews – to dismiss them as “uninformed, unengaged, or wrong.”  To that end American Jewish officials are now conveniently asking if they really need to represent “the disorganized, unaffiliated Jewish community … the 50% of Jews who, in a calendar year, do not step into a synagogue, do not belong to a JCC [Jewish Community Center], and are Jews in name only.”

This sort of marginalizing of all but the true believers was articulated by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. He told the Jewish Forward, “you know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care.”

Here Foxman was engaging in a bit of circular thinking: the important constituency is those represented by the establishment. How do we know? They are the ones who still “care” about Israel. How do we define caring? Caring means continuing to believe what the Jewish establishment and the Israeli government tell them.

Eventually Foxman goes even further, concluding that Jewish leaders aren’t beholden to the opinions of any aspect of the Jewish public. “I don’t sit and poll my constituency,” Foxman said. “Part of Jewish leadership is leadership. We lead.” It would appear that, over time, he is leading diminishing numbers.

Reaction out of Israel to reports of the growing alienation of American Jews has been aggressively negative. After all, Israel is the centerpiece of Zionist ideology – its grand achievement. Being the subject of criticism by growing numbers of Jews, in the U.S. or elsewhere, is utterly unacceptable to those now in charge of Israel’s ruling institutions.

These leaders, both secular and religious, have begun to write off critical and skeptical Jews as apostates, even to the point of denying that they are Jews at all.

Seymour Reich, who is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (such folks always wait until they retire to speak out critically), has recently described Israel’s current leadership as alarmingly anti-democratic. He writes of “the Israeli government’s assault on democratic values” and its use of “legislation and incitement to strike down dissent,” be it expressed through “speech, press, religion [or] academic freedoms.”

He goes on to quote the Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay. “Speaking about Reform and Conservative Jews,” who happen to make up the majority of Jews in the U.S., are often of liberal persuasion, and increasingly alienated by the ultraorthodox policies of Israel’s religious establishment, Azoulay said, “I cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew,” and, “We cannot allow these groups to get near the Torah of Israel.”

Things appear potentially even worse when we hear Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz calling for the “targeted killing” of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) leaders. In the U.S., many of these leaders are Jewish.

Such official Israeli attitudes make a mockery of the claims of American politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, that Israel “is built on principles of equality, tolerance and pluralism. … And we marvel that such a bastion of liberty exists in a region so plagued by intolerance.” It should be noted that in January 2016 the Israeli Knesset rejected a bill that would have secured in law equality for all the country’s citizens.

In truth, Zionism and the state it created have always been ideologically rigid. Every effort at modifying the movement’s basic demand for a state exclusive to one people, from early concepts of “cultural Zionism” to more recent notions of “liberal Zionism,” has failed.

The occasional bit of propagandistic dissimulation notwithstanding, Zionist leaders from Ben Gurion to Netanyahu have been dedicated to (a) territorial expansion based on the principle of Eretz Israel (greater Israel) and (b) the principle of inequality – none of them have ever seriously considered equal social and economic, much less political, treatment for non-Jews. That means that the present, obnoxiously rigid hardliners both in the U.S. and Israel are pushing persistent racist and colonialist themes.

It is the persistence of these Zionist themes that has led to increasing skepticism among U.S. Jews, most of whom take the ideals of democracy seriously. And it is the ideologically rigid refusal to reach a just peace with the Palestinians, who 67 years after the triumph of Zionism are still being ethnically cleansed, that has pushed many otherwise passive Jews into open opposition.

It has taken us several generations to get to this point, but our arrival has been predictable all along. That is because the ideology of Zionism brooks no compromises and admits to no sins – even as Israeli behavior grows evermore barbaric.

Thus, the number of dissenters and critics grow and the ideologues start to become anxious and vengeful – a display of aggression that only alienates more Jews. Thus it is that Zionism has begun to unravel.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




US Downplays a New Syrian Massacre

Exclusive: The Obama administration claims Syrian rebels in Ahrar al-Sham deserve protection from government attack although they have close ties to Al Qaeda and joined its official Syrian affiliate in a slaughter of Alawites, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

On May 12, at dawn, members of Al Nusra and an allied Syrian rebel group known as Ahrar al-Sham stormed the Alawite village of Al-Zahraa, reportedly killing 19 people and abducting 120 others. In typical Salafist fashion, Ahrar al-Sham then posted a grisly YouTube video showing jihadis chanting Allahu akbar – “God is great” – and pointing in triumph to a bloody female body sprawled across the floor.

The incident, which occurred about 10 miles north of Aleppo, couldn’t have been more embarrassing for the United States since, just a day earlier, it had blocked a Russian proposal to formally designate Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group.

Under intense questioning, State Department spokesman John Kirby grew visibly flustered as he struggled to defend US policy.

“I’m not going to get into internal deliberations one way or the other,” he said of the discussions among the 17 members of the International Syria Support Group, the United Nations body in charge of Syrian peace talks in Vienna. When a reporter from the “Russia Today” TV network demanded to know why, he sputtered:

“I’m telling you – look, you’re putting – I love how you do this, try to put everything on the United States.  The International Syria Support Group is an international – it represents the international community. Iran is a member. Russia is a member. Saudi Arabia – I could go on and on and on. All of them collectively made this decision.”

This was nonsense since it was the U.S. that led the charge against the resolution to classify Ahrar al-Sham as terrorist and Russia that was forced to back down. Kirby was simply dodging the issue. But if his inability to take responsibility shows anything, it is how uncomfortable at least some Washington officials have become with the Obama administration’s Syrian policy.

Obama’s Quagmire

And it’s no wonder. Syria is Obama’s Vietnam, a quagmire that grows messier and messier the harder he tries to escape – and Ahrar al-Sham shows why. One of the largest rebel factions in Syria, the so-called “Free Men of Syria,” began in 2011 as more or less an Al Qaeda spin-off with Mohamed Baheya, a long-time aide to Osama bin Laden and his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, occupying one of the group’s top spots. But for tactical reasons, it chose to adopt a more moderate tone.

Last July, for instance, it published op-eds in the Washington Post and the London Telegraph declaring that Syria should not be controlled “by a single party or group” and that any future government should aim at “striking balance that respects the legitimate aspirations of the majority as well as protects minority communities and enables them to play a real and positive role in Syria’s future.”

It sounded reasonable enough, especially once Robert S. Ford, Obama’s former ambassador to Syria, followed up a few days later with an article for Washington’s Middle East Institute arguing that Ahrar is worth dealing with because it believes that religious minorities should be allowed to hold low-level political positions provided “they possess the right qualifications.”

Did the White House take its ex-ambassador’s advice? The answer, all too typically, was yes and no. Aware that the group opposes democratic self-rule and believes in imposing shari‘a at gunpoint, Obama kept it at an arm’s length. But at the same time he resisted pressure to classify it as terrorist and made no objection when it joined forces with Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, to form a new coalition calling itself Jaish al-Fatah, or Army of Conquest.

When Turkey and Saudi Arabia supplied the new alliance with U.S.-made TOW missiles so it could launch a major offensive in Syria’s northern Idlib province in March 2015, the administration held its tongue as well. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]

It was a policy of neither-nor that allowed the administration to maintain “plausible deniability” while doing nothing to ruffle the feathers of Ankara or Riyadh as they cheered Ahrar al-Sham and Al Nusra on.

Besides, Turkey and Saudi Arabia had a point. However bigoted and reactionary, Ahrar al-Sham was a large and effective force at a time when secular rebels were increasingly rare. As long as the White House continued to back “regime change,” it couldn’t help collaborating with distasteful groups that were nonetheless effective on the battlefield.

The result, as Kirby’s dismal performance shows, has been to play down atrocities, plead ignorance, and then, when that doesn’t work, change the subject to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad alleged misdeeds instead.

When asked about reports that Ahrar al-Sham militants were “comingling” with Al Nusra – which is to say fighting side by side with Al Qaeda – State Department spokesman Elizabeth Trudeau replied on May 11 that “it’s very difficult to tease that out” because information is incomplete.

When asked who was to blame for the atrocities in Al-Zahraa, her colleague Kirby refused to say two days later because “we don’t have a whole lot of specific information about these attacks right now.” Three days after that, he was still reluctant to assign blame because, he said, the facts remained up in the air: “The only other thing I would say is regardless of who was responsible for this attack, there’s no excuse for killing innocent civilians, none whatsoever.”

Knowing Nothing

If the State Department was in no hurry to find out, it was because it didn’t want to know. “We are working with all members of the ISSG,” Kirby went on, “to use the appropriate amount of influence that they have … over groups in Syria to get everybody to abide by the cessation.”

If Ahrar al-Sham was guilty of mass murder and abduction, then the U.S. would use its influence to see to it that its behavior was less … extreme. What’s going on here? Is Ahrar al-Sham playing the U.S. for a fool? Or is the Obama administration using such groups to advance its strategic goals?

The answer is a bit of both. The best way to understand bizarre behavior like this is to see it in the context of a vast imperial breakdown that is now unrolling across much of the Middle East.

America’s two main partners in the great Syrian misadventure are both in a state of deepening crisis. Not only is Turkey lurching toward dictatorship under an increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but its economy is crashing as well. The Istanbul stock market fell eight percent after Erdogan forced Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu out of office on May 5 while the Turkish lire fell nearly six percent in a single day. Corporate bankruptcies are up, growth is down, and tourist income is falling amid bombings and civil war in the Kurdish southeast.

But America’s other partner – Saudi Arabia – is even worse as it lurches from one disaster to the next. The war in Yemen is costing the kingdom and its Sunni Arab allies an estimated $200 million day, with the lion’s share borne by Riyadh. This is money that the Saudis can ill afford given a budget deficit projected to reach 13.5 percent of GDP this year due to an 18-month slump in oil prices.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s “Vision 2030,” his grandiose economic plan for weaning the kingdom off oil, is meeting with widespread skepticism while the kingdom is so short of cash that it is considering paying contractors with IOU’s. When the Binladin Group, the kingdom’s largest construction company, laid off 50,000 foreign employees late last month, workers responded by rioting and setting fire to seven company buses. (Yes, Osama bin Laden was a member of the family that owns Binladin Group.)

Politically, the news is nothing short of ghastly. Under the late King Abdullah, the kingdom rapidly descended into fear and paranoia as it sent troops into neighboring Bahrain to crush democratic protests by the country’s 70-percent Shi‘ite majority and funneled billions of dollars to anti-Assad rebels in hopes of toppling Syria’s pro-Shi‘ite government.

Saudi Extremism

But where Abdullah was actually a mild reformer, believe it or not, his brother, Salman, who took over in January 2015, is a hardliner whose answer to criticism by Western human rights groups was to step up the number of public executions immediately after taking office and then doubling them again in 2016.  Salman’s March 2015 agreement with Erdogan to supply Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other jihadist groups with TOW missiles was in keeping with this increasingly xenophobic mindset.

It was the response of a beleaguered monarch convinced that Shi‘ite militants are pressing in on the kingdom from all sides and that the only way to hold them off is by stepping up aid to Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists.

But such efforts have only added to the kingdom’s woes. While Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham were able to eke out a short-term victory in Syria’s northern Idlib province, the only effect was to bring Russia into the war and tip the scales back in favor of Assad.

As a result, the Saudi kingdom now finds itself back on the defensive in Syria as well as in Yemen where the war against Shi‘ite Houthi rebels is hopelessly stalled. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran is rebuilding its ties to the world community after the April 2015 nuclear accord with the U.S. The more the kingdom struggles to assert itself, the more vulnerable its position grows.

“Were the Saudi monarchy to fall, it might be replaced not by a group of liberals and democrats but rather by Islamists and reactionaries,” warned Fareed Zakaria last month in the Washington Post. This is the nightmare that causes policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to wake up in a cold sweat.

With oil prices off more than 50 percent from their peak in mid-2014, Saudi Arabia’s vast oil fields are worth less and less. But the prospect of a quarter of the world’s proven fossil-fuel reserves coming under the control of Al Qaeda or ISIS (as Islamic State is also known) is still too much to bear. So something – anything – must be done to maintain the status quo.

Buying Time

Thus, the administration dithers and stalls in the hope that a magic solution will somehow appear. Obviously, Obama made a big mistake in August 2011 in calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. With Arab Spring demonstrations erupting across the country and the Baathist regime seemingly nearing a breaking point, it seemed like an easy call. But it wasn’t.

Five years later, Assad is still in power while Obama finds himself on the hook to the Saudis, who want to see their bête noire toppled at all costs and are therefore determined to hold the U.S. to its word. Obama can’t afford another war in the Middle East or a military showdown with Russia.

He also knows that the Free Syrian Army, America’s favorite rebel faction, is a hollow shell no matter how much money and materiel the CIA sends its way. So he finds himself cooperating in one way or another with dangerous Sunni jihadists who, ideologically speaking, are no different from the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The upshot is a policy that makes no sense other than as a delaying tactic. Obama bombs Al Nusra to show he’s still serious about beating back Al Qaeda but includes its inseparable ally, Ahrar al-Sham, among the “non-terrorist” groups exempt from Syrian government attack under the terms of the May 5 Aleppo ceasefire agreement. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Behind the Yemen War.”]

Obama condemns terrorism but maintains back-channel communications with Ahrar al-Sham even though it’s nothing more than Al Qaeda-lite. He bombs Islamic State to show that he’s serious about combating ISIS but gives it a free pass whenever it goes up against Assad. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS.”]

Obama calls for peace but refuses to condemn those responsible for atrocities like those in Al-Zahraa. Finally, Obama calls for a negotiated settlement but threatens to impose something called “Plan B”  if Assad doesn’t step down. That mysterious escalation could mean dividing the country along ethnic or religious lines, arming the rebels with portable anti-aircraft weapons known as Manpads, or something else entirely.

In truth, Obama is just trying to keep the lid on until Jan. 20 when the Syria mess becomes somebody else’s problem. At that point, he may well wind up on the Saudi payroll like Bill and Hillary Clinton or Tony Blair – assuming, that is, that the entity known as Saudi Arabia still exists.

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




Sanders Takes Case to California

Despite calls from many pundits and pols for him to quit, Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to rally thousands of Americans to a program of profound social and economic change, reports Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

Vallejo is geographically close but economically far from more affluent San Francisco Bay Area cities to the south. In 2008, the city of Vallejo filed for bankruptcy. On Wednesday, the Bernie Sanders campaign came to Vallejo.

The gathering was held in a huge grassy area alongside the water estuary. The area was enclosed with security fencing so that audience members all had to pass through metal detectors. Ninety minutes before Sanders’ speech, the line to go through the security screening was half a mile long. Yet spirits were high with a buzz in the air.

The audience of 8,000 to 10,000 was mostly young, students or working class and ethnically diverse. Many had only learned Sanders was coming via Facebook that day or the day before. I chatted with people patiently waiting as the line slowly advanced. I asked two young African-American women why they supported Sanders.

The answer: “He seems real; he seems consistent; and because the others will take us to hell!”

I asked three Latino young adults why they support Sanders. The answer: “Bernie will help the working class. Because we need affordable education.” I noticed he said “working class,” not “middle class.” A young Hispanic couple responded simply “Why support Bernie? The future.” Other answers were “climate change,” “criminal justice,” “education” and “he’s got vision.”

As the event began, an African-American organizer from Oakland spoke, then the Filipina President of California Nurses Association, then San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim followed by organizers from the Bernie team advising the audience about voting in the California primary on June 7. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks revved up the crowd then Sanders took the stage.

Toward the front, the crowd was packed together with shorter people unable to see beyond their neighbors. let alone the stage. The sun was starting to set and a breeze came off the water. It had been an unusually hot day. Sanders spoke for nearly an hour. He recalled how the pundits had dismissed his campaign from the start, saying his ideas were “too bold and radical.” Sanders said he has won 46 percent of the pledged delegates to date, with six states remaining including the largest in the country.

Sanders delivered his speech saying:

–the campaign finance system is corrupt and undermining democracy

–the economy is “rigged” with the rich taking it all

–the infrastructure is collapsing with school children in Flint, Michigan, poisoned by tap water

–corporations have taken away good jobs by moving manufacturing outside the USA

–the criminal justice system is broken, with the government spending $80 billion locking up 2.2 million people

–police departments have been militarized

–graduating students are saddled with monstrous debts

–why does the government always have money for wars but not to rebuild inner cities?

–we are destroying the planet – what kind of legacy is that?

–healthcare should be a right not a privilege – we need Medicare for all

–workers needs a living wage which is $15 per hour minimum

–we need immigration reform and end to deportations

Sanders spoke of the need to “Stand up and fight back. … With unity of black, brown, gay, straight, male, female …. There is nothing we cannot accomplish. … We are going to the convention to win the nomination.”

Not Conciliatory

It did not sound like a conciliation or “let’s make up” speech to the Democratic Party establishment. Sanders said his message to the Democratic Convention is “We are the campaign to defeat Donald Trump.”

Six months ago I was skeptical of Bernie Sanders campaign. Not anymore. He has been tremendously successful in showing the world there are huge numbers of Americans, especially youth, who want major changes in society and government policy. He has raised the consciousness of millions, sharply contrasting Wall Street’s wealth at the expense of working people.

He does not speak much on foreign policy, but what he does say indicates a significant improvement. In Vallejo, his only foreign policy comments were asking why we are rebuilding Afghanistan when we should be rebuilding inner cities at home. It’s a good point, which matches his overall position of stopping a foreign policy of aggression and “regime change.”

Will Bernie Sanders fold up his campaign, corral his supporters and cheer for the Democratic Establishment after they have made some token changes in their platform? It’s possible, but I doubt it. Why? Because I think what some of the young people said is likely true: He is consistent and he does have integrity.

His campaign has been based around the needs of working people versus a corrupt Establishment which the Democratic Party is part of. Sanders has highlighted the class nature of our economic system and media. He has focused a bright light on Wall Street and Hillary Clinton’s complicity. These lessons are not going to be forgotten or easily retracted.

For those on the Left who disparage Sanders, I say take another look. Listen to his words and more importantly talk with his crowds of supporters. They are the future and we should be working with them. Not preaching dogmatically, but listening. The thousands in Vallejo shouting “Bernie! Bernie!” seem to be doing so because they want the “bold and radical change” previously dismissed by pundits.

Rick Sterling has been an organizer and activist for about 45 years. He currently works with Task Force on the Americas, Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center and Syria Solidarity Movement. The views expressed in this article are his own. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com

 




The Clinton-Colombia Connection

Exclusive: Despite a grisly human rights record and alleged ties to drug traffickers, Colombia’s ex-President Uribe has been a favorite of Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill, helping Clinton associates turn hefty profits, reports Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

On June 29, 2009, one day after Honduran military leaders ousted their country’s democratically elected president, President Obama publicly branded the coup illegal and denounced it as “a terrible precedent.” Yet even as he spoke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was ensuring that U.S. aid continued and that major capitals would recognize the new regime.

Human rights activists have long decried her for abandoning democratic rights and values in Honduras. But many have overlooked her cozy embrace of the morally compromised Latin American leader who happened to be sharing the White House podium when Obama made his remarks: Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

Obama was hosting Uribe to build political support for the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which both he and Hillary Clinton had vigorously opposed during the 2008 election campaign. Obama praised Uribe’s “courage” and his “admirabl(e)” progress on human rights and fighting drug cartels since taking office in 2002 — a controversial claim that Clinton’s State Department would certify that September.

A year later, the love affair between the Obama administration and Uribe grew even hotter. After landing in Bogota for an official visit in April 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates lauded the “historic” progress that Uribe’s government had made in the war against “narco-traffickers and terrorists.”

“Uribe, in my view, is a great hero and has been an enormously successful president of Colombia,” Gates told reporters.

Human rights campaigners were aghast. In an email to Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, a senior aide to Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern cited Gates as an example of what not to do during Clinton’s upcoming visit to Colombia that June: “The most important thing the Secretary can do is avoid effusive praise for President Álvaro Uribe, who leaves office in August.”

McGovern’s aide cited several damning facts:

–Contrary to claims from Bogota, reports by the General Accountability Office and the U.S. Agency for International Development showed that U.S. aid and Colombia’s anti-drug programs were failing to meet their goals and in some cases were actually stimulating coca production.

–Military killings of civilians were up — with as many as 1,486 civilians killed “during the first six years of Álvaro Uribe’s presidency,” she noted. (The actual number was likely more than double that.)

–There were also “mounting allegations that the President’s intelligence service, the DAS, was put at the service of paramilitary leaders and narco-traffickers; used to spy on and intimidate Supreme Court justices, opposition politicians, journalists and human rights defenders; and employed in a campaign of sabotage and smears against political opponents” of Uribe.

–Dozens of President Uribe’s political supporters were under investigation for corruption and ties to illegal paramilitary units, she reported. “Many are large landholders with ties to narco-trafficking, the same local leaders who created and fostered the brutal pro-government paramilitary groups that killed tens of thousands of non-combatants in the 1990s and early 2000s. . . Those embroiled . . . include the President’s cousin, Mario Uribe; the brother of his former foreign minister; and individuals whom the President had named to be Colombia’s ambassadors to Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Canada.”

In conclusion, she maintained, the real heroes were not Uribe but “Colombian prosecutors, investigators, witnesses and non-governmental organizations trying to uncover the truth about these abuses” under conditions of great personal risk.

Falling on Deaf Ears

Her advice fell on deaf ears. Just one week later, Secretary Clinton was in Bogota to affirm the administration’s strong support for a free trade agreement, and underline Washington’s commitment to helping Uribe “consolidate the security gains of recent years” against “the insurgents, the guerillas, the narco-traffickers, who would wish to turn the clock back.”

Echoing her friend Bob Gates, she added, “because of your commitment to building strong democratic institutions here in Colombia and to nurturing the bonds of friendship between our two countries, you leave a legacy of great progress that will be viewed in historic terms.”

Clinton had nothing to say about the quarter million victims of right-wing paramilitary groups, many of them backed by the military, as reported in a November, 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Bogota. Nor did she have anything to say about the more than 2,700 union members murdered since 1986 (including hundreds under Uribe), making Colombia by far the world’s most dangerous place for organized labor.

Secretary Clinton may have been influenced by her husband’s warm relationship with Uribe. As President, he had signed and implemented a multi-year aid package called Plan Colombia, which contributed more than $8 billion to Colombia’s counterinsurgency wars, despite Washington’s full knowledge of the military’s “death-squad tactics” and cooperation with drug-running paramilitary groups.

In retirement, former President Clinton deepened his ties to Uribe and Colombia. In 2005, he introduced Uribe to Canadian mining magnate Frank Guistra, who was a leading donor to the Clinton Global Initiative fund; Guistra was interested in acquiring mineral and oil rights in Colombia. In 2005, Clinton also picked up $800,000 from a Colombia-based group for a speaking tour of Latin America to tout the merits of a U.S-Colombia free trade agreement. (Guistra provided the private jet for Clinton’s tour.)

To further promote the trade pact, Bogota provided a $300,000 P.R. contract to Clinton’s pollster Mark Penn. As part of his publicity campaign, Penn arranged for Uribe to hold an award banquet in honor of Clinton in 2007. Clinton reciprocated by featuring Uribe as an honored guest at his Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting a few months later.

When news of Penn’s contract with Bogota got out in 2008, Hillary Clinton had to fire him as her campaign strategist, lest she lose endorsements from labor unions. She insisted that her husband’s relationship with Colombia would not influence her stand on the free trade deal, which she opposed because of “the history of violence against trade unionists in Colombia.”

Reversing Course

As we have seen, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reversed course once in office. Clinton may simply have been following the President’s lead, but critics point to her family’s unsavory financial connections as another explanation for her change of heart. As International Business Times reported last year:

“When workers at the country’s largest independent oil company staged a strike in 2011, the Colombian military rounded them up at gunpoint and threatened violence if they failed to disband, according to human rights organizations. Similar intimidation tactics against the workers, say labor leaders, amounted to an everyday feature of life. . .

“Yet as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed these harrowing reports of violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011, urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded first with silence, these organizers say. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.

“At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation, the family’s global philanthropic empire.

“The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation — supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself — Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact.

“Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it ‘strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.’ The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.”

According to a report this May by the AFL-CIO and four Colombian unions, 99 Colombian workers and union activists have been killed since the trade agreement took effect in 2011. Another six were kidnapped and 955 received death threats. Only a small fraction of those crimes were every solved.

Meanwhile, Uribe continues to be a major force in Colombian politics. In April, he mobilized a street protest against efforts by the current government to bring about a lasting peace with the Marxist guerrilla group FARC; a leading newspaper reported that Uribe’s protest was backed by Colombia’s largest paramilitary drug-trafficking organization, Los Urabeños, which managed to shut down much of the north of the country for 72 hours after assassinating a dozen policemen.

Ties to Drug Trade

A connection between Uribe, paramilitary groups, and drug traffickers is all too easy to imagine, despite his denials and Washington’s hero worship. Consider a few family connections, among the many that have been alleged:

–One of Uribe’s brothers was arrested this February for allegedly leading a death squad against suspected leftists that was run from the family cattle ranch. A Colombian legislator cited testimony that Álvaro himself may have “ordered massacres” from the ranch.

Another brother was arrested (but not convicted) for suspected ties to cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar; his extramarital partner was later arrested on a U.S. warrant for allegedly working with the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Their daughter was also listed by the U.S. Treasury Department as a major money launderer.

–Uribe’s two sons are under investigation for massive tax evasion and showed up in the recent “Panama papers” leak as shareholders in a British Virgin Islands tax shelter;

–Uribe’s campaign manager and former chief of staff was flagged by DEA in 2001 as Colombia’s largest importer of a key precursor chemical for the production of cocaine.

–Uribe received contributions to his 2002 presidential campaign from the country’s largest and most murderous paramilitary organization, the AUC, which was listed by Washington as an international terrorist organization. By the time of Uribe’s election, according to one expert, “the AUC had become the most powerful network of drug traffickers in the country’s history.”

Uribe arranged a sweetheart deal to allow AUC leaders to escape serious justice with most of their wealth intact, until the nation’s top courts intervened. Uribe’s chief of security from 2002 to 2005 pleaded guilty in 2012 to taking bribes to protect the AUC.

–And as far back as 1991, a confidential U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report called Uribe a “close personal friend” of Pablo Escobar, and said he was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín cartel at high government levels.” It also noted that his father had been murdered “for his connection with the narcotic traffickers.”

On the plus side, President George W. Bush awarded Uribe the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service named him a Distinguished Scholar. And Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation named him to its Board of Directors in 2012.

Hillary Clinton clearly sides with the camp of Uribe’s admirers. It’s time to call her out and make her account for that choice — and for a record that calls into question her professed devotion to human freedom, democratic values, and the rights of organized labor.

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.” ]




Trump and the Neocon Lament

Upset that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump isn’t one of them, angry neocons insist that they represent America’s reasonable foreign policy consensus, a claim challenged by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The ululation among neoconservatives over their loss, at the hands of Donald Trump, of their control of the foreign policy of one of the two major American political parties continues with an op ed from one of the loudest grievers, Eliot Cohen.

Cohen enumerates many valid reasons why the vulgar and erratic presumptive Republican presidential nominee would be an awful steward of U.S. foreign policy. Along with the valid reasons to oppose Trump, Cohen also delivers a few low blows, including a comment that Trump’s “America first” slogan recalls the pre-World War II movement “that included not only traditional isolationists but also Nazi sympathizers.” One can always rely on neocons to work in a Nazi reference if at all possible.

A more fundamental deception in Cohen’s piece involves his assertion that Trump’s candidacy imperils a “two-generation-old American foreign policy consensus” that “has framed this country’s work overseas since 1950.”

It is true that there have been some depressingly persistent strains in American thinking about foreign relations in recent decades, the blatant and costly failures of which have had something to do with popular support for Trump (and, as Cohen correctly notes without acknowledging the failures, support for Bernie Sanders).

But Cohen’s overall argument is another example of neoconservatives striving to wrap themselves in a larger mantle of what Cohen calls “American global leadership” and general U.S. involvement in world affairs that is the antithesis of true isolationism. They have been able to do this partly because neoconservatism is in some respects a more muscular and militant form of some themes that can be found in broadly held American exceptionalism. But where the mantle-wrapping involves wool-pulling over eyes is that neoconservatism itself is a narrow agenda that has never reflected the kind of consensus that Cohen is claiming.

Cohen writes, “Even in this era of partisanship, there has been a large measure of agreement between the two parties, cemented by officials, experts and academics who shared a common outlook.” But especially given the recent neocon domination of the Republican Party, this simply has not been true.

A prime and recent exhibit is one of the biggest foreign policy accomplishments of the Obama administration: the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, on which the partisanship has been intense (and on which Trump, by the way, is siding more with the neocons).

Or consider the biggest neocon foreign policy endeavor: the Iraq War, which a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives, even amid all the pre-war propaganda about dictators supposedly giving weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, voted against. As for “officials, experts and academics”: the judgment of officials was never sought in a decision that was supported by no policy process, and many very credible experts and academics, including leading American foreign policy thinkers, opposed the launching of the war.

Even within the Republican Party, the neocon takeover of which came much later than Cohen’s 1950 start date for his alleged consensus, policy has been far different for most of this period than the direction that Cohen advocates. Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency was one of foreign policy restraint. Ike didn’t dive into Southeast Asia when the French were losing, he didn’t attempt rollback in Eastern Europe, and he came down hard on the British, French, and Israelis during their Suez escapade.

Richard Nixon’s foreign policy was characterized by realism, balance of power, and extraction from a major war rather than starting one. Ronald Reagan, despite the image of standing up to the Evil Empire, didn’t try to wage Cold War forever like some in his administration did. He saw the value of negotiation with adversaries, and when faced with high costs from overseas military deployments (think Lebanon in 1983-84), his response was retrenchment rather than doubling down.

George H.W. Bush had one of the most successful foreign policies of all, thanks to not trying to accomplish too much with overseas military expeditions, and to his administration being broad-thinking and forward-looking victors of the Cold War.

It wasn’t until the administration of George W. Bush that the neocons finally had their way. As for laying any claim to consensus, their loss of support, due largely to their disastrous experiment in trying to inject democracy in foreign countries through the barrel of a gun, destroys any such claim.

The grand neoconservative experiment in Iraq, far from reflecting a consensus, was the product of, in Larry Wilkerson’s words, a cabal. On a more general and intellectual level, the neoconservatism which Cohen is trying to defend has also been a narrowly based political phenomenon, notwithstanding those traits it shares in kind if not in degree with broader American exceptionalism.

It is a movement with historical ties to Scoop Jackson Democrats and, farther back, Trotskyites. Along the way the movement has given us a dose of Plato, by way of Leo Strauss, and the idea that the neocons themselves know better than any of the rest of us, who can be kept in line more with myth and fable than with truth. So much for consensus.

It must be painful to lose control of the ideology of a major political party. So maybe we can feel a little sympathy for Cohen and his fellow neocons. But we should not put up with being portrayed as agreeing with them as part of a phony “consensus.”

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.)




Up Close on Venezuela’s Crisis

U.S. policymakers are pleased with the ousters of leftist governments in Argentina and Brazil with the next prospective “regime change” in Venezuela where the economy screams and people are hungry, as Catholic layworker Lisa Sullivan describes.

An open letter from Lisa Sullivan

Dear friends,

Greetings from the state of Aragua in Venezuela where we are concluding a small U.S. delegation focused on grassroots solutions to the massive food crisis here. I am reaching out to you to share my grave concerns about what is happening here in Venezuela, my home for over three decades where I worked for 21 years as a Maryknoll Catholic lay missioner, then as Latin America Coordinator for the School of the Americas Watch.

It is out of concern for the most vulnerable sectors in Venezuela, such as my neighbors, that I break my silence to write. As I watch their efforts to obtain food for their families become more desperate and more futile, and as I witness pounds dropping from their bodies, I think the time has come to do more than share from my own scarce cupboards and gardens as they share with me. These people, my friends and neighbors and family, are literally being swallowed up by massive economic and political interests.

A perfect storm of a collapse of global oil prices combined with massive internal economic errors leading to unbridled corruption on all levels of society has left these vulnerable sectors literally almost starving.

The reaction of the U.S. and other global interests seems clearly based on Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves (the world’s largest). Those interests are circling our nation like vultures, ready to swoop in and devour.

I have spent countless hours leading delegations to Venezuela over the past 12 years to share the enormous advances in education, health care, housing and nutrition that returned dignity to millions of Venezuelans under the Bolivarian revolution.

Throughout those years there was an almost total boycott of the international media to acknowledge these advances that led to Venezuela becoming the most equal society in the Americas, to its surge to fifth place worldwide for college enrollment and to building new homes for a fifth of its families. The achievements of the Bolivarian revolution were real, palpable and inspired a continent.

Today our reality is widespread hunger. The current government points to an economic war unleashed by wealthy business owners with international support from the U.S. that has led to hoarding and shortages of food. The U.S. points to mismanagement and poor planning on the part of the Bolivarian government that led to a nation totally renter economy dependent on food imports.

My neighbors point to their stomachs while simultaneously planting corn and beans and bananas in any tiny space, beseeching the heavens for rains that have also been in dire shortage this season.

I wish that I could share a simple message or solution with you, such as “close the SOA.” [The School of the Americas or SOA is a U.S.-run military training facility for Latin America that has been blamed for widespread political repression and human rights violations.] Observing such complicity in this crisis all around me, near and far, I can offer no simple slogan.

However, having spent a decade traveling the continent witnessing the horrors unleashed by U.S.- trained Latin American military upon their own people, I want to at least alert you to the possibility of a similar scenario here.

Unfortunately, because the Bolivarian government has already experienced this very reality of outside complicity in a military coup in 2002, they are ultra sensitive (understandably so) towards any critiques and suggestions, even within their own ranks. Unwittingly that may contribute to an eventual military or outside solution rather than allowing for an internal democratic resolution to this grave humanitarian crisis.

As the political configuration of South America quickly shifts to the right and the global alignment of power is in active play, Venezuela is in the cross-hairs. The grave humanitarian crisis in Venezuela today is real and not an invention of the press.

And the contributions to this crisis lie on multiple shoulders. And the solution to this problem needs to be determined by the Venezuelan people with support from other Latin American peoples.

Hoping that these days don’t bring worse scenarios. Thanks for your support through the years.

Abrazos, Lisa

(This letter from Lisa Sullivan comes via Rick Sterling of Task Force on the Americas with Lisa’s approval.)