A Campaign Based on Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories – suspicions without evidence – have become a bane of modern life, but Donald Trump seeks to make them a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, as Todd Gitlin describes.

By Todd Gitlin

After the weekend’s carnage in Orlando, Donald Trump didn’t wait long before launching yet another guided missile full of insinuation. He didn’t exactly say that the massacre was the doing of an unreconstructed Mau-Mau descendant born in Kenya. Trump is craftier than that. Monday morning, he told Fox News:

“Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on… [Obama] doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it’s one or the other and either one is unacceptable.” [My italics]

Later he told NBC’s Today’s Savannah Guthrie: “There are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. A lot of people think maybe he doesn’t want to know about it. I happen to think that he just doesn’t know what he’s doing, but there are many people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. He doesn’t want to see what’s really happening. And that could be.” [My italics]

Something else in mind… Can’t believe it… There’s something going on… Maybe he doesn’t want to get it… People cannot believe… A lot of people think… These are Trump’s characteristic high-frequency whistles, repeated and restated and re-repeated to make sure he gets through to the feebler dogs out on the periphery of his adoring crowd.

There are two intertwined strands to the Trump brand of insinuation. One is that traitors have crept into our midst. They are Muslims, Mexicans and other alien inhabitants of Trojan horses, aided and abetted by those who cover up for them, who reassure you that these sinister forces are harmless.

The second strand is that Trump speaks for a movement of folks who get it. He’s not just the leader who glimpses the buried truth. The leader, after all, has the wisdom to channel the “people,” the stouthearted ones, the deprogrammed, those brave souls who can handle the awful truth, who all together will rise to strip the masquerade bare, to evict the aliens — along with corrupting serpents — so as to restore Edenic greatness. The truth that matters, in all fascist and para-fascist movements, is the truth that the savior-masters have unearthed.

In the minds of circle of the adepts, there’s always “something going on” — the inside story that compactly explains the apparent mysteries of the world. What’s “going on” is always deep and dark. A special craft of intelligence is required to discern it. They, the conspirators, either are invisible to the official channels of information, who are at best naïve — at worst, complicit — because they ignore the common sense of the common folks who do get it.

In this view, official opinion is made up by know-it-alls who really know nothing, because they have an interest in concealment. They’re cover-up artists, the liberal-mainstream-lamestream media and their elite pals. They suppress the knowledge that, against all odds, the circle of deep knowers have patiently scraped together. It takes a special brand of astuteness to join the ranks of the adepts, to get down with the connoisseurs of the International Communist Conspiracy and the grassy knoll and the “false flag” and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Jews who stayed home from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Here are words out of Trump’s mouth, to Bill O’Reilly, in 2011: “I’m a very smart guy. I went to the best college. I had good marks. I was a very smart guy, good student and all that stuff. Because what they do to the birthers, which is a term I hate because a lot of these birthers are just really quality people that just want the truth.”

We get it. They don’t. They refuse to. Because — well — you know about them…

Inventing Reality

Conspiracy nuts despise official knowledge. What they relish is their own knowingness. Just when you think you’ve refuted their canards, they dance away. One mark of this sort of conspiracy theory is that it never says die. Blocked at the end of one cul-de-sac, it reverses field and rushes off to find another one. So, during his effort in 2011 to force Obama to present his birth certificate to prove his citizenship, Trump implied to Fox News that the reason for the president not showing it was “because maybe it says he is a Muslim.”

Having lifted that rock, Trump couldn’t let it go undisturbed. Just this February, he tweeted:  “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice Scalia if it were held in a Mosque?” Well, he didn’t say Obama was a Muslim, did he? He only implied that Obama has a special feeling for Muslims. Which takes us straight to his insinuations about Orlando.

Fortunately for the Trumps of the world, they have their own efficient, instantaneous, echo chambers at their disposal. They delude themselves that what other people think doesn’t matter, because they are deafened by the applause that reverberates through their own arenas.

This doesn’t mean that what mainstream media say and don’t say, expose and fail to expose, are irrelevant. Writing in The Washington Post, Paul Waldman goes too far when he laments that mainstream media exposés are now helpless because there is no single media figure who has the audience or the stature that Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite had. But the multiplication of sources has led to a Balkanization of information — there’s no common text among voters that functions the way the evening news functioned a half-century ago. Further, the profusion of opinion available to everyone means that there’s no perspective or analysis, no matter how extreme, to which the public doesn’t have access.

As I noted last week, a good many journalists are at long, long last finding their ways through the conundrum of how to cover a serial liar without covering up. Untruths that passed unchallenged as run-of-the-mill Republican rhetoric during the primaries have now slipped into what the media scholar Daniel Hallin has called “the sphere of legitimate controversy.” Reporters are not so fearful of highlighting and challenging Trump’s steady assaults on truth. Investigative reports are catching up with his past of deception, greed and fraud. One reads this, for example, by Jenna Johnson in The Washington Post:

“For months, Trump has slyly suggested that the president is not Christian and has questioned his compassion toward Muslims. Years ago, Trump was a major force in calls for the president to release his birth certificate and prove that he was born in the United States. On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly stated as fact conspiracy theories about the president, his rivals and Muslims, often refusing to back down from his assertions even when they are proven to be false.”

No wonder Trump just took the step of revoking the Post’s credentials for upcoming events. He made this decision before the Post did him the favor of this weasely headline: “Donald Trump spreads unproven theories.” Not “unproven” — false and crackpot!

A Hesitant Press

What took journalists so long to rise to the occasion? Aside from normal, everyday deference, false equivalencies and the fear of being seen as knowing too much (aka “partisanship”), mainstream journalists suffered from lack of material from campaign rivals. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler usefully explains that one reason journalists failed to puncture so many of Trump’s hot-air balloons is that they weren’t getting any help from other candidates’ opposition — or “oppo” — research:

“Political reporters have done a pretty good job unearthing the unflattering details of Trump’s past, but they can only do so much on their own. If the media could document everything untoward every candidate had ever done, campaigns and advocacy groups wouldn’t employ opposition researchers. But there’s a reason they do: In general, campaigns outgun and outpace the press at investigating rival candidates (particularly with respect to archival information that can’t be found online, and that requires expertise to obtain and decipher). They have more resources, no daily print deadlines and no need to worry about impartiality. …

“[R]epublican campaigns and anti-Trump activists did an absolutely abysmal job sifting through his dirty laundry between June 2015 and today… [F]or too long, most Republicans mistakenly assumed Trump would collapse on his own… They were also inhibited from attacking his wealth (or lack thereof), his tax avoidance and his barking-mad tax reform plan, because that would contradict fundamental conservative dogma: that taxes are terrible, that they can’t be cut enough and that the wealthy are wise to pay as little as possible.

“Most Republicans were loath to attack Trump in any meaningful way at all, until it was too late, because they didn’t want to alienate the front-runner and his millions of supporters.”

Can millions of supporters be wrong? As Lindsey Graham said in December: “[T]here’s about 40 percent of the Republican primary voter[s] who believes [sic] that Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim.”

The freak show is not over. Fatuous commentaries and foolish questions still resound through cable TV land. On Fox, Howard Kurtz opined that “it probably would have been better if Trump had let one of his aides or surrogates” make the points the candidate made that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism” and, “I said this was going to happen—and it is only going to get worse.”

Not better in the sense of more revealing of the actual sentiments of the putative Republican nominee — better in the sense of less damaging to Trump’s reputation, such as it is. No doubt more advice to Trump about how to airbrush his dirty pictures will be forthcoming in days to come.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University. He is the author of sixteen books, including several on journalism and politics. His next book is a novel, The Opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin. [This article appeared previously at http://billmoyers.com/story/truth-according-trump/ ]




Drawing Wrong Lessons from Orlando

America’s mass shootings, especially those linked to Islamic terrorism like the slaughter in Orlando, Florida, prompt a reflex of responses, but some reactions are particularly unhelpful, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Here we go again. Another terrorist incident, and another iteration of the depressingly familiar suite of responses we hear each time in the subsequent surge of rhetoric and commentary. Much of what we hear is what careful consideration of the circumstances and evidence associated with many of these incidents would show to be wrong.

And this is even without including most of the politically driven reactions that have become common amid the partisanship of contemporary America and that one ought to be able to see through without the need of careful consideration.

There are, for example, the fatuous criticisms of leaders for not uttering the term “Islamic terrorism” — criticisms made with no indication that the leaders being criticized don’t fully understand the nature of the terrorism at hand, no hint of any constructive policy implications flowing from this bit of semantics, and no sense of responsibility regarding the damage caused by leaders uttering such phrases.

There is, as with any mass shooting incident, the obligatory fealty to the gun lobby and expression of opposition to gun control. (Is a darkened, crowded night club dance floor — amid loud music, strobe lights, and booze — one of those places where, if everyone were armed, supposedly everyone would be safer?)

And in what could be called a new low for Donald Trump if we had not already had to use the term new low so many times in referring to his utterances, Trump suggested that President Obama was somehow connected to the Orlando shooting, saying that the President has “something else in mind … there’s something going on.”

Rushing Judgment

One of the familiar post-incident patterns is to jump to conclusions and to assume as fact much that really ought to await investigation. To avoid committing that same mistake, one needs to be cautious and agnostic even in criticizing the criticism. But a couple of the common post-incident patterns can confidently be marked as mistaken without awaiting completion of the current investigation.

One is the tendency to see terrorism as the work of a fixed and identifiable set of bad guys, embodied in specific, named groups acting on behalf of a specific ideology and especially in the name of a specific religion. The basic misunderstanding involved in this tendency is to equate whatever group or brand name or ideology that an individual terrorist invokes as a complete and accurate indicator of his motivations. Instead the invocation more often represents a way for the individual, otherwise motivated, to identify with a cause larger than himself.

Whatever else the shooting in Orlando was, it appears — based on the target chosen and an observation by the shooter’s father — to have been a homophobic act. With the shooter having reportedly invoked the name of ISIS in a phone call during the incident, attribution to that group comes naturally.

Among the vicious methods the group has used in the territory it controls in the Middle East, it has been especially vicious toward gay people. But based on what has been made publicly known so far, the connection does not go beyond the invocation. FBI director James Comey notes that the shooter also mentioned as supposed inspiration other groups and individuals that have nothing to do with ISIS and are even in competition with it.

Answering homophobia with Islamophobia is a mistake. Hostility to gays is hardly unique to ISIS, and it is not unique to Islam. To the extent there is a religious base for anti-gay (or anti-LGBT) sentiment and actions in the United States, that base has more often involved branches of Christianity. Where such sentiment has taken a violent turn overseas or has required shows of force to prevent it, any religious basis for the homophobia is again diverse. In Africa, which is perhaps the most homophobic continent, the hostility prevails as much in non-Muslim areas (such as majority Christian Uganda) as in Muslim ones.

The Orlando shooter probably had other motivations besides his hostility to gays. Such violent extremists often do. Other motivations can be a mix of inner demons and more outward-oriented matters such as objection to certain public policies. Perhaps more will be learned in the investigation. But nothing should be assumed to be the product of any one group.

Blaming Government

Another familiar pattern that we are hearing once again is the one about how government agencies should have been able to prevent a tragedy if they only had been more diligent, or more imaginative, or something. The basis for the pattern this time is the fact that the shooter had come under suspicion before and had twice been investigated by the FBI.

Recriminations along this line assume, mistakenly, that there always should be some way of finding a terrorist needle in a haystack of potential terrorists. They also mistakenly assume that there already is such a needle to be found, as distinct from terrorist plans that are only in the future and have not yet been made as of the time that someone invites government attention.

We do no favors to ourselves or to our security by falling into these familiar reactive ruts after each terrorist incident. We do a favor to ISIS by giving the group credit each time it claims credit. We especially do it a favor by conforming to its portrayal of global conflict as a Muslim versus non-Muslim thing.

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.)




Muhammad Ali’s True Patriotism

Muhammad Ali angered much of America by declaring “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong” and refusing to fight in Vietnam, but his principled stand was vindicated by history and is a lesson for today, says Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

Although it is customary to say nice things about a person who has died, Muhammad Ali has been rightly commended for not only his superb boxing career but also his principled opposition to the then-popular Vietnam War. Unlike later chair-borne hawks, such as Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, Ali did not try to evade the draft or get numerous college deferments to avoid service. He declared that because of his religion, he would not fight against people who had done nothing to him and bluntly said, “just take me to jail.”

Therefore, it is difficult to argue that Ali avoided the war for selfish reasons, because the costs of non-compliance with the draft were substantial. If the Supreme Court had not nullified his conviction 8-0, he would have served five years in prison. Although he ultimately avoided losing his liberty, he had to give up his heavyweight boxing title and experienced financial hardship as a result.

At the time, Ali’s was not a popular stand, but he turned out to be right about many things, just as the then unpopular civil rights heroes Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were. The war — in a faraway, insignificant country — turned out to be a non-strategic quagmire in the competition with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Of course, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) privately predicted that at the time, but escalated the conflict anyway, so as not to be seen as a wimp politically with an eye toward winning the 1968 election. The war killed 58,000 Americans, a few million Vietnamese, and drained equipment and resources from the U.S. military, which it hollowed out for more important missions.

Like George W. Bush during the Iraq War and many other American presidents when conflict has been afoot, LBJ essentially lied the United States into war by saying that the North Vietnamese patrol boats had twice attacked a U.S. warship off the coast of Vietnam. Even if the North Vietnamese did attack once, it was in retaliation for the ships supporting secret raids on North Vietnam’s coast, which LBJ just forgot to mention.

He also forgot to tell the American people that the Americans fired first in the dust-up with the patrol boats. And when LBJ ordered U.S. bombing in retaliation for these attacks, he was in such a hurry to get on prime-time TV that he announced that the U.S. air attacks on North Vietnam had occurred before they had even started.

The North Vietnamese, realizing this amazing reality, had their air defenses ready when U.S. aircraft came overhead and inflicted unneeded casualties on U.S. air forces. Subsequently, Congress passed the open-ended Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which essentially let LBJ do whatever he wanted in Southeast Asia. He, and his successor Richard Nixon, did.

Yet the Vietnam War was popular for a long time in America before the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive in 1968 exposed LBJ’s lie that the United States was winning the war. Wars that drag on, result in mounting U.S. casualties, and do not appear to be for a worthy objective often eventually become unpopular at home, as the similar unending battles with guerrillas in Afghanistan and Iraq have become.

But why don’t Americans spot these turkeys in advance and just say “no!”? Why do they wait until large amounts of blood and treasure have been futilely wasted to call it quits? (We still can’t seem to admit that Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria have been lost.)

One reason is that the American people almost always think patriotism means giving the benefit of the doubt to the president, so much so nowadays that the if the president asks Congress to approve a war, he thinks he needs to do so only out of courtesy. Lately, we have not had very good luck with this method, which has led to perpetual war in many Third World hellholes simultaneously.

We should go back to the Founders’ now seemingly out-of-fashion constitutional requirement for Congress to declare war. But members of Congress, to avoid taking any responsibility for a conflict, run into the shadows, even when a president, such as Barack Obama, says he would like an authorization for war.

Even by approving the war, the Congress could at least constrain the war on terror (even though it is also out of fashion now to label it as such) within a specific geographical area or against certain terror groups — like maybe those that have actually attacked the United States.

But many times in American history, both the Congress and the people have agreed with ill-advised wars. Perhaps citizens should remember that in America, originally “patriots” were not people who reflexively supported their government, but those who instead went against it in support of society and its values. Patriots in the American Revolution were Englishmen fighting for their rights against their English King and Parliament.

So the country was founded on a very different concept of patriotism than has taken hold nowadays. Patriotism has been turned on its head and is now synonymous with reflexive nationalism — support for your government, no matter what.

Muhammad Ali was a true patriot of the original variety when he just said “hell no” to meddling in another country’s business that was unneeded and was, from the beginning, unlikely to turn out well.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.




Pushing the Doomsday Clock to Midnight

As the U.S. and NATO mount provocative military maneuvers on Russia’s border, the West is oblivious to how these threatening gestures ratchet up prospects of thermonuclear war that could extinguish civilization, says Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

In his eulogy to Mohammed Ali at the Louisville memorial service, Rabbi Michael Lerner reminded us all of the distinguishing feature of “The Greatest,” that from the start of his career he spoke Truth to Power and paid the price when he was stripped of his heavyweight title for five years.

In that spirit, and in the presence of eminent national leaders, Rabbi Lerner listed major issues that concern Liberal Progressives, adding one issue that is often overlooked. He said that attempts to subjugate peoples and rule the world have been made over the last 10,000 years and they have never worked. In what follows, I will try to expand on that very important observation and how it bears on our own and broader humanity’s prospects for survival now.

One of the very sad consequences of the monopoly control of mainstream print and electronic media, as well as of the two houses of Congress by the ideologists of Neoconservatism and Liberal Interventionism is that the broad American public, including instinctively skeptical Progressives, is clueless about the level of risk of all-out nuclear war that we are inviting by our current and projected policies of global domination. America’s seemingly irresistible force is coming up against indomitable resistance from Russia and China and the result is an escalating confrontation that we have not seen since the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

I had a personal awakening to the reality of the false sense of security that pervades American society some 18 months ago when I participated in a Peace Day event organized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where the keynote speaker was Noam Chomsky and where a number of other leading personalities in the nationwide antiwar movement also held forth.

The auditorium, which accommodated the opening, plenary session, was filled by perhaps 350 activists, many of them gray-headed veterans from the 1960s Vietnam War resistance, but also a representative sampling of students from the Greater Boston area. When we broke up for workshops, perhaps 250 chose the then very fashionable issue of the Islamic State, whose exploits had filled our newspapers with beheadings and bloody terror taking place in distant lands. My own workshop was on the red-hot civil war then raging in Donbass, in southeastern Ukraine, which was becoming a proxy war between Russia and the U.S. It drew a total of five auditors.

And the workshop on nuclear dangers, which I looked in on when my session closed, had perhaps 10 auditors. The organizers were busy presenting slides showing what could happen in a European city like Rotterdam if “bad guys” managed to detonate a dirty radioactive bomb in the city center. A better scenario for substituting phony threats for real ones could not have been written by Pentagon strategists.

The thought that we might find ourselves in a nuclear exchange with Russia did not cross the minds of organizers or auditors alike. And yet to my understanding, the level of risk of war coming out of the Great Power stand-off in Ukraine, and of it — accidentally or otherwise — spinning out of control and going nuclear was vastly greater than anything that could ever befall us from the advance of radical Islamists in the Middle East.

My point is not to ridicule the very earnest and well-intentioned anti-war campaigners whose ranks I joined that day. It is to demonstrate how and why the highly tendentious reporting of what the U.S. is doing in the world and what others are doing to us, combined with selective news blackouts by major media, has left even activists unaware of real threats to the peace and to our very survival that American foreign policy has created over the past 20 years. And those threats are likely to grow in the future if the public does not awaken from its slumber and demand to be informed by experts with countervailing views.

Ignoring War and Peace

We are living through a situation unparalleled in our history as a nation where the issues of war and peace are not being debated in public, at least not in any serious way.

Moreover, the risk of accidental war has moved quickly beyond where it was just 18 months ago. Now we are entering upon implementation of very provocative U.S.-directed military expansion of NATO activities at the borders of Russia. The ongoing war games — code-named Anaconda-16 in Poland numbering 31,000 troops, 17,000 of them Americans — are rehearsing a NATO seizure and occupation of Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, just a few miles away.

President Vladimir Putin’s remark at the start of the exercises was that any move into Russian territory would elicit a nuclear response that would not be limited to the European theater but would be directed at the mainland United States. These were clear words, but I greatly doubt that many Americans heard them (or if they did, it was in the mainstream media’s context of the demonized Putin’s “reckless” rhetoric).

The NATO Summit planned for July 6-8 in Warsaw will confirm plans to greatly expand the presence of NATO troops and heavy equipment in bases being built in Poland as well as in the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In response to this unanticipated threat to its national security, Russia is now moving a large part of its armed forces from the center of the country to the Leningrad Oblast, bordering on Estonia. The distances separating Russian and NATO forces will be miniscule.

In this sense, we are now two minutes to midnight on the nuclear catastrophe clock. But the American people seem unaware of this potential threat to the survival of human civilization. The only political commentary is more belligerent talk directed at Putin and vows to confront “Russian aggression.”

What can we do about this dire situation? First, we can write to the editors of our major national daily newspapers and complain about the wholly one-sided view of international affairs that they are feeding us day by day. We should politely demand that they open their op-ed pages to responsible experts and non-experts who challenge our present foreign and defense policies as being aggressive and provocative.

The same letters should be sent to the producers of news programming and panel discussions at CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and other leading electronic media who have systematically black-balled all those who do not agree with the Washington Narrative ever since the start of the Information Wars with Russia in 2007.

Secondly, we should write to our Congressmen and women demanding that Congressional hearings on foreign relations and relations with Russia and China in particular must cease to be phony exercises at which only those who support the U.S. government’s present policies or call for still more drastic poking the Russians in the eye get invited to testify.

Hearings which bring in as well those who believe as I do that we are presently on course for Armageddon should get C-SPAN coverage and give the American public a chance to judge for itself from authoritative and credible sources and not only from “alternative media” that can easily be dismissed by the establishment.

These recommended actions will not by themselves turn back the minute hand on the Clock, but they may stop its progression and give us a very much needed time out to fix policies that are wrongheaded and extremely dangerous.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator and Board Member of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future?was published in August 2015.




MH-17 Probe Trusts Torture-Implicated Ukraine

Exclusive: The floundering inquiry into who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 has relied heavily on a Ukrainian intelligence agency that recently stopped U.N. investigators from probing its alleged role in torture, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Ukrainian intelligence service that has been guiding the investigation of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down of July 2014 recently blocked a United Nations inquiry into alleged torture sites under Ukrainian government control.

The U.N. inspectors called off their torture investigation late last month because Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service, the SBU, denied the team access to detention facilities where human rights groups have found evidence of torture.

“The United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has suspended its visit to Ukraine after being denied access to places in several parts of the country where it suspects people are being deprived of their liberty by the Security Service of Ukraine, the SBU,” a U.N. statement said, with Sir Malcolm Evans, head of the four-member delegation, adding:

“This denial of access is in breach of Ukraine’s obligations as a State party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. It has meant that we have not been able to visit some places where we have heard numerous and serious allegations that people have been detained and where torture or ill-treatment may have occurred.”

Ukraine’s deputy justice minister Natalya Sevostyanova said the U.N. team was denied access to SBU centers in Mariupol and Kramatorsk, frontline towns in the simmering civil war between the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government and Russian-supported eastern Ukrainian rebels.

SBU director Vasyl Hrytsak said the reason for barring the U.N. team was to protect Ukrainian government secrets, adding: “If you arrive, for example, in the United States and ask to come to the C.I.A. or the F.B.I., to visit a basement or an office, do you think they will ever let you do it?”

But the relevance of this SBU secrecy to the MH-17 case, in which the airliner carrying 298 people was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, is that the SBU is an integral part of the Dutch-led multinational Joint Investigation Team that is trying to determine who was responsible for the attack.

The obstruction of the torture inquiry suggests that the SBU also would steer the JIT away from any evidence that might implicate a unit of the Ukrainian military in the shoot-down, a situation that would be regarded as a state secret which could severely undermine international support for the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev. Among the SBU’s official duties is the protection of Ukrainian government secrets.

A Breezy Report

Earlier this month, the JIT investigators published a breezy, notebook-style report on their progress, revealing how dependent they have become on information provided by the SBU and how they have grown to trust the Ukrainian intelligence service.

According to the report, the SBU helped shape the MH-17 investigation by supplying a selection of phone intercepts and other material. But the JIT seemed oblivious to the potentially grave conflict of interest, saying:

“Since the first week of September 2014, investigating officers from The Netherlands and Australia have worked here [in Kiev]. They work in close cooperation here with the Security and Investigation Service of the Ukraine (SBU). Immediately after the crash, the SBU provided access to large numbers of tapped telephone conversations and other data. …

“At first rather formal, cooperation with the SBU became more and more flexible. ‘In particular because of the data analysis, we were able to prove our added value’, says [Dutch police official Gert] Van Doorn. ‘Since then, we notice in all kinds of ways that they deal with us in an open way. They share their questions with us and think along as much as they can.’”

The JIT report continued: “With the tapped telephone conversations from SBU, there are millions of printed lines with metadata, for example, about the cell tower used, the duration of the call and the corresponding telephone numbers. The investigating officers sort out this data and connect it to validate the reliability of the material.

“When, for example, person A calls person B, it must be possible to also find this conversation on the line from person B to person A. When somebody mentions a location, that should also correlate with the cell tower location that picked up the signal. If these cross-checks do not tally, then further research is necessary.

“By now, the investigators are certain about the reliability of the material. ‘After intensive investigation, the material seems to be very sound’, says Van Doorn, ‘that also contributed to the mutual trust.’”

But would SBU turn over data that might reveal the role of a Ukrainian military unit in the shoot-down? Under the security agency’s secrecy mandate, could it even do so?

Further, the collegial dependence on the SBU has not led to a quick resolution of the MH-17 mystery, with the JIT’s investigative report now not expected until after the summer, i.e., more than two years after the shoot-down, and even then the report is to be kept secret.

In this month’s update, the JIT would not even endorse last fall’s finding by the Dutch Safety Board that MH-17 was likely brought down by a Buk anti-aircraft missile system fired somewhere in a 320-square-kilometer area in eastern Ukraine, territory that was then partly controlled by the rebels and partly by the government.

Nor does the JIT update address last October’s findings of Dutch (i.e., NATO) intelligence that the only operational anti-aircraft missile batteries capable of bringing down a plane at 33,000 feet on July 17, 2014, were in the possession of the Ukrainian military.

“For the investigation into the weapon system that was used, the well known seven questions need to be answered are: who, what, where, when, which, how and why,” the update said. “In this investigation only the question of ‘when’ has been established irrefutably: flight MH17 crashed on 17 July 2014. The remaining questions require intensive investigation, according to Gerrit Thiry (team leader) and Susanne Huiberts (operational specialist) of the National Criminal Investigation Service.”

Punishing Russia

The MH-17 case also has relevance to the decision later this month by the European Union on whether to extend sanctions against Russia for another six months as the U.S. government wants. The E.U. imposed the sanctions amid a frenzied rush-to-judgment in late July 2014 blaming the Russians and the rebels for the deaths of the 298 people on MH-17 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Immediately after the shoot-down, the U.S. government sought to pin the blame on ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and their Russian government backers. However, after CIA analysts had time to evaluate U.S. satellite, electronic and other intelligence data, the U.S. government went curiously silent about what it had discovered, including the possible identity of the people who were responsible. The U.S. reticence, after the initial haste to blame Russia, suggested that the more detailed findings undercut the original claims.

A source who was briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the CIA’s conclusion pointed toward a rogue Ukrainian operation involving a hard-line oligarch with the possible motive of shooting down Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official plane returning from South America that day, with similar markings as MH-17. The source said a Ukrainian warplane ascertained that the plane was not Putin’s but the attack went ahead anyway, with the assumption that the tragedy would be blamed on the pro-Russian rebels or on Russia directly.

Officially, however, the U.S. government has not revised its initial claims that were made within five days of the shoot-down, fingering the rebels and the Russians. I have been unable to determine if the assessment of Ukrainian responsibility represented a dissident or consensus view inside the U.S. intelligence community.

Although Ukraine would have been an obvious suspect in the attack, the Ukrainian SBU was invited to play a key role in the investigation along with investigators from Australia and the Netherlands. Under the JIT agreement, participating governments, which also include Belgium and Malaysia, have the right to block the release of information to the public.

The recent JIT report hails the comradeship between the Australian and Dutch investigators and their Ukrainian hosts, despite some early difficulties.

“An incredible amount of research material; differing legal systems and initial unfamiliarity with each other. Despite this, both Australian and Dutch members working in the Field Office in Kiev have managed to build good relations with each other and with the Ukraine to effectively conduct the investigation into the MH17 crash,” the report said.

“They are professionals who recognize each other’s love for the police work. They understand each other’s circumstances. And they are, regardless of their country of origin, motivated to do their utmost to uncover the truth. …

“‘The thing is to see how you can keep it workable”, says Van Doorn, ‘we like practical solutions. That means ‘poldering’ [the Dutch practice of policy-making by consensus].’”

Yet, the idea of “poldering” – or reaching consensus – with Ukraine’s SBU, an agency that has just thwarted a United Nations investigation into allegations that the SBU engages in the torture of ethnic Russian rebels, raises further questions about the objectivity and reliability of the MH-17 probe.

[For more background on this controversy, see Consortiumnews.com’s “More Game-Playing on MH-17.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Campaign 2016’s Brave New World

As the U.S. election shapes up as a battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the prospect for the public hearing anything approaching a truthful exchange of ideas appears hopeless, writes David Marks.

By David Marks

In 1958, a quarter century after publishing Brave New World, Aldous Huxley wrote a reflective essay on the themes of his book that ring with prescient truth. His analysis delves into the rise of deceptive candidates who prioritize personal interests over supporting democracy.

Huxley wrote: “From a pulpit or a platform even the most conscientious of speakers finds it very difficult to tell the whole truth. The methods now being used to merchandise the political candidate as though he were a deodorant positively guarantee the electorate against ever hearing the truth about anything.”

Huxley’s words precisely describe the techniques used in the current presidential campaign. The core issue is the motivation behind the candidates’ words.

Hillary Clinton promotes herself as the first female presidential candidate without embracing the pacifist foundations of feminism. She has supported many of the aggressive military actions of the United States in recent years. Her use of liberal rhetoric belies her ties to military and corporate interests and membership in the American oligarchy. Clinton’s deceptive techniques in gaining popularity rely mostly on omission of truth. Except for a few grudging mistakes-were-made formulations, she admits to no faults.

Donald Trump brings distortion of truth to a new level. He is an iconic salesman, offering a magic potion that will cure all social and political ills. And in that tradition, he repeatedly assails the status quo, claiming to identify and empathize with the downtrodden and ignored. He intentionally attracts followers in hypnotic, pied-piper fashion, repeatedly asserting he will solve all their problems.

Trump drives this home by encouraging the disenchanted to project their discontent onto current leadership, rather than considering their own role in, or awareness of the dysfunctions in U.S. politics and economy. He offers no real solution to the individual except, “Vote for me.”

This subversive approach of spewing emotion while ignoring facts appeals to the darkest recesses of the human psyche and has become the norm in elections. In that sense, U.S. politics has reached a new low with the Trump candidacy. Very few of Trump’s supporters can delineate his policy or position; rather they cite his attack on the establishment or his “honesty” or “strength” as reason for allegiance. Trump’s act uses manipulative tactics aimed at stirring the unconscious forces of repressed discontent and frustration.

Trump repeatedly compliments himself on his own simple common sense values as his rhetoric fuels the hostile impulses of his followers. Trump’s intolerance and bullying are symptomatic of undisguised fascism.

Different Styles

Candidate Clinton relies on more subtle techniques. She promotes conventional wisdom and the false premise that the U.S. is the arbiter of democracy in the world to justify military intervention. She makes her case for use of force citing “strategic” interests, omitting the corporate and financial motives that are the foundation of her policies. While her arguments appear more logical than her opponent’s, they are no less deceptive.

Though candidate Trump criticizes Clinton’s penchant for “regime change,” he often suggests that forceful intervention or violence is a viable remedy in resolving international crises, stopping extremism, or punishing those who voice protest against him. This resonates with frustrated voters and encourages followers to act out personal anger against those who would doubt the supremacy of their leader. Trump’s arrogance and self-absorbed persona are catalysts for unchecked hostility both domestically and internationally.

In his essay of nearly 60 years ago, Huxley describes how propaganda is used to justify violence:

“Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God and the most cynical kind of Realpolitik is treated as a matter of religious principle and patriotic duty.”

Huxley had observed the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. His evaluation of the social psychology of U.S. politics did not shy away from the universal similarities in human behavior at its worst. That perspective is no less valid today. Both presidential candidates can be assailed for their use of propaganda with “incomplete evidence.”

Clinton’s appeal is to the status quo, supporting a United States where military expenditures represent the highest proportion of tax revenues, where interests of big business and banking come first, and where mass shootings are a cultural norm. She has an advantage because of her appeal to the majority of voters who cling to normalcy. Clinton attacks Trump as unpredictable and dangerous.

Trump counterattacks by portraying her as deviant, abnormal and criminal, “Crooked Hillary.” He also taps into the dissatisfaction with government and the reasonable belief that politicians have led the country astray, calling American leaders weak and incompetent in contrast to his supposed strength and skill.

He relies on a cult of personality and a searing indictment of current leadership to raise his status. Rather than appealing to factual data and proposing viable solutions, Trump is the supreme authoritarian targeting the unchecked emotional forces of those who are entranced by his bravado.

Riding the Discontent

Trump is the voice of collective dissatisfaction, projecting and revealing one version of the American reality. He describes a political world that he also embodies: “Washington is broken, and our country is in serious trouble and total disarray. Very simple. Politicians are all talk, no action. They are all talk and no action. And it’s constant; it never ends.”

Trump gladly enters this disarray, the realm where he is most comfortable. His stream of consciousness oratory and narcissistic candidacy bring a new bizarre character to the stage in U.S. politics, yet his rise in popularity is the extension of a growing phenomenon. For decades presidential candidates have harvested the bounty from conflicted emotions and despair to gain votes. Their empty sales tactics are often forgotten when they are elected. (In 1988, even the supposedly responsible Republican George H.W. Bush exploited racism with the Willie Horton commercials and promised, “read my lips, no new taxes,” before raising taxes as President.)

Fear of Trump’s words and demeanor has prompted critics and rivals to show distain, but attacks on him are hurled back with vindictive force. He succeeds in deflecting criticism and bringing former enemies into his camp. We witness the potential rise of an unpredictable tyrant.

Trump initially flaunted his independent wealth, claiming immunity from the pressure of lobbyists. With this, he unwittingly confessed allegiance to personal economic interests and policies that also favor the wealthiest Americans. Many of these same power brokers come to his side as he becomes the likely Republican presidential candidate.

Now that he could be elected, Trump’s conflicted presentations of domestic and foreign policy have yet to alienate the politicians, millionaires and billionaires who join his campaign. The real list of priorities for them is short: little else matters but money and profits. Despite concerns about the personality and idiosyncrasies of their candidate, those who not long ago scorned the idea of a President Trump join an extremely dangerous bandwagon.

A billionaire with no leadership experience rises as the voice of the maligned and economically downtrodden. A candidate whose wealth is more telling than any of his stated positions has become the defender of those who suffer from an economy that overtly favors the richest individuals and corporations.

Beyond recognizing and criticizing his blustering racism and fascism, there is minimal challenge to Trump’s most ludicrous claim: to represent any other economic class than his own. Trump’s greatest vulnerability lies in his status as the super-rich candidate who dubiously presents himself as someone who will come to the aid of the economically challenged.

Allies of the Wealthy

Yet neither wealthy presidential contender – Trump nor Clinton – can be expected to do much that will discomfort the comfortable. While claiming to have altruistic motivations, they are inextricably tied to the forces that drive policies favoring profiteering over basic needs. The most costly impact of Trump’s candidacy to America’s economic elite will come when the public finally recognizes that the wealthiest Americans have gained vastly disproportional influence.

The founding principles and structure of the U.S. democracy rest on keeping power out of the hands of a small clique of people and their indiscriminate financially based decisions. An oligarch reaching for political office by any means confirms that the interests of an elite class are an entrenched priority.

Yet despite his crude emergence, Trump is not an anomaly. The rise of extreme nationalism in the face of economic crisis is a consequence of decades of corrupt domestic and international policies. The crisis that faces the United States is certainly exemplified by the rise of Donald Trump and would be seriously exacerbated by his presidency, but will not be resolved by his electoral defeat.

Huxley, as early as 1958, adds perspective to a continuing syndrome: “At this point we find ourselves confronted by a very disquieting question: Do we really wish to act upon our knowledge? Does a majority of the population think it worthwhile to take a good deal of trouble, in order to halt and, if possible, reverse the current drift toward totalitarian control of everything?

“In the United States of America is the prophetic image of the rest of the urban-industrial world as it will be a few years from now; recent public opinion polls have revealed that an actual majority of young people in their teens, the voters of tomorrow, have no faith in democratic institutions, see no objection to the censorship of unpopular ideas, do not believe that government of the people by the people is possible and would be perfectly content, if they can continue to live in the style to which the boom has accustomed them, to be ruled, from above, by an oligarchy of assorted experts.”

Trump, the self-absorbed snake-oil salesman, may self-destruct as quickly as he has risen; however we cannot dismiss the illness allowing his candidacy. Materialism cloaked as patriotism needs to be faced head on and not blamed on a single candidate.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton is more subtle about the forces she is tied to; and clearly has more political experience and a better understanding of the constitutional system. Yet whoever is elected president of the United States will be wed to the identical economic forces. The presidential election of 2016 will be remembered as when Americans were forced to realize that their power has been handed to the economic elite.

Huxley’s question becomes more relevant: “Do we really wish to act upon our knowledge?”

Aldous Huxley’s full 1958 essay, Brave New World Revisited, can be read at:

http://www.huxley.net/bnw-revisited/

David Marks is a veteran documentary filmmaker and investigative reporter. His work includes films for the BBC and PBS Frontline, including “Nazi Gold,” on the role of Switzerland in WWII.




America’s Many Mideast Blunders

Official Washington’s neocon foreign policy establishment looks forward to more “regime change” wars in the Mideast and more “blank checks” for Israel, but ex-Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. sees such actions as a continued march of folly.

By Chas W. Freeman Jr. (A June 9 speech to the Center for the National Interest, Washington)

I have been asked to speak about the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East, the realignments occurring among states there, and the prospects for the achievement of renewed stability in the region.  I’m tempted to suggest that you read my latest book, America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  So much has gone wrong that it is hard to be either brief or optimistic.

Two hundred and eighteen years ago today, Napoleon was preparing to take Malta.  His purpose was to clear an obstacle to his seizure of Egypt for revolutionary France.  He was able to invade Egypt on July 1, 1798.  Napoleon’s campaign there and in Palestine kicked off a two-century-long effort by the West to transform the Middle East.

European imperial powers and, latterly, the United States, have repeatedly sought to convert Arabs, Persians, and Turks to the secular values of the European Enlightenment, to democratize them, to impose Western models of governance on them in place of indigenous, Islamic systems, and more recently to persuade them to accept a Jewish state in their midst.

This experiment in expeditionary, transformative diplomacy has now definitively failed. The next administration will inherit a greatly diminished capacity to influence the evolution of the Middle East.  Amidst the imbecilities of our interminably farcical election season, it has proven expedient to blame this on President Obama. If only he had bombed Syria, repudiated his predecessor’s agreement to withdraw the U.S. military from Iraq, refused to compromise with Iran on nuclear matters, knuckled under to Netanyahu, or whatever, the old order in the Middle East would be alive and well and the United States would still call the shots there.

But this is nonsense. Our estrangement from the Middle East derives from trends that are much deeper than the manifest deficiencies of executive and congressional leadership in Washington.  Americans and our partners in the Middle East have developed contradictory interests and priorities.  Where shared values existed at all, they have increasingly diverged. There have been massive changes in geo-economics, energy markets, power balances, demographics, religious ideologies, and attitudes toward America (not just the U.S. government).

Many of these changes were catalyzed by historic American policy blunders. In the aggregate, these blunders are right up there with the French and German decisions to invade Russia and Japan’s surprise attack on the United States. Their effects make current policies not just unsustainable but counterproductive.

Blunder number one was the failure to translate our military triumph over Saddam’s Iraq in 1991 into a peace with Baghdad. No effort was ever made to reconcile Iraq to the terms of its defeat. The victors instead sought to impose elaborate but previously undiscussed terms by UN fiat in the form of the UN Security Council Resolution 687 – “the mother of all resolutions.”

The military basis for a renewed balance of power in the Gulf was there to be exploited. The diplomatic vision was not. The George H. W. Bush administration ended without addressing the question of how to replace war with peace in the Gulf.

Wars don’t end until the militarily humiliated accept the political consequences of their defeat.  Saddam gave lip service to UNSCR 687 but took it no more seriously than Netanyahu and his predecessors have taken the various Security Council resolutions that direct Israel to permit Palestinians to return to the homes from which it drove them or to withdraw from the Palestinian lands it has seized and settled. Like Israel’s wars with the Arabs, America’s war with Iraq went into remission but never ended. In due course, it resumed.

The United States needs to get into the habit of developing and implementing war termination strategies.

Blunder number two was the sudden abandonment in 1993 of the strategy of maintaining peace in the Persian Gulf through a balance of power. With no prior notice or explanation, the Clinton administration replaced this longstanding approach  with “dual containment” of both Iraq and Iran.

For decades, offshore balancing had permitted the United States to sustain stability without stationing forces other than a very small naval contingent in the Gulf. When the regional balance of power was undone by the Iran-Iraq War, Washington intervened to restore it, emphasizing that once Kuwait had been liberated and Iraq cut back down to size, U.S. forces would depart.

The new policy of “dual containment” created a requirement for the permanent deployment of a large U.S. air and ground force in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar as well as an expanded naval presence in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The political and socioeconomic irritants this requirement produced led directly to the founding of al Qa`ida and the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. “Dual containment” was plausible as a defense of Israel against its two most potent regional adversaries, Iran and Iraq. But it made no sense at all in terms of stabilizing the Gulf.

By writing off Iraq as a balancer of Iran, dual containment also paved the way for the 2003 American experiment with regime removal in Baghdad. This rash action on the part of the United States led to the de facto realignment of Iraq with Iran, the destabilization and partition of Iraq, the destabilization and partition of Syria, the avalanche of refugees now threatening to unhinge the E.U., and the rise of the so-called “Islamic state” or Da`esh.

With Iraq having fallen into the Iranian sphere of influence, there is no apparent way to return to offshore balancing. The U.S. is stuck in the Gulf. The political irritations this generates ensure that some in the region will continue to seek to attack the U.S. homeland or, failing that, Americans overseas.

The United States needs to find an alternative to the permanent garrisoning of the Gulf.

Blunder number three was the unthinking transformation in December 2001 of what had been a punitive expedition in Afghanistan into a long-term pacification campaign that soon became a NATO operation. The objectives of the NATO campaign have never been clear but appear to center on guaranteeing that there will no Islamist government in Kabul.

The engagement of European as well as American forces in this vague mission has had the unintended effect of turning the so-called “global war on terrorism” into what appears to many Muslims to be a Western global crusade against Islam and its followers. Afghanistan remains decidedly unpacified and is becoming more, not less Islamist.

The United States needs to find ways to restore conspicuous cooperation with the world’s Muslims.

Blunder number four was the inauguration on February 4, 2002 – also in Afghanistan – of a campaign using missiles fired from drones to assassinate presumed opponents. This turn toward robotic warfare has evolved into a program of serial massacres from the air in a widening area of West Asia and northern Africa. It is a major factor in the metastasis of anti-Western terrorism with global reach.

What had been a U.S. problem with a few Islamist exiles resident in Afghanistan and Sudan is now a worldwide phenomenon. The terrorist movements U.S. interventions have spawned now have safe havens not just in Afghanistan, but in the now failed states of Iraq and Syria, as well as Chad,  Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Sinai, Somalia, and Yemen. They also have a growing following among European Muslims and a toehold among Muslim Americans. We have flunked the test suggested by the Yoda of the Pax Americana, Donald Rumsfeld. We are creating more terrorists than we are killing.

The United States needs a strategy that does not continuously reinforce blowback.

Blunder number five was the aid to Iran implicit in the unprovoked invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. This rearranged the region to the severe strategic disadvantage of traditional U.S. strategic partners like Israel and Saudi Arabia by helping to create an Iranian sphere of influence that includes much of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

It showed the United States to be militarily mighty but geopolitically naive and strategically incompetent. Rather than underscoring American military power, it devalued it. The U.S. invasion of Iraq also set off a sectarian struggle that continues to spread around the globe among the Muslim fourth of humanity. The U.S. occupation culminated in a “surge” of forces that entrenched a pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad and that only its authors consider a victory.

The United States needs to deal with the reality and the challenges to others in the region of the Iranian sphere of influence it helped create.

Blunder number six has been to confuse the motives for terrorism with the religious rationalizations its perpetrators concoct to justify its immorality. Many of those who seek revenge for perceived injustices and humiliations at the hands of the West and Western-backed regimes in the Middle East, or who are treated as aliens in their own countries in Europe, give voice to their anger in the language of Islam.

But their political grievances, not heretical Islamic excuses for the mass murders they carry out, are what drive their attempts at reprisal. Islamism is a symptom of Arab anguish and rage. It is a consequence, not a cause of Muslim anger.

Religious ideology is, of course, important. It is a key factor in justifying hatred of those outside its self-selected community. To non-believers, arguments about who is a Jew or whether someone is a true Muslim are incomprehensible and more than a little absurd.

But to the intolerant people doing the excommunicating, such debates define their political community and those who must be excluded from it. They separate friend from foe. And to those being condemned for their disbelief or alleged apostasy, the judgments imposed by this intolerance can now be a matter of life or death.

In the end, the attribution of Muslim resentment of the West to Islam is just a version of the facile thesis that “they hate us because of who we are.” This is the opiate of the ignorant. It is self-expiating denial that past and present behavior by Western powers, including the United States, might have created grievances severe enough to motivate others to seek revenge for the indignities they have experienced.

It is an excuse to ignore and do nothing about the ultimate sources of Muslim rage because they are too discomfiting to bear discussion. Any attempt to review the political effects of American complicity in the oppression and dispossession of millions of Palestinians and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths caused by U.S. sanctions, bombing campaigns, and drone warfare is ruled out of order by political correctness and cowardice.

The United States needs to work with its European allies, with Russia, and with partners in the Middle East to attack the problems that are generating terrorism, not just the theology of those who resort to it.

Blunder number seven was the adoption after the 1973 Yom Kippur War of a commitment to maintain a “qualitative military edge” for Israel over any and all potential adversaries in its region. This policy has deprived Israel of any incentive to seek security through non-military means.

Why should Israel risk resting its security on reconciliation with Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors when it has been assured of long-term military supremacy over them and relieved of any concern about the political or economic consequences of using force against them?

Confidence in Israel’s qualitative military edge is now the main source of moral hazard for the Jewish state. Its effect is to encourage Israel to favor short-term territorial gains over any effort to achieve long-term security through acceptance by neighboring states, the elimination of tensions with them, and the normalization of its relations with others in its region. U.S. policy inadvertently ensured that the so-called “peace process” would always be stillborn. And so it proved to be.

Israel’s lack of concern about the consequences of its occupation and settlement of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza has facilitated its progressive abandonment of the universalist Jewish values that inspired Zionism and its consequent separation from the Jewish communities outside its elastic borders. U.S. subsidies underwrite blatant tyranny by Jewish settlers over the Muslim and Christian Arabs they have dispossessed.

This is a formula for the moral and political self-delegitimization of the State of Israel, not its long-term survival. It is also a recipe for the ultimate loss by Israel of irreplaceable American political, military, and other support.

The United States needs to wean Israel off its welfare dependency and end the unconditional commitments that enable self-destructive behavior on the part of the Jewish state.

Blunder number eight has been basing U.S. policies toward the Middle East on deductive reasoning grounded in ideological fantasies and politically convenient narratives rather than on inductive reasoning and reality-based analysis. America’s misadventures cannot be excused as “intelligence errors.” They are the result of the ideological politicization of policy-making. This has enabled multiple policy errors based on wishful thinking, selective listening, and mirror-imaging.  Examples include:

–The conviction, despite U.N. inspections and much evidence to the contrary, that Saddam’s program to develop weapons of mass destruction was ongoing, representing an imminent danger, and could only be halted by his overthrow;

–The supposition that, despite his well-documented secularism, because he was an Arab, a Muslim, and a bad guy, Saddam must be colluding with the religious fanatics of al Qaeda;

–The assumption that the U.S. military presence in Iraq would be short, undemanding, and   inexpensive;

–The belief that the overthrow of confessional and ethnic balances would not cause the disintegration of societies like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Lebanon or ignite a wider sectarian conflict;

–The spurious attribution to people in Iraq of political attitudes and aspirations found mostly among exiles abroad;

–The ludicrous expectation that U.S. forces invading Iraq would be greeted as liberators by all but a few;

–The unshakeable presumption that Israel must want peace more than land;

–The impulse to confuse mob rule on the Arab street with a process of democratization;

–The confidence that free and fair elections would put liberals rather than Islamist nationalists in power in Arab societies like Palestine and Egypt;

–The supposition that the removal of bad guys from office, as in Libya, Yemen, or Syria, would  lead to the elevation of better leaders and the flowering of peace, freedom, and domestic tranquility there; and

–Imagining that dictators like Bashar Al-Assad had little popular support and could therefore  be easily deposed.

I could go on but I won’t. I’m sure I’ve made my point. Dealing with the Middle East as we prefer to imagine it rather than as it is doesn’t work. The United States needs to return to fact-based analysis and realism in its foreign policy.

All these blunders have been compounded by the consistent substitution of military tactics for strategy. The diplomatic success of the Iran nuclear deal aside, the policy dialogue in Washington and the current presidential campaign have focused entirely on the adjustment of troop levels, whether and when to bomb things, the implications of counterinsurgency doctrine, when and how to use special forces, whether to commit troops on the ground, and the like, with nary a word about what these uses of force are to accomplish other than killing people. When presented with proposals for military action, no one asks “and then what?”

Military campaign plans that aim at no defined political end state are violence for the sake of violence that demonstrably create more problems than they solve. Military actions that are unguided and unaccompanied by diplomacy are especially likely to do so. Think of Israel’s, our, and Saudi Arabia’s campaigns in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Yemen.

By contrast, military interventions that are limited in their objectives, scale, and duration, that end or phase down when they have achieved appropriate milestones, and that support indigenous forces that have shown their mettle on the battlefield can succeed. Examples include the pre-Tora Bora phase of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and the first round of Russian intervention in Syria.

The objectives of what was initially conceived as a punitive raid into Afghanistan in October 2001 were (1) to dismantle al Qaeda and (2) to punish its Taliban hosts to ensure that “terrorists with global reach” would be denied a continuing safe haven in Afghanistan. The United States pursued these objectives by supporting mostly non-Pashtun enemies of the mostly Pashtun Taliban who had proven politico-military capabilities and staying power.

A limited American and British investment of intelligence capabilities, special forces, air combat controllers, and air strikes tilted the battlefield in favor of the Northern Alliance and against the Taliban. Within a little more than two months, the Taliban had been forced out of Kabul and the last remnants of al Qaeda had been killed or driven from Afghanistan. We had achieved our objectives.

But instead of declaring victory and dancing off the field, we moved the goal posts. The United States launched an open-ended campaign and enlisted NATO in efforts to install a government in Kabul while building a state for it to govern, promoting feminism, and protecting poppy growers. The poppies still flourish. All else looks to be ephemeral.

Mr. Putin’s intervention in Syria in 2015 relied for its success on ingredients similar to those in the pre-Tora Bora U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. The Russians committed a modest ration of air power and special forces in support of a Syrian government that had amply demonstrated its survivability in the face of more than four years of Islamist efforts to take it down. The Russian  campaign had clear political objectives, which it stuck to.

Moscow sought to reduce the complexities of Syria to a binary choice between life under the secular dictatorship of the Assad regime and rule by Islamist fanatics. It cemented a Russian-Iranian entente. It hedged against the likelihood that the Syrian Humpty Dumpty cannot be reassembled, ensuring that, whatever happens, Russia will not lack clients in Syria or be dislodged from its bases at Tartus and Latakia.

Russia succeeded in forcing the United States into a diplomatically credible peace process in which regime removal is no longer a given and Russia and Iran are recognized as essential participants. It retrained, reequipped, and restored the morale of government forces, while putting their Islamist opponents on the defensive and gaining ground against them. The campaign reduced and partially contained the growing Islamist threat to Russian domestic tranquility, while affirming Russia’s importance as a partner in combating terrorism.

Moscow also put its hands on the stopcock for the refugee flow from West Asia that threatens the survival of the European Union, underscoring Russia’s indispensable relevance to European affairs. It demonstrated its renewed military prowess and reestablished itself as a major actor in Middle Eastern affairs.

And it showed that Russia could be counted upon to stand by protégés when they are at risk, drawing an invidious contrast with the American abandonment of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The cost of these achievements has been collateral damage to Russia’s relations with Turkey, a price Moscow appears willing to play.

But state failure in Syria continues, as it does in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Jordan and Bahrain are under pressure. Tunisia and Turkey – once avatars of democratic Islamism – seem to be leaving democracy behind. Israel is strangling Gaza while swallowing the rest of Palestine alive. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are in a near state of war with Iran, which is in the midst of a breakthrough in relations with Europe and Asia, if not America. Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar are trying to stay out of the fight. Once the region’s Arab heavyweight, Egypt now subsists on handouts from the Gulf Arabs and cowers under martial law. Sudan has been partitioned, sidelined, and ostracized by the West.

The Middle East kaleidoscope has yet to come to rest. We can see that the region’s future political geography will differ from its past and present contours. But we cannot yet say what it will look like.

“More-of-the-same” policies will almost certainly produce more of the same sort of mess we now see. What is to be done? Perhaps we should start by trying to correct some of the blunders that produced our current conundrums. The world’s reliance on energy from the Gulf has not diminished. But ours has. That gives us some freedom of maneuver. We should use it.

We need to harness our military capabilities to diplomacy rather than the other way around. The key to this is to find a way to reenlist Iraq in support of a restored balance of power in the Gulf. That would allow us reduce our presence there to levels that avoid stimulating a hostile reaction and to return to a policy of offshore balancing.

This can only be done if Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sunni states rediscover the differences between the varieties of Shi`ism in Iraqi Najaf and Iranian Qom. The shi`ism of Najaf tends to be fatalistic and supportive of Iraqi nationalism. The shi`ism of Qom is more assertively universalistic and activist. The Saudis and their allies need to make common cause with Shi`ite Iraqis as Arabs rather than castigate them as heretics.

The limited normalization of Iranian relations with the West, including the United States, is an inevitability. The strategies of our Arab partners in the region need to anticipate and hedge against this. And we need to prepare them to do so.

Such an adjustment will take some very tough love from the United States. It will require the Saudis and their allies to back away from the policies based on Salafi sectarianism they have followed for the better part of this decade and reembrace the tolerance that is at the heart of Islam. It will also require some measure of accommodation by them with Iran, regardless of the state of U.S.-Iranian relations.

Without both a turn away from sectarianism and the achievement of a modus vivendi with Iran, the Saudis and their allies will remain on the defensive, Iraq will remain an extension of Iranian influence, and the region will remain inflamed by religious warfare. All this will spill over on Americans and our European allies.

Islamism is an extreme form of political Islam – a noxious ideology that invites a political retort. It has received none except in Saudi Arabia. There a concerted propaganda campaign has effectively refuted Islamist heresies. No effort has been undertaken to form a coalition to mount such a campaign on a regional basis.

But such a coalition is essential to address the political challenges that Muslim extremists pose to regional stability and to the security of the West. Only the Saudis and others with credibility among Salafi Muslims are in a position to form and lead a campaign to do this. This is an instance where it makes sense for the United States to “lead from behind.”

For our part, Americans must be led to correct our counterproductive misunderstanding of Islam. Islamophobia has become as American as gun massacres. The presumptive candidate of one of our two major parties has suggested banning Muslims from entry into the United States. This is reflective of national attitudes that are incompatible with the cooperation we need with Muslim partners to fight terrorist extremism. If we do not correct these attitudes, we will continue to pay not just in treasure but in blood. Lots of it.

Finally, the United States must cease to provide blank checks to partners in the region prone to misguided and counterproductive policies and actions that threaten American interests as well as their own prospects. No more Yemens. No more Gazas or Lebanons. No more military guarantees that disincentivize diplomacy aimed at achieving long-term security for Israel.

The obvious difficulty of making any of these adjustments is a measure of how far we have diverged from an effective approach to managing our relations with the Middle East and how impaired our ability to contribute to peace and stability there has become. Our mainstream media is credulous and parrots the official line. Our politicians are devoted to narratives that bear almost no relation to the realities of the Middle East. Our government is dysfunctional. Our politics is … well, … you pick the word.

Frankly, the prospects that we will get our act and our policies together are not good. But history will not excuse us for acting out Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing more of the same and expecting different results. We won’t get them.

Ambassador Freeman chairs Projects International, Inc. He is a retired U.S. defense official, diplomat, and interpreter, the recipient of numerous high honors and awards, a popular public speaker, and the author of five books. http://chasfreeman.net/u-s-policy-and-the-geopolitical-dynamics-of-the-middle-east/




Hillary Clinton’s ‘Entangled’ Foreign Policy

Exclusive: Besides bashing Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton offered few specifics in her big foreign policy speech which stressed the value of “friends.” But those “entangling alliances” helped create today’s global chaos, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Now that Hillary Clinton has clinched the Democratic nomination, her June 2 foreign-policy speech is looking more and more important. The reason is simple: Clinton is going to be all over Donald Trump in the coming months, punching away at his racism and xenophobia, his thinly veiled appeals to violence, and his fraudulent business practices.

But what she’ll no doubt hit him hardest on is his general unfitness to be anywhere near the nuclear button. As she put it in San Diego: “This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes – because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.”

It’s hard to disagree – the man does seem out of control. But what has critics choking on their morning coffee is the implication that because Trump is bonkers, Hillary must be the opposite, i.e. thoughtful and mature. As opponents ranging from ConsortiumNews’s Robert Parry to Paul R. Pillar, Jeffrey Sachs, Jeet Heer, Diana Johnstone, and Gary Leupp have pointed out, this is a woman who has had a hand in five or six of the major foreign-policy disasters of the post-9/11 period. So where does she get off calling Trump reckless?

But while critics have subjected her record to close examination, they haven’t given the June 2 speech itself the attention it deserves beyond quoting the zingers hurled Trump’s way. Yet everything about her flawed methodology is right there in that one 35-minute talk – the misguided logic, the ill-considered assumptions, the one-sided worldview that consistently leads her into trouble. Essentially, the speech is an ode to international friendship without recognizing how some of those “entangling alliances” have helped tie U.S. foreign policy into knots.

As Clinton put it: “America’s network of allies is part of what makes us exceptional. And our allies deliver for us every day. Our armed forces fight terrorists together; our diplomats work side by side. Allies provide staging areas for our military, so we can respond quickly to events on the other side of the world. And they share intelligence that helps us identify and defuse potential threats.”

Friends make America strong, Clinton assures us, and if the U.S. is the most powerful country on earth, it’s because it has so many friends. Indeed, “Moscow and Beijing are deeply envious of our alliances around the world,” Clinton went on, “because they have nothing to match them.”

Yet Trump, a classic bull in the china shop, wants to wreck what generations of U.S. diplomats have worked so hard to build up, Clinton argued. If he gets away with it, the Kremlin will celebrate while Americans will mourn the loss of an international power structure that has kept them safe:

“And if America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum – and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void. Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety – and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit.”

Stressing Allies

Allies – a word that appears in various combinations some 15 times during the talk – are what allow the U.S. to multiply its force around the world, Clinton argues. Instead of insulting everyone from Mexico to the Pope, the White House should therefore concentrate on strengthening the friendships it has and adding as many more as it can, Clinton contends.

But there’s an obvious fallacy here. Simply put, it is that every ally is a separate nation with a separate set of priorities, none of which coincide completely with those of the U.S. (and often don’t coincide even more with the priorities of either their own people or the American people). Hence, every “friend” is also a problem, and the more “friends” a country has, the more the problems pile up.

This is an old issue in statecraft, which is why George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and other Founders warned against “entangling alliances” and why Lord Palmerston declared that great powers do not have friends, only interests.

But since the June 2 speech says nothing about goals, problems to be addressed or any other long-range considerations, Clinton apparently views friendship as an end in itself. Friends make America great, and great is what America ought to be. It’s circular reasoning like this that continually leads Clinton astray.

Take the Middle East where the two dominant powers (and U.S. “friends”) are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Although they have certainly had their differences, for the moment their governments’ interests overlap particularly with regard to Syria, the great bleeding wound on the edge of Europe. But this is not the case with the U.S. Even though both Saudi Arabia and Israel are old, old friends of Washington, they are in fact sharply at odds with key American interests.

The chief reason has to do with Al Qaeda, known in Syria as the Al Nusra Front, and its offshoot Islamic State, the ultra-terrorist group also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh. Saudi Arabia’s attitude toward such groups is ambiguous. It is obviously hostile to ISIS since it calls for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. But it is not entirely unsympathetic either, especially in Syria and Iraq where the Islamic State is locked in combat with Shi‘ite forces that Riyadh despises even more.

This is why the Saudi kingdom has taken part (albeit halfheartedly) in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria while at the same time allowing private donations to flow to the group via Kuwait. It’s a hedge that allows Saudi Arabia to keep its options open.

Meanwhile, Saudi attitudes toward Al Nusra have been frankly positive ever since King Salman, a hardliner, ascended the throne in January 2015. Despite Saudi promises never to have anything to do with Al Qaeda, one of Salman’s first acts was to meet with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and work out plans to supply it with U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles so that it could mount a major offensive in Syria’s northern Idlib province, which it did just a few weeks later. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]

The reason for the rapprochement is clear: Al Nusra is the most effective force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the Saudis regard as part of a great Iranian-Shi‘ite conspiracy stretching from Yemen to Bahrain and the kingdom’s own oil-rich, Shi‘ite-dominated Eastern Province. This makes Assad public enemy number one. Since Al Nusra is the enemy of Saudi Arabia’s enemy, it must to a degree be Saudi Arabia’s friend.

Israel’s Reasons

Israel is more or less in the same boat. It has fought three wars with Syria and one with its close ally Hezbollah, and it regards Iran as a long-term threat to its very existence. Thus, it regards Assad as the prime enemy as well. For that reason, it “prefers IS to Iran,” as then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon remarked at a conference last January, and Israel is so friendly to Al Nusra that it has taken in its wounded for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

But the U.S. does not quite agree since the American people still recall Al Qaeda as the villains of 9/11 and ISIS chopping off the heads of Western hostages (and claiming credit for Sunday’s massacre of some 50 people at an Orlando, Florida night club). Various neocons and neolibs have tried to confuse matters by arguing that Al Qaeda and longtime bêtes noires like Saddam Hussein were essentially the same, the “logic” that helped trick many Americans into supporting the Iraq War even though the secular Hussein was a bitter enemy of Al Qaeda.

Along those lines, Clinton, in her October 2002 speech endorsing an invasion of Iraq, accused Hussein of “giv[ing] aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.” (Clinton’s claim about aiding “Al Qaeda members” apparently was a reference to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi supposedly going to a hospital in Baghdad although there was never any evidence that Iraqi authorities were aware of Zarqawi’s whereabouts if indeed he did seek treatment at a Baghdad hospital. Still the canard worked as an effective way to confuse the American people.)

But when push has come to shove regarding these terrorists, official U.S. policy since 9/11 has been that the fight against Al Qaeda and its spinoff ISIS must take top priority. So if Israel and Saudi Arabia are both soft on Al Nusra and even to a degree on ISIS, the U.S., at least on paper, is committed to being ultra-hard, a dilemma that Clinton’s speech ignored.

But this paradox is a problem that no amount of fancy footwork can get around. Consequently, the White House dithers, stalls and generally ties itself up in knots trying to do the impossible. It bombs ISIS except when ISIS is locked in battle with Assad’s troops, at which point the U.S. military holds its fire so as not to offend Saudi sensibilities.

The U.S. government supports Sunni extremists such as the fighters of Ahrar al-Sham who fight alongside Al Nusra in the Saudi-and-Turkish-backed Army of Conquest. The Obama administration even suggested at one point that Russia refrain from bombing Nusra forces in Aleppo since they are so intermingled with U.S.-backed fighters that it is all but impossible to pry them apart. But sometimes the U.S. bombs Al Nusra as well just to keep up appearances.

The Obama administration continues to call for Assad’s removal even though the effect would be to clear a path for ISIS and Al Nusra straight through to the presidential palace in Damascus. When Assad recently vowed to “rip out terrorism from its root wherever it exists,” State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner replied that the “remarks show once again how delusional, detached and unfit he is to lead the Syrian people.”

Since Israel and the Saudis regard Assad as an enemy, the U.S. feels obliged to follow suit. But since Assad also battles ISIS and Al Nusra on a daily basis, no one can quite figure out why the Obama administration continues with this contradictory policy. (The best the State Department and the mainstream U.S. media can come up with is a claim that somehow Assad is to blame for Al Qaeda and ISIS although the terror groups trace their origins back to U.S. military interventions in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s and the Iraq War last decade.)

As Secretary of State, Clinton helped engineer this incomprehensible and incoherent policy by leading the charge against Assad on Saudi Arabia and Israel’s behalf. She called for his ouster in July 2011, a full month before Obama got around to declaring that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

Dooming Peace Talks

As Jeffrey Sachs points out, her insistence on Assad’s resignation as precondition for peace talks insured that negotiations would die aborning. Although she insists in Hard Choices, her 2014 memoir of her State Department years, that the U.S. provided the rebels only with nonlethal aid, she had to be aware that, with the death of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, U.S. officials began shipping large amounts of Libyan weaponry – including hundreds of sniper rifles, RPG launchers, and howitzer missiles – from Benghazi to the ports of Banias and Borj Islam, Syria.

Since Saudi Arabia is committed to the violent overthrow of Assad, how could the U.S. say no? Isn’t that what friends do — stand by one another regardless of the consequences?

Libya is yet another example of the horrors that this Clinton doctrine of “entangling alliances” leads to (with France and other European “allies” eager to oust Gaddafi and thus strengthen their influence in oil-rich northern Africa). 

According to a State Department memo, the Secretary of State spent much of late March 2011 persuading Qatar to contribute to the anti-Gaddafi effort. She was therefore overjoyed when Doha at last agreed, as was her boss. Welcoming Qatar’s dictatorial leader Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to the White House the following month, a grateful Obama said:

“We would not have been able I think to shape the kind of broad-based international coalition that includes not only our NATO members but also includes Arab states without the Emir’s leadership. He is motivated by a belief that the Libyan people should have the rights and freedoms of all people.”

Or as Obama put it a bit more candidly a few hours later in front of what he didn’t realize was an open mike: “Pretty influential guy. He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform – you’re seeing it on Al Jazeera. Now, he himself is not reforming significantly. There’s no big move towards democracy in Qatar. But you know part of the reason is that the per capita income of Qatar is $145,000 a year. That will dampen a lot of conflict.”

Evidently, Al-Thani’s enormous oil wealth (and his willingness to host U.S. military bases) gave him a free pass as far as democracy is concerned. But no matter. Qatar is a friend, so what could go wrong? A great deal as it turned out.

A longtime patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar turned out to have priorities that were separate and distinct from Washington’s. Of the $400 million that it pumped into Libya, most wound up in the hands of Islamist militias that soon spread anarchy from one side of the country to the other.

Their pockets stuffed with Qatari cash, fundamentalists set about removing “pagan” symbols – i.e. flags of NATO members engaged in driving Gaddafi out – from public squares where daily group prayers were held and encouraging local imams to issue fatwas ordering rape victims not to report such crimes to the police.

A few days after Al-Thani’s meeting with Obama in the White House, Qatar organized a secret meeting in Istanbul bringing Libya’s Islamist factions together in a united Islamic Front. (For more information, see Ethan Chorin’s Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution and Jason Pack’s The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future, published in 2012 and 2013 respectively.)

But Secretary Clinton still didn’t recognize the dangers. “For the first time we have a NATO-Arab alliance taking action, you’ve got Arab countries who are running strike actions,” Clinton burbled. What she didn’t realize was that she and Obama had been outfoxed (or perhaps were more interested in helping out NATO allies which wanted a bigger share of Libyan oil and France which feared that Gaddafi would create a pan-African currency that would supplant the French franc).

Today, Libya is a lawless zone with ISIS controlling miles of coastline around the city of Surt, a scant 300 miles from Europe, and literally thousands of other Islamist militias rampaging across the rest of the country. Three rival governments are now vying for control while vast amounts of weaponry have gone to fuel other conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East.

One might be inclined to call the Libyan mess the worst disaster in the Middle East – except for all the other disasters that Clinton has helped engineer. Concerned about Qatar’s role in fueling Libyan chaos, Obama administration officials batted around ideas about how to show Qatar that they were displeased with its support for extremists in Libya. Suggestions were floated to trim military aid or perhaps transfer U.S. military assets to other locations.

According to a major takeout in The New York Times: “But Middle East hands at the State Department pushed back, saying that pressuring the gulf monarchy would only backfire. And the Defense Department strongly objected: It had a 20-year history of close cooperation with Qatar, which hosted critical American military bases. In the end, there was no appetite for anything beyond quiet diplomacy…. Only last year did President Obama rebuke the nations meddling in Libya, and by then it was too late.”

After all, as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton now says, America must stand by its “friends.” Meanwhile, Qatar has contributed more than $1 million to the Clinton Foundation, which makes it not just a friend of the U.S. but a friend of Bill and Hillary – and thus doubly precious.

As Americans march to the polls on Nov. 8, voters should keep in mind Hillary Clinton’s dictum that friends like these are what make America great.

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




Going Global: Bernie Sanders’s Challenge

As Bernie Sanders ponders his next step, he could fall in line behind the Clinton bandwagon or break free and take his critique of economic injustice to a global stage, starting with a challenge to Brazil’s pro-corruption coup, writes Sam Husseini.

By Sam Husseini

This past week, many eulogists lauded Muhammad Ali, noting that Ali’s greatest contribution was not being a talented athlete and heavyweight champion. After all, there are many prominent sports figures, but they don’t play the historic role that Ali did.

Ali’s true greatness came because at the height of his fame and powers, he challenged an oppressive system: He refused to go into the Army during the Vietnam War. It cost him a great deal of money and popularity (at the time) – but tremendously helped the world and resulted in his canonization as a global hero.

Bernie Sanders has a similar opportunity now. As pundits are voicing alleged ecstasy over Hillary Clinton “shattering the glass ceiling” by becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major political party, the first female president in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, has been ousted in a defacto coup.

This was fostered by establishment media in Brazil, as for-profit media often plays the role of kingmaker in ways stark and subtle in every country, including the U.S., as we’ve seen in this current election.  Rousseff’s cabinet was diverse, both in terms of gender and ethnically. The new government is all white males.

Rousseff was set to investigate corruption, including in the Brazilian Senate, and the coup was planned by corrupt senators. Indeed, the anticorruption minister in the new coup government was recently forced to resign when a tape was leaked about how he was trying to cover up corruption. All this and more is being done with U.S. government’s silence and tacit support.

Certainly, Sanders has challenged the power of Wall Street and America’s “billionaire class” from within the Democratic Party. But, with the media placing a mantle of celebrity around Hillary Clinton (and Donald Trump for that matter), they are the likely nominees.

But perhaps, for all the good that Sanders did, he might feel a measure of remorse for what he didn’t do: He hasn’t spoken seriously or consistently about the U.S. government’s role in the world. Even in his discussions of inequality, he’s confined himself to inequality inside the U.S. But what about global poverty?

Has Sanders been moved by slums in Latin America? Refugee camps in the Mideast? Stark poverty in Africa? Sweatshops in Asia? He went to a Vatican conference where Bolivian President Evo Morales also spoke. They chatted. What can be built from that? How can progressive leaders work together globally? How can movements cross boundaries? Are not movements weakened when they confine themselves to national barriers?

Ali took himself out of his comfort zone. He focused not just on getting a seat on a bus for himself, and not just for African-Americans, but spoke against the Vietnam War (and made a point of holding high-profile fights in Zaire – “the rumble in the jungle” – and the Philippines – “the thrilla in Manila.” By contrast, Sanders has not transcended his domestic critique, transforming it into a fully formed global analysis.

As Ben Jealous has said – in praising the Vermont senator’s consistency – Sanders “has been giving the same damn speech for 50 years.” Well, that’s not necessarily or entirely a good thing. There are people living in horrible conditions around the world, in large part because of economic, political and military policies determined in marble-façade buildings in Washington, D.C. Sanders has been remarkably mute about that.

Global Power

The power of the Establishment rests in large part on its global interconnections. But progressive forces have been reluctant to build and wield similar power. Recall shortly before the invasion of Iraq, there were quasi-global protests against the war on Feb. 15, 2003. Just after that, the New York Times called the peace movement “the second super power.” Yes, that didn’t stop the war, but that was because there was only some global solidarity late in the day. The answer is more solidarity sooner.

And now, Sanders has mounted a campaign in all 50 states. It’s late in the day, but not too late for him to break down the wall that has kept him focused on domestic American issues and seriously engage the rest of the world. That should start with going to Brazil and meeting with Rousseff. By doing so, Sanders could help overturn the coup, providing a tremendous service to the people of Brazil and it would put the heat on the U.S. government regarding its behind-the-scenes machinations.

It would also highlight the fake feminism that surrounds the Clinton campaign. Do we want women in officialdom simply so that they can be as murderous and corrupt as men have been? Or do we want a different kind of politics that is inclusive in terms of gender, but that is based on solidarity and uplift rather than “I got mine”?

Clinton’s crimes on foreign policy constitute quite a rap sheet. In mildly criticizing her, Sanders has at best scratched the surface. From voting for the Iraq War to bombing Libya, from backing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repression of the Palestinian people to backing the Honduran coup which contributed to the killing of Berta Cáceres, Clinton has compiled a gruesome record which rarely is referenced or examined in detail.

Perhaps Sanders, struck by fear of Donald Trump, desperately wants to look away from Clinton’s history because to do otherwise might improve Trump’s electoral chances. But does Sanders want to be just another cog in the Clinton machine? Does he want to slip into the subservient roles of other past “insurgent” candidates, such as Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich.

They are now “sheepdogging,” in the phrase of black commentator Bruce Dixon, herding progressives into the camp of the Democratic Party establishment. That same fate, as  accessory to an increasingly pro-corporate Democratic Party, could now await Bernie Sanders.

The “consultants” and “advisers” whom he’s meeting with this weekend in Vermont are probably pushing Sanders to accept what bread crumbs he can get from Clinton & Co. After all, they are political professionals who have their careers to think about, and their careers are with the Democratic Party machine or some appendage of it.

But real power, real greatness, doesn’t come from accepting such a role. That’s why we remember the name Muhammad Ali and forget many, many others.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of votepact.org, which urges left-right cooperation. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.




Two Bigots Running for US President

It’s easy to spot Donald Trump’s crude bigotry but harder to detect Hillary Clinton’s more subtle variety since it pertains mostly to Palestinians and people pressuring Israel to respect Palestinian rights, explains Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

To find bigots in political office in the United States is not historically unusual. In fact, up until the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement, publicly recognizable bigots in office were the norm in many parts of the country. Even in the post-1960s era, we find presidents such as Nixon and Reagan who could be openly bigoted. However, most recent office holders have known enough to keep their prejudices off of the public airwaves.

It is a sign of the fragility of the changes in national character wrought by the Civil Rights Movement that the inhibitions holding back public expressions of bigotry are wearing thin. And that has set the scene for the current contest for the presidency in which both major parties have thrown up (no pun intended) bigoted candidates. Yes, that is right, two of them, not just one.

On the Republican side the bigot is easy to spot. That is because Donald Trump wears his bigotry on his sleeve, so to speak. He can’t help but display it because, apparently even at this late date, he doesn’t understand what the big deal is.

On the campaign trail he has insulted Mexicans, Muslims and “our African-Americans,” and gotten away with it because millions of his supporters are also bigots. A common bigotry is one of the reasons they cheer him on. However, now that he is the “presumptive” Republican candidate for president, much of that party’s leadership and their media allies have begun to call him on these problematic public expressions.

They want to see Trump act “presidential,” hiding away his prejudices for the sake of achieving maximum appeal. Alas, this is not easy for a man who, all of his life, said what he thought, no matter how improper. He sees it as “just being honest,” and up until the run for president, his wealth had helped forestall most public criticism.

Hillary Clinton’s Bigotry

On the Democratic side the bigot is not so easy to spot, but the problem exists in any case. Hillary Clinton may not be a bigot in the same way as Trump. She certainly isn’t going to go about insulting ethnic groups with large numbers of potential voters. Indeed, she has cultivated many minority groups and is supported by them.

But such outreach has its limits, and in one important case she is willing to act as a de facto bigot in order to cater to a politically powerful interest group. Having actively done so, the difference in ethical behavior between her and Mr. Trump starts to blur.

In what way is Hillary Clinton, now the “presumptive” presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, behaving like a de facto bigot? She does so in her open, prosecutorial hostility toward the fight to liberate Palestinians from the racist oppression of Israel and its Zionist ideology.

Clinton, having in this case traded whatever principled anti-racist feelings she has for a fistful of campaign dollars, has openly sided with the Zionists. And, as she must well know, they are among the world’s most demonstrative bigots.

Having made this alliance, she praises Israel as a democratic state upholding the highest ideals and ignores or justifies the illegal and blatantly racist treatment of its Palestinian population. In fact, she wants to reward Israel for its racist behavior and policies by pretending that to do so is to assist in the necessary self-defense of the Zionist state.

At the same time, former Secretary of State Clinton is willing to attack those who fight against Israeli bigotry, particularly in the form of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement. Disregarding U.S. law, she has pledged herself to destroy the BDS movement even if she has to rip to shreds the First Amendment of the Constitution to do it.

And – here is the irony of it all – she claims she has taken this position in order to fight anti-Semitism, one of history’s most pronounced bigotries.

This rationale, that she backs a state full of infamous bigots in the name of defending against bigotry, is just so much sophistry. If there is an increase in the number of anti-Semites in today’s world, we can thank Zionist racism for that development.

However, anti-Semitism does not motivate the BDS movement, which in the U.S. is backed by a large and growing number of Jews. No, the reason Clinton has targeted BDS is because it has proved an effective weapon against Israeli racism, and therefore her Zionist allies have oriented her in that direction.

The problem for Hillary Clinton is that if you ally with bigots and actively do their bidding, you too become a de facto bigot. Unlike Trump, who may or may not understand the offensive nature of his behavior, Clinton knows exactly what she is doing. Trump is a bigot by upbringing and social conditioning. Clinton is a bigot by choice. I will leave it to the reader to decide who is worse.

Part of a Corrupt System

There are many considerations that go into choosing the candidate for whom to vote come November. If she plays her cards right, Hillary Clinton may win over enough of the Sanders supporters to defeat Trump. However, if you are inclined to vote for her, don’t kid yourself that what you’re going to get is an upright, ethical president unwilling to adopt openly bigoted policies against vulnerable and long suffering peoples. Hillary Clinton has clearly abandoned such standards of behavior.

Many will respond that, political expediency aside, she is a viable woman candidate and that as such she opens the way for greater female access to the highest offices in the land. This is true. However, taken too far, it is also a naive argument. The U.S. political system is deeply mired in corrupt ways of doing business. At this time in its history, just about any citizen willing to follow these flawed pathways can operate successfully – be they women or ethnic minorities.

But adherence to rules of the political game is the price of playing the game. Former Secretary Clinton has paid her dues, she has proven herself a reliable supporter of this corrupt system. As a consequence, having her as president will not result in any significant changes to the system or its priorities. Her gender is immaterial to that result.

The truth of the matter is that Hillary Clinton, like her Republican opponent, has devolved into an unprincipled opportunist with a growing self-centered myopia thrown into the mix. If she becomes president, she will almost certainly be aggressive in her foreign policy, perhaps renewing the Cold War, undermining the Iran nuclear agreement, and embroiling the country in new wars.

If the Republicans maintain their hold on Congress, she will be just as stymied in her domestic policy as was President Obama. In her role as a system politician, she may not be dangerous to the nation in the same way as Donald Trump, but she will prove dangerous nonetheless.

And, as many have pointed out, choosing the alleged lesser of two evils still means choosing evil.

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.