Deeper into the Afghan ‘Big Muddy’

President Trump’s reliance on generals as his principal strategic advisers – and his own limited understanding of the world – may lead deeper into the Afghan quagmire, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Impending choices by President Trump regarding the war in Afghanistan raise issues of national security decision-making in his presidency that in turn evoke pathologies of the past, with Trump’s personal habits threatening to make matters at least as bad as in the past.

Struggles for influence within the White House are part of the story — as Jacob Heilbrunn discusses in connection with differences over Afghanistan policy between Stephen Bannon and national security adviser H. R. McMaster — although the story is not mainly about the clout of specific personalities. The disproportionate staffing of senior levels of Trump’s administration with military officers is another part, although the problem is not simply one of adopting a military rather than a civilian point of view.

Start with this President’s own qualities, and two of them in particular. One is his low knowledge and understanding of foreign relations and national security. It is doubtful that before he was elected he ever had an even halfway complex thought about Afghanistan.

The other is his exceedingly narrow channel for input of new information and insights. That channel seems to consist mainly of cable television news and random observations conveyed directly by people to whom for one reason or another Trump has taken a liking.

These characteristics imply that a thorough policy-making process — the array of meetings, memos, and consultations among all concerned parts of the government that formulates, vets, and evaluates options presented to the President — is at least as important in correcting for the deficiencies of this President as with any of his predecessors.

A full and orderly policy process is important with any president; such a process does not always yield the best result, but without such a process there will not be a raising of all the questions that need to be asked, nor discussion of all the considerations that need to be considered.

We have a big and still fairly recent example of what can happen when a president dispenses with a policy process before a major national security initiative: the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, which was not preceded by any interagency meetings, options papers, discussions in the Situation Room, or anything else in which the question of whether launching that war was a good idea was on the agenda. We know how that decision turned out.

Trump’s heavy reliance on generals in staffing his administration does not by itself constitute a bias toward war. Military officers who have directly experienced the pain and downsides of wars are apt to be less inclined to start new ones than the sort of civilian, non-veteran chicken hawks who played major roles in George W. Bush’s administration. But what to do about an ongoing war such as Afghanistan is a different sort of question.

Military officers are conditioned to think in terms of using the military instrument more than other instruments of national policy. When given a mission, they are conditioned to pursue it to an outcome that can be described as successful completion of that mission. They are accustomed to taking as a given that completion of whatever was earlier defined as their mission is important for the national interest. They are not accustomed to questioning whether that mission really is important for U.S. national interests, or whether it still is important even if it was once deemed to be, or whether it is important enough to continue pursuing when weighed against collateral costs and competing priorities.

The Bigger Picture

It is those larger and fundamental sorts of questions that need to be applied today to policy on Afghanistan. This is not a matter of acceding to Bannon’s concerns about fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises. It instead is a matter of carefully assessing whether political and military events in that faraway graveyard of empires has enough impact on U.S. national security to warrant making America’s longest war even longer, let alone escalating that war.

A disturbing departure in the Trump administration from full and thorough policy processes comes to light in a Washington Post article that focuses on the  influence of one of Trump’s generals, Secretary of Defense James Mattis. According to the Post, Mattis regularly joins the President, sometimes more than once a week, for dinner at the White House residence, at times accompanied by a couple of Trump’s other favorite Marine generals, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Joseph Dunford and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

The Post reports that these “regular after-hours gatherings, focused on discussion of pressing national security matters” are “an indication of the free-flowing style that has characterized the administration’s deliberations on national security.”

This approach, the account continues, “has sometimes generated confusion, as it did after one such dinner in late January in which Trump approved new military actions in Yemen. The decision made outside the National Security Council process, including a tiny cohort of top officials and leaving only a light paper trail, produced weeks of uncertainty among military officials.”

The article cites, as another example of confusion resulting from the truncated and informal policy process, the public assertions about the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson heading north toward Korea when it really was sailing in the opposite direction.

The White House dinners raise memories of what became known, in the administration of Lyndon Johnson, as the Tuesday lunch. This weekly gathering, over a meal, of a handful of the President’s top national security officials was where Johnson made most of his decisions on managing the Vietnam War. This mechanism constituted another short-circuiting of a full and orderly policy process. The Tuesday lunch also became a prime case study for the psychologist Irving Janis when he developed his concept of groupthink and the decision-making pathologies it entails.

Lyndon Johnson ran a war differently from the way Donald Trump will ever run one, especially with regard to LBJ’s tendency to micromanage. But there is the same deficiency, due to truncation or end-running of a policy process, in not raising fundamental questions and not obtaining needed perspectives. Moreover, the deficiencies associated with groupthink are at least as likely to arise over Trump’s dinner table as they were over Johnson’s lunch table.

The Groupthink Trap 

As the concept was developed by Janis, groupthink involves not just commonality of thought but a dynamic unique to small groups in which maintaining cohesion of the group comes to take precedence over arriving at the best possible decision outcome. The present ingredients for comity and camaraderie dominating effectiveness are easy to see.

Trump needs his close association with his generals to have some of the dust of strength and selfless public service rub off on himself, or rather on his public image and his self-image. The generals, aware of their unique channel to this President, will try to avoid anything that risks breakage of that channel.

As Heilbrunn observes, the temptation to score anything that could be billed as a “win” may pull Trump into making America’s longer war even longer, as well as bigger. But presidential disdain for orderly ways of analyzing how best to advance America’s interests will be another factor increasing the odds that, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Trump will make greater use of military force than is in those interests and will prove to be more of an interventionist than was hoped or expected by those who focused on his retrenchment rhetoric during the campaign, or were turned off by what they regarded as Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.) 




The Scandal Hidden Behind Russia-gate

Exclusive: Official Washington has the Russia-gate scandal almost 180-degrees wrong; it is not about protecting democracy, but about pushing Americans into more wars, the true scandal that is being missed, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

The Washington Post and New York Times editors are trying to relive the glory days of their youth by comparing Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey to Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre at the height of Watergate. Donald Trump, it seems, is a threat to democracy just as Tricky Dick was more than 40 years ago, so the only thing that can save us is a special prosecutor who will get to the bottom of Russia-gate once and for all.

But not only is this nonsense, it’s pernicious nonsense that itself amounts to a cover-up. Here’s how Russia-gate is not the same as Watergate and why, in fact, it’s the opposite:

Difference No. 1: Watergate was about a real event, the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s offices at the Watergate Hotel in which five people were caught red-handed in the act. The fireworks began when the burglars turned out to be part of a special security operation known as the White House Plumbers.

This is why Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox ran into a buzz-saw in October 1973. After months of gumshoe field work, he had begun zeroing in on evidence linking the Plumbers with the Oval Office. This was a bridge too far from Nixon’s point of view, and so he ordered him canned.

Cox was thus operating in the realm of hard, cold, tangible fact. But Russia-gate is different since the alleged crime that is at heart of the scandal – last summer’s reported data break-in at the DNC – is so far based on purest speculation. No burglars have been apprehended, no links have been clearly established with the reputed masterminds in Moscow, while Wikileaks continues to insist that the email disclosure was not a hack by outside intelligence operatives at all, but a leak by a “disgusted” insider.

Since the FBI has never conducted an independent investigation – for as-yet-unexplained reasons, the DNC refused to grant it access to its servers despite multiple requests – the only evidence that a break-in even occurred comes from a private cyber-security firm, CrowdStrike Inc. of Irvine, California, that the DNC hired to look into the breach.

Since when do the cops rely on a private eye to look into a murder rather than performing an investigation of their own? CrowdStrike, moreover, turns out to be highly suspect. Not only is Dmitri Alperovich, its chief technical officer, a Russian émigré with a pronounced anti-Putin tilt, but he is also an associate of a virulently anti-Russian outfit known as the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank funded by the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, the Ukrainian World Congress, the U.S. State Department and a variety of other individuals and groups that have an interest in isolating or discrediting Russia.

The Atlantic Council puts out a stream of anti-Kremlin articles and reports with scary headlines like “Distract Deceive Destroy: Putin at War in Syria” and “Six Immediate Steps to Stop Putin’s Aggression.”

Since the Atlantic Council is also a long-time supporter of Hillary Clinton, this means that the Clinton campaign relied on a friendly anti-Putin cyber-sleuth to tell it what everyone involved wanted to hear, i.e. that the Kremlin was at the bottom of it all. If this strikes you as fishy, it should.

Crowdstrike’s findings seemed weak in other respects as well. A few days after determining that Russian intelligence was responsible, Alperovich issued a memo praising the hackers to the skies. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter,” he wrote. Since the hackers were brilliant, CrowdStrike had to be even more so to track them down and expose their perfidy for all to see.

But CrowdStrike then said it was able to pin it on the Russians because the hackers had made certain elementary mistakes, most notably uploading a document in a Russian-language format under the name “Felix Edmundovich,” an obvious reference to Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, as the Soviet political police were originally known. It was the equivalent of American intelligence agents uploading a Russian document under the name “J. Edgar.” Since this was obviously very careless of them, it raised an elementary question: how could the hackers be super-sophisticated yet at the same time guilty of an error that was unbearably dumb?

The skeptics promptly pounced. Referring to Russia’s two top intelligence agencies, a well-known cyber-security expert named Jeffrey Carr was unable to restrain his sarcasm: “OK. Raise your hand if you think that a GRU or FSB officer would add Iron Felix’s name to the metadata of a stolen document before he released it to the world while pretending to be a Romanian hacker. Someone clearly had a wicked sense of humor.”

Since scattering such false leads is child’s play for even a novice hacker, it was left to John McAfee, founder of McAfee Associates and developer of the first commercial anti-virus software, to draw the ultimate conclusion. “If it looks like the Russians did it,” he told TV interviewer Larry King, “then I can guarantee you: it was not the Russians.”

None of this proves that the Russians didn’t hack the DNC. All it proves is that evidence is lacking. If all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agree that the Kremlin did it, it is worth bearing in mind that the “intelligence community” was equally unanimous in 2002 that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. If they were wrong then, why should anyone believe that they are right now in the absence of clear and unequivocal evidence? (On Monday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper clarified that the repeated claim about the unanimous view of the 17 agencies was wrong; that the report, which he released on Jan. 6, was the work of hand-picked analysts from the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency.)

So, where Cox was dealing with a real live burglary, all we have today is smoke and mirrors.

Difference No. 2: Russia-gate is not about democracy but about neo-McCarthyism and war.

For all the self-serving hoopla and mythology surrounding Watergate, the scandal was ultimately about something important: the dirty tricks and lawless authoritarianism that were advancing smartly under the Nixon administration. But Russia-gate is not about democracy. Rather, it is about an inside-the-beltway battle over the direction of U.S.-Russian relations.

The battle is deadly serious. Since roughly 2008, Cold War II has expanded steadily to the point where it now extends along a 1,300-mile front from Estonia to the Crimea plus the Caucasus and major portions of the Middle East. It has intensified as well and would likely have reached a flashpoint if the hawkish Hillary Clinton had been elected.

But Trump’s surprise victory threw a wrench into the works. This is not to say that Donald Trump is a latter-day Mahatma Gandhi out to bring peace and brotherhood to the world. To the contrary, he’s a loud-mouthed ignoramus who can barely find Russia on the map. But amid all his confused mutterings about foreign policy, one thing that has come through loud and clear is his desire for a rapprochement with Russia.

Given the mounting war fever that has gripped Washington for the last ten years or so, this is nothing short of explosive. Once it became clear in the early morning hours of Nov. 9 that Trump was White House-bound, the pro-war establishment therefore went into overdrive. Every effort was made to undermine the President-elect’s legitimacy.

Evidence was dug up purporting to show that he had colluded with the Kremlin. A Democratic-funded memo by a British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele was produced claiming that Russian intelligence had a video of him cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow’s Ritz Carlton.

But it’s all so much hot air. Nothing of substance has turned up. A 1,700-word front-page exposé about Trump campaign aide Carter Page that The New York Times ran on April 20 was typical. A study in innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions, it said that the FBI became concerned when it learned that “a Russian spy” had tried to recruit him during a visit to Moscow in 2013. But then it disclosed that Page, an academic and energy entrepreneur, had no idea that the person was a spy and merely thought he was talking business with an ordinary diplomatic attaché with Russia’s U.N. mission.

It’s a mistake that any American businessman could make, whether in Moscow or in London or Tel Aviv. “It is unclear,” the Times went on, “exactly what about Mr. Page’s visit drew the FBI’s interest: meetings he had during his three days in Moscow, intercepted communications of Russian officials speaking about him, or something else.”

But one thing that apparently caused ears to prick up was a talk he gave at a Russian economics institute. The reason according to the Times is that it: “criticized American policy toward Russia in terms that echoed the position of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, declaring, ‘Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.’ His remarks accorded with Mr. Trump’s positive view of the Russian president, which had prompted speculation about what Mr. Trump saw in Mr. Putin – more commonly denounced in the United States as a ruthless, anti-Western autocrat.”

In other words, Page drew official notice because he dared to differ with the orthodox view of Putin as a latter-day Lucifer. As a consequence, he now finds himself at the center of what the Times describes as “a wide-ranging investigation, now accompanied by two congressional inquiries, that has cast a shadow over the early months of the Trump administration.” So, out of nothing (or at least very little) has grown something very, very large, an absurd pseudo-scandal that now has Democrats gobbling on about special prosecutors and impeachment.

But even though there’s no clear “there” there, the Washington scandal machine has a way of feeding on itself regardless. As Consortium News’ Robert Parry has pointed out (see “The McCarthyism of Russia-gate,” May 7), the Senate Intelligence Committee hit Page with a sweeping order on April 28 to turn over anything and everything having to do with his extensive list of Russian business, personal and casual contacts for the 18 months prior to Trump’s Inauguration.

The order thus informs Page that he must turn over “[a] list of all meetings between you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015, and January 20, 2017 … all meetings of which you are aware between any individual with the Trump campaign and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests … [a]ll communications records, including electronic communications records such as e-mail or text messages, written correspondence, and phone records of communications … to which you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests was a party,” and so on and so forth.

Considering that Page lived in Russia for several years, the request is virtually impossible. It thus “amounts to a perjury trap,” Parry notes, “because even if Page tried his best to supply all the personal, phone, and email contacts, he would be sure to miss something or someone, thus setting him up for prosecution for obstructing an investigation or lying to investigators.”

It also amounts to a self-fueling scandal machine since if Page falls short in any respect, the result will be fuel for a dozen outraged Times and Washington Post editorials accusing the Trump team of covering up. If the investigation into Monical Lewinsky’s little blue dress was a joke, this will be even worse, a scandal without end resting ultimately on thin air.

But to what end? The goal, simply, is to drive Trump out of office or, barring that, to force him to adopt a more warlike foreign policy. The effort has already borne fruit in the form of the April 6 Tomahawk missile strike at a Syrian government airbase that Trump launched less to punish Bashar al-Assad than to get the Democrats, the press, the neocons, and other members of the war camp off his back. The press reception was rapturous, and after labeling Trump a Kremlin stooge on a near-daily basis, Democrats like Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Dick Durbin responded by patting him fondly on the back.

The more such actions he launches, the more approving such paragons of democracy will become. With amazing accuracy, the Democrats have zeroed in on the one halfway positive thing Trump had to say during his campaign and made it their chief target.

Difference No. 3: Where Watergate was about blocking a cover-up, Russia-gate is about perpetuating one.

Hours after Comey received his termination notice, Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, published an article calling on the Justice Department to “appoint a special counsel to lead the investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election.”

This was very neutral, objective, and high-minded of him. But the question to ask in this instance is cui bono – who benefits? The answer lies in what the Center for American Progress is and whom it represents.

The answer is that CAP is a major Clinton stronghold. Its founder is John Podesta, who was Clinton’s campaign chairman and whose brother, Tony, is a registered Saudi lobbyist. Its president is Neera Tanden, a long-time Clinton friend and adviser.

Major funders include George Soros and the United Arab Emirates, which, like Saudis, has long pushed for the U.S. to adopt a more militant posture vis-à-vis Iran, Syria’s Assad government, and Russia, which is allied with both. This means more sabre-rattling towards Moscow, more weapons and support for Saudi-funded jihadis in Syria, and more U.S. backup for the Saudi-UAE war against Yemen, in which more than 10,000 people have died, according to U.N. estimates, and much of the population is on the brink of mass starvation.

This is the real scandal that Russia-gate is designed to cover up. Like any country, Russia wants to steer U.S. foreign policy in a direction favorable to interests. But it’s a very small player in Washington compared to giants like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. These are nations that have given millions to the Clinton Foundation, to the “William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park” in Little Rock, Arkansas (recipient of a $10-million gift from the Saudi royal family), universities like Harvard and Georgetown, and a slew of think tanks, not just CAP and the Atlantic Council, but the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Brookings, the recipient of a $14.8-million contribution from Qatar.

The oil monarchies have thus used their petro-wealth to create a pro-war consensus in Washington that is nearly 100-percent complete. Needless to say, this will not benefit the mass of ordinary Americans, the people who will have to fight and die in such conflicts and whose taxes will pay for them. Instead, it will benefit the oil companies and arms manufacturers with whom the oil monarchies are closely allied, not to mention hawkish politicians hoping to use war fever to propel their careers to ever greater heights.

They will benefit because they have sold U.S. foreign policy to the highest bidder. This is a scandal of the first order. But rather than exposing it, Russia-gate is all about covering it up.

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




Complexities of a ‘Post-Truth’ Era

The mainstream U.S. media claims a monopoly on determining truth, despite a very spotty record of getting it right and a blindness to the reality that there are usually two sides to a story, as Gilbert Doctorow explains.

By Gilbert Doctorow

We’re told that we’re living in a post-truth (or post-factual) era, a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, a culture that eschews a foundation of solid facts. Indeed, it is said that in this post-truth time, facts have become “secondary” if not entirely irrelevant. But who gets stuck with this “post-truth” label – and it is typically used as an insult – is not so simple.

In 2016, “post-truth” was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, due to its prevalence in the context of the Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election, but it’s clearly true that “post-truth” is not entirely a new phenomenon. Political lies and fabrications are as old as time and in recent years have come from Democrats as well as Republicans.

However, this Word of the Year has developed a distinctly partisan and derogatory usage in the United States. It relates not just to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but specifically to the Republican nominee in that election who now sits in the Oval Office. That is to say, the word has been instrumentalized, another fashionable concept of our day, to attack Donald J. Trump, whom the word’s framers consider to be the embodiment of post-truth.

This is not to suggest that Trump’s character weakness for self-serving tall stories does not justify severe criticism. It was not for nothing that Rex Tillerson, in his prepared statement at the opening of his Senate confirmation hearings to become Secretary of State, chose to stress that truth was something he would always make a guiding principle in his State Department operations. From his training as an engineer, he promised that he would follow the facts wherever they led him.

(It is very sad to note that once in office, Tillerson’s loyalty to his boss outweighed his personal convictions and professional methodology so that he has become a willing mouthpiece for dubious claims against Syria over an alleged but unproven chemical attack by the Assad forces in Idlib province. It was also curious that the mainstream U.S. media, which doesn’t trust a word coming out of Trump’s mouth or his Twitter finger, suddenly believed his every word justifying his retaliatory missile strike on Syria – and anyone who doubted Trump was banished to the post-truth woodshed.)

Also, for anyone observing the ongoing Democratic-led witch hunt in Washington over suspected collusion between Trump advisers and the Russians to throw the election his way, or otherwise to undermine U.S. democracy, it is patently clear that the concept of “post-truth” is fully descriptive of what is being practiced by Trump’s opponents, too.

We have smears, slurs, allegations unsupported by facts, and “fishing expeditions” to find something – anything – that fits previously prepared indictments and prepares the way for Trump’s possible impeachment, aided and abetted by the mainstream media which regards itself as the definer and defender of Truth. No factual counter-argument by the few experts and politicians daring to stand up to the mob on Capitol Hill counts for anything.

Complexities of Truth

But it would be a mistake to allow our understanding of “post–truth” to be limited strictly by the vagaries of partisan politics, or to blame it on the character defects of this or that public personality. In truth, truth can have many forms.

There is, for instance, scientific, scholarly or empirical truth based on properly established and observable facts, i.e., things that can be objectively measured. There is also religious truth, which is faith-based and which is still a major influence on American society. Artistic truth, to take another example, is highly personal and subjective; facts as building blocks play little or no role.

In the political/journalistic world, facts are important, but there can be varying interpretations of those facts, i.e., divergent narratives explaining how certain facts add up or don’t add up. While there can’t be “alternative facts” – a widely derided phrase offered up by one Trump defender – there can be “alternative narratives” or, in that sense, “alternative truths.” People can see the same facts and interpret them very differently based on their life experiences, or as editors used to tell young reporters, “there are always two sides to a story.”

Often, the concept of “post-truth” – as applied in the political/journalistic world these days – depends on which side of the divide you’re on regarding populist politics. The elites like to believe that they have a monopoly on “truth” because of their superior education or status. They resent the idea that non-elites believe they can understand reality as well as or even better than the elites.

Much of the battle over “post-truth” boils down to the elites’ anger over their monopoly on defining political/journalist truth being challenged. But the “truth” of these elites often contradicts the realities experienced by the non-elites, many of whom have developed a strong anti-intellectual current and are ready to reject what the elites are presenting to the public via the media every day.

Business ‘Truth’

But there is another dimension to the current ascendancy of “post-truth” – as it relates to Trump – that I have experienced in working more than 25 years in international business. “Post-truth” behavior has, for decades, been enshrined in Anglo-Saxon business culture. It has only now spilled over into politics because a maverick business mogul has unexpectedly risen to the apex of American politics. He also has brought with him an entourage of fellow moguls, as described in an April 22 article in The New York Times entitled “Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel.”

And, I’m not just talking about the pitchman’s tendency to present his product as always “beautiful” and “great.” There is a tension inside the business world between mid-level executives who justify their judgments based on facts and figures and senior executives who often rely on “gut instincts” but then want some expert to verify what they want to do.

I spent about two-thirds of my business career in that middle-management territory where the strategic business planning cycle of marketing departments typically draws its basic narrative from outside fact-based reference materials like the Economist Intelligence Unit. Moreover, big corporate investment projects presented to senior management by middle managers in Power Point are preferably defended on the basis of hard historic numbers, not back-of-the-envelope guesses.

But the one-third of my business career spent as an outside consultant to the Boards of Directors of 20 or more major corporations – ranging from fast-moving consumer goods to food and beverages to parcel delivery and even to hi-tech – showed that something very different was going on. The top managers operate in a different value system, where highest appreciation is given not to facts but to a less rigid set of judgments based on intuition and experience. That is particularly true when the subject is not routine business but high-profile projects entailing new investment or business activity.

In my experience as outside consultant time and again it emerged that the main purpose of such assignments was to serve as a support to top management for ideas they arrived at by gut instinct rather than fact. The challenge was to overcome resistance to their initiatives from petty-fogging, fact-wielding middle management by reference to the supposedly greater expertise of the consultant, who might be allowed to argue with smoke and mirrors that would never pass if put up by employees.

If I had any doubts about my suspicions regarding the rating of intuition as opposed to facts in top management circles, they were dispelled by a psychological report I received back during my own vetting for a country manager position at the world’s biggest distiller back in 1998. The report’s preparer was a Ph.D. in psychology and surely had a clear-eyed understanding of corporate culture.

His lengthy analysis of my strengths and areas for development, as weaknesses are termed, boiled down to one sentence: “Gilbert tends to be rational rather than intuitive.” The positives – intellect, strategic grasp, tenacious worker, flexibility in ambiguous environments, experience and knowledge of local conditions – were fine, but the nagging drawback was intuition, otherwise called gut feeling.

I got the job, but my understanding of which levers worked in the company and which didn’t for decisions surrounding major new projects was changed forever. With intuition one cannot argue. As the old Russian folk saying has it: I am the boss and you are an idiot; you are the boss and I am an idiot.

In big business, as I saw from the inside, very often blunders which occur due to intuition-based rather than fact-based decision making can be very expensive but are rarely ruinous. Very large companies are usually able to recoup these losses from their routine, profitable operations, meaning from the paying public, using market strength. The companies then tweak the new activities over time and bring them into profit.

The open question now, in the chaotic first months of the Trump administration, is how this approach to “post-truth” management will work out for the U.S. federal government – for Trump and his team on one side and for those who are trying to bring him down on the other.

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015




Respecting a Courageous American

In a dreary era when politicians play predictable roles and avoid courageous stands, it is worth remembering former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, now 89, who dared challenge U.S. foreign policies, says Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

A new documentary about former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark explores his lifetime commitment to human rights and his deep and abiding belief in democratic principles.

As President Lyndon Johnson’s chief law enforcement official, Clark was in charge of enforcing the court order that protected the historic Poor People’s March, led by Martin Luther King Jr., from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Clark also oversaw the drafting and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1968.

After his stint as Attorney General, Clark provided legal support for the late antiwar activist, Father Philip Berrigan, and Native American political prisoner, Leonard Peltier. An unrelenting and outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy, Clark, now 89, has called for an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a ban on depleted uranium weapons. Clark also risked his life to travel to Iraq and defend Saddam Hussein after his capture.

On May 2, I spoke with Joseph Stillman, the writer and director of Citizen Clark: A Life of Principle.

DB: How did this all begin? Where did this start?

JS: Well, I did a film about a returning Iraq veteran some 12 years ago, and Ramsey was in the film. And an organization asked me to show that film and they wanted to honor Ramsey, because he was in it. And they asked me to bring him with me to that screening and I did. And afterwards someone in the audience asked Ramsey what he thought [that] the possibility of a nuclear war in this country might be. And he thought about it for a second, and gave this very elaborate and incredible sort of description of how such a horrific event, like that, would play out.

And then afterwards that same person that asked the question in the Q & A at the end of the screening said, “It sounds to me like you’re not too optimistic about the future of the United States.” To which Ramsey replied, “Quite the contrary, I’m an optimist. Because without optimism there is no hope. But I’m not just talking about the ramifications for the United States. I’m talking about the survival of mankind, on the face of this planet, as we know it.”

And that night as we drove back to New York City from the Catskills we had a long discussion about that. And I thought, “What an incredible man with such an important perspective of not only the past and the present, but the future. What a great film it might make if somebody told his story.” And so I asked him, had anybody ever done a film on his life. And he said “No, why would anyone want to?” Typical Ramsey response.

And then, eventually, I asked him if I could do it and he sort of hemmed and hawed and then he said “Yes.” I think he said yes because his late wife is from my home town in Corpus Christi, Texas. He lived a couple of houses down from my grandparents. So, I think that’s the reason he said yes.

But Ramsey’s story is a really remarkable tale of a man that grew up in privilege, that could have written his own ticket, and instead chose to fight for the oppressed, and, really, a lot of groups, organizations and individuals who are unrepresented, and who needed a voice and he shed light on their plight.

DB: Well, he took the constitution seriously, and the right for everybody to have a vigorous defense in this world. Talk a little bit about … I mean this is the son of a supreme court justice [Tom C. Clark], the former highest law enforcement official in the United States, the attorney general, who all of a sudden does, it seems, it’s like a 180 [degree flip]. You want to talk about his early career and how that evolved?

JS: Sure. Well, when you’re the highest law enforcement officer of the land, you traditionally, or in the past anyway, you take a position with a prestigious law firm, you write expensive coffee table books, you get tens of thousands of dollars for speeches. Well, Ramsey, when he got out of public service, the first thing he did was go to North Vietnam, at the height of the war, which was very controversial at the time. He wrote a book called Crime in America, about the connection between poverty and crime, and solutions for that.

And then he chose instead […] to go into various interventions throughout the world, to see what was actually going on, to report back about the real things that were happening in these various wars that our country got involved with.

[…] Martin Sheen, I think, said it best, in Los Angeles last year at another screening of this film, when he said that Ramsey Clark was the conscience of our country when we needed one: an individual who said the things that everyone knew was true but nobody wanted to be on record as saying. And that was Ramsey, a fearless advocate of the truth, and what was happening within our democratic process.

DB: […] Talk about some of the major cases, controversial cases, he’s taken on, set that up for us.

JS: Well, there’s quite a few. I think he was involved in about 32 U.S. interventions across the world. And he offered … just as an example, he offered to take the place of the Iran hostages [in 1980], very interesting story there. President Carter calls him up and says “Can you go and talk to the Ayatollah?” who Ramsey had a relationship with for twenty-something years. He said “Sure.” He flies to Barcelona, then to Moscow. He’s getting ready to go to Tehran the next day, and that night there was a failed attempt to rescue the hostages, by two helicopters, I think, that get caught in a sand storm and Ramsey’s trip gets canceled, as a result of that.

But, you know, Ramsey was always in the midst of numerous interventions, because he knew a lot of the people. He had a relationship with Saddam. He represented Saddam Hussein. He was one of three international lawyers on his team. Six Iraqi lawyers were killed in the course of that trial. Ramsey was getting threatened every day. It was a very tense and difficult situation. And what’s in it for someone like Ramsey, other than if you’re going to talk about a country being a democracy, then you have to represent everybody, not just the people that can afford to be represented, or that you want to. So Ramsey was an individual of principle.

DB: And just to say a little bit more about the courage there, because he’s…I’m sure he didn’t have a lot of friends in the U.S. Marines or the U.S. government when he’s there getting death threat[s], and putting his life on the line. So, he’s not counting on the kind of protection, let’s say, U.S. journalists get when they look like soldiers. He has always been out there in his suit and tie.

JS: Yep, absolutely. I think that a really good example is the first night of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, Ramsey was assigned to protect the marchers by LBJ [President Lyndon Baines Johnson]. And the very first night, it was getting late, eleven o’clock or so, everybody was getting ready to go to bed, Ramsey had known Martin Luther King for a while. Martin Luther King turns to Ramsey and says, “You know Ramsey, never be afraid because fear will corrupt your soul. And you can never do what’s right.”

And I think that has been one of the themes of this film. There are many, but Ramsey was a fearless individual, just like the Kennedys, and Martin Luther King, and others who [knew] you cannot seek justice or truth if you are not fearless. And I think, actually, the message of this film, in many ways, is to empower all of us as citizens of, not only our communities and our country and the world, but we have to, all of us have to be fearless, if we expect to protect the rights of others and really to do the right thing for all of humanity. I think that’s what Ramsey has done all his life. And I’m so honored to be able to tell, in a small way, his incredible story.

DB: What were a couple of the most surprising things that perhaps you weren’t suspecting?

JS: About Ramsey?

DB: Yeah.

JS: Well, you know […] when I first asked Ramsey if I could do this film, he reluctantly agreed to let me do it. And then he added one other caveat. He said, “You know, my life has been complicated.” Well, if there was ever an understatement in the world, that was it. But I found so many instances where the situations that he found himself in were amazing.

Saddam Hussein, as an example, one day – [Hussein] was very curious about LBJ because of the Great Society programs, and the things that LBJ did for his country. And he said “Tell me about LBJ.”

LBJ was the type of person that would walk into your office and start telling you a story about Mexican-American kids coming to school, when he was a school teacher, having no shoes, having bloody feet. And LBJ would begin to cry. This is a story that Ramsey told me about his experience with LBJ.

So when Saddam wanted to know about LBJ, Ramsey related this story about poor kids without shoes, and LBJ crying and Saddam thinks about it for a second and he says, “You know, that doesn’t seem quite right, because how can he be concerned about kids with bloody shoes on their feet, when he’s dropping bombs that are killing 2 million people in Vietnam?”

And so there were instances, many, many instances of that little story between Ramsey and Saddam that tell you a lot about the individuals that Ramsey came in contact with, or Ramsey knew. And I think that they all respected Ramsey because he was a person that always told the truth. You weren’t going to get some kind of political smart kind of response to something. You were going to get an honest reflection of what Ramsey thought. And that was one of the reasons why I think LBJ trusted Ramsey because he always knew that he could get an answer that was forthright and not looking at it from a political standpoint of any sort, because Ramsey was apolitical.

DB: Apolitical. Like…but he’s been called a communist, a traitor. People suggested that he be hung from the rafters.

JS: Sure.

DB: So, explain that. One would think that he’s an extreme leftist.

JS: Yeah. I think that…I would get, in the course of the five years of this film […] I would be talking to people and they would say “How can you…how could Ramsey justify representing someone like Saddam?” as an example. And Ramsey never said that Saddam was a good guy or a bad guy, or anything. He just said “You know, if you’re a leader with three warring factions that are trying to destroy each other, you have to do whatever you have to do in order to keep your country together. And that doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing. It just means that that’s what this individual had to do.”

And Ramsey was always looking at the sort of geo-political kind of ramifications of various world leaders and events, because he was very much a student of history. […] He said, “You have to go back, this started 900 years ago.” So he was a person that had a very deep and committed insight into the various histories of those countries and what brought them to a certain point. And I think ultimately the one thing that Ramsey has been consistent with all his life is the fact of the influence of wealth, special interests, big money on government.

And I think that that’s a universal theme with everything that Ramsey has done. He’s always looked at policies that have happened in this country and said “Well, who is it that benefits from this intervention into this country or that? Is it representing the people that compose our democracy or is it representing some corporation that we had decided to go into this part of the world?” So Ramsey has always looked at whatever we have done as a country from the standpoint of,  “Does this fit into our constitution? Is it legal? Does it fall into the rule of law?” And he’s always analyzed these various things through that perspective.

DB: Indeed, he’s somebody who has loved the law, and really respected the first amendment, and made it real by standing up for people who were always under attack by taking controversial stands. Ramsey Clark is certainly an extraordinary human being. It is a great service that you made this film about, as you say, somebody who comes out of the high places of power, the son of a supreme court justice, former attorney general, fighting in some of the most controversial legal battles, trying to hold the United States government accountable under international law. I think that’s a pretty interesting part of Ramsey Clark’s history, his love for the law, and his dedication to holding U.S. officials accountable for the things that they were accusing folks around the world of doing.

JS: Absolutely. It’s amazing. When he was in the Justice Department as Attorney General, he was fighting Hoover, because Ramsey had made wiretapping illegal. And Hoover was, behind his back, still wiretapping members of the Civil Rights Movement. And it was just one of many, many things.

Ramsey put a stay on executions, and that held until 1994, [from] 1968 until 1994, when Timothy McVeigh was executed for the Oklahoma City Bombings. But he did numerous things like that. He helped to draft the Civil Rights Acts of ’64 and ’68 and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, among other things. So, you could say that this is a man who really fought to make humanity and the lives of everyday people a more fair and just kind of a world. And I hope people get a chance to see this.

DB: Let me interrupt you here now, and let people know that they will have an opportunity to be part of an East Bay media presentation of Citizen Clark: A Life of Principle. That’s going to be happening here for folks in the [San Francisco] Bay Area. It’s going to be happening Wednesday, May 10th, 7 p.m., and it’s going to be happening at the East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison Street, if you’re in the Bay Area. It’s in Berkeley. It’s a work in progress. You can be a part of this visionary film. You can learn more about Ramsey Clark. You can meet the film maker, and have an experience.

If you don’t know who Ramsey Clark is, or if you’re a young person whose tuned in in recent years to Pacifica radio and KPFA, and you don’t know this extraordinary human being, if you’re a member of Black Lives Matter, or the various brown revolutionary groups, and the immigrants’ rights groups, you should know, you should meet Ramsey Clark as an example of a way to live, an example of the way to, if you will, enforce the law, in an equal way. […]

By the way, have you heard his response to Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III being appointed to Attorney General? Has he mentioned…?

JS: You know, I haven’t.

DB: What a contrast!

JS: I did ask him what he thought about Donald Trump, though. Well, he said “Donald Trump wants to take Lady Liberty and tear her up in pieces, and toss her into the Hudson.”

DB: I’m surprised he hasn’t made that into a Trump Tower. It’s coming.

JS: [Ramsey] did, after all, lead the movement to impeach George Bush, that got 1.5 million signatures for that.
[…]
But, when I did first ask him about what he thought about Donald Trump, he said “Not much.” So, those were his two comments. It’s interesting that Ramsey is not typically a person that will say a lot of bad things about individuals. It’s mostly about the deeds that they do, or the policies that they try to enact. So, he never tries to take it to a personal level.

DB: Right, he focuses on the wars, and the breaking of international law that lead to massive destruction and illegal operations.

JS: Well, especially the loss of life. The sanctions in Iraq killed 1/2 million women and children, more so than any of the casualties from combatants. It’s always about the women and children who are the real casualties of any war, that Ramsey tries to address.

DB: Yes, it is. […]

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Watergate Redux or ‘Deep State’ Coup?

Exclusive: Official Washington is abuzz, comparing President Trump’s ouster of FBI Director Comey to President Nixon’s Watergate cover-up, but there is a darker “deep state” interpretation of these events, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday reflected a growing concern inside the White House that the long-rumored scheme by “deep state” operatives to overturn the results of the 2016 election may have been more than just rumors.

The fear grew that Comey and other senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community had concluded last year that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump was a suitable future president, albeit for different reasons. I’m told that Clinton was seen as dangerously hawkish and Trump as dangerously unqualified, opinions privately shared by then-President Barack Obama.

So, according to this account, plans were made last summer to damage both Clinton and Trump, with the hope of putting a more stable and less risky person in the Oval Office – with key roles in this scheme played by Comey, CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

When I first heard about this supposed cabal in the middle of last year, I dismissed it as something more fitting a Jason Bourne movie than the real world. But – to my amazement – the U.S. intelligence community then began intervening in the presidential campaign in unprecedented ways.

On July 5, 2016, Director Comey dealt a severe blow to Clinton by holding a press conference to denounce her use of a private email server while Secretary of State as “extremely careless,” yet he announced that no legal action would follow, opening her to a damaging line of attack that she jeopardized national security but that her political status gave her special protection.

Then, on Oct. 28, just ten days before the election, Comey reopened the investigation because of emails found on the laptop of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton’s close aide Huma Abedin. That move re-injected Clinton’s email controversy into the campaign, along with the unsavory issues surrounding Weiner’s sexting scandal, and reminded voters about the sex-related scandals that have swirled around Bill Clinton for years.

To make matters worse, Comey closed the investigation again just two days before the election, once more putting the Clinton email controversy in front of voters. That also reaffirmed the idea that Clinton got special treatment because of her political clout, arguably the most damaging image possible in an election year dominated by voter anger at “elites.”

Clinton herself has said that if the election had been held on Oct. 27 – the day before Comey reopened the email inquiry – she would have won. In other words, whether Comey’s actions were simply clumsy or possibly calculated, the reality is that he had an outsized hand in drowning  Clinton’s candidacy, a point that Trump’s Justice Department also noted on Tuesday in justifying Comey’s firing.

Russia-gate Probe

And, we now know that Comey was leading a parallel investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, instigated at least in part by a dossier prepared by ex-British spy Christopher Steele, paid for by Clinton supporters and containing allegations about secret meetings between Trump aides and influential Russians.

Last July, the FBI reportedly secured a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Page was mentioned in the Steele dossier and gave an academic speech in Moscow on July 7 mildly critical of U.S. policies toward Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union, two apparent factors in justifying the FISA warrant.

Before the election, people close to Clinton also tried to get the U.S. media to publicize the Steele dossier and particularly its anonymous claims about Trump cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel while Russian intelligence agents supposedly filmed him. However, because media outlets could not confirm Steele’s allegations and because some details turned out to be wrong, the dossier remained mostly under wraps prior to the election.

However, after Trump’s surprising victory on Nov. 8, President Obama and his intelligence chiefs escalated their efforts to undermine Trump’s legitimacy. The Obama administration leaked an intelligence assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin had orchestrated the hacking of Democratic emails and their publication by WikiLeaks to undermine Clinton and help Trump.

The intelligence community’s assessment set the stage for what could have been a revolt by the Electoral College in which enough Trump delegates might have refused to vote for him to send the election into the House of Representatives, where the states would choose the President from one of the top three vote-getters in the Electoral College.

The third-place finisher turned out to be former Secretary of State Colin Powell who got three votes from Clinton delegates in Washington State. The idea of giving votes to Powell was that he might be an acceptable alternative to House members over either Clinton or Trump, a position that I’m told Obama’s intelligence chiefs shared. But the Electoral College ploy failed when Trump’s delegates proved overwhelmingly faithful to the GOP candidate on Dec. 19.

Expanding Russia-gate

Still, the effort to undermine Trump did not stop. President Obama reportedly authorized an extraordinary scheme to spread information about Russia’s purported assistance to Trump across the federal bureaucracy and even overseas.

Comey, Brennan and Clapper also set in motion a hasty intelligence assessment by hand-picked analysts at the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, producing a report on alleged Russian electoral interference that was released on Jan. 6.

Though Clapper had promised to release a great deal of the evidence, the declassified version of the report amounted mostly to “trust us” along with a one-sided analysis of Putin’s alleged motive, citing his well-known disdain for Clinton.

But the report failed to note the other side of that coin, that Putin would be taking a great risk by trying to hurt Clinton and failing, given Clinton’s odds as the prohibitive favorite to defeat Trump. Putin would have to assume that the NSA with its powerful surveillance capabilities would pick up a Russian initiative and inform an irate President Hillary Clinton.

In other words, the Jan. 6 report was not some careful analysis of the pros and cons for believing or doubting that Russia was behind the WikiLeaks disclosures. It amounted to a prosecutor’s brief, albeit without any public evidence to support the Russia-did-it charge.

We learned later that the report’s classified appendix included a summary of Steele’s dossier that was then briefed to President Obama, President-elect Trump and to members of Congress, guaranteeing that its damaging but unproven allegations would finally get widely circulated in the mainstream media, as indeed promptly happened.

Hobbling Trump’s Presidency

So, going into the Inauguration, Russia-gate was dominating the front pages of newspapers as well as the endless chat shows on cable TV despite the fact that no real evidence was presented proving Russia was responsible for the WikiLeaks’ posts – and WikiLeaks denied getting the material from Russia. There was also no evidence that Trump’s campaign had colluded with the Russians in this endeavor.

But those suspicions quickly hardened into a groupthink among many Democrats, liberals and progressives. Their hatred of Trump and their dread about his policies convinced some that the ends of removing Trump justified whatever means were employed, even if those means had more than a whiff of McCarthyism.

On Inauguration Day, many anti-Trump protesters carried signs accusing Trump of being Putin’s boy. Sensing a political opportunity, congressional Democrats joined the #Resistance and escalated their demands for a sweeping investigation of any connections between Trump’s team and Russia. Their clear hope was something might turn up that could be exploited in an impeachment proceeding.

As the principal intelligence holdover from the Obama administration, Comey assumed an essential role in this operation. It would be up to the FBI to secure the financial records from Trump and his associates that could provide a foundation for at least suspicions of a sinister relationship between them and Russia.

Trump may have thought that he bought some political space by complying with political pressure to fire National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Feb. 13 over what exactly was said in a pre-Inauguration phone conversation between Flynn and the Russian Ambassador. Trump also got the Russia-gate pressure to lessen when, on April 6, he fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria over an alleged chemical attack. But he soon came to realize that those respites from Russia-gate were brief and that an incipient constitutional coup might be underway with him as the target.

However, if those coup suspicions have any truth – and I realize many Americans do not want to accept the notion that their country has a “deep state” – firing Comey may fuel Trump’s troubles rather than end them.

Trump clearly is unpopular not only among Democrats but many Republicans who see him as an unprincipled interloper with a nasty Twitter finger. The Comey firing is sure to spark new demands for a special prosecutor or at least more aggressive investigations by Congress and the press.

Watergate Comparisons

Although Democrats had condemned Comey for his interference in the Clinton campaign, they now are rallying to Comey’s side because they viewed him as a key instrument for removing Trump from office. After Comey’s firing, from The New York Times to CNN, the mainstream media was filled with comparisons to Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up.

One of the few voices commending Trump for his action, not surprisingly, came from Carter Page, who briefly served as a Trump foreign policy adviser and has found himself in the crosshairs of a high-powered counterintelligence investigation as a result.

“It is encouraging that further steps toward restoring justice in America have been taken with the termination and removal from office of FBI Director James Comey,” Page said in a statement.

“Although I have never met President Trump, his strength and judgment in holding senior officials accountable for wrongdoing stands in stark contrast to last year when ordinary private citizens outside of Washington like myself were targeted for exercising their Constitutional rights.

“Under James Comey’s leadership in 2016, I was allegedly the subject of an intensive domestic political intelligence operation instigated by the FBI and based on completely false allegations in a FISA warrant application.”

Yet, despite what Page and other Trump advisers caught up in the Russia-gate probe may hope, the prospects that Comey’s firing will end their ordeal are dim. The near certainty is that whatever Obama and his intelligence chiefs set in motion last year is just beginning.

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




The Silent Slaughter of the US Air War

Exclusive: The U.S. mainstream media voiced moral outrage when Russian warplanes killed civilians in Aleppo but has gone silent as U.S. warplanes slaughter innocents in Mosul and Raqqa, notes Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

April 2017 was another month of mass slaughter and unimaginable terror for the people of Mosul in Iraq and the areas around Raqqa and Tabqa in Syria, as the heaviest, most sustained U.S.-led bombing campaign since the American War in Vietnam entered its 33rd month.

The Airwars monitoring group has compiled reports of 1,280 to 1,744 civilians killed by at least 2,237 bombs and missiles that rained down from U.S. and allied warplanes in April (1,609 on Iraq and 628 on Syria). The heaviest casualties were in and around Old Mosul and West Mosul, where 784 to 1,074 civilians were reported killed, but the area around Tabqa in Syria also suffered heavy civilian casualties.

In other war zones, as I have explained in previous articles (here and here), the kind of “passive” reports of civilian deaths compiled by Airwars have only ever captured between 5 percent and 20 percent of the actual civilian war deaths revealed by comprehensive mortality studies. Iraqbodycount, which used a similar methodology to Airwars, had only counted 8 percent of the deaths discovered by a mortality study in occupied Iraq in 2006.

Airwars appears to be collecting reports of civilian deaths more thoroughly than Iraqbodycount 11 years ago, but it classifies large numbers of them as “contested” or “weakly reported,” and is deliberately conservative in its counting. For instance, in some cases, it has counted local media reports of “many deaths” as a minimum of one death, with no maximum figure. This is not to fault Airwars’ methods, but to recognize its limitations in contributing to an actual estimate of civilian deaths.

Allowing for various interpretations of Airwars’ data, and assuming that, like such efforts in the past, it is capturing between 5 percent and 20 percent of actual deaths, a serious estimate of the number of civilians killed by the U.S.-led bombing campaign since 2014 would by now have to be somewhere between 25,000 and 190,000.

The Pentagon recently revised its own facetious estimate of the number of civilians it has killed in Iraq and Syria since 2014 to 352. That is less than a quarter of the 1,446 victims whom Airwars has positively identified by name.

Airwars has also collected reports of civilians killed by Russian bombing in Syria, which outnumbered its reports of civilians killed by U.S.-led bombing for most of 2016. However, since the U.S.-led bombing escalated to over 10,918 bombs and missiles dropped in the first three months of 2017, the heaviest bombardment since the campaign began in 2014, Airwars’ reports of civilians killed by U.S.-led bombing have surpassed reports of deaths from Russian bombing.

Because of the fragmentary nature of all Airwars’ reports, this pattern may or may not accurately reflect whether the U.S. or Russia has really killed more civilians in each of these periods. There are many factors that could affect that.

For example, Western governments and NGOs have funded and supported the White Helmets and other groups who report civilian casualties caused by Russian bombing, but there is no equivalent Western support for the reporting of civilian casualties from the Islamic State-held areas that the U.S. and its allies are bombing. If Airwars’ reporting is capturing a greater proportion of actual deaths in one area than another due to factors like this, it could lead to differences in the numbers of reported deaths that do not reflect differences in actual deaths.

Shock, Awe … and Silence

To put the 79,000 bombs and missiles with which the U.S. and its allies have bombarded Iraq and Syria since 2014 in perspective, it is worth reflecting back to the “more innocent” days of “Shock and Awe” in March 2003. As NPR reporter Sandy Tolan reported in 2003, one of the architects of that campaign predicted that dropping 29,200 bombs and missiles on Iraq would have, “the non-nuclear equivalent of the impact that the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Japan.”

When “Shock and Awe” was unleashed on Iraq in 2003, it dominated the news all over the world. But after eight years of “disguised, quiet, media-free” war under President Obama, the U.S. mass media don’t even treat the daily slaughter from this heavier, more sustained bombardment of Iraq and Syria as news. They cover single mass casualty events for a few days, but quickly resume normal “Trump Show” programming.

As in George Orwell’s 1984, the public knows that our military forces are at war with somebody somewhere, but the details are sketchy.  “Is that still a thing?” “Isn’t North Korea the big issue now?”

There is almost no political debate in the U.S. over the rights and wrongs of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Never mind that bombing Syria without authorization from its internationally recognized government is a crime of aggression and a violation of the U.N. Charter.  The freedom of the United States to violate the U.N. Charter at will has already been politically (not legally!) normalized by 17 years of serial aggression, from the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

So who will enforce the Charter now to protect civilians in Syria, who already face violence and death from all sides in a bloody civil and proxy war, in which the U.S. was already deeply complicit well before it began bombing Syria in 2014?

In terms of U.S. law, three successive U.S. regimes have claimed that their unconstrained violence is legally justified by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by the U.S. Congress in 2001. But sweeping as it was, that bill said only,

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

How many of the thousands of civilians the U.S. has killed in Mosul in the past few months played any such role in the September 11th terrorist attacks? Every person reading this knows the answer to that question: probably not one of them. If one of them was involved, it would be by sheer coincidence.

Any impartial judge would reject a claim that this legislation authorized 16 years of war in at least eight countries, the overthrow of governments that had nothing to do with 9/11, the killing of about 2 million people and the destabilization of country after country – just as surely as the judges at Nuremberg rejected the German defendants’ claims that they invaded Poland, Norway and the U.S.S.R. to prevent or “preempt” imminent attacks on Germany.

U.S. officials may claim that the 2002 Iraq AUMF legitimizes the bombardment of Mosul. That law at least refers to the same country. But while it is also still on the books, the whole world knew within months of its passage that it used false premises and outright lies to justify overthrowing a government that the U.S. has since destroyed.

The U.S. war in Iraq officially ended with the withdrawal of the last U.S. occupation forces in 2011. The AUMF did not and could not possibly have approved allying with a new regime in Iraq 14 years later to attack one of its cities and kill thousands of its people.

Caught in a Web of War Propaganda

Do we really not know what war is? Has it been too long since Americans experienced war on our own soil? Perhaps. But as thankfully distant as war may be from most of our daily lives, we cannot pretend that we do not know what it is or what horrors it brings.

This month, two friends and I visited our Congresswoman’s office representing our local Peace Action affiliate, Peace Justice Sustainability Florida, to ask her to cosponsor legislation to prohibit a U.S. nuclear first strike; to repeal the 2001 AUMF; to vote against the military budget; to cut off funding for the deployment of U.S. ground troops to Syria; and to support diplomacy, not war, with North Korea.

When one of my friends explained that he’d fought in Vietnam and started to talk about what he’d witnessed there, he had to stop to keep from crying. But the staffer didn’t need him to go on. She knew what he was talking about. We all do.

But if we all have to see dead and wounded children in the flesh before we can grasp the horror of war and take serious action to stop it and prevent it, then we face a bleak and bloody future. As my friend and too many like him have learned at incalculable cost, the best time to stop a war is before it starts, and the main lesson to learn from every war is: “Never again!”

Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump won the presidency partly by presenting themselves as “peace” candidates. This was a carefully calculated and calibrated element in both their campaigns, given the pro-war records of their main opponents, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. The American public’s aversion to war is a factor that every U.S. president and politician has to deal with, and promising peace before spinning us into war is an American political tradition that dates back to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.

As Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering admitted to American military psychologist Gustave Gilbert in his cell at Nuremberg, “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” Gilbert insisted, “In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

Goering was unimpressed by Madison‘s and Hamilton’s cherished constitutional safeguards. “Oh, that is all well and good,” he replied, “but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Our commitment to peace and our abhorrence of war are too easily undermined by the simple but timeless techniques Goering described. In the U.S. today, they are enhanced by several other factors, most of which also had parallels in World War Two Germany:

–Mass media that suppress public awareness of the human costs of war, especially when U.S. policy or U.S. forces are responsible.

–A media blackout on voices of reason who advocate alternative policies based on peace, diplomacy or the rule of international law.

–In the ensuing silence regarding rational alternatives, politicians and media present “doing something,” meaning war, as the only alternative to the perennial straw man of “doing nothing.”

–The normalization of war by stealth and deception, especially by public figures otherwise seen as trustworthy, like President Obama.

–The dependence of progressive politicians and organizations on funding from labor unions that have become junior partners in the military industrial complex.

–The political framing of U.S. disputes with other countries as entirely the result of actions by the other side, and the demonization of foreign leaders to dramatize and popularize these false narratives.

–The pretense that the U.S. role in overseas wars and global military occupation stems from a well-meaning desire to help people, not from U.S. strategic ambitions and business interests.

Taken altogether, this amounts to a system of war propaganda, in which the heads of TV networks bear a share of responsibility for the resulting atrocities along with political and military leaders. Trotting out retired generals to bombard the home front with euphemistic jargon, without disclosing the hefty directors’ and consultants’ fees they collect from weapons manufacturers, is only one side of this coin.

The equally important flip-side is the media’s failure to even cover wars or the U.S. role in them, and their systematic marginalization of anyone who suggests there is anything morally or legally wrong with America’s wars.

The Pope and Gorbachev

Pope Francis recently suggested that a third party could act as a mediator to help resolve our country’s nearly 70-year-old conflict with North Korea. The Pope suggested Norway. Even more importantly, the Pope framed the problem as a dispute between the United States and North Korea, not, as U.S. officials do, as North Korea posing a problem or a threat to the rest of the world.

This is how diplomacy works best, by correctly and honestly identifying the roles that different parties are playing in a dispute or a conflict, and then working to resolve their disagreements and conflicting interests in a way that both sides can live with or even benefit from. The JCPOA that resolved the U.S. dispute with Iran over its civilian nuclear program is a good example of how this can work.

This kind of real diplomacy is a far cry from the brinksmanship, threats and aggressive alliances that have masqueraded as diplomacy under a succession of U.S. presidents and secretaries of state since Truman and Acheson, with few exceptions. The persistent desire of much of the U.S. political class to undermine the JCPOA with Iran is a measure of how U.S. officials cling to the use of threats and brinksmanship and are offended that the “exceptional” United States should have to come down from its high horse and negotiate in good faith with other countries.

At the root of these dangerous policies, as historian William Appleman Williams wrote in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy in 1959, lies the mirage of supreme military power that seduced U.S. leaders after the allied victory in the Second World War and the invention of nuclear weapons. After running headlong into the reality of an unconquerable post-colonial world in Vietnam, this American Dream of ultimate power faded briefly, only to be reborn with a vengeance after the end of the Cold War.

Much as its defeat in the First World War was not decisive enough to convince Germany that its military ambitions were doomed, a new generation of U.S. leaders saw the end of the Cold War as their chance to “kick the Vietnam syndrome” and revive America’s tragic bid for “full spectrum dominance.”

As Mikhail Gorbachev lamented in a speech in Berlin on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2014, “the West, and particularly the United States, declared victory in the Cold War. Euphoria and triumphalism went to the heads of Western leaders. Taking advantage of Russia’s weakening and the lack of a counterweight, they claimed monopoly leadership and domination of the world, refusing to heed words of caution from many of those present here.”

This post-Cold War triumphalism has predictably led us into an even more convoluted maze of delusions, disasters and dangers than the Cold War itself. The folly of our leaders’ insatiable ambitions and recurrent flirtations with mass extinction are best symbolized by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, whose hands once again stand at two and a half minutes to midnight.

The inability of the costliest war machine ever assembled to defeat lightly-armed resistance forces in country after country, or to restore stability to any of the countries it has destroyed, has barely dented the domestic power of the U.S. military-industrial complex over our political institutions and our national resources. Neither millions of deaths, trillions of dollars wasted, nor abject failure on its own terms has slowed the mindless spread and escalation of the “global war on terror.”

Futurists debate whether robotic technology and artificial intelligence will one day lead to a world in which autonomous robots could launch a war to enslave and destroy the human race, maybe even incorporating humans as components of the machines that will bring about our extinction. In the U.S. armed forces and military industrial complex, have we already created exactly such a semi-human, semi-technological organism that will not stop bombing, killing and destroying unless and until we stop it in its tracks and dismantle it?

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.




European Union’s Democracy Dilemma

Exclusive: The European elites want the European Union as a means for controlling the Continent’s economies, but that often requires overriding the popular will of nation states, a dilemma for “democracy,” explains Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus

A sigh of relief was heard across Europe on Sunday night, as far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was beaten soundly in the French presidential runoff election, losing to centrist Emmanuel Macron 66 percent to 34 percent.

Le Pen had come in a close second to Macron in the first round of voting two weeks earlier, less than three points back (24 percent to 21.3 percent) in a crowded field that also included conservative Francois Fillon (20 percent) and leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19.6 percent) among the top vote-getters.

Le Pen capitalized on the anti-establishment fervor sweeping the Western world to challenge for the top spot with a strong critique of financial globalization and the European Union (E.U.), mixed in with her party’s historical message of nationalism with racist overtones. Together with Mélenchon, the first round saw over 40 percent of the votes go to these “extreme” candidates, indicating the presence of widespread dissatisfaction with the political élites and their current economic and social policies.

The fear among European political institutions was that Le Pen’s anti-E.U. message would either carry her to the presidency or at least call into question France’s adherence to the institutions that have transferred large chunks of sovereignty from the single nations of Europe to a supranational bureaucracy.

Macron, on the other hand, defended the E.U. despite recognizing widespread disaffection regarding European institutions. He stressed the need to restore confidence in the Union, while adopting a peculiar argument about how Europe is actually the best instrument to defend the sovereignty of its member states.

His decisive victory in the runoff election, although somewhat tainted by record levels of abstention and blank or spoiled ballots, is causing optimism among pro-E.U. politicians, who are now able to counter the populist narrative with the democratic election of a pro-European president of France.

This argument merits considerable skepticism, as the assumption of majority support for the supranational E.U. institutions based on the election of a national leader is quite a leap. Indeed the issue of the democratic legitimacy of the E.U. itself is a thorny one, due to electoral failures and questionable tactics used to ensure the construction of unpopular international bodies that impose profound changes in economic and social policies among the Union’s member states.

Why the E.U.

The origins of the E.U. go back to the 1950s. First there was the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, an agreement for regulation of industrial production among six countries: France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Then came the Rome Treaties of 1957, which gave birth to the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

The stated goal, encouraged by the United States in the context of the Cold War, was to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,” principally through economic cooperation based on the European “common market.” Over the subsequent decades the communities expanded to include 12 countries, an alliance of independent nation-states seeking increasing cooperation at the European level.

A phase shift began in the 1990s. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 transformed the communities into the European Union, and defined a path that would lead to the single currency, the Euro. Other countries were also invited to join, gradually bringing the total up to 28 Member States by 2013, although only 19 of them would participate in the monetary union. The new model of cooperation was that defined in 1992, with the goal of moving towards a single super-state based not only on economic union, but political union as well.

This goal immediately ran into a major obstacle: the popular will. Only three countries held referendums on the Maastricht Treaty: Ireland, France and Denmark. The first two were successful, but the population of Denmark voted against it. This would have been the death knell for the Treaty, so a decision was made to hold a second referendum, in which Maastricht was subsequently approved. The other participating countries merely had their Parliaments vote up the Treaty, so as to avoid the risk of a popular rejection.

The next big step in economic policy was called the Stability and Growth Pact, implementing stricter budget rules based on specific deficit/GDP and debt/GDP parameters. For years the Pact was the key instrument for imposing continuous austerity on the Member States. Here there was no attempt at obtaining approval even of the Parliaments, as the Stability and Growth Pact was enacted simply as an E.U. Regulation in 1997.

Risking Legitimacy

As economic and monetary policy became increasingly centralized and rigid, the risk of a lack of political legitimacy was evident. The response was to attempt the construction of a strong European government, by drawing up an E.U. Constitution.

Given the direct effect on sovereignty, some countries held referenda on the text, starting with France and the Netherlands. In 2005, the French rejected the proposed constitution 55 percent to 45 percent, just a few days before the Dutch did the same, with an even higher margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.

The idea of creating a “United States of Europe” had been stopped in its tracks, rejected by the democratic vote of two important Member States. A normal response would have been to recognize that the peoples of Europe weren’t ready for full integration, but the institutions decided to go in a different direction.

Since a Constitution wouldn’t pass, they began drawing up a new treaty with essentially the same goal; the advantage was that a treaty could simply be passed by the Parliaments, avoiding putting it before the voters.

The result was the Lisbon Treaty, another step forward in consolidating the supranational power of the structures of the European Union. The path to ratification met only one serious obstacle, the requirement established by the Irish Supreme Court of holding a referendum on any treaties that go beyond the “essential scope or objectives” of existing E.U. documents. In 2008 the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty, throwing a wrench into this plan as well. Never fear, the Irish government called a second referendum a year later, and through a number of carrots and sticks the population was induced to pass it the second time.

The Lisbon Treaty entered in force in 2009, and remains the framework for the new form of the European Union, strengthening institutions, which from the 1990s on have been able to dictate economic policy to the member governments, thus keeping everyone in line with the policy orientation of the transatlantic élites.

Finding a Way

The case of Ireland shows the preferred method of European institutions for consolidating E.U. authority. First a goal is set, and then the method is chosen to meet it. If the most influential European politicians agree, the consent of the governed becomes merely an annoying detail to get around however possible.

In subsequent years additional treaties were passed with practically no public debate at all. One of the most important is the European Fiscal Compact (2012), an even stricter version of the Stability and Growth Pact, which obliges Member States to balance their budgets and reduce their debt.

To get a flavor for the ideology, consider the provision of the “debt brake”: any country that fails to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio to below 60 percent is required to cut the debt by 5 percent each year for 20 straight years; a level of austerity that in some countries would require massive cuts in essential services.

The preferred method for moving forward with European integration raises serious questions. If the only way to create a United States of Europe is to avoid consulting the people, why should the goal even be pursued? The response often heard is based on circular reasoning: Europe needs to be built in order to meet the needs of the people, then the people will understand why it’s so important.

In the elections held so far this year in European countries, the anti-E.U. candidates have increased their votes considerably, but have not made it into the halls of power. For most of the European political class this is a relief, as they feared an imitation effect after the anti-establishment Brexit vote in June 2016 and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. last November.

It would be a mistake, however, to consider the rejection of far-right candidates an endorsement of greater integration of European nations through supranational institutions, that to date have proved not only unable to deal with the economic effects of globalization, but also impervious to the democratic opinions of European citizens.

Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. His book on the U.S. elections Perchè vince Trump (Why Trump is Winning) was published in June 2016.




Turning Gen. Flynn into Road Kill

Exclusive: Although no actual evidence was presented, two ex-Obama administration officials destroyed the reputation of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, portraying him as a liar and a potential traitor, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Not to defend retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for his suspect judgment, but it should be noted that his case represents a disturbing example of how electronic surveillance and politicized law enforcement can destroy an American citizen’s life in today’s New McCarthyism.

The testimony on Monday by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper offered no evidence of Flynn’s wrongdoing – those facts were deemed “classified” – yet the pair thoroughly destroyed Flynn’s reputation, portraying him as both a liar and a potential traitor.

That Senate Democrats, in particular, saw nothing troubling about this smearing of the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and, briefly, President Trump’s national security adviser was itself troubling. Republicans were a bit more skeptical but no one, it seemed, wanted to be labeled as soft on Russia.

So, there was no skepticism toward Yates’s curious assertion that Flynn’s supposed lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the details of a phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak somehow opened Flynn to Russian blackmail – her core explanation for why she rushed to Trump’s White House with warnings of this allegedly grave danger.

Yates also talked ominously about “underlying” information that raised further questions about Flynn’s patriotism, but that evidence, too, couldn’t be shared with the American people; it was classified, leaving it to your imagination the depth of Flynn’s perfidy.

Despite the thinness of Yates’s charges – and the echoes of Sen. Joe McCarthy with his secret lists of communists that he wouldn’t release – the mainstream U.S. news media has bestowed on Yates a hero status without any concern that she might be exaggerating the highly unlikely possibility that the Russians would have blackmailed Flynn.

Her supposition was that since Vice President Mike Pence’s account of the Kislyak-Flynn conversation deviated somewhat from the details of what was actually said, the Russians would seize on the discrepancy to coerce Flynn to do their bidding.

But that really makes no sense, in part, because even if the Russians did pick up the discrepancy, they would assume correctly that U.S. intelligence had its own transcript of the conversation, so there would be no basis for blackmail.

Yates’s supposed alarm might make for a good spy novel but it has little or no basis in the real world. But it is hard for Americans to assess her claims because all the key facts are classified.

Ignorance Is Strength

The public does not even know what was said between Kislyak and Flynn on Dec. 29, 2016, when Kislyak called Flynn, who was on vacation in the Dominican Republic. The two apparently discussed the worsening U.S.-Russian relations, since President Obama had just imposed new sanctions on Russia, but it’s unclear how specific the references to the sanctions were.

The details are important here, as is the fact that Flynn might well have failed to recall all the details because he was not at his office and did not have staff support for note-taking or recording. For all we know, Flynn was in his bathing suit, Pina Colada in hand.

So, the assumption that Flynn was intentionally lying when he later briefed Pence and other colleagues is a stretch. Yet he is being convicted in the court of public opinion without the evidence being presented or without him getting a serious chance to defend himself.

Yates’s own motives might also deserve examination. Her behavior has the look of a partisan prosecutor who likely would have been in line for a top job under President Hillary Clinton. Would that influence her eagerness to twist facts to destroy Flynn and hurt Flynn’s boss?

After all, the mood inside the Obama administration in its final days was one of doing whatever it could to strengthen the “resistance” to the incoming Trump administration. After the Inauguration, there were massive anti-Trump protests with calls for Obama holdovers to join the #Resistance. Yates, as an Obama holdover and acting Attorney General, was in a perfect position to “resist.”

While the anti-Trump sentiment was understandable in a political sense, it created a motive for Yates to exaggerate an alleged threat and thus initiate an immediate crisis inside the Trump administration, a goal that she accomplished.

There was also a payback factor against Flynn who had infamously joined in the Republican National Convention’s chant of “lock her up.” Thus, Clinton partisans had a strong motive to create the circumstances to lock Flynn up, which now seems quite possible.

Rush to Judgment

Yet, amid this rush to judgment on Russia-gate, the American public hasn’t had a chance to hear from Flynn or the other Trump advisers who have been portrayed as Russian agents based on innuendo, including the contents of an opposition research dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer and apparently funded by unknown Clinton supporters.

Taking another step backward, we don’t even know the evidence behind the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. To back up those charges, President Obama’s intelligence chiefs issued a sketchy report on Jan. 6, 2017, that offered no evidence – only assertions – about Russian operatives hacking into Democratic email accounts and then somehow slipping the information to WikiLeaks.

The Russian government and WikiLeaks both deny that scenario, and the Jan. 6 report does little more than repeat over and over how confident its writers are that Russia is guilty.

On Monday, former DNI Clapper did clarify one point that Democrats have consistently misstated: that the report was not the consensus judgment of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, but rather was the work of just three of the agencies: Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But the bigger problem with the Jan. 6 report is that it was entirely one-sided, citing reasons to believe the Russians were guilty but ignoring equally strong reasons to doubt the Russians’ guilt.

For instance, the report focused on Russia’s presumed motive for “hacking” and distributing emails harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s concern that Clinton would be a threat to worsen the already frayed relationship between the two nuclear superpowers.

But the report ignores the downside for Russia trying to interfere with the U.S. election campaign and then failing to stop Clinton, which looked like the most likely outcome until Election Night.

If Russia had accessed Democratic emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication, Putin would have to think that the National Security Agency, with its exceptional ability to track electronic communications around the world, might well have detected the maneuver and would have informed Clinton.

So, on top of Clinton’s well-known hawkishness, Putin would have risked handing the expected incoming U.S. president a personal reason to take revenge on him and his country. Historically, Russia has been very circumspect in such situations, usually holding its intelligence collections for internal purposes only, not sharing them with the public.

While it is conceivable that Putin decided to take this extraordinary risk in this case – despite the widely held view that Clinton was a shoo-in to defeat Trump – an objective DNI report would have examined this counter argument for him not doing so.

But the DNI report was not driven by a desire to be evenhanded; it was, in effect, a prosecutor’s brief, albeit one that lacked any real evidence that the accused is guilty.

The DNI report also included a seven-page appendix, dating from 2012, that is an argumentative attack on RT, the Russian government-backed television network, which is accused of portraying “the US electoral process as undemocratic.”

The proof for that accusation includes RT’s articles on “voting machine vulnerabilities” although virtually every major U.S. news organization has run similar stories, including some during the last campaign on the feasibility of Russia hacking into the actual voting process, something that even U.S. intelligence says didn’t happen.

The report adds that further undermining Americans’ faith in the U.S. democratic process, “RT broadcast, hosted and advertised third-party candidate debates.” Apparently, the DNI’s point is that showing Americans that there are choices beyond the two major parties is somehow seditious.

“The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham,’” the report said. Yet, polls have shown exactly that sentiment, that large numbers of Americans would prefer more choices than the usual two candidates and, indeed, most Western democracies have multiple parties.

So, RT’s implicit criticism of the U.S. political process is certainly not out of the ordinary. It is extraordinary, however, that the U.S. intelligence community would consider that by allowing American third-party nominees to express their opinions, RT was somehow subverting the American democratic process.

The report also takes RT to task for covering the Occupy Wall Street movement and for reporting on the environmental dangers from “fracking,” topics cited as further proof that the Russian government was using RT to weaken U.S. public support for Washington’s policies (although, again, these are topics of genuine public interest).

Given the weakness – indeed the absurdity – of these attacks on RT, Americans might have reason to wonder how strong the evidence is regarding the 2016 election, too. But we are not allowed to see that evidence at all. It’s classified.

As for Michael Flynn, there may well be legitimate criticism of him for agreeing to give a paid speech at RT’s tenth anniversary in 2015, apparently without clearing it with the Pentagon.

I’m also told that Flynn made friends with some Russian military officers whom he met amid Russia’s cooperation with the U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and in the fight against terrorism.

Of course, President Obama himself developed a cooperative relationship with President Putin and his predecessor Dmitri Medvedev. Putin played a key role in persuading Iran to accept tight constraints on its nuclear program, an agreement that Obama considered his greatest foreign policy achievement.

It was only after the U.S.-orchestrated putsch in Ukraine in early 2014 and Russia’s reaction to a new hostile regime on its borders that the U.S.-Russia relationship became clearly antagonistic. Though most U.S. politicians and the media solely blame Putin and Russia, an objective assessment would put blame on the U.S. side as well.

But objectivity is in very short supply in today’s Washington, especially since the embittered Democrats saw in Trump’s hopes for restoring a more cooperative relationship with Russia a political vulnerability that could be exploited with the prospect that the scandal could be expanded into possible impeachment.

In Official Washington’s view, Michael Flynn becomes just road kill in the larger competition for power.

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).




Dems Still Blaming Others for Trump

Failed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton suggests she would have gone to war in Syria by now, but Democrats still can’t grasp why some “peace” voters defected to third parties, as Nat Parry explains.

By Nat Parry

In the latest installment from The Election That Will Not End, a renewed attack on third party supporters for supposedly enabling Donald Trump’s surprise victory last year is making headlines, with political commentator Bill Maher leading the charge against those who could not bring themselves to supporting the Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine Democratic ticket in Election 2016.

Singling out Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and leading academic Cornel West – who backed Stein in the general election – Maher suggests that they may be mentally defective for suggesting that Trump and Clinton both represented potential threats to the country and the world. “Have you lost your fucking minds?” Maher asks. “Go fuck yourselves with a locally grown organic cucumber,” Maher tells the “liberal purists” who allegedly cost Clinton the election.

This renewed assault on Stein ignores the fact that her share of the vote was statistically negligible and there were far more people who chose not to vote or had their votes suppressed. Investigative journalist Greg Palast, for instance, has shown that tens of thousands of voters may have been improperly purged from the rolls in key states such as Michigan, which likely had a greater effect on the electoral outcome than Stein’s vote totals. The analysis also rests on the flawed assumption that all of Stein’s votes would have gone to Clinton had the Green Party not been competing.

Nevertheless, the attacks on Stein and West represent the latest salvo in a rather undemocratic and disingenuous effort to shame individuals who have decided to reject the limited choices offered by the two-party system and are exercising their democratic right to build independent political movements. This right is enshrined in a number of international human rights accords agreed to by the U.S. government, but apparently is still rather controversial in the United States.

For the most part, Democratic and Republican partisans grudgingly accept the right of other political parties to compete (even if no one should vote for them, of course, so as not to “spoil” the election), but in some cases they come out and actually make their true views known that parties such as the Greens and Libertarians should simply not exist.

This was the case last week when a Democrat named Abbey Bartletmitzvah tweeted that “the Green Party does a disservice to America by existing,” a statement that was unique only in that it openly stated the desire among two-party system defenders for the elimination of any challenge to this system. More often, Democrats just lob accusations at Greens and independent voters insinuating that they are personally responsible for all the problems in the world.

Following the House vote to repeal Obamacare last week, for example, the Green Party reiterated its longstanding call for a universal health care model like those enjoyed by most of the world only to be met with hatred and anger by Democrats still seething over their loss a half-year ago.

“You’re responsible for this!” one hysterical Twitter user responded. “You & your minions brought this on us,” said another. “You realize you are the fucking reason Trumpcare is a thing, right?” asked another.

Quasi-Official Parties

There is a tinge of unfairness to the implication that every one of Trump’s misdeeds can be laid at the feet of dissidents who refused to vote in line with the Democratic Party establishment. Considering that many of these people have long been committed to activism only to come to the painful conclusion that the answers they are looking for could not be found in voting for one of the two quasi-official U.S. parties, it can be difficult for third party voters to accept that they are responsible for everything from the Supreme Court to climate change.

There are also some mixed messages in the U.S. approach to multi-party democracy, with on one hand, alternative parties being allowed to exist, but on the other hand, anyone who votes for them coming under criticism as “spoilers.” If Democrats were more upfront in their desire to ensure that voters have no options other than choosing between the Democratic or Republican parties, they might consider introducing legislation declaring these two parties as the officially recognized parties in the United States and prohibiting other parties from competing.

Of course, this would place the U.S. on par with totalitarian states and in clear violation of international standards for democratic elections, but at least the ambiguity would be removed as to whether third parties are allowed to compete or not. Voters would also have more clarity on whether they are permitted to cast ballots for these renegade parties.

But coming out and expressly banning third parties is not likely to happen because, for one, it could raise international concerns about the U.S. commitment to basic democratic principles and, perhaps more importantly, it would deprive supporters of the two-party system of one of their favorite scapegoats.

Democratic critics of the Greens take delight in pointing out their lack of electoral success on the national level, highlighting this as a repudiation of the Green Party platform and as legitimation of the Democrats.  But despite the fact that the Greens’ lack of success means that the Greens have never actually held power, they are still routinely blamed for all the country’s problems.

Straw Man Arguments

There is also a tendency to distort the primary arguments of Green Party backers, with straw man arguments set up such as “Clinton and Trump are the same.” This is called the “false equivalence” argument, which Democrats enjoy shooting down with counter-points about Trump’s cabinet picks and xenophobic policies such as the “Muslim ban” and the proposed Mexico border wall.

The implication is that Republicans are obviously much worse than Democrats in all respects, so the “liberal purists” who may object to Clinton’s hawkishness or close ties to Wall Street are just being unrealistic and holding her to a different standard. Clinton alluded to this straw man argument herself in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week.

Pointing to a number of factors that she says cost her the election – mainly the “Comey letter,” which had informed Congress prior to the election that the FBI was reopening its examination of her use of a private email server as Secretary of State, and what she called “Russian Wikileaks,” which had shared with the public excerpts of her paid Wall Street speeches and revealed collusion between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to sideline insurgent Bernie Sanders’ candidacy in the primaries – she complained that she had to overcome not only those obstacles, but also an “enormous barrage of negativity, of false equivalence, of so much else.”

Clinton’s “false equivalence” charge is one that is familiar to supporters of third parties, who are often accused of engaging in this logical fallacy when weighing options and evaluating candidates. When people decide that they cannot in good conscience support either of the candidates nominated by the two major parties, they are routinely accused of drawing a “false equivalence,” i.e. falsely claiming that “they are all the same,” when in fact this is rarely the view of people who decide on a third party option.

While the factors for people opting for a third party candidate are complex and varied, one of the main reasons is simply that the candidate is expressing views that the voter identifies with. Of course, this is the essence of democracy – being able to freely cast your vote for a candidate who represents your interests without fear of retribution or having to defend yourself against recriminations – but apparently it is still considered a radical concept in the United States.

Regime Change Wars

Ironically, in the same Amanpour interview in which Clinton warned against “false equivalence,” she also offered a substantive policy reminder of why many peace-minded voters decided they could not cast a ballot for the former Secretary of State who has built a reputation as a hawkish interventionist and a vocal proponent of regime change operations from Iraq to Libya to Syria.

In discussing Trump’s approach to Syria, Clinton said she supported the recent U.S. missile strike targeting a Syrian airfield, but nevertheless complained that it was too limited in scope and perhaps may have even been coordinated with Russia in order to keep East-West tensions under control.

“I am not convinced that it really made much of a difference, and I don’t know what kind of potentially backroom deals were made with the Russians,” Clinton told Amanpour. “There’s a lot that we don’t really yet fully know about what was part of that strike. And if after all it was a one-off effort, it’s not going to have much of an effect.”

In other words, Trump erred not by firing 59 cruise missiles against Syria, which violated international law and resulted in numerous civilian casualties, but by limiting the scope of this attack. The clear implication is that if Clinton were president, it would not have been “a one-off effort,” and probably would not have been done in consultation with Russia.

Instead, Clinton would likely be making U.S. intervention in Syria a centerpiece of her foreign policy, and would show little concern over how this might spiral out of control in terms of ratcheting up tensions – or all-out military confrontation – with nuclear-armed Russia.

So, despite what Democratic partisans may insist, in fact, there is reason to believe that in some ways, a hypothetical Clinton presidency may indeed have brought many of its own dangers. While a Muslim ban may not have been in the cards in a Clinton administration, another U.S. war in the Middle East certainly was. In some ways this vindicates the arguments of those who decided to cast a vote for an alternative to Clinton or Trump, or what Wikileaks’ Julian Assange likened to a choice between “cholera or gonorrhea.”

And indeed, despite the ongoing efforts to blame third party supporters for the calamities of the Trump presidency – most recently exemplified by Bill Maher’s malicious attacks on Stein and West – interestingly, public opinion surveys continue to indicate that many Americans are increasingly open to alternatives to the two-party system.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that if the election were held today, Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson would likely fare better than they did six months ago. While Stein and Johnson only received 2 and 4 percent of the vote, respectively, on Nov. 8, if the election took place now, 3 percent would vote for Stein and 5 percent for Johnson, the poll found.

This growing support for third parties reflects longstanding public-opinion trends in which Americans appear to be clamoring for alternatives, as shown in polling last year, and may stem from the fact that large numbers of Americans find that the two major parties do not represent their interests.

Indeed, in the same poll that found growing support for Stein and Johnson, 62 percent of voters said that the Republican Party is out of touch with Americans, and 67 percent said Democrats were out of touch.

If many Democrats have their way though, these disaffected voters would have no other options outside of the two-party system.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. [This article first appeared at https://essentialopinion.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/renewed-recriminations-over-election-2016/ ]




East Timor’s Suffering and Survival

East Timor, which gained its independence from Indonesia in 1999 after suffering years of genocide, is now a beacon of democracy in Asia but faces new colonial pressures from globalization, writes John Pilger.

By John Pilger

Filming undercover in East Timor in 1993, I followed a landscape of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses marching down the hillsides, crosses beside the road. They littered the earth and crowded the eye.

The inscriptions on the crosses revealed the extinction of whole families, wiped out in the space of a year, a month, a day. Village after village stood as memorials.

Kraras is one such village. Known as the “village of the widows,” the population of 287 people was murdered by Indonesian troops. Using a typewriter with a faded ribbon, a local priest had recorded the name, age, cause of death and date of the killing of every victim. In the last column, he identified the Indonesian battalion responsible for each murder. It was evidence of genocide.

I still have this document, which I find difficult to put down, as if the blood of East Timor is fresh on its pages. On the list is the dos Anjos family.

In 1987, I interviewed Arthur Stevenson, known as Steve, a former Australian commando who had fought the Japanese in the Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1942. He told me the story of Celestino dos Anjos, whose ingenuity and bravery had saved his life, and the lives of other Australian soldiers fighting behind Japanese lines.

Steve described the day leaflets fluttered down from a Royal Australian Air Force plane; “We shall never forget you,” the leaflets said. Soon afterwards, the Australians were ordered to abandon the island of Timor, leaving the people to their fate.

When I met Steve, he had just received a letter from Celestino’s son, Virgillo, who was the same age as his own son. Virgillo wrote that his father had survived the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, but he went on: “In August 1983, Indonesian forces entered our village, Kraras. They looted, burned and massacred, with fighter aircraft overhead. On 27 September 1983, they made my father and my wife dig their own graves and they machine-gunned them. My wife was pregnant.”

Shaming Indonesia’s Accomplices

The Kraras list is an extraordinary political document that shames Indonesia’s Faustian partners in the West and teaches us how much of the world is run. The fighter aircraft that attacked Kraras came from the United States; the machine guns and surface-to-air missiles came from Britain; the silence and betrayal came from Australia.

The priest of Kraras wrote on the final page: “To the capitalist governors of the world, Timor’s petroleum smells better than Timorese blood and tears. Who will take this truth to the world? … It is evident that Indonesia would never have committed such a crime if it had not received favourable guarantees from [Western] governments.”

As the Indonesian dictator General Suharto was about to invade East Timor (the Portuguese had abandoned their colony), he tipped off the ambassadors of Australia, the United States and Britain. In secret cables subsequently leaked, the Australian ambassador, Richard Woolcott, urged his government to “act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia.” He alluded to the beckoning spoils of oil and gas in the Timor Sea that separated the island from northern Australia.

There was no word of concern for the Timorese.

In my experience as a reporter, East Timor was the greatest crime of the late Twentieth Century. I had much to do with Cambodia, yet not even Pol Pot put to death as many people — proportionally — as Suharto killed and starved in East Timor.

In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament estimated that “at least 200,000” East Timorese, a third of the population, had perished under Suharto.

Australia was the only Western country formally to recognize Indonesia’s genocidal conquest. The murderous Indonesian special forces known as Kopassus were trained by Australian special forces at a base near Perth. The prize in resources, said Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, was worth “zillions” of dollars.

Champagne Toasts

In my 1994 film, “Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy,” a gloating Evans is filmed lifting a champagne glass as he and Ali Alatas, Suharto’s foreign minister, fly over the Timor Sea, having signed a piratical treaty that divided the oil and gas riches of the Timor Sea.

I also filmed witnesses such as Abel Gutteras, now the Ambassador of Timor-Leste (East Timor’s post independence name) to Australia. He told me, “We believe we can win and we can count on all those people in the world to listen — that nothing is impossible, and peace and freedom are always worth fighting for.”

Remarkably, they did win. Many people all over the world did hear them, and a tireless movement added to the pressure on Suharto’s backers in Washington, London and Canberra to abandon the dictator.

But there was also a silence. For years, the free press of the complicit countries all but ignored East Timor. There were honorable exceptions, such as the courageous Max Stahl, who filmed the 1991 massacre in the Santa Cruz cemetery. Leading journalists almost literally fell at the feet of Suharto. In a photograph of a group of Australian editors visiting Jakarta, led by the Murdoch editor Paul Kelly, one of them is bowing to Suharto, the genocidist.

From 1999 to 2002, the Australian Government took an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue from one oil and gas field in the Timor Sea. During the same period, Australia gave less than $200 million in so-called aid to East Timor.

In 2002, two months before East Timor won its independence, as Ben Doherty reported in January, “Australia secretly withdrew from the maritime boundary dispute resolution procedures of the UN convention the Law of the Sea, and the equivalent jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, so that it could not be compelled into legally binding international arbitration.”

The former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has described his government’s role in East Timor’s independence as “noble.” Howard’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer, once burst into the cabinet room in Dili, East Timor, and told Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, “We are very tough … Let me give you a tutorial in politics …”

Today, it is Timor-Leste that is giving the tutorial in politics. After years of trickery and bullying by Canberra, the people of Timor-Leste have demanded and won the right to negotiate before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) a legal maritime boundary and a proper share of the oil and gas.

Australia owes Timor Leste a huge debt — some would say, billions of dollars in reparations. Australia should hand over, unconditionally, all royalties collected since Gareth Evans toasted Suharto’s dictatorship while flying over the graves of its victims.

The Globalization Threat

The Economist lauds Timor-Leste as the most democratic country in southeast Asia today. Is that an accolade? Or does it mean approval of a small and vulnerable country joining the great game of globalization?

For the weakest, globalization is an insidious colonialism that enables transnational finance and its camp-followers to penetrate deeper, as Edward Said wrote, than the old imperialists in their gun boats.

It can mean a model of development that gave Indonesia, under Suharto, gross inequality and corruption; that drove people off their land and into slums, then boasted about a growth rate.

The people of Timor-Leste deserve better than faint praise from the “capitalist governors of the world,” as the priest of Kraras wrote. They did not fight and die and vote for entrenched poverty and a growth rate. They deserve the right to sustain themselves when the oil and gas run out as it will. At the very least, their courage ought to be a beacon in our memory: a universal political lesson.

Bravo, Timor-Leste. Bravo and beware.

On May 5, John Pilger was presented with the Order of Timor-Leste by East Timor’s Ambassador to Australia, Abel Gutteras, in recognition of his reporting on East Timor under Indonesia’s brutal occupation, especially his landmark documentary film, “Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy.”