Hiding the Ugly Business of Torture

Exclusive: A grisly feature of the “war on terror” was America’s descent into torture, but the powers-that-be have decided that the common folk shouldn’t worry their little heads about this ugliness, reports ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

So, you did not believe in the power of the Deep State? Well, you may change your mind after reading a report in The New York Times that the powers-that-be in Washington are about to deep-six the 6,700-page Senate report based on original CIA cables and other documents that not only depict savage torture practices during the George W. Bush era, but also show that CIA officials consistently lied in claiming these heinous practices yielded information of any intelligence value.

In what amounts to a gross violation of the public trust – not to mention his oath to the Constitution – Senate Intelligence Committee chair, Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, has recalled all copies and will put the report under lock and key for good – dismissing it as a “footnote in history.”

The only hope for those of us who want to see torturers held accountable is that some patriotic truthteller has – or will – put the report on a thumb drive and send it off to WikiLeaks or some other brave outlet that will publish it.

Small wonder that those agencies and individuals involved in the torture and those – like Burr – who are afraid of the torturers want to keep the report from public view. According to the Times, the full report describes interrogation sessions “in great detail.” It also “explains the origins of the program, identifies the officials involved, and offers details on the role of each agency in the secret prison program” in which detainees were tortured.

Is that why, when copies of the original report were sent to Executive Branch agencies, no one was allowed to read them? Katherine Hawkins, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, immediately called the return of the report to the Senate committee “extremely disturbing.” She labeled “absurd” that no one in the Executive Branch was permitted to read the Senate report, five years in the making.

What Burr’s subservience to the intelligence agencies that he is supposed to be overseeing tells me is that he will shy away from anything implicating former CIA Director John Brennan and his co-conspirators in other shocking activities.

These include implementing CIA’s “Marble” cyber-attack program, which lets it hack into servers and computers and “obfuscate” who the hacker was (as revealed in original CIA documents released on March 31 by WikiLeaks. (Don’t look for that revelation in the Times, however.)

Yes, you heard that right. Former National Security Agency Technical Director William Binney and I are persuaded that the “hack” into the Democratic National Committee was not done by Russia, but rather by a very sophisticated and expensive program allowing the CIA to hack into computers like those of the DNC and leave little “telltale signs” – like Cyrillic letters, for example – in order to “obfuscate” who did the hacking.

This could also explain why former FBI Director James Comey, who seems to be a charter member of the CIA/NSA/FBI Deep State cabal, refused to let his own technicians get physical access to the DNC computers, out of fear they might discover more than they were cleared for.

What are the chances that Sen. Burr or other “overseers” will ask questions about that?

‘Six Ways from Sunday’

Someone just made the innocent suggestion to me that we ought to complain directly to the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York – a well meaning, but totally naïve idea. Schumer has been outspoken in expressing his fear of “crossing” the Intelligence Community.

On Jan. 3, 2017, Schumer worried aloud to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about Trump taunting U.S. intelligence agencies and its assessments about Russia’s cyber activities.

“He’s being really dumb to do this,” Schumer told Maddow. “Let me tell you, you take on the Intelligence Community; they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you. So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.” (Maddow, who has eagerly pushed the Russia-gate conspiracy theories, didn’t object to this concept that elected politicians should cower before the mighty I.C.)

With Barack Obama, this fear can be traced back nine years to the first sign I saw indicating that Brennan had inordinate influence over the candidate he signed up to work for in the spring of 2008.

In June 2008, when I heard that then-Sen. Barack Obama had flip-flopped on the key question of whether to hold the giant telecom companies accountable for violating our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and had decided to vote for protecting the telecoms from legal liability, that seemed to me a watershed.

On July 3, 2008 I wrote candidate Obama an open letter titled: “It’s a Deal Breaker for This Intelligence Officer: I speak from 30 years of experience in intelligence work. I don’t know who actually briefed you on the eavesdropping legislation, but the bill is unnecessary for intelligence collection and POISON for our civil liberties — not even to mention the unconscionable retroactive immunity provision.”

Years later, reflecting on the hold that Brennan seemed to have on President Obama, I thought back to Obama’s surrender on the giant telecom companies and reasoned that it was probably Brennan who explained Deep State realities to the candidate in late spring 2008.

Six years later, the blatantly intrusive way in which Obama pulled out all the stops to help CIA Director Brennan prevent publication of a declassified Executive Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture scandalized the committee’s lead investigator, Daniel Jones. He gave The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman an extensive interview in September 2016.

Jones and Ackerman reported that then-Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein was hell-bent on getting the CIA torture report published. In a March 11, 2014 speech, she argued that a public version would ensure torture “will never again be considered or permitted,” and that CIA interference and foot-dragging meant the Senate faced a “defining moment” testing whether the committee could effectively perform its oversight, “or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”

On April 3, the committee voted 11-3 to authorize a declassified version of the torture report. Senate Republicans who had long rejected the report’s findings joined Democrats who embraced them.

Yet the CIA had an ally whom Feinstein may not have appreciated: President Obama. The White House announced that same day that the CIA itself would lead the declassification review. The Intelligence Community would effectively choose which of its embarrassments to spare the public from learning.

‘Tortured Some Folks’

Obama’s Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, acting for Obama, played a central role, backing the CIA’s position at every turn. The fact that the White House chief of staff would personally oversee the negotiations between the committee and the CIA spoke to the gravity of the issue.

On August 1, 2014, Obama entered the White House briefing room: “We tortured some folks,” he memorably said. But he added: “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks [at the CIA] had.”

And so the timid President who, to great fanfare, announced the end of torture (and the closing of Guantanamo, which never happened) ended up making excuses for “those folks” at the CIA, and doing all he could to prevent the American people from learning the particulars of what they had done.

In the end, Sen. Feinstein, with strong help from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, prevailed over Brennan and his lawyerly team of McDonough/ Obama. The sanitized Executive Summary of the report was released on Dec. 9, 2014 just before Congress went home for Christmas.

I suspect that, in the end, Feinstein and Reid confronted Obama with a kind of “nuclear option”: Release the Executive Summary or Sen. Mark Udall (who had just lost his Senate seat and had little to lose) would read it from the Senate floor.

That may be the last time anyone in Washington prevailed over the Deep State.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst for 27 years.  In early March 2006 he returned the Intelligence Commendation Medallion given him at retirement, in order to dissociate himself from an agency engaged in torture.




Trump Isolates America from the World

In 2016, American voters faced a painful dilemma, electing a proven war hawk or a climate-change denier – and somehow the climate denier won – as Donald Trump just reminded the world, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Donald Trump’s inexcusable withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement was widely expected and amply telegraphed by Trump himself, of course. And yet, there were reasonable grounds for hope that this might have been one place where Trump would move from being a demagogic campaigner to being a real president, one who deals not just with applause lines but with real U.S. interests and with America’s place in the world.

The substantive importance of the issue is unsurpassed, involving the fate of the planet. The main reasons to stay with the agreement are compelling, involving not only the habitability of Earth but also economic dynamism, U.S. leadership, and U.S. credibility. The non-binding nature of the agreement meant that there was not some unbearable onus that could be removed only through withdrawal.

And even though Trump has made much of fulfilling campaign promises, he already has allowed himself to be deflected from some such promises when they have collided with reality. He has not torn up the nuclear agreement with Iran, in the face of Iran’s compliance with that accord. And on the very day Trump announced the pull-out from the Paris agreement, he signed a paper that keeps the U.S. embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv, in the face of what would be certain uproar, deleterious to any prospects for peace, if he had moved the embassy as promised to Jerusalem.

The withdrawal from the Paris agreement is indefensible, and thus Trump’s statement announcing the move has much hot air, foreshadowing the increased hot air that everyone will be feeling without increased efforts to arrest global warming. There is, for example, the usual Trumpian assertion about being able to get a better deal, as if this were possible with an agreement that has 195 signatories and with respect to which, given Trump’s withdrawal, the United States is now virtually alone.

He harangues about how the Green Climate Fund that the agreement established is “costing the United States a vast fortune.” Barack Obama committed $1 billion to the fund and promised a total of $3 billion through 2020; for comparison, the proposed increase in military spending in Trump’s budget for fiscal 2018 is $53 billion.

Trump repeatedly complains about what China will be allowed to do while ignoring completely the leadership role that China is assuming in moving to clean energy. He predicts economically crippling blackouts and brownouts under the agreement while ignoring completely the rapid progress in implementing generation of renewable energy. He avows that he “cares deeply about the environment,” which is a laughable claim in light of what Trump has been doing not only to climate change but also to the Environmental Protection Agency and to stewardship of public lands.

Ideology Over Realism

Opposition to the Paris agreement reflects, as Heather Hurlburt observes, some larger patterns within American political ideology that go beyond the President himself and that Trump has exploited. Those patterns, as Hurlburt notes, are related to the unusual American experience of being a superpower, an experience that also underlies several other unconstructive American habits of perceiving and dealing with the outside world.

But the President’s withdrawal is also very much a statement about Trump himself. Given the reasons that one might have expected a better decision on this issue, the decision demonstrates that Trump’s worst and most destructive qualities are deeply entrenched. It demonstrates that things are unlikely to get much better, with many other issues, under Trump.

The episode shows that Trump will continue to play to a narrow base that squeaked him through to victory last November rather than being president of all the people, let alone a leader of the free world. It shows that campaign themes and the urge not to do whatever Obama did will continue to be more important to him than will enlightened interest, even enlightened self-interest.

It shows that he will continue to shove aside even the most glaring and indisputable facts if they conflict with the themes. It shows that his capability to focus is very short in terms of both time and space. And it shows a deficient moral sense, including in the respects in which morality is involved in what a generation bequeaths to future generations.

As citizens brace and prepare for three years and seven plus months more of this, the problem of climate change itself should be at the top of issues that require not just bracing and preparation but also creative thinking about how to deal with the issue as long as this kind of destructive force is in control of the U.S. government. A reminder is in order that Americans are citizens not only of the United States but also of states, localities, and civil society and also — uniquely important to this issue — citizens of the world, the same world that climate change endangers.

Regarding the smaller units, what states, cities and the private sector are doing to transition to clean energy deserves all the support it can get. Regarding citizenship of the world, Americans will have to consider carefully how to respond to the rest of the world’s response to the irresponsibility on this issue in Washington.

The responsible posture may entail not just respect and understanding but also support for some of those responses. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times has even written about sanctions as a response to U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement. More plausible, more worthy of support from individual Americans, defensible under the rules of the World Trade Organization, and already talked about among foreign government officials, would be a carbon tariff applied to U.S. exports.

Our children and grandchildren, feeling increasingly the effects of climate change, will read about what Trump did and wonder how our generation could have placed such a small-minded man in such a position of power with such lasting and damaging consequences.

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.)




Hillary Clinton’s Deceptive Blame-Shifting

Exclusive: While complaining about “fake news” that undercut her campaign, Hillary Clinton continued her own “fake news” falsehood about the U.S. intelligence assessment on Russian election “meddling,” reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Hillary Clinton has grown even more insistent that she was not at fault for her stunning election defeat last November, claiming that 1,000 Russian “agents” and their American collaborators were a decisive factor, a bizarre twist that further locks the Democrats into their evidence-light “Russia-gate” obsession.

In comments at a California technology conference on Wednesday, Clinton also repeated one of her favorite falsehoods – that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously concluded that Russia hacked Democratic emails and ran a covert influence campaign against her.

Referring to a report released by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on Jan. 6, Clinton asserted that “Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election. They did it through paid advertising we think; they did it through false news sites; they did it through these thousand agents; they did it through machine learning, which you know, kept spewing out this stuff over and over again. The algorithms that they developed. So that was the conclusion.”

But Clinton’s statement is false regarding the unanimity of the 17 agencies and misleading regarding her other claims. Both former DNI James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan acknowledged in sworn testimony last month that the Jan. 6 report alleging Russian “meddling” did not involve all 17 agencies.

Clapper and Brennan stated that the report was actually the work of hand-picked analysts from only three agencies – the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation – under the oversight of the DNI’s office. In other words, there was no consensus among the 17 agencies, a process that would have involved some form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a community-wide effort that would have included footnotes citing any dissenting views.

Instead, as Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8, the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (or ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” the former DNI said.

And, as Clapper explained, the “ICA” was something of a rush job beginning on President Obama’s instructions “in early December” and completed by Jan. 6. Clapper continued: “The two dozen or so analysts for this task were hand-picked, seasoned experts from each of the contributing agencies.”

However, as any intelligence veteran will tell you, if you hand-pick the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion since the agency chiefs would know who was, say, a hardliner on Russia and who could be trusted to deliver the desired product.

On May 23, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA Director John Brennan confirmed Clapper’s account about the three agencies involved.

“It wasn’t a full inter-agency community assessment that was coordinated among the 17 agencies, and for good reason because of the nature and the sensitivity of the information trying, once again, to keep that tightly compartmented,” Brennan said.

In other words, Clinton’s beloved claim that all 17 intelligence agencies were in agreement on the Russian “hacking” charge – an assertion that the “fact-checking” group Politifact has certified as “true” and that has been repeated endlessly by the mainstream U.S. news media – is not true. It is false. Gee, you might even call it “fake news.”

The Mysterious ‘Agents’

But Clinton’s false claim about the intelligence consensus was not her only dubious assertion. Her reference to the 1,000 Russian “agents” is not contained in the Jan. 6 report, either. It apparently derived from unconfirmed speculation from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, who mentioned this claim at a news conference on March 30, admitting that he didn’t know if it was true.

Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “We know about the hacking, and selective leaks, but what really concerns me as a former tech guy is at least some reports – and we’ve got to get to the bottom of this – that there were upwards of a thousand internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect taking over a series of computers which are then called botnets, that can then generate news down to specific areas.

“It’s been reported to me, and we’ve got to find this out, whether they were able to affect specific areas in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, where you would not have been receiving off of whoever your vendor might have been, Trump versus Clinton, during the waning days of the election, but instead, ‘Clinton is sick’, or ‘Clinton is taking money from whoever for some source’ … fake news.”

Of course, many stories about Clinton being sick or her taking money from special interests weren’t “fake news.” In late 2012, she suffered from a blood clot and – during the 2016 campaign – she was staggered by a bout of pneumonia. She also was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches to Wall Street and other groups.

Warner didn’t specify where his information about the “trolls” came from but it paralleled a claim by freelance journalist Adam Chen who asserted in a podcast with Longform that Russian “trolls” began writing favorably about Trump in late 2015. (The CIA/FBI/NSA report also apparently alluded to the same report without mentioning the name of the journalist or specifying the number of alleged “trolls.”)

“I created this list of Russian trolls when I was researching,” Chen said, referring to a 2015 reporting project that he turned into a rather thinly sourced New York Times Magazine article accusing a Russian oligarch of funding a professional “troll” operation in St. Petersburg, Russia. “I check on it once in a while, still. And a lot of them have turned into conservative accounts, like fake conservatives. I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re all tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff.”

Although such “troll” and “hacking” complaints are treated as a one-way street – coming only from the evil Russians – the reality is that U.S. intelligence agencies, their allies and U.S.-government-funded “non-governmental organizations” have mounted similar operations against Russia and other targets.

It is always difficult to nail down precisely where such operations are originating, but the Russians have cited previous cases of malicious hacking aimed at senior officials, including Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, whose accounts were hacked in 2013 and 2014 including publication of a false resignation and a confession of wrongdoing.

In 2015, the “Panama Papers,” a vast trove of documents purloined from a Panamanian law firm, became an investigative project that involved a USAID-funded news outlet and led to attacks on President Vladimir Putin for corruption even though his name did not appear in the documents.

So, this high-tech spy-vs.-spy game – if that’s what it is – does not appear to be originating entirely from the Russian side of the street. But the U.S. intelligence community is not going to divulge what it knows about the attacks against Russia, only what it can “assess” about Russia’s possible attacks against Western targets.

No Self-Criticism

Neither, of course, are Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party eager to engage in a serious self-criticism about how they managed to blow an extremely winnable race against an extraordinarily flawed candidate in Donald Trump. Rather than look at their own missteps and misjudgments, they are presenting themselves as innocent victims.

In Wednesday’s interview – after misrepresenting what the Jan. 6 report actually said – Clinton suggested that the Trump campaign must have colluded with the Russians in “weaponizing” the data.

“How did they know what messages to deliver?” Clinton asked. “Who told them? Who were they coordinating with, or colluding with? … [The Russians] were conveying this weaponized information and the content of it. … So the Russians — in my opinion and based on the intel and the counterintel people I’ve talked to — could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided. … Guided by Americans and guided by people who had polling and data information.”

Although Clinton lacked any proof of this convoluted accusation, she cited as her “best example” the fact that “within one hour, one hour of the ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes being leaked [in which Trump was caught boasting about groping women], within one hour, the Russians — let’s say WikiLeaks, something — dumped the John Podesta emails.”

However, if you changed the context of this claim slightly – and made a similar jump in logic – you would surely be labeled a nutty conspiracy theorist, but instead Clinton has drawn nods of agreement for this wholly unsubstantiated speculation.

Yet, besides blaming the Russians and WikiLeaks for her loss, Clinton spread the blame even wider, for instance, to The New York Times for focusing too much on her decision to use a private email server while Secretary of State – “they covered it like it was Pearl Harbor” – and for the Times’ Nate Silver publishing optimistic odds on her chances for victory. “I also think I was the victim of a very broad assumption I was going to win,” she said.

Clinton also placed blame on the Democratic National Committee for lacking money and sophisticated technology. “I get the nomination. So I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party,” she said. “I mean it was bankrupt; it was on the verge of insolvency; its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it.”

Yet, when Clinton was asked about some of her own “misjudgments,” she slipped back into the defensive posture that contributed to her troubles as a presidential candidate. For instance, regarding why she gave lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs between her time leaving the State Department and announcing her White House run, she answered coyly, “They paid me.”

When pressed on the point, Clinton retreated behind the sanctity of the 9/11 terror attack and the issue of women’s rights. Reminded that “you’re not somebody who needed that money for the next week’s shopping, and you knew you might run, so why do it?” – she responded:

“The most common thing that I talked about in all those speeches was the hunt for Bin Laden. You know, that was one of the central missions that I felt from the time the towers fell on 9/11 as a Senator from New York.”

Then, Clinton added, “you know, men got paid for the speeches they made. I got paid for the speeches I made. And it [the paid-speech issue] was used, and I thought it was unfairly used.”

Blocking Witnesses

So, while the Democrats dig themselves deeper into the so-far empty pit of blaming Russia for their electoral disaster, the Russia-gate investigation continues to take on other curious aspects, such as an unwillingness to hear from some of Donald Trump’s advisers who have been named in accusations and who have volunteered to testify publicly.

On Wednesday, Carter Page, a Navy veteran and businessman who had lived in Russia, announced that his plans to defend himself in testimony next week before the House Intelligence Committee had been placed on hold by the Democrats.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee and a major sparkplug powering the investigation, offered a curious denial of Page’s complaint while confirming the truth of it.

The New York Times, which has been another advocate for blaming Russia, phrased the postponement of Page’s testimony as if Page were the unreasonable one, reporting:

“Representative Adam Schiff … dismissed accusations from Carter Page, another Trump adviser who is under scrutiny, that the committee is preventing him from testifying. Mr. Schiff …. said the investigation would first review relevant documents before interviewing witnesses.”

In other words, Page, who has been portrayed via intelligence leaks to the news media as essentially a traitor, won’t be given the opportunity to defend his reputation until Schiff and the other Democrats decide the time is ripe.

Yet, it’s not as if the House Intelligence Committee has not taken public testimony about Russia-gate. For instance, former CIA Director Brennan was allowed to speak indirectly about Page and other possibly treasonous Americans amid media reports naming Page as one of those suspected Russian “agents.”

Normal investigations grant the people under attack at least the opportunity to defend themselves and their reputations in a timely fashion, rather than make them live under the cloud of suspicion without having a chance to state their case.

If their sworn testimony is later undermined by evidence developed by investigators, the witnesses can be called back and called out on possible perjury. So, it’s not as if Schiff and the other Democrats are surrendering prerogatives by letting Page testify now rather than later. Indeed, Page would be putting himself in legal jeopardy if he is caught lying.

Even the Republican-driven “Benghazi investigation,” which also had the look of an over-the-top “witch hunt,” gave Secretary of State Clinton and other Obama administration officials multiple opportunities to explain their response to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate.

But, so far, a similar courtesy has not been extended to the targets of the Russia-gate investigation.

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).




Missing the Real Noriega Story

Exclusive: The mainstream media’s obituaries for Gen. Manuel Noriega missed the real story: the U.S. government’s rank hypocrisy in justifying a bloody invasion that deepened Panama’s role in the drug trade, explains Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

The death of former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega on May 29 elicited few if any tears. But it should have sparked more reflection in the United States on his ugly history of service to the CIA, the hypocrisy of Washington’s sudden discovery of his abuses once Noriega became an unreliable ally against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and the George H.W. Bush administration’s bloody and illegal invasion of Panama in December 1989.

In fairness, many progressives and mainstream journalists have called attention to this troublesome history over the years. But few have dared to question the nearly universal condemnation of Noriega as a protector of international drug traffickers. That incendiary claim — first broadcast loudly by the unlikely trio of right-wing Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina; liberal Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts; and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh — galvanized the American public to support his ouster.

After the U.S. invasion, which killed hundreds of Panamanians and 23 U.S. soldiers, Noriega was arrested on Jan. 3, 1990 by armed U.S. drug agents.

President George H. W. Bush declared that Noriega’s “apprehension and return to the United States should send a clear signal that the United States is serious in its determination that those charged with promoting the distribution of drugs cannot escape the scrutiny of justice.” U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton called the invasion “the biggest drug bust in history.”

Convicted in 1992 on eight felony counts following what officials called the “trial of the century,” Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in jail. Although released early from U.S. incarceration, he spent the rest of his life in French and Panamanian prisons.

The resulting publicity created lasting myths about Noriega and drugs. Journalists who should know better have described Noriega as “one of the world’s biggest drug kingpins,” to quote Time magazine.  In fact, Louis Kellner, the U.S. attorney who oversaw his Miami indictment and trial admitted, “Noriega was never a major player in the drug war.”

Indeed, at worst, he was a small fry compared to the military rulers of Honduras, whose epic protection of the cocaine trade was tolerated by Washington in return for using that country as a staging base for Contra operations against the Sandinista-led government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Deeply Flawed Trial

A few close observers of the long, expensive, and controversial trial believe it failed to prove Noriega’s guilt at all.

David Adams, who covered it extensively for the London Independent, said the government’s case was “marred by incompetent witnesses, false testimony, and poor presentation.”

Newsday’s Peter Eisner quoted Judge William Hoeveler, who presided over the trial, as saying “the outcome could have been different” if Noriega had been better represented.

Although the government put more than two dozen people on the stand, their testimony was not always relevant or credible.

Paul Rothstein, Georgetown University law professor and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s criminal evidence committee, said of the government’s witnesses, “What promised to be the trumpeting of elephants turned out to be the whimperings of mice.”

Big-time drug bosses enjoyed great rewards for telling the jury what the government wanted. Observed reporter Glenn Garvin, “To convict Noriega, the strike force had to make a flurry of deals with other accused narcotraffickers, bargaining a collective 1,435 years in prison down to 81.”

The fierce Noriega critic R. M. Kostner declared, “The prosecution was shameless in its bribery of witnesses. What co-defendants got for flipping made me sometimes wish that I had been indicted. The proceedings were almost totally politicized. It was clear long before they opened that, regardless of evidence, Noriega could not possibly be acquitted – a very sad thing for the United States.”

Other witnesses who never took the stand contradicted the government’s case years later. Retired Medellin cocaine lord Juan David Ochoa claimed in an interview with Frontline that “at no moment did [Noriega] protect us. . . . As far as I know he had nothing to do with the drug trade.”

Greg Passic, former head of financial operations for the DEA, said, “The Colombians I talked to in the drug transportation business said they didn’t deal with Noriega at all. To deal with him you would just have to pay him more money. They didn’t need it. It would be expensive.”

In fact, DEA officials repeatedly lauded Noriega’s cooperation with their anti-drug investigations, both in public letters of support and in private. Recalled Duane Clarridge, former head of Latin America operations for the CIA, “The DEA had told us that they were getting great support in Panama, and from Noriega in particular, in interdicting drugs.”

More than a year after the U.S. invasion, when it was absolutely impolitic to voice such sentiments, one “federal drug enforcement source” told a reporter, “Noriega was helping us, not ten percent, not twenty percent of the time, but in every instance we asked him to do so, one-hundred percent of the time. . . . These were key operations . . . that struck at both the Cali and Medellin cartels.”

Even the U.S. ambassador to Panama in the final years of Noriega’s rule, Arthur H. Davis Jr., said in an oral history interview, “all I know is that, all the time I was there, Noriega . . . cooperated one hundred percent with our people. Anytime we had a ship that we wanted to be interdicted on the high seas and we asked permission, they gave permission. . . . Anytime there was some prominent drug man coming up and we knew about it, Noriega would help us with it. And when we found out about things, the [Panamanian Defense Forces] would go over there and round them up and turn them over to us.”

Turning Against Noriega

One of the high points of Noriega’s cooperation was Operation Pisces, a three-year undercover probe that culminated in 1987. Attorney General Edwin Meese called it “nothing less than the largest and most successful undercover investigation in federal drug law enforcement history.”

Among those indicted were Medellin Cartel kingpins Pablo Escobar and Fabio Ochoa. Panama made 40 arrests and seized $12 million from accounts in 18 local banks. Said one U.S. prosecutor who helped direct the case, “The Panamanian officials we were dealing with were sincerely cooperative. . . . They could have breached security, and they didn’t.”

The operation may have pleased the DEA, but it angered the country’s financial elite, who directly profited from money laundering. One local banker warned, “this could end the Panamanian banking system, because people will no longer believe they can count on bank secrecy.”

Within two months, spooked investors withdrew up to $4 billion of the country’s $39 billion in bank deposits, triggering the most serious banking crisis in Panama’s history.

A Western diplomat said of Noriega, “The bankers can bring him down. They are complaining in Washington and they’ve got a lot of clout.” The demonstrations organized that summer by Panama’s business elite — and Noriega’s heavy-handed response to them — triggered his eventual slide from power

The bankers were joined by angry cartel leaders, who viewed Noriega as an “obstacle to the functioning” of their money laundering operations in Panama, in the words of drug policy expert Rensellaer Lee.

A lawyer for the bosses of the Cali Cartel complained that his clients were “frustrated by the problems” Noriega created for them in Panama.

Cali leaders later got their revenge when they paid $1.25 million to bribe a drug trafficker to become a key witness against Noriega in his Miami trial. In exchange for the testimony, eager U.S. prosecutors agreed to cut nine years off the sentence of an unrelated Cali trafficker — brother of one of that cartel’s senior leaders.

When Noriega’s defense team cried foul, a federal appeals court declined to order a new trial, but criticized the government for appearing “to have treaded close to the line of willful blindness” in its eagerness to win a conviction.

Medellin leaders were just as unhappy with Noriega as those in Cali. A pilot for one of the biggest Medellin smugglers described Pablo Escobar’s reaction after Noriega approved a raid on one of his cocaine labs in May 1984: “He was just really out of whack with Noriega. He was like, ‘This guy is dead. No matter what, he is dead.”’

It would be foolish to assert that Noriega, alone among all leaders in Central America, kept his hands clean of drugs. But much of his personal fortune is easily accounted for from other sources, such as the sale of Panamanian passports on the black market.

Whatever Noriega’s involvement with drug traffickers, as I have shown elsewhere, the Bush administration displayed unbelievable cynicism when, even before his capture, it swore in a new president of Panama who had sat on the board of one of the most notorious drug-money-laundering banks in the country. His attorney general, who unfroze the bank accounts of Cali traffickers, later became legal counsel for the Cali Cartel’s top smuggler in Panama.

Following Noriega’s ouster, not surprisingly, cocaine trafficking began surging in the country. A year and a half after his arrest, unnamed “U.S. experts” told Time magazine that “the unexpected result . . . is that the rival Cali cartel established a base in Panama and has since inundated the country, along with Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, with vast quantities of cocaine destined for the U.S. and Europe.”

Today, though, all that is forgotten, along with the questionable course of justice during Noriega’s trial. Noriega, even in death, deserves no eulogies, but he does deserve a more balanced judgment of history.

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to ConsortiumNews.com.

 




Comprehending Today’s Russia

The U.S. government and mainstream media present Russia as a dangerous aggressor that must be resisted and punished, but American citizens who toured Russia in May found a very different reality, reports Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

For over two weeks this May, a delegation of 30 Americans visited seven regions and ten cities across Russia. Organized by Sharon Tennison of the Center for Citizen Initiatives. The participants began in Moscow with several days of meetings and visits, then broke into smaller groups going to cities including Volgograd, Kazan (Tatarstan), Krasnodar (near the Black Sea), Novosibirsk (Siberia), Yekaterinburg and the Crimean cities Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol.

After these regional visits, delegates regrouped in St Petersburg to share their experiences. Following is an informal review with conclusions based on my observations in Kazan and what I heard from others.

–Western sanctions have hurt sectors of Russia’s economy but encouraged agricultural production.

Exports and imports have been impacted by Western sanctions imposed in 2014. The tourist sector has been hard hit and education exchanges between Russia and the U.S. have been interrupted or ended. But the sanctions have spurred investments and expansion in agricultural production. We were told that farmers are saying “Don’t lift the sanctions!”

Some Russian oligarchs are making major infrastructure investments.

For example, billionaire Sergei Galitsky has developed Russia’s largest retail outlet, the Magnit supermarket chain. Galitsky has invested heavily in state-of-the-art drip irrigation green houses producing massive quantities of high quality cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables, which are distributed via the supermarkets throughout Russia.

–There has been a resurgence of religion in Russia.

Russian Orthodox Churches have been revitalized and gold leaf glistens on the church domes. Muslim mosques have also been refurbished and rebuilt. A brilliant new mosque is a prominent part of the Kremlin in Kazan, Tatarstan. There are many Muslim in Russia. This research puts the number at ten million though we heard estimates much higher. We saw numerous examples of interfaith unity and cooperation, with Muslim Imams working side by side with young Russian Orthodox priests. We also heard stories of how churches had been used as prisons or food warehouses during the Stalin era.

Russia increasingly looks east.

The Russian emblem of a double-headed eagle looks both east and west; it is a Eur-Asian country. While Europe is still important politically and economically, Russia is increasingly looking to the east. Russia’s “strategic partner” is China – economically, politically and militarily. There are increasing numbers of Chinese tourists and education exchanges with Russia. In the United Nations Security Council the two countries tend to vote together. Huge investments are planned for the transportation network dubbed the “Belt and Road Initiative” connecting Asia with Europe.

–Russia is a capitalist country with a strong state sector.

Government is influential or controls sectors of the economy such as public transportation, military/defense industry, resource extraction, education and health care. State-owned enterprises account for nearly 40 percent of overall employment. They have universal health care in parallel with private education and health care facilities. Banking is a problem area with high interest rates and the failure/bankruptcy of numerous banks in the past decade. We heard complaints that foreign multinational companies can enter and control sectors of the economy, drive out Russian competitors and take the profits home.

–There is some nostalgia for the former Soviet Union with its communist ideals.

We met numerous people who speak fondly of the days when nobody was super-rich or horribly poor and when they believed there was a higher goal for society. We heard this from people ranging from a successful entrepreneur to an aging Soviet-era rock musician. That does not mean that these people want to return to Soviet days, but that they recognize the changes in Russia have both pluses and negatives. There is widespread disapproval of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the economic chaos of the 1990s.

–There is a range of media supporting both government and opposition parties.

There are three major TV stations controlled by and supporting the government. Along with these, there are numerous private stations criticizing the government and supporting various opposition parties. In print media, the majority of newspapers and magazines are critical of the government.

–Public transportation is impressive.

The streets of Moscow are jam packed with new cars. Meanwhile, underground there is a fast, economical and efficient subway system. which is the most heavily used in Europe. The Moscow metro carries 40 percent more passengers than the New York subway system. On major routes the trains arrive every 60 seconds. Some of the stations are over 240 feet underground with the longest escalator in Europe. Inter-city trains such as the Sapsan (Falcon) take passengers between St. Petersburg and Moscow at 200 kilometers per hour. Despite the speed, the train is smooth and quiet. It’s an interesting way to view rural Russia as one passes ramshackle dachas, cute villages and abandoned Soviet-era factories. A major new transportation project is the bridge between Krasnodar and the Crimean peninsula. This short video portrays the design.

–Putin is popular.

Depending on who you ask, Putin’s popularity seems to range between 60 and 80 percent. There are two reasons: First, since he became leader the economy has stabilized, corrupt oligarchs were brought into check, and the standard of living dramatically improved. Second, Putin is credited with restoring international respect for Russia and national pride for Russian citizens. Some say, “During the 1990s we were a beggar nation.” Russians have a strong sense of national pride and Putin’s administration has restored that.

Some people think Putin deserves a break from the intense pressure and workload. That does not mean everyone likes him or is afraid to say that. Our official Moscow guide took delight in showing us the exact spot on the bridge outside the Kremlin where she believes Putin had one of his enemies assassinated. Other Russians we spoke with mock these accusations, which are widely believed in the West. As to the accusations that Putin is a “dictator,” about 75 students in Crimea openly laughed when they were asked about this Western belief.

Current Political Tension

–Russians are highly skeptical of accusations about Russian “meddling” in the U.S. election.

One foreign policy expert, Vladimir Kozin, said “It’s a fairy tale that Russia influenced the U.S. election.” They contrast the unverified accusations with clear evidence of U.S. interference in past Russian elections, especially in the 1990s when the economy was privatized and crime, unemployment and chaos overwhelmed the country. The role of the U.S. in “managing” the election of Boris Yeltsin in 1995 is widely known in Russia, as is the U.S. funding of hundreds of “non-governmental organizations” in Ukraine prior to the 2013-2014 violence and coup.

–There is a strong desire to improve relations with the U.S..

We met numerous Russians who had participated in citizen exchanges with the U.S. in the 1990s. Almost universally these Russians had fond memories of their visits and hosts in the U.S. In other places we met people who had never met an American or English-speaking person before. Typically they were cautious but very pleased to hear from American citizens who also wish to improve relations and reduce tensions.

–Western media reports about Crimea are hugely distorted.

CCI delegates who visited Crimea met with a broad range of citizens and elected leaders. The geography is “stunningly beautiful” with mountains dropping to beaches on the Black Sea. Not reported in the West, Crimea was part of Russia since 1783. When Crimea was administratively transferred to Ukraine in 1954, it was all part of the Soviet Union. Crimeans told the CCI delegates they were repelled by the violence and fascist elements involved in the Kiev coup. Bus convoys from Crimea were attacked with injuries and deaths following the Kiev coup.

The new coup government said Russian was no longer an official language. Crimeans quickly organized and held a referendum to secede from Ukraine and “re-unify” with Russia. With 80 percent of registered voters participating, 96 percent voted to join Russia. One Crimean stated to the CCI delegates, “We would have gone to war to separate from Ukraine.” Others noted the hypocrisy of the West which allows secession votes in Scotland and Catalonia, and which encouraged the secession of Croatia, but then rejects the overwhelming vote and choice of the Crimean people.

Sanctions against tourism are hurting the economy of Crimea yet the public is confident in its decision. The Americans who visited Crimea were overwhelmed with the warm welcome and friendliness they received. Because of the sanctions, few Americans visit Crimea and they also received substantial media coverage. In reaction, political officials in Ukraine accused the delegates of being “enemies of the Ukrainian state” and put their names on a blacklist.

–Russians know and fear war.

Twenty-seven million Russians died in World War II and that experience is seared into the Russian memory. The Nazi siege of Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg) reduced the population from 3 million to 500,000. Walking through the cemetery of mass graves brings home the depth of suffering and resilience of Russians who somehow survived a 872-day siege on the city. Memory of the war is kept alive through commemorations with huge public participation. Citizens carry poster-size photographs of their relatives who fought or died in World War II, known as the “Immortal Regiment.” In Kazan, the march involved 120,000 persons – 10 percent of the entire city population – beginning at 10 a.m. and concluding at 9 p.m.. Across Russia, millions of citizens actively participate. The marches and parades marking “Victory Day” are more solemn than celebratory.

–Russians see themselves being threatened.

While Western media portrays Russia as “aggressive,” most Russians perceive the reverse. They see the U.S. and NATO increasing military budgets, steadily expanding, moving up to the Russian border, withdrawing from or violating past treaties and conducting provocative military exercises. This map shows the situation.

–Russians want to de-escalate international tensions.

Former President Mikhail Gorbachev said to our group, “Does America want Russia to just submit? This is a country that can never submit.” These words carry extra significance because it was Gorbachev who initiated the foreign policy of Perestroika which led to his own sidelining and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev has written about Perestroika as follows: “Its main outcome was the end of the Cold War. A long and potentially deadly period in world history, when the whole humankind lived under the constant threat of a nuclear disaster, came to an end.” Yet we are clearly in a new Cold War and the threat has re-emerged.

Despite three years of economic sanctions, low oil prices and an intense information war in the West, Russian society appears to be doing reasonably well. Russians across the spectrum express a strong desire to build friendship and partnership with the U.S. At the same time, it seems Russians will not be intimidated. They don’t want war and won’t initiate it, but if attacked they will defend themselves as they have in the past.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com




Avoiding War with China

In recent years, many American leaders have grown cavalier about nuclear war, especially with Russia, but there is also risk of a devastating conflict with China, as former U.S. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. observes.

By Chas W. Freeman Jr. (in a May 1 speech at Brown University)

Let’s not kid ourselves. The armed forces of the United States and China are now very far along in planning and practicing how to go to war with each other. Neither has any idea when or why it might have to engage the other on the battlefield but both agree on the list of contingencies that could spark conflict. These range from naval scuffles in the Spratly or Senkaku Islands to full-spectrum combat over Taiwan independence or reunification.

The context in which these contingencies might occur reflects an imbalance of power left over from history. U.S. forces are forward-deployed along China’s frontiers in a pattern that originated with the Cold War policy of “containment.” Chinese forces are deployed to defend China’s borders as China defines them. China regards the United States as the country most able and likely to violate those borders and attack it.

The United States seeks to sustain the military dominance of the Western Pacific that it has enjoyed since its 1945 overthrow of Japanese imperial power. Washington is determined to preclude the contraction of the sphere of influence it established during the Cold War. China is striving to establish defensible maritime borders, to prevent Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam from prevailing in their counterclaims to islands and rocks in its near seas, and to reintegrate Taiwan, which the United States separated from the rest of China and placed in its sphere of influence 67 years ago, in 1950.

Elements of the U.S. military aggressively patrol the air and seas that abut China. Their purpose is to be ready to cripple the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by striking bases in its homeland if conflict with U.S. forces or U.S. allies occurs. Not surprisingly, China objects to these missions. It is steadily strengthening its capacity not just to fend off American attempts to scout or penetrate its defenses, but to recover Taiwan by coercive means.

The U.S. armed forces and the PLA have met on the battlefield before, but never on Chinese soil. Sino-American wars have taken place only in third countries like Korea or by proxy and covert action, as in Indochina. But any war between the United States and China under the contingencies both now contemplate would begin in places China considers part of its territory.

It might be possible to limit a conflict in the South China Sea to the islands and waters there. But a Sino-Japanese clash over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands or a Sino-American war over Taiwan would almost certainly entail U.S. strikes on the Chinese mainland.  Chinese doctrine calls for such attacks to be answered with reprisals against U.S. bases and the American homeland.

China’s no-first-use doctrine is a significant barrier to China’s use of nuclear weapons for such reprisal, but one that it is easy to imagine being breached under the pressures of wartime crisis conditions. Beijing is likely to see U.S. attacks on Chinese bases where nuclear and non-nuclear weapons are commingled as the equivalent of a strategic first strike designed to knock out China’s nuclear deterrent. Any threat that China’s Communist Party leadership perceives as existential would stimulate some to argue for nuclear as well as cyber reprisal against comparable facilities in the United States.

Nuclear Amnesia

In the U.S. political elite and officer corps, alarm about the damage a nuclear strike can wreak on its targets and the retaliation it invites has succumbed to “nuclear amnesia.” The national “allergy” to the use of nuclear weapons has weakened concomitantly. Washington is again exploring tactical uses for nuclear weapons and funding programs to develop them. Americans have ceased to consider what a nuclear exchange with Russia, China, or another foreign foe would do to the United States.

The current hysteria over North Korea may in time correct this. But, for now, Americans remain in denial, imagining that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the U.S. missile defense program will work. No one is preparing for scenarios in which it does not.

Meanwhile, communication between the American and Chinese national security establishments is far less robust than it was between the U.S. and USSR during the Cold War. There is very little, if any, mutual trust between Beijing and Washington. Senior U.S. military officers understand Chinese politico-military doctrine poorly or not at all. There are no Sino-American understandings or mechanisms for escalation control. It is past time, but not too late to begin creating these.

This is not a reassuring situation. But there are many factors that inhibit rash Chinese actions in response to a crisis. And there are some on the U.S. side as well. Neither China nor America wants war with the other.

Under the People’s Republic, China has established a seven-decade-long record of strategic caution and a preference for diplomatic and paramilitary rather than military solutions to national security problems. China clearly prefers to use measures short of war to protect itself but has shown that it is fully prepared to go to war to defend its borders and strategic interests  Chinese uses of force have been notably purposive, determined, disciplined, and focused on limited objectives, with no moving of the goalposts.

In Korea, where ragtag Chinese forces fought the United States to a standstill from 1950 to 1953, China settled for the de facto restoration of the status quo ante bellum — strategic denial of the northern half of the Korean Peninsula to hostile forces. In 1958, it ended its military presence in Korea. When border skirmishes escalated into war between China and India in 1962, China first showed India that, if provoked, the PLA could overrun it. Then, having made that point, China withdrew its troops to their original positions.  In the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war, China accepted huge losses on the battlefield to teach Vietnam that the costs of continued empire building in association with the Soviet Union would be unacceptably high. Once Vietnam seemed convinced of this, China disengaged its forces.

China waited a decade to respond to multiple seizures of disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea by other claimants. The Philippines began the process of creating facts in the sea in 1978, Vietnam followed in 1982, and Malaysia did the same in 1983. In 1988, China intervened to halt the further expansion of Vietnamese holdings.

Since then China has established an unejectable presence of its own on seven artificially enlarged land features in the South China Sea. It has not attempted to dislodge other claimants from any of the four dozen outposts they have planted in Chinese-claimed territories. China has been careful not to provoke military confrontations with them or with the U.S. Navy, despite the latter’s swaggering assertiveness.

Pattern of Restraint

A similar pattern of restraint has been evident in the Senkaku Islands, which China considers to be part of Taiwan and Japan asserts are part of Okinawa. There, China seeks to present an active challenge to Japanese efforts to foreclose discussion of the two sides’ dispute over sovereignty. It has done so with lightly armed Coast Guard vessels rather than with the PLA’s naval warfare arm. Japan has been equally cautious.

China negotiated the reunification of both Hong Kong and Macau, although it could have used force, as India did in Goa, to achieve reintegration.

China has negotiated generous settlements and demarcations of its land borders with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. China’s borders with the former British empire in Bhutan, India, and Myanmar remain formally unsettled but for the most part peaceful.

These interactions between China and its neighbors demonstrate a high degree of Chinese competence at managing differences without armed conflict. They provide grounds for optimism. War, including accidental war, between China and its neighbors – or China and the United States as the ally of some of those neighbors – is far from inevitable.

China has been cautious even with respect to Taiwan – that most chauvinist of issues. There has been no exchange of fire between the civil-war rivals on opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait since 1979. On Jan. 1 of that year, the United States accepted Beijing as China’s capital and ended its formal championship of Taipei in that role. Beijing responded by discontinuing its advocacy of the forceful “liberation” of Taiwan and announcing a policy aimed at peaceful reunification.

So far, despite occasional provocations from pro-independence forces in Taiwan, China has stuck with this policy, placing equal emphasis on enticement and intimidation. Beijing’s “united front” outreach to Taiwanese complements the military pressure its growing capacity to devastate the island imparts to the imperative of cross-Strait accommodation.

The bottom line is that, while Chinese warnings must be taken seriously, Chinese aggressiveness should not be overestimated. China tends to act militarily with prudence, upon warning, not rashly. Its wealth and power are growing, giving it an incentive to defer confrontations to the future, when its relative strength will be greater and new opportunities to win without fighting may arise.

The record shows that China adheres to limited objectives, limited means, and limited time scales. On the other hand, it is characteristically determined, once the die is cast, to invest whatever level of effort is required to achieve its objectives. China has been notably careful to avoid “mission creep” in the wake of success. There is no evidence that its ambitions are open-ended or unbridled. If given an inch, it is unlikely to seek to take a mile.

Risks of War

So, what’s the problem? Why are we concerned about how to avoid war with China? There are two reasons, one short-term and one long-term.

The first relates to Taiwan, which the United States has pledged to help defend. The island is now ruled by an anti-reunification, pro-independence government. Trump administration statements have raised doubts about whether Washington might upgrade relations with Taipei, relitigate the U.S. commitment to a “one-China” policy, or otherwise change direction on this most neuralgic of all issues for Chinese nationalism.

China now has the military means to bring Taiwan to heel despite U.S. opposition. The uncertainties injected by Mr. Trump’s tweets seem to have moved Beijing to consider whether to act before the issue goes off track.

It is entirely possible that once this fall’s 19th Party Congress has passed, arguments for resolving the question of Taiwan’s relationship to the rest of China by the 100th anniversary of the founding Chinese Communist Party in 2021 will gain force. If so, the long-deferred bloody rendezvous of the United States with Chinese nationalism could be upon us as Beijing makes Taipei “an offer it cannot refuse.” Americans will have to decide how invested we are in our Cold War commitment to keep China divided.

In the longer term, while Washington persists in proceeding on the assumption that the United States can forever dominate China’s periphery, this notion has steadily diminishing credibility in Asia. America’s power is visibly declining, not just in relation to China but also to the increasingly self-reliant allies and friends of the United States in the region. These trends give every sign of accelerating. They reflect underlying realities that increased U.S. defense spending cannot alter or reverse.

Sino-American rivalry — political, economic, and military — seems destined to intensify. China can and will easily match defense budget plus-ups by the United States. Despite much shadowboxing by the U.S. armed forces, American military primacy in the Western Pacific will gradually waste away. Both the costs of U.S. trans-Pacific engagement and the risks of armed conflict will rise. The states of the region will hedge. They will either draw closer to Beijing, cleave to Washington, or — more likely — try to get out of the middle between Chinese and Americans.  For the most part, they will not repudiate their alliances with America. Why give up something for nothing? But they will rely less on the United States and act more independently of it.

So the central question in whether the United States can avoid war with China comes down to this: How much damage to our homeland are we prepared to risk to pursue specific foreign policy objectives that antagonize China? In the Twenty-first Century, when Americans kill faraway foreigners, we must expect that they will retaliate and that, one way or another, we will pay a price in civilian deaths here at home.

It is time to get serious. We Americans are not omnipotent. Nor are we invulnerable. But we are a people who value honor. In the case of China and its neighbors, how do we balance our interests with our honor?

Ambassador Freeman chairs Projects International, Inc. He is a retired U.S. defense official, diplomat, and interpreter, the recipient of numerous high honors and awards, a popular public speaker, and the author of five books.




Libya’s Link to Manchester’s Tragedy

Whenever a horrific terror attack hits the West, the media/political etiquette rejects any linkage between the atrocity and the West’s wars in the Arab world, a blackout now applying to the Manchester bombing, notes John Pilger.

By John Pilger

The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this: The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy.

Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review.”

The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years. The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organization, which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida.”

The “smoking gun” is that when Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.

Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on May 22?

These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the May 22 attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology.

The Manchester atrocity lifts the rock of British foreign policy to reveal its Faustian alliance with extreme Islam, especially the sect known as Wahhabism or Salafism, whose principal custodian and banker is the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Britain’s biggest weapons customer.

This imperial marriage reaches back to the Second World War and the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The aim of British policy was to stop pan-Arabism: Arab states developing a modern secularism, asserting their independence from the imperial West and controlling their resources. The creation of a rapacious Israel was meant to expedite this. Pan-Arabism has since been crushed; the goal now is division and conquest.

The ‘Manchester Boys’                                                   

In 2011, according to Middle East Eye, the LIFG in Manchester were known as the “Manchester boys.” Implacably opposed to Muammar Gaddafi, they were considered high risk and a number were under Home Office control orders – house arrest – when anti-Gaddafi demonstrations broke out in Libya, a country forged from myriad tribal enmities.

Suddenly the control orders were lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one LIFG member. MI5 returned their passports and counter-terrorism police at Heathrow airport were told to let them board their flights.

The overthrow of Gaddafi, who controlled Africa’s largest oil reserves, had been long been planned in Washington and London. According to French intelligence, the LIFG made several assassination attempts on Gaddafi in the 1990s – bankrolled by British intelligence. In March 2011, France, Britain and the U.S. seized the opportunity of a “humanitarian intervention” and attacked Libya. They were joined by NATO under cover of a United Nations resolution to “protect civilians.”

Last September, a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry concluded that then Prime Minister David Cameron had taken the country to war against Gaddafi on a series of “erroneous assumptions” and that the attack “had led to the rise of Islamic State in North Africa.” The Commons committee quoted what it called President Barack Obama’s “pithy” description of Cameron’s role in Libya as a “shit show.”

In fact, Obama was a leading actor in the “shit show,” urged on by his warmongering Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and a media accusing Gaddafi of planning “genocide” against his own people. “We knew … that if we waited one more day,” said Obama, “Benghazi, a city the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

The massacre story was fabricated by Salafist militias facing defeat by Libyan government forces. They told Reuters there would be “a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda.” The Commons committee reported, “The proposition that Mu’ammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.”

Destroying Libya

Britain, France and the United States effectively destroyed Libya as a modern state. According to its own records, NATO launched 9,700 “strike sorties” of which more than a third hit civilian targets. They included fragmentation bombs and missiles with uranium warheads. The cities of Misurata and Sirte were carpet-bombed. Unicef, the U.N. children’s organization, reported a high proportion of the children killed “were under the age of ten.”

More than “giving rise” to Islamic State — ISIS had already taken root in the ruins of Iraq following the Tony Blair and George W. Bush invasion in 2003 — these ultimate medievalists now had all of north Africa as a base. The attack also triggered a stampede of refugees fleeing to Europe.

Cameron was celebrated in Tripoli as a “liberator,” or imagined he was. The crowds cheering him included those secretly supplied and trained by Britain’s SAS and inspired by Islamic State, such as the “Manchester boys”.

To the Americans and British, Gaddafi’s true crime was his iconoclastic independence and his plan to abandon the petrodollar, a pillar of American imperial power. He had audaciously planned to underwrite a common African currency backed by gold, establish an all-Africa bank and promote economic union among poor countries with prized resources. Whether or not this would have happened, the very notion was intolerable to the U.S. as it prepared to “enter” Africa and bribe African governments with military “partnerships.”

After losing control of Tripoli, Gaddafi fled for his life. A Royal Air Force plane spotted his convoy, and in the rubble of Sirte, he was captured and sodomized with a knife by a fanatic described in the news as “a rebel.”

Having plundered Libya’s $30 billion arsenal, the “rebels” advanced south, terrorizing towns and villages. Crossing into sub-Saharan Mali, they destroyed that country’s fragile stability. The ever-eager French sent planes and troops to their former colony “to fight al-Qaida,” the menace they had helped create.

On Oct. 14, 2011, President Obama announced he was sending Special Forces troops to Uganda to join the civil war there. In the next few months, U.S. combat troops were sent to South Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic. With Libya secured, an American invasion of the African continent was under way, largely unreported.

Selling Weapons  

In London, one of the world’s biggest arms fairs was staged by the British government. The buzz in the stands was the “demonstration effect in Libya.” The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry held a preview entitled “Middle East: A vast market for UK defence and security companies.” The host was the Royal Bank of Scotland, a major investor in cluster bombs, which were used extensively against civilian targets in Libya. The blurb for the bank’s arms party lauded the “unprecedented opportunities for UK defence and security companies.”

Last month, Prime Minister Theresa May was in Saudi Arabia, selling more of the £3 billion worth of British arms, which the Saudis have used against Yemen. Based in control rooms in Riyadh, British military advisers assist the Saudi bombing raids, which have killed more than 10,000 civilians. There are now clear signs of famine. A Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes from preventable disease, says Unicef.

The Manchester atrocity on May 22 was the product of such unrelenting state violence in faraway places, much of it British sponsored. The lives and names of the victims are almost never known to us.

This truth struggles to be heard, just as it struggled to be heard when the London Underground was bombed on July 7, 2005. Occasionally, a member of the public would break the silence, such as the east Londoner who walked in front of a CNN camera crew and reporter in mid-platitude. “Iraq!” he said. “We invaded Iraq. What did we expect? Go on, say it.”

At a large media gathering I attended, many of the important guests uttered “Iraq” and “Blair” as a kind of catharsis for that which they dared not say professionally and publicly. Yet, before he invaded Iraq, Blair was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that “the threat from al-Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. … The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly”.

Just as Blair brought home to Britain the violence of his and George W Bush’s blood-soaked “shit show,” so David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, compounded his crime in Libya and its horrific aftermath, including those killed and maimed in Manchester Arena on May 22.

The spin is back, not surprisingly: Salman Abedi acted alone; he was a petty criminal, no more than that; the extensive network revealed last week by the American leak has vanished. But the questions have not.

Why was Abedi able to travel freely through Europe to Libya and back to Manchester only days before he committed his terrible crime? Was Theresa May told by MI5 that the FBI had tracked him as part of an Islamic cell planning to attack a “political target” in Britain?

In the current election campaign, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a guarded reference to a “war on terror that has failed.” As he knows, it was never a war on terror but a war of conquest and subjugation. Palestine. Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Iran is said to be next. Before there is another Manchester, who will have the courage to say that?

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com. His new film, “The Coming War on China,” is available in the U.S. from www.bullfrogfilms.com




Cumulative Costs from Global Warming

While it’s impossible to precisely calculate the costs from global warming, they range from macro threats such as massive shore erosion and mass dislocations of people to micro ones like lost sleep, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Resistance to arresting human-caused warming of Earth is politically entrenched in personnel and policies of the Trump administration. This makes the United States a conspicuous delinquent among advanced industrialized countries, as highlighted at the recent G-7 summit meeting, and among the community of nations generally, as highlighted by Trump’s refusal to commit to adherence to the Paris climate change agreement and by the United States surrendering leadership to the likes of China and even India.

The reasons for such resistance are multiple, and even uncovering all of them would not stop perverse refusal to help save the planet. Reflecting on what appear to be the main reasons, however, may help point to strategies for overcoming the resistance.

Probably the principal belief — a mistaken belief — that accounts for the absence of what ought to be a groundswell of condemnation of the administration’s climate policies by earthlings who live in the United States is the notion that there is a zero-sum trade-off between economic well-being and action to curb global warming. Even if the notion were true, there still would be ample grounds to condemn the selfishness and short-sightedness involved in much of the resistance to action.

And even though the notion is false, politicians will exploit the notion, as Trump does in trying to reduce the issue to a question of coal-mining jobs in Appalachia. He does so even though the jobs in question were lost to technological change and will not be coming back, even though those jobs always will be a relatively small part of employment in the parts of Appalachia Trump is politically targeting, and even though economic growth in the United States would be helped much less by clinging to retrograde burning of fossil fuel than by being in the forefront of developing and implementing advanced forms of renewable energy generation.

False Choice

Notwithstanding such political exploitation of misbelief, it would be wise to highlight the falsity of the notion that mankind faces a choice between economic well-being and preventing a further rise of a few degrees in global temperatures. The prospects for economic well-being worsen with that temperature rise. This is a matter not only of the economics of energy generation but of far broader and greater consequences.

The positive consequences (longer growing seasons at the higher latitudes, new opportunities for maritime transportation in the Arctic) are vastly outweighed by the negative ones, which are centered on, but not limited to, the impact on agriculture of drought and desertification, huge displacements caused by rising sea levels, and damage from increased extreme weather.

The enormity of the consequences, and the multiplicity of ways in which they will be felt, make it difficult for even the most diligent analysis to come up with an accurate translation of those consequences into dollar costs. Don’t expect something like a Congressional Budget Office scoresheet. But to use this difficulty as a reason not to embrace understanding of the consequences would be no more justified than is the posture of Scott Pruitt, the eviscerator (a.k.a. the administrator) of the Environmental Protection Agency, that the reality of climate change should not be accepted because it cannot be calculated with “precision.” The very enormity of the likely consequences is all the more reason to focus on them.

It behooves us to consider and to highlight all the likely consequences having economic impact (which is not to suggest that consequences that are at least as political and societal as economic, such as ones stemming from mass migration from increasingly uninhabitable areas, aren’t just as important), to chip away at the main misbelief about the economic trade-offs.

Sleep Deprivation

Here’s a recent bit of research to add to the mix. It’s a study of how climate change is increasing sleep deprivation in the United States. Using large-scale data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about self-reported sleep habits, and correlating the data with weather records, the researchers calculated that every increase in nighttime temperature of one degree Celsius leads to an additional three nights of restless sleep per 100 people per month.

For the entire United States, this means a one degree increase causes an additional 110 million nights of insufficient sleep each year. If current climate trends continue, there would be an additional six nights of insufficient sleep per 100 people per month by 2050, and 14 more such nights by 2099.

The impact on productivity and thus on the economy of the United States, from having so many more groggy and sleep-deprived people going to work the next day, cannot be calculated with precision but surely is substantial.

This is just one more reason, among many, not to let economic concerns be an excuse for inaction about climate change. And we shouldn’t have to sleep on that.

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.)




Trump: The Narcissist with Haters

Exclusive: In many ways, President Trump is a classic case of the paranoid with enemies, except he also is the narcissist who rejects any criticism and lacks the discipline to disarm an array of haters, writes David Marks.

By David Marks

If for a moment we step away from the dynamic of political forces at play in Washington and consider the strange psyche of the President, we see that Donald Trump is emerging as the chief architect of his own demise.

Whether there is any truth to the allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election or collusion with his campaign, the controversy has served to highlight Trump’s limitations as a political leader in the high-stress environment of the White House.

In that sense, Trump’s troubling personal and business practices from his private life have only become more troubling – and more glaring – as he adapts them to the presidency and its immense power. It seems that he doesn’t realize that his old methods are incompatible with his new office.

Indeed, since his inauguration, Trump’s words and behavior have reflected an intensification of his dogmatic thinking and narcissistic personality. Disturbing reports from the White House shed further light on the mismatch between Trump’s way of operating and the demands of the presidency.

The President’s self-righteousness against any criticism and his unwillingness to compromise is indicative of a leader who believes he is above the law and the norms of society. But unfortunately for Trump, like every President of the United States, he is under scrutiny at all times. In Trump’s case, however, he lacks the seasoned advisers who can restrain him. Instead, his arrogance is supported by his staff and congressional allies. His confidants seem incapable of contradicting his perspective.

No one seems to be able to stop him from blurting out damaging comments, often in early morning Tweets; so he repeatedly has contradicted White House statements designed to support his position. His reactions to damaging news reports are reminiscent of his campaign, often managing to be both self-serving and self-destructive.

In his most vulnerable moment last year, Trump defended himself after a recording was released revealing his crude approach to seducing women. His explanation of words that included “grab them by the pussy,” gives insight into more than his misogyny. He asked that we forgive his comment with the explanation, “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.” At the time of his comments in 2005, Trump was 59.

Trump, now 70, wants us to trust that he’s changed since uttering those words, although the opposite appears to be true. Now as President, Trump’s use of unrepentant excuses for his words and behavior is expanding concurrently with his narcissism.

Blurting Out ‘Israel’

Trump recently discovered that as president, he can declassify almost anything on a whim. At a White House meeting, he shared sensitive intelligence about ISIS with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador. After press reports complained that Trump provided enough detail so the Russians would know that the likely source of the intelligence was Israel, Trump essentially confirmed the speculation by volunteering during a trip to Israel that “Folks, folks, just so you understand, just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel during that conversation.”

Trump’s inability to understand the weight that a presidential remark can have – when compared to, say, a businessman making some off-hand comment to colleagues on a golf course – was further revealed in his apparent attempt to dissuade FBI Director James Comey, from investigating former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Comey reportedly recounted Trump’s words in a memo to the file — “I hope you can let this go” — but Trump, although not confirming the precise language, insisted that it was entirely appropriate to make that sort of general suggestion. Trump didn’t understand how his comment could be construed as an attempt to influence the FBI director in his official duties.

Trump would like us to once again be assured that this is the kind of talk that men have when they are alone. Before Trump made the reported suggestion to Comey, the President had dismissed everyone else from the room, so in his view it was a private encounter. But the impression of impropriety was reinforced when Trump fired Comey, judging him not a team player but rather “a showboat” and “a grandstander.”

In the four months since his inauguration, Trump has shown that he hasn’t absorbed the gravity of the office that he holds. He still acts like a freelancing businessman or a privileged celebrity, skating toward and sometimes beyond the edge of acceptable behavior.

As the controversies around him grow, he may soon learn that his ability to twist arms, negotiate questionable deals or use his position to protect friends is limited by the laws and the Constitution. When that happens, he is likely to get angrier and look to his attorneys to find ways out of his predicaments, much as he would when — as a businessman — he exploited bankruptcy statutes to extricate himself from dangers due to financial over-extension.

Paranoid with Enemies

It’s also undeniably true that Trump has political enemies who are looking for his most vulnerable actions in order to weaken or destroy him. He is the classic case of a paranoid with enemies, but he is making it easy for them by repeatedly falling into whatever trap gets set.

If self-pity is what a narcissist feels when criticized, Trump proves the point. He paints himself as a victim of historic dimensions. During the presidential campaign, Trump claimed at a rally he was “a victim of one of the great political smear campaigns in the history of our country” – apparently not aware that the United States has a long and dispiriting history of political smear campaigns dating back to the Founding era.

In his Coast Guard Academy commencement address, Trump felt even sorrier for himself declaring that “No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly.” It’s hard to believe that Trump would be unaware that four U.S. Presidents have been assassinated, including Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, not to mention many foreign political leaders who have met very grisly fates.

There’s also the likelihood that we only know a small fraction of Trump’s bizarre behavior in office and the resulting White House dysfunction. Presumably, if this pattern continues and his staff disintegrates, there will only be more revelations about how the President continues to contribute to his own crises.

Trump’s worsening troubles will also likely lead him to tighten the circle of trusted advisers, some of whom – such as his son-in-law Jared Kushner – are already finding themselves in legal jeopardy which, in turn, is forcing them to “lawyer up” and listen to advice on how to save themselves.

While it’s true that much of Official Washington was always gunning for Trump because his bizarre behavior and his jumble of policies were seen as a threat to the way things are done, it’s also true that Trump was his own worst enemy. He never demonstrated any grace toward his opponents; he resisted reaching out beyond his enthusiastic base; he picked silly and unnecessary fights such as claiming falsely that his inaugural crowd was bigger than President Obama’s; he squandered the crucial first days in office with an ill-conceived anti-Muslim immigration ban and other acts that were offensive to millions of Americans.

Now, just four months into his presidency, Trump is behaving like a wounded animal and it is unnerving to leaders around the world what he might do if the vague allegations against him and his inner circle harden into criminal indictments and articles of impeachment.

But one thing appears certain: he will not go quietly. However, if that moment comes, it is likely that he will have precipitated his downfall less from his erratic policies than from his egotistical personality.

David Marks is a veteran documentary filmmaker and investigative reporter. His work includes films for the BBC and PBS, including Nazi Gold, on the role of Switzerland in WWII and biographies of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra.




Trump’s Unrealistic Foreign Policy ‘Realism’

President Trump fancies himself a “principled realist,” but the reality is that there are very few principles and very little reality attached to his foreign policy, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

In his speech in Riyadh, President Trump said his administration was adopting “Principled Realism” — capitalized in the official White House version of the speech, as if to make a statement that there is a distinct doctrine being followed, one worthy of the term realism.

Some commentaries seem to have taken him at his word, with the main reference point being a contrast with the two previous U.S. administrations, which, in very different ways, placed greater importance than Trump does on the extent to which liberal democratic values prevail abroad. The contrast is based more broadly on Trump’s overall lack of concern for human rights overseas.

But slapping away any interest in democracy and human rights does not define realism. And we certainly have enough experience now with Trump to realize that his declaring he is doing something may have little relationship to what he actually is doing.

One basis for realism is derivable from the etymology of the term itself. Realists regard the world realistically, as it really exists rather than as we might like to remake it or as we would like others to believe it looks like. In this respect, realism is the antipodes of Trump’s world, which is filled with falsehoods and where what Trump would like others to believe is more influential than external reality.

This is most obviously the case with domestic affairs but also affects foreign relations, where in Trump’s world China is depressing its currency even though it really is doing the opposite, and something awful happened in Sweden last night even though Swedes really slept soundly.

In addition to a basic respect for truth and reality, realism as an approach to foreign policy is centered on the concept of all states constantly competing for influence and pursuing interests that partly conflict with, and partly parallel, one’s own interests.

What Is ‘Realism’?

Realists strive to harness the interests of others to advance their own nation’s interests. Realists utilize alliances while playing this game of nations but avoid being side-tracked by any fixed images of good versus bad or virtue versus evil, or by traditional habits of affinity or repulsion.

Trump may seem to be practicing this facet of realism when he denigrates America’s most traditional circle of friendship and affinity, the North Atlantic alliance of Western liberal democracies. We saw this pattern at Trump’s recent meetings in Europe, with his refusal to reiterate the Article Five commitment of the North Atlantic Treaty, his physically shoving aside the prime minister of the newest NATO member (Montenegro), and his statement in a multilateral meeting that “the Germans are bad, very bad.”

But far from practicing the realist discipline of eschewing good-versus-evil side-taking and being willing to do business with anyone in order to uphold and advance one’s own nation’s interests, Trump already has sunk deeply into such side-taking, as he did at earlier stops on his trip. In Riyadh his visit was all about going all in with the Saudis, declaring that he was doing so as a matter of good confronting evil, and totally taking the Sunni side against Shia and the Arab side against Persians while ruling out doing any business with the other side.

In Israel, where he made no mention of a Palestinian state or the effects of Israeli colonization of occupied territory, there was barely a hint of dispassionately following U.S. interests rather than succumbing to the passions of his hosts.

Trump has exhibited a general preference for authoritarians over democrats, and that preference already has had impact on his foreign policy. Such an inclination has no more to do with realism than does a general preference for democrats over authoritarians.

Realists see foreign relations as a continuous effort to utilize the self-interest of other states in advancing the interests of one’s own state. Transactions and understandings thus are mutually beneficial, and necessarily so. Trump’s mindset, evidently developed during his predatory real estate career, of thinking in terms of discrete deals with “winners” and “losers” is antithetical to this realist concept.

As for the issues of democracy and human rights, realism is indeed different from neoconservatism and liberal internationalism in not taking the degree to which democratic and human rights values prevail as a scorecard for measuring the success or failure of one’s foreign policy. Neither do realists believe that with enough effort and cleverness the United States can make those values prevail to a much greater extent than they do now.

An Incoherence 

But dissing, in the manner of Trump, concerns for human rights is not part of what defines realism. Issues of democracy and human rights exist, they are part of the real world, and realists understand that they can affect the state-to-state relations that are the main currency of realist thought.

A realist would not overlook how giving a green light to Sunni monarchs to crack down on Shia dissidents would encourage them to do exactly that, as in Bahrain, with implications for the stability and future of the U.S. military presence there. A realist would not overlook how the continued absence of democracy and self-determination for Palestinians has major consequences for state-to-state relations in the Middle East, however much some customary friends wish that were not so.

A realist would understand how Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s lurch toward authoritarianism diminishes what otherwise could have been a more positive role for Turkey in the international relations of the Middle East, and a realist would have seen no reason to congratulate Erdogan on the referendum result that has facilitated the lurch.

It is not clear yet whether Donald Trump’s foreign policy has enough coherence to merit the label of any “ism”, with or without capital letters. But it certainly isn’t realism.

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.)