‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent

The global elites’ false promise that neoliberal economics would cure all ills through the elixir of endless growth helps explain the angry nationalist movements ripping apart the West’s politics, observes ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

Raul Ilargi Meijer, the long-standing economics commentator, has written both succinctly – and provocatively: “It’s over! The entire model our societies have been based on for at least as long as we ourselves have lived, is over! That’s why there’s Trump.

“There is no growth. There hasn’t been any real growth for years. All there is left are empty hollow sunshiny S&P stock market numbers propped up with ultra-cheap debt and buybacks, and employment figures that hide untold millions hiding from the labor force. And most of all there’s debt, public as well as private, that has served to keep an illusion of growth alive and now increasingly no longer can.

“These false growth numbers have one purpose only: for the public to keep the incumbent powers that be in their plush seats. But they could always ever only pull the curtain of Oz [Wizard of Oz] over people’s eyes for so long, and it’s no longer so long.

“That’s what the ascent of Trump means, and Brexit, Le Pen, and all the others. It’s over. What has driven us for all our lives has lost both its direction and its energy.”

Meijer continues: “We are smack in the middle of the most important global development in decades, in some respects arguably even in centuries, a veritable revolution, which will continue to be the most important factor to shape the world for years to come, and I don’t see anybody talking about it. That has me puzzled.

“The development in question is the end of global economic growth, which will lead inexorably to the end of centralization (including globalization). It will also mean the end of the existence of most, and especially the most powerful, international institutions.

“In the same way it will be the end of -almost- all traditional political parties, which have ruled their countries for decades and are already today at or near record low support levels (if you’re not clear on what’s going on, look there, look at Europe!)

“This is not a matter of what anyone, or any group of people, might want or prefer, it’s a matter of ‘forces’ that are beyond our control, that are bigger and more far-reaching than our mere opinions, even though they may be man-made.

“Tons of smart and less smart folks are breaking their heads over where Trump and Brexit and Le Pen and all these ‘new’ and scary things and people and parties originate, and they come up with little but shaky theories about how it’s all about older people, and poorer and racist and bigoted people, stupid people, people who never voted, you name it.

“But nobody seems to really know or understand. Which is odd, because it’s not that hard. That is, this all happens because growth is over. And if growth is over, so are expansion and centralization in all the myriad of shapes and forms they come in.”

Further, Meijer writes: “Global is gone as a main driving force, pan-European is gone, and whether the United States will stay united is far from a done deal. We are moving towards a mass movement of dozens of separate countries and states and societies looking inward. All of which are in some form of -impending- trouble or another.

“What makes the entire situation so hard to grasp for everyone is that nobody wants to acknowledge any of this. Even though tales of often bitter poverty emanate from all the exact same places that Trump and Brexit and Le Pen come from too.

“That the politico-econo-media machine churns out positive growth messages 24/7 goes some way towards explaining the lack of acknowledgement and self-reflection, but only some way. The rest is due to who we ourselves are. We think we deserve eternal growth.”

The End of ‘Growth’

Well, is global “growth over”?  Of course Raul Ilargi is talking “aggregate” (and there will be instances of growth within any contraction). But what is clear is that debt-driven investment and low-interest-rate policies are having less and less effect – or no effect at all – in producing growth – either in terms of domestic or trade growth, as Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge writes:

“After almost two years of the quantitative easing program in the Euro Area, economic figures have remained very weak. As GEFIRA details, inflation is still fluctuating near zero, while GDP growth in the region has started to slow down instead of accelerating. According to the ECB data, to generate €1.0 of GDP growth, €18.5 had to be printed in the QE, … This year, the ECB printed nearly €600 billion within the frame of asset purchase programme (QE).”

Central Banks can and do create money, but that is not the same as creating wealth or purchasing power. By channelling their credit creation through the intermediary of banks granting loans to their favored clients, Central Banks grant to one set of entities purchasing power – a purchasing power that must necessarily have been transferred from another set of entities within Europe (i.e. transferred from ordinary Europeans in the case of the ECB), who, of course will have less purchasing power, less discretionary spending income.

The devaluation of purchasing power is not so obvious (no runaway inflation), because all major currencies are devaluing more or less pari passu – and because the authorities periodically steam hammer down the price of gold, so that there is no evident standard by which people can “see” for themselves the extent of their currencies’ joint downward float.

And world trade is grinding down too, as Lambert Strether of Corrente rather elegantly explains: “Back to shipping: I started following shipping … partly because it’s fun, but more because shipping is about stuff, and tracking stuff seemed like a far more attractive way of getting a handle on ‘the economy’ than economics statistics, let alone whatever books the Wall Streeters were talking on any given day. And don’t get me started on Larry Summers.

“So what I noticed was decline, and not downward blips followed by rebounds, but decline, for months and then a year. Decline in rail, even when you back out coal and grain, and decline in demand for freight cars. Decline in trucking, and decline in the demand for trucks. Air freight wobbly. No Christmas bounce at the Pacific ports. And now we have the Hanjin debacle — all that capital tied up in stranded ships, though granted only $12 billion or so — and the universal admission that somehow “we” invested w-a-a-a-a-a-y too much money in big ships and boats, implying (I suppose) that we need to ship a lot less stuff than we thought, at least across the oceans.

“Meanwhile, and in seeming contradiction not only to a slow collapse of global trade, but to the opposition to ‘trade deals,’ warehousing is one of the few real estate bright spots, and supply chain management is an exciting field. It’s disproportionately full of sociopaths, and therefore growing and dynamic!

“And the economics statistics seem to say nothing is wrong. Consumers are the engine of the economy and they are confident. But at the end of the day, people need stuff; life is lived in the material world, even if you think you live it on your device. It’s an enigma! So what I’m seeing is a contradiction: Less stuff is moving, but the numbers say ‘this is fine.’ Am I right, here? So in what follows, I’m going to assume that numbers don’t matter, but stuff does.”

Fake Elixir

Or, to be more faux-empirical: as Bloomberg notes in A Weaker Currency is no longer the Elixir, It Once Was: “global central banks have cut policy rates 667 times since 2008, according to Bank of America. During that period, the dollar’s 10 main peers have fallen 14%, yet Group-of-Eight economies have grown an average of just 1%. Since the late 1990s, a 10% inflation-adjusted depreciation in currencies of 23 advanced economies boosted net exports by just 0.6% of GDP, according to Goldman Sachs. That compares with 1.3% of GDP in the two decades prior. U.S. trade with all nations slipped to $3.7 trillion in 2015, from $3.9 trillion in 2014.”

With “growth over,” so too is globalization: Even the Financial Times agrees, as its commentator Martin Wolf writes in his comment, The Tide of Globalisation is Turning: “Globalisation has at best stalled. Could it even go into reverse? Yes. It requires peace among the great powers … Does globalisation’s stalling matter? Yes.”

Globalization is stalling – not because of political tensions (a useful “scapegoat”), but because growth is flaccid as a result of a veritable concatenation of factors causing its arrest – and because we have entered into debt deflation that is squeezing what’s left of discretionary, consumption-available, income.  But Wolf is right. Ratcheting tensions with Russia and China will not somehow solve America’s weakening command over the global financial system – even if capital flight to the dollar might give the U.S. financial system a transient “high.”

So what might the “turning tide” of globalization actually mean? Does it mean the end of the neo-liberalist, financialized world? That is hard to say. But expect no rapid “u-turn” – and no apologies. The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 – at the time – was thought by many to mark the end to neo-liberalism.  But it never happened – instead, a period of fiscal retrenchment and austerity was imposed that contributed to a deepening distrust of the status quo, and a crisis rooted in a widespread, popular sense that “their societies” were headed in the wrong direction.

Neo-liberalism is deeply entrenched – not least in Europe’s Troika and in the Eurogroup that oversees creditor interests, and which, under European Union rules, has come to dominate E.U. financial and tax policy.

It is too early to say from whence the economic challenge to prevailing orthodoxy will come, but in Russia there is a group of prominent economists gathered together as the Stolypin Club, who are evincing a renewed interest in that old adversary of Adam Smith, Friedrich List (d. 1846), who evolved a “national system of political economy.” List upheld the (differing interests) of the nation to that of the individual. He gave prominence to the national idea, and insisted on the special requirements of each nation according to its circumstances, and especially to the degree of its development. He famously doubted the sincerity of calls to free trade from developed nations, in particular those by Britain. He was, as it were, the arch anti-globalist.

A Post-Globalism

One can see that this might well fit the current post-globalist mood. List’s acceptance of the need for a national industrial strategy and the reassertion of the role of the state as the final guarantor of social cohesion is not some whimsy pursued by a few Russian economists. It is entering the mainstream. The May government in the U.K. precisely is breaking with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s – and is breaking towards a List-ian approach.

Be that as it may (whether this approach swims more widely back into fashion), the very contemporary British professor and political philosopher, John Gray has suggested the key point is: “The resurgence of the state is one of the ways in which the present time differs from the ‘new times’ diagnosed by Martin Jacques and other commentators in the 1980s. Then, it seemed national boundaries were melting away and a global free market was coming into being. It’s a prospect I never found credible.

“A globalised economy existed before 1914, but it rested on a lack of democracy. Unchecked mobility of capital and labour may raise productivity and create wealth on an unprecedented scale, but it is also highly disruptive in its impact on the lives of working people – particularly when capitalism hits one of its periodic crises. When the global market gets into grave trouble, neoliberalism is junked in order to meet a popular demand for security. That is what is happening today.

“If the tension between global capitalism and the nation state was one of the contradictions of Thatcherism, the conflict between globalization and democracy has undone the left. From Bill Clinton and Tony Blair onwards, the center-left embraced the project of a global free market with an enthusiasm as ardent as any on the right. If globalisation was at odds with social cohesion, society had to be re-engineered to become an adjunct of the market. The result was that large sections of the population were left to moulder in stagnation or poverty, some without any prospect of finding a productive place in society.”

If Gray is correct that when globalized economics strikes trouble, people will demand that the state must pay attention to their own parochial, national economic situation (and not to the utopian concerns of the centralizing élite), it suggests that just as globalization is over – so too is centralization (in all its many manifestations).

The E.U., of course, as an icon of introverted centralization, should sit up, and pay attention. Jason Cowley, the editor of the (Leftist) New Statesman says: “In any event … however you define it, [the onset of ‘New Times’] will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.”

The Problem of Self-Delusion

So, to return to Ilargi’s point, that “we are smack in the middle of the most important global development in decades … and I don’t see anybody talking about it. That has me puzzled” and to which he answers that ultimately, the “silence” is due to ourselves: “We think we deserve eternal growth.”

He is surely right that it somehow answers to the Christian meme of linear progress (material here, rather than spiritual); but more pragmatically, doesn’t “growth” underpin the whole Western financialized, global system: “it was about lifting the ‘others’ out of their poverty”?

Recall, Stephen Hadley, the former U.S. National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, warning plainly that foreign-policy experts rather should pay careful attention to the growing public anger: that “globalization was a mistake” and that “the elites have sleep-walked the [U.S.] into danger.”

“This election isn’t just about Donald Trump,” Hadley argued. “It’s about the discontents of our democracy, and how we are going to address them … whoever is elected, will have to deal with these discontents.”

In short, if globalization is giving way to discontent, the lack of growth can undermine the whole financialized global project. Stiglitz tells us that this has been evident for the past 15 years — last month he noted that he had warned then of: “growing opposition in the developing world to globalizing reforms: It seemed a mystery: people in developing countries had been told that globalization would increase overall wellbeing. So why had so many people become so hostile to it? How can something that our political leaders – and many an economist – said would make everyone better off, be so reviled? One answer occasionally heard from the neoliberal economists who advocated for these policies is that people are better off. They just don’t know it. Their discontent is a matter for psychiatrists, not economists.”

This “new” discontent, Stiglitz now says, is extended into advanced economies. Perhaps this is what Hadley means when he says, “globalization was a mistake.” It is now threatening American financial hegemony, and therefore its political hegemony too.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.




The Warnings of a New World War

The U.S.-Russia confrontation over Ukraine and now Syria is far more dangerous than is understood by mainstream U.S. analysts as Russia lays down clear warnings that are mostly being ignored, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

In an interview with the Bild newspaper on Oct. 8, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is known for his cautious rhetoric, described the present international situation in the following woeful terms: “unfortunately it is an illusion to believe this is the old Cold War. The new times are different; they are more dangerous. Previously, the world was divided, but Moscow and Washington knew each other’s red lines and respected them. In a world with many regional conflicts and dwindling influence of the great powers, the world becomes more unpredictable.”

For these reasons, said Steinmeier, “The USA and Russia must continue talking with each other.” He concluded his appeal with fairly balanced recommendations to resolve the humanitarian crisis in east Aleppo, urging both Russia and the other powers to apply their influence with their clients on the ground.

Sad to say, this call to reason fell on deaf ears. On the same day, a U.S. State Department spokesman explained to journalists Washington’s decision over the weekend to end the joint peace process with Moscow, saying that there was “nothing left to talk about with the Russians.”

Meanwhile, the Russian side took as the last straw this unilateral and trumpeted decision of the Americans to bury the deal signed on Sept. 9 between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that had taken 14 hours to negotiate and was seen as a triumph of cooperation versus confrontation.

De facto, from the Russian view, that deal was sabotaged on Sept. 17 by the Pentagon when U.S. and coalition aircraft bombed a Syrian government military outpost at Deir Ezzor killing more than 60 Syrian soldiers. And de facto, the Russians had suspended the implementation of the ceasefire on Sept. 23 when they renewed heavy bombing of east Aleppo in close collaboration with the Syrian air force and ground units. Now that the U.S. had formalized the end of cooperation over Syria, Russia set out its own full-blooded response which it called a “radical change in relations” between the two countries.

Several of the components of the Russian response of Oct. 3 and over the week to follow were noted in the U.S. and Western mainstream media. We heard about the decision to cancel the bilateral convention concluded with the U.S. in 2000 on reprocessing excess weapons-grade plutonium for electricity generation. This was widely considered to be of marginal importance, since the U.S. had been unable to implement its part of the bargain for lack of appropriate conversion installations and costs of upwards of $18 billion if it did what was necessary.

We heard about Russia holding civil defense exercises to provide for 40 million citizens, though no one could make much sense of it. We heard about the announcement of the Russian Ministry of Defense that it now has brought to Syria and made operational its most advanced air defense missile systems, the S300 and S400, but Pentagon spokesmen professed to be dumbfounded and asked rhetorically what was the purpose of the move.

Finally, we all heard this week that Russia has officially deployed its hypersonic, potentially nuclear-tipped, 500 kilometer-range Iskander ground-to-ground missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. The Polish military officials immediately expressed dismay, feeling under threat and said they were putting all their defense facilities on alert. But Pentagon spokesmen said there was no reason to view this deployment as different from the last deployment in Kaliningrad two years ago, which was just a training exercise.

Playing Down the Danger

From the foregoing, it would appear that the U.S. government was keen to play down to the general public the significance of the separately noted Russian moves last week. It is in this context that one must appreciate what an unofficial but authoritative Russian state television program last Sunday night did to add a few more important dots, to connect them all and to interpret for laymen what is the significance of the Russian démarches.

The state television program on the Rossiya 1 channel, Vesti nedeli (News of the Week), is presented by Dmitri Kiselyov. This two-hour show on prime time is the single most widely watched news broadcast in Russia with tens of millions of viewers. However, in cases like the Oct. 9 show, the real hoped-for audience of the first half-hour segment was in Washington, D.C., where its intent was to pour cold water over hotheads in the Pentagon and CIA – and bring the American leadership back to its senses.

Dmitri Kiselyov is not merely the anchorman of Vesti nedeli. He is also the boss of all news and information programming on state radio and television. He is tough and wears his patriotism on his sleeve. We may assume that what he says has been approved by the Kremlin.

Because of the importance of the message Kiselyov was delivering, I am going to quote heavily from my transcript of his narrative, only making minor cuts:

“This past week relations between the USA and Russia went through a sharp but expected turn. To bend over backwards further in the face of [American] lies has lost all sense and is simply harmful. By bending over backwards we mean looking for diplomatic compromises.

“We held endless expectations that the USA will finally separate the non-terrorists from the terrorists [in Syria]. We waited more than a year for this. But it is clear they did not want to. They are taking us and the whole world for fools. America is working on the side of Al Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate], providing them with diplomatic cover; providing them with additional arms; helping them by their supposedly mistaken bombing of a Syrian army position.

“See the outbursts of anti-Russian statements in the U.S. mass media. If we continue with the Americans, our very presence in Syria will lose sense. Instead, working with the legal Syrian government, we can rid the country of terrorists, thereby ensuring security of the Middle Eastern region, Russia and Europe.”

Kiselyov continued: “Those who want to can join us. The U.S. seemed to want to join, then thought again and cut their military cooperation with Russia over Syria on Monday, with one exception, the channel of communication to avoid military clashes in Syria remains in force. For the time being.

“Formally the situation returned to where it was before Sept. 9 when Kerry and Lavrov reached their agreement on a truce. But then [U.S. Defense Secretary] Ashton Carter entered the picture. He opened a second front. He forced Kerry to fight on two fronts. If Kerry previously thought he was competing with the Russians, now he came under “friendly fire” from the Pentagon.

“American forces directly bombed a Syrian military outpost. This was no mistake. It was coordinated with the terrorists, who followed up with an attack. Then there came a camouflaged attack on the humanitarian convoy near Aleppo [Sept. 20]. Finally, it became clear to Moscow that diplomacy is merely a ‘service’ for the Pentagon. Kerry, in intellectual style, justifies the actions of the Pentagon. Often, post factum.

“We will review tonight the radical changes in our relations with America. This includes the dispatch to the region of three of our cruise missile vessels with Kalibr on board. The roll-out in Syria of additional air defense systems S300. The dispatch to Egypt of 5,000 of our paratroopers. The tearing up of our agreements with America in the atomic sphere. And the civil defense exercise of the past week which involved 200,000 civil defense personnel covering 40 million population. To my recollection such a constellation of events never before took place.”

Terrorists and Hostages

Kiselyov went on: “The center of attention has been east Aleppo, still in control of terrorists with hundreds of thousands of civilians kept hostage as a human shield. They execute people who want to leave. We cannot tolerate this anymore. The terrorists are not capable of abiding by agreements. The Syrian army is carrying out a storm operation.

“There is so much lying and shrieking going on in the world about this. … It’s a serious matter that the U.S. is looking at Russia’s actions to combat terrorists in Syria as a threat to its own exceptionalism. The scenario is not developing according to the U.S. plan, so what is the sense of all the claims to U.S. domination and leadership. It looks as if Barack Obama will leave office before Bashar Assad. And their nasty tricks against Russia, the sanctions, aren’t working…

“To be sure, Washington has loudly announced that it is shifting now to the so-called Plan B. Formally there are no details. But in general terms, everyone understands what we are talking about. Plan B is when America applies in Syria direct military force. It is not hard to guess against whom, against Bashar Assad, the government army, and that means against the armed forces of Russia, who are present in Syria on legal grounds.

“Can we exclude such a variation? No. We cannot exclude provocations to justify the start of war, as happened in the past in the two world wars. The Vietnam War also began with a provocation organized by the Americans. See the false pretenses for invading Iraq and the action in Libya. U.S. ignored international law, decided there can be no obstacles in the path of their assaults.”

Kiselyov continued: “Moscow reacted calmly to Plan B. Russia saddles up slowly, but then rides fast. To understand how Russian-American relations have just quickly changed directions, we have to rewind and go back to the start of the week. Let us now scrupulously go over events since Monday.

“First I want to direct your attention to the very public speech of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. He spoke more quietly and more slowly than usual. Formally it was to open the session of the new 7th Duma. But it was addressed to the very core issues of our souls and minds. His words were not about draft laws, but to the essence of the moment. Putin considered it important to talk about the general basis of support. He spoke about unity of the people as an essential element for the existence of our country. Strength is essential to maintaining our statehood.

“At this Duma session, Putin introduced draft law to halt the convention on plutonium with the USA.”

Kiselyov here makes an association between Putin’s speech to the Duma and the draft law halting the convention on plutonium that would not be obvious to outsiders. Still more important, he called attention to the contents of that draft law, beginning with the reason given for this event, namely what is called a “radical change in circumstances, the emergence of a threat to strategic stability as a result of hostile actions of the United States of America in relation to the Russian Federation and the inability of the United States of America to ensure execution of the obligations it assumed to reprocess the excess weapons grade plutonium in accordance with the Agreement and the protocols to the Agreement.”

Kiselyov then moved to the all-important Point 2 of the draft law. The text was projected onto the television screen, with its provisions highlighted in yellow as Kiselyov read from it. The highlighted passages are as follows:

“The validity of the Agreement and protocols to the Agreement can be renewed after the elimination by the United States of America of the causes which have led to a radical change in the circumstances which existed on the day of the coming into force of the Agreement and the protocols to the Agreement on condition:

“1) that the military infrastructure and numbers of the contingent of troops of the United States of America stationed on the territories of member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which entered NATO after 1 September 2000 be reduced to their levels on the day of coming into force of the Agreement and protocols to the Agreement

“2) that the United States of America renounces its hostile policy with respect to the Russian Federation which must be expressed:

“a) by the repeal of the 2012 law of the United States of America (Sergei Magnitsky law) and the repeal of provisions of the 2014 law of the United States of America in support of  freedom of Ukraine directed against Russia

“b) by the cancellation of all sanctions introduced by the United States of America with respect to separate subjects of the Russian Federation – Russian individuals and legal entities

“c) compensation of damages borne by the Russian Federation as a result of the sanctions indicated in line ’b’ of this point, including losses from the introduction of necessary counter-sanctions against the United States of America

“d) presentation by the United States of America of a clear plan for irreversible reprocessing of plutonium coming under the scope of the Agreement.”

A Breathtaking Ultimatum 

Kiselyov rightly called these provisions an “Ultimatum” addressed to the White House. Their scope is breathtaking. But the Kremlin’s message to Washington was action, not just words.

Kiselyov explained that on Tuesday the government stopped an ongoing program of scientific contacts with the U.S. in the nuclear field. On the same day it cancelled a program of cooperation between Rosatom and the U.S. Department of Energy over nuclear reactors.

Then, as Kiselyov noted, the Russians “moved from the brakes to the gas pedal.” They dispatched three missile bearing naval vessels from the Black Sea fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean as a back-up in case the U.S. proceeds on Plan B. These are equipped with two types of missiles: the Kalibr cruise missile which may be nuclear tipped and has a 2,600 kilometer range for striking ground targets plus the supersonic Oniks for attacking ships.

Also on what he chose to call “Black Tuesday,” the Russian government confirmed that it has installed its S300 air defense system in Syria. For the explanation, Kiselyov pulled up video recordings of the televised statement by the chief of the press and information service, the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense Igor Konashenkov, who was responding to questions about the Syrian campaign.

Konashenkov said the air defense was installed because of U.S. and French threats to impose a “no fly zone” and because of the lessons learned from the U.S. coalition strike against Syrian forces at Deir Ezzor on Sept. 17. Konashenkov stressed that there will likely be no time for any hot-line discussions with Americans about stealth aircraft or incoming missiles: they will be shot down, “whatever the dilettantes” in American military circles may think.

He explained that Russian military are in settled areas across Syria performing humanitarian work and dealing with local Syrian militia who are laying down their arms under Russian-brokered deals. Therefore, any U.S. air strikes in Syria will likely also hit Russian forces, which is utterly unacceptable.

Next, Kiselyov reminded his audience, on Wednesday, Russia officially notified Washington that it deems the missile defense installations that the United States has built in Romania and is building in Poland are in violation of the convention on intermediate-range missiles since they can be used for offensive as well as defensive rockets.

Russia is not presently withdrawing from the convention on intermediate-range missiles, which was the single biggest arms control agreement of the Reagan-Gorbachev years, but it is preparing the way for abrogation at its choosing. This was the context for Moscow’s announcement on the same day that they have installed their Iskander missile system in Kaliningrad. The suggestion is that this is permanent, not linked to any exercises.

During the same week, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced an unprecedented military exercise in Egypt with dispatch there of 5,000 paratroopers equipped with new, desert-condition uniforms and a new design parachute.

Russian Overseas Bases

According to Kiselyov, Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Pankov said his ministry is reviewing the question of reestablishing military bases in Cuba and Vietnam. And, on the anniversary of its launch into space of the first Sputnik, Moscow celebrated the Day of the Rocket Corps by showing clips of recent “awesome” rocket launches.

Summing up, Kiselyov acknowledged that all these events give the impression of a highly charged atmosphere. They are, he said, all the consequence of America’s steady campaign of expanding NATO, its renunciation of the ABM treaty, its color revolutions, its vilification of Russia, and its information war based on lies. These unfriendly acts had to be a stop.

He asked rhetorically: is this dangerous? To which he responded in the affirmative.

And yet, if Russia is morally and physically prepared for war with the United States to defend what it sees as its national interests, including in Syria, Kiselyov ended the half-hour segment of his weekly news wrap-up on a non-belligerent note. He said the message of the Russian government was its preparedness for the worst while it hopes for better outcomes. He quoted Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, who insisted that Russia is always ready for cooperation.

Bad as the enumeration of Moscow’s “radical change in relations” with the United States sounds, the overview of Russian actions and intentions on the Kiselyov program was not exhaustive. In the same week, there were leaks of Russian plans to establish what never existed in the Cold War, a naval base in Egypt, which it is said would support their operations in the Western Mediterranean.

It bears mention that the whole subject of military bases abroad came up on another prime-time flagship program of Russian state television, the Oct. 9 edition of “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” the most popular and respected talk show of the same Rossiya 1 channel.

In a departure from common practice, this edition featured only Russian panelists, mostly of high standing.  The single highest-rated politician panelist was Irina Yarovaya, the tough-as-nails and very smart Duma deputy known best as the author of what Edward Snowden called the Big Brother law this past July. Yarovaya was newly named as Deputy Chair of the State Duma and opened the show, which focused on U.S.-Russian relations and comparative military strength.

Yarovaya remarked on how in 1992 the U.S. defense budget was 77 times greater than Russia’s whereas last year it was just 10 times greater. Today, she noted, the U.S. accounts for 36 percent of total global military expenditures while Russia represents 4 percent. Why does the United States need this disproportionately sized military establishment? Answer: to dominate the political landscape. In this context, she explained, Russia now is throwing cold water on that notion of domination.

At this point, the second-ranking politician on the show entered the debate with an important qualification. Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the leader of the nationalist LDPR party, which did remarkably well in the September elections and was given the Duma committee chairmanship of foreign relations as a reward, another detail of Russian political life that has gone virtually unnoticed in U.S. and Western commentary.

Zhirinovsky insisted that the correlation of military capabilities is more favorable to Russia than the gross figures suggest. After all, he explained, a large chunk of the U.S. defense budget goes on toilet paper, sausages and similar housekeeping expenses in support of its 700 foreign bases.

Notwithstanding that caustic remark about bases generally and eyes-open understanding that such force projection is also debilitating, Zhirinovsky later in the program suggested that Russia would do well to establish 100 overseas bases.

To understand properly what this question of possible Russian military bases overseas means, we have to recall that, in the not so distant past, Vladimir Putin pointed to the country’s having no overseas bases as a distinguishing point setting Russia apart from superpowers. We have no ambition to be a superpower, he said then.

The Risky U.S. ‘War Party’

Those in the U.S. “war party” who talk about Putin’s dream of reestablishing the Soviet Union are repeating endlessly complete nonsense. But there is a dream, a very new dream in Moscow which did not exist until  the present direct and existential confrontation with the U.S. that Russia will be understood to be not just a great power but a superpower with global interests.

In this sense, by presenting Russia with hostility and enormous challenges, the United States has been creating the very Russia it fears.

All of the information that I have used in this commentary are open source. The television programs are all accessible as they are to the U.S. intelligence officers stationed in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. They are also accessible to any Russian-speaking analysts in Langley who happen to be interested since they are posted within 24 hours on youtube.com.

Moreover, the CIA has its own agent taking part in the prime-time talk shows several days a week. He is a welcome and paid guest of the Russian state television because of his outstanding Russian language skills and his defense of the policy line coming from Washington, which makes him the American that Russian viewers love to hate.

In this capacity, he rubs shoulders regularly with the leading Russian politicians on the shows and has a chance, in the breaks, to put to them the kind of question that one such politician said he raised a week ago: “Will there be a war?”

If the U.S. intelligence establishment is doing its job professionally, and we must assume that is the case, then they have been briefing President Obama and the two presidential candidates on the developments in U.S.-Russian relations that I have outlined above.

In that case, a puzzling and scandalous question arises:  why has the President not said a word about the “radical change in relations” with Russia? And why is it that neither candidate when asked about how to respond to the killings in east Aleppo on Debate Two, that very same evening, on Oct. 9, were clueless.

Indeed, the remarks of Hillary Clinton to the effect that the United States must stand up to the Russians and impose a “no-fly zone” in Syria missed the point that to do so now will mean destruction of U.S. aircraft and naval vessels, or, in other words, the onset of World War III. Either she and her policy team do not have their eye on the ball or they are playing a reckless game.

For his part, Donald Trump came out marginally better on the issue of what to do about east Aleppo. He said that, as he understands, it’s lost already. That appraisal is much closer to reality.

The end result of the official silence in the U.S. about Russia’s message of defiance and about its military wherewithal in place in Syria to defend what it construes as its national interest is that as a nation the U.S. is flying blind.

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




The Failed Dogma of Neoliberalism

In the 1980s, British Prime Minister Thatcher and President Reagan depicted neoliberal or “free market” capitalism as the ideal system, a dogma that extends to the present despite its horrific failures and other options, says Sam Ben-Meir.

By Sam Ben-Meir

Oct .13 marked the birthday of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – so perhaps it would be  fitting to take a moment to consider how Thatcherism still rules the global capitalist landscape.

During her political prime in the 1980s, Thatcher said she was out to change the soul, to change the conceptual universe in which people live, and her idea that “there is no alternative” (TINA) became so deeply embedded in our psyches and in our consciousness that it seems we could no longer imagine that there is an alternative to capitalism.

The neoliberalism of Thatcher was characterized by deregulation (especially in the financial sector), the suppression of labor, attacks on trade unions, and the privatization of state-owned corporations. Both Thatcher and Ronald Reagan oversaw the shift toward a more laissez-faire version of capitalism, which in effect reversed the post-1929 movement towards increased state-intervention and social-democratic capitalism.

It is long overdue that we lay this TINA concept to rest. Consider this: in the 1930s there was a clear sense that there was an alternative. After World War II, an alternative emerged in which the state was heavily involved; and taxation rates in the U.S. were very high. One of the persistent lies that we hear from Republicans is that high taxation rates destroy growth.

Donald Trump repeated this fallacy in the second presidential debate, but the record speaks differently. In 1945, that taxation rate on the top income brackets was 92 percent; it never fell below 70 percent until Ronald Reagan brought it down to 30 percent.

In 1981, Reagan significantly reduced the maximum tax rate, which affected the highest income earners, and lowered the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent; in 1986 he further reduced the rate to 28 percent. Between 1945 and Reagan, the average rate of growth in the U.S. was around 4 to 5 percent per year: one of the most successful boom periods of American history, when the top tax rate was always at 70-odd percent.

Since Ronald Reagan, the top tax rate has hovered around 35-39 percent and the average rate of growth since the 1970s has been 2 percent. Despite Trump’s absurd claims to the contrary, Americans remain among the least taxed citizens of advanced industrial nations, with 28 percent of gross domestic product taken for taxes versus an average of 36 percent for the 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

So what is the alternative? The fact is that we are currently facing a bankruptcy of ideas. There is an overload of negative critique of capitalism; and relatively little positive critique. To begin with, we should take a hint from CUNY economics professor David Harvey, and look inside the factory system itself for potential solutions.

Observe, for example, how corporations today manage and direct: they have a command-and-control system back through their supply chain. Their operations are centrally planned in a highly sophisticated and efficient way. One can easily imagine adopting that methodology and directing it to a social purpose other than merely enhancing bottom lines.

Another Way

There is one further element of any viable alternative that needs to be mentioned; and it will serve to balance the need for centralized planning – namely, worker self-management (WSM). Worker self-management involves the extension and reinforcement of democratic principles beyond the political realm.

Each enterprise is managed by those who work there, and it is they who hold the decision-making power when it comes to determining, for example, what is to be produced, how much and for whom; how net proceeds are to be distributed; and how the firm is to be organized and administered. WSM is a collective process drawing on the common goals of people joined together in a cooperatively managed productive organization.

The first essential condition for the existence of WSM is that management of the company is entrusted to all people who work in it. The crucial point here is that the firm is controlled by the workers themselves and not by capital owners: in other words, the people who are most involved in production of goods and services have control over that production.

This is sine qua non for worker self-management. To meet this condition a democratic process is called for; where goals can be internally defined, and there is equality of voting power among all who work in the company and, ideally, equal opportunity to participate democratically in managing the organization’s affairs.

Economic democracy is a central pillar of legitimacy in any fully democratic system. The workplace has to be a space in which individuals acquire the participative skills, values and experiences which make for a vibrant democratic polity. This kind of “social training” is severely hampered by the prevailing forms of alienation.

Self-management is critical to the formation of an unalienated work-community and productive process – it shapes a space in which people come together, not only to meet their financial needs but also their need for community, dialogue and fulfillment from work. The topic of worker self-management is especially timely: in the era of global capitalism, economic democratization is more relevant than ever. Fortunately, there is a great deal of empirical evidence to show that worker self-managed firms perform as well as, if not better than, traditionally managed firms.

We also know that managers who are employed in firms where workers have some influence tend to be supportive of greater worker empowerment: that would hardly be the case if these projects were not seen as successful. Workplace democracy is able to satisfy the “imperative of efficiency” – of that there can no longer be any doubt. Otherwise, no one would want democratization extended to the workplace. WSM would remain at best a worthless bit of theory.

According to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, there are over 300 democratic workplaces in the United States alone, employing thousands of individuals and generating over $400 million in annual revenues. The fact is that more and more ordinary people want workplace democracy, and such an attitude toward social change is an absolutely necessary prerequisite for activism.

So, in honor of Margaret Thatcher’s birthday, let us prove to ourselves, the world, and to future generations hence that there is indeed an alternative to a global capitalistic system that increases poverty, misery and destitution; that despoils the environment and robs man of a human environment fit to live in, all in the name of an insane imperative that can be summarized in a single word: growth.

Dr. Sam Ben-Meir teaches philosophy at Eastern International College. His current research focuses on environmental and business ethics. sambenmeir@hotmail.com  Web: www.alonben-meir.com




Obama Re-imposes Neoliberalism in Latin America

President Obama’s chief “accomplishment” in Latin America was not restoring diplomatic ties to Cuba; it was his administration’s “regime change” strategy re-imposing “neoliberal” economic orthodoxy on the region, as Ted Snider explains.

By Ted Snider

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama promised to change the way America does business with Latin America, a recognition of the appalling history of interference and regime change dating back to the Nineteenth Century, from Thomas Jefferson’s hostility toward Haiti’s slave rebellion to William McKinley’s betrayal of Cuba after “liberating” it from Spain.

Then, there was the case of Theodore Roosevelt severing Panama from Colombia in 1903 for the purpose of building the Panama Canal. And another case in 1908 when the U.S. government cooperated in the ouster of Venezuelan President Juan Vicente Gómez. And, in 1909, when William Taft removed Nicaragua’s José Santos Zelaya because he insisted that U.S. companies in Nicaragua honor their agreements and tried to make his country less dependent on the U.S. by borrowing from European, not American, banks.

In the modern era, Dwight Eisenhower had the CIA overthrow Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and – before leaving office – Eisenhower started the covert action aimed at removing Fidel Castro as Cuba’s leader, a process continued under John Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs invasion and beyond. Then, there was the 1964 coup in Brazil to overthrow Joao Goulart, and the political action to encourage the removal of Guyana’s Chedi Jagan undertaken the same year.

In 1971, Richard Nixon destabilized Chile, encouraging a bloody coup against Salvador Allende. Ronald Reagan sponsored a covert war to oust Nicaragua’s Sandinista government while also throwing U.S. military support behind various brutal and repressive regimes in Central America. In 1989, George H.W. Bush destroyed civilian neighborhoods in Panama City in an invasion to arrest Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.

And impoverished Haiti periodically showed up on Washington’s radar. With the backing of the Bush-41 and Bush-43 administrations, coup plotters removed Haiti’s popular leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, twice. George W. Bush also supported a short-lived coup in 2002 to oust Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. And this is only a partial list of U.S. interventions in its “backyard.”

So, it is important to evaluate Obama’s performance on his promise to change this tragic and shameful history. Yet, it didn’t take long to see that nothing really had changed. It appears that the Obama administration adopted an eight-year-long strategy of rolling back what has been called the Pink Tide of progressive or socialist leaders who dared challenged Washington’s neoliberal economic model for the hemisphere.

The Obama administration favored a more subtle approach to regime change than some predecessors. Unlike the military coups sponsored by earlier administrations, Obama’s coups didn’t require tanks in the streets. Rather, they were disguised as domestic political clashes, starting with civil unrest and media accusations of abuses by the targeted leader, followed by legislatures or courts using impeachment or other “constitutional” means to effect the regime change. These were silent or “soft” coups carried out in democratic disguise.

An early example came on June 28, 2009, when Honduras’ democratically elected and liberal President Manuel Zelaya was accused of plotting a constitutional amendment that would permit more than one term for a president. At the instructions of his political opponents on the Supreme Court, the military seized him at gunpoint and whisked him away in a plane that refueled at a U.S. military base.

That would have been a good moment for Obama to show that he meant business, that he placed democracy and social progress at the center of his regional agenda. Instead, he allowed his State Department to send signals that the U.S. was privately delighted with Zelaya’s ouster.

After the coup, the American ambassador was not recalled; the U.S. refused to join the demand of the United Nation’s General Assembly and the Organization of American States (OAS) for the return of the elected president; and the word “coup” was banned from the State Department’s lexicon. 

Although the OAS refused to recognize the new coup president, the State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton went in the opposite direction, recognizing the coup government as the winner of controversial new elections. U.S. military support increased, too.

Yet, despite the Obama administration’s linguistic gymnastics in not publicly labeling Zelaya’s removal at gunpoint a coup, Obama’s White House knew that it was a coup. By July 24, 2009, less than a month after the coup, the White House was in receipt of a cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Honduras informing President Obama of the facts.

In an almost comical lack of subtlety that was clearly never meant to be public, the cable is called “Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup.” In it, the embassy reported, “There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” 

The conclusion could not be clearer. But just in case there were any remaining doubt, the cable added that “none of the . . . arguments [of the coup defenders] has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.”

In the most generous interpretation of Obama’s action or inaction, you could say he permitted the coup to succeed by maintaining his silence. More likely, however, his administration was a supportive participant, holding a dialogue with the Honduran military up to the day of the coup and by recognizing the coup government as legitimate soon afterwards. Zelaya has always insisted that “the coup came from the north from the U.S.”

In the heat of the coup, the plane that was carrying the kidnapped president landed at the U.S. military base of Palmerola for 15 to 20 minutes while it refueled. The U.S. chose not to intervene. 

In her memoir, Hard ChoicesClinton admitted that she aided the new leadership by short-circuiting any efforts to restore Zelaya to power. “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot,” she wrote.

Ecuador in the Crosshairs

After the coup against Zelaya, Ecuador’s popularly elected president, Rafael Correa, said, “We have intelligence reports that say that after Zelaya, I’m next.” He may have been right. The year after the Honduran coup, there was an attempted coup against Correa. Although the action failed, Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot said it was clearly an attempted coup to overthrow Correa’s government.

Correa had renegotiated oil contracts and demanded a larger share of the big oil companies’ revenue for the people of Ecuador. He also opposed a free trade agreement with the U.S. and closed the U.S. military base in Ecuador. And, he joined Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and successfully defaulted on over $3 billion of foreign debt that was illegitimately contracted by Ecuadorian leaders who Correa said were CIA-supported dictators.

The U.S. had started action against Correa during George W. Bush’s presidency. An October 2005 embassy cable sent by U.S. Ambassador Linda Jewell outlined action for “desirable political and economic change in Ecuador.” In 2006, she cabled that a Correa election would “derail” U.S. hopes as the embassy expects Correa to join Chavez and other nationalist South American leaders. In the same cable [06QUITO2150], Jewell said that the U.S. has “actively discouraged potential alliances” with Correa. She admitted [06QUITO2991] to “working in concert with other Ecuadorians and groups who share our vision.”

During the Obama years, the U.S. would continue to intervene in Ecuador. In March 2009, Ecuador expelled Mark Sullivan, an American official who was accused of being the CIA station chief in Quito and of playing a role in the suspension of U.S. assistance to a special investigative police unit when Ecuador named a new chief of whom the U.S. didn’t approve.

On Oct. 30, 2010, the attempted coup that Correa had been expecting came. The coup leader was a graduate of the School of the Americas. A government-appointed commission found that “foreign actors” had participated. One of members of the commission announced his belief that the U.S. State Department and the CIA had been involved in the failed attempt to remove Correa from power.

Haiti, Again

In 2010, Obama failed another test when Washington bankrolled the Haitian elections at the cost of $14 million, a price tag that presumably gave America significant say. Yet, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) banned 14 parties from running, including Fanmi Lavalas, the party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had twice been removed in U.S.-backed coups. 

Haiti’s largest and most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas has won every election that it has been allowed to participate in. But in this U.S.-sponsored election, Fanmi Lavalas was not allowed to compete. In other words, the Obama administration financed the election that specifically excluded the party the people wanted to elect.

The next indicator of Obama’s failing grade came in Paraguay, where in June 2012, Fernando Lugo, the democratically elected leader of Paraguay was removed in a coup. The right-wing opposition opportunistically capitalized on a skirmish over disputed land that left at least 11 people dead to unfairly blame the deaths on President Lugo. It then impeached him after giving him only 24 hours to prepare his defense and only two hours to deliver it.

The Latin American organizations Unasur and Mercosur suspended the new Paraguayan government, but the U.S. government spent the day of the coup negotiating a new military base in Paraguay. As with Honduras, U.S. officials publicly avoided using the word “coup.”

Yet, as early as 2009, a U.S. embassy cable recognized that Lugo’s political opposition has as its goal to “Capitalize on any Lugo missteps” and to “impeach Lugo and assure their own political supremacy.” The cable noted that to achieve this goal, the opposition was willing to “legally” impeach Lugo “even if on spurious grounds,” a so-called “soft coup.”

Focus on Venezuela

The next year, 2013, the focus moved to Venezuela in the wake of Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer. Against the wishes of the United States, Hugo Chavez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, won the right to continue the Bolivarian Revolution by winning the next national election. The U.S. was the only country in the world to refuse to recognize the election results, though 150 electoral monitors from around the world observed Venezuela’s election, including delegations from the Union of South American Nations and the Carter Center.

The Obama administration’s pressure on Venezuela’s government has been unrelenting. American money – totaling at least $90 million since 2000 – has been pumped into Venezuela to fund groups who oppose the Chavezista movement with the U.S.-backed opposition attempting another coup in 2015, which Maduro blamed on the U.S. government.

Though mocked by the U.S. government and the mainstream U.S. news media, the accusation was not an empty one. Venezuelan officials produced a significant volume of evidence that the events constituted a failed coup that had U.S. support, including a recording of a communique that was to be issued after the Maduro government was removed from power. Maduro’s government has also shown confessions by military officials. And, there was a recorded phone conversation between opposition leaders discussing the coup and involving Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is known to have made phone calls to a U.S. phone number.

Lucas Koerner of Venezuelanalysis.com added that the aircraft to be used as part of the failed coup has links to the notorious American security firm Academi (formerly Blackwater). And it has been reported that a number of the coup leaders obtained U.S. visas from the American embassy to facilitate escape should the coup fail.

And, just this past May, President Maduro declared a state of emergency, accusing the U.S. of once again conspiring with right-wing groups in Venezuela to overthrow his government. Maduro said that “Washington is activating measures at the request of Venezuela’s fascist right.”

The Ebbing Pink Tide

The cumulative effect of all this pressure on progressive leaders in Latin America has been a noticeable ebbing of the Pink Tide movement, which had to its credit a significant improvement in the living standards of the region’s poorest citizens, although many of those gains are now being reversed. 

Perhaps the sharpest blow to Latin America’s attempts to reduce poverty and structure economies more for the benefit of average people, not the wealthy, came just this year in Brazil when another “soft coup” was organized to remove Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff from office and replace her with a right-wing regime.

Again the evidence of a coup was obvious with opposition parties seizing on a budgetary dispute to overturn the voters’ will in South America’s largest country and biggest economy. The evidence included the publication of a transcript of the call between Romero Jucá, who was a senator at the time of the call, and former oil executive Sergio Machado, discussing “a national pact” to remove Rousseff and install Michel Temer as president. Jucá revealed that not only opposition politicians but members of the military and Supreme Court were in on the conspiracy.

Regarding the military’s role, Jucá says, “I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it.” And, as for the Supreme Court, Jucá admitted that he “spoke with and secured the involvement of numerous justices on Brazil’s Supreme Court,” according to journalist Glenn Greenwald who is based in Brazil. Jucá further boasted that “there are only a small number” of Supreme Court justices that he had not spoken to. (Jucá has since become planning minister in Temer’s new government.)

So confident was Michel Temer that he had U.S. support for his coup that he was comfortable to openly boast about it in New York in front of an audience of business and foreign policy leaders in September. Temer confirmed to his American audience that Rousseff was removed from power because she refused to implement a pro-business economic plan, which featured cuts to health, education and welfare spending as well as increased emphasis on privatization and deregulation.

Temer said, “many months ago, while I was still vice president, we released a document named ‘A Bridge to the Future’ because we knew it would be impossible for the [Rousseff] government to continue on that course. We suggested that the government should adopt the theses presented in that document called ‘A Bridge to the Future.’ But, as that did not work out, the plan wasn’t adopted and a process was established which culminated with me being installed as president of the republic.”

As Inacio Vieira reported for The Intercept, “Temer’s sales pitch was chock full of standard neoliberal euphemisms and buzzwords, including the ‘universalization of the Brazilian market,’ ‘reestablishing trust,’ ‘extraordinary political stability,’ public-private partnerships, and the implementation of ‘fundamental reforms’ in areas like labor law, social security and public spending.”

And if there was any remaining doubt about the coup government’s motivation – ostensibly its indignation at Rousseff’s fiscal maneuver – there is the fact that one of the coup government’s first acts of legislation was to explicitly legalize the very budgetary act that they had impeached Rousseff for two days earlier.

American Satisfaction

While direct American participation in the Brazilian coup has not been established, Obama’s satisfaction with the coup was clear from his silence over the reversal of one more democratic result, occurring in the most important economic country in Latin America.

Considering how his administration denounces supposedly undemocratic developments in, say, Russia, Obama’s unwillingness to protest another severe blow to democracy in the Western Hemisphere suggests a happiness with the imposition of a new neo-liberal economic agenda in Brazil.

That is also the conclusion of many analysts close to the Brazilian scene. “There is no doubt that the biggest players in this coup attempt – people like former presidential candidates José Serra and Aécio Neves – are U.S. government allies,” according to Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot.

And Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Professor of Sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal and Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Brazil is awash in financing from American sources, including “CIA-related organizations.”

The day after the impeachment vote, Sen. Aloysio Nunes, a significant player in the coup government, began a three-day visit to Washington. Nunes scheduled meetings with, among others, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker and Ben Cardin, as well as with Undersecretary of State and former Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon.

Though Nunes denies it, there were reports that his trip to Washington was ordered by Michel Temer. The willingness to go ahead with the planned meetings with Nunes right after the impeachment vote demonstrated, once again, at least tacit approval on the part of Washington. If the U.S. government wanted to send a message of disapproval, the trip could have been canceled.

The cumulative impact of Obama’s presidency on Latin America has been the steady rollback of the Pink Tide as socially progressive governments around the hemisphere were either removed via “soft coups” or placed under enormous economic pressure, reversing many of the social gains that occurred in the previous decade.

Ironically, progressive Latin American governments made greater strides when Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was in office because his administration was focused more on the Middle East and the “war on terror.”

So, Obama’s presidency represented less a new page in the history of U.S. relations toward its Latin neighbors than a repeat of old chapters in which the U.S. government teamed up with local oligarchs and right-wing ideologues to create an economic climate favorable to outside investors and the traditional local elites.

Obama’s approach may have been more subtle than that of earlier U.S. presidents – using “soft coups” rather than deploying tanks in the streets – but the effect has been much the same, imposing U.S. economic and political domination over the region and casting aside democratic governments that dared put their people’s interests first.

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.




How America Expunges Bad Memories

America is a place that expunges unpleasant memories that belie the happier vision of its “exceptionalism,” most notably the brutal ugliness of the Vietnam War and more recent war crimes in the Middle East, observes Michael Brenner.

By Michael Brenner

How collective memory is formed, and the crucial influence it exercises on the way a people orient themselves toward the world, is the subject of a fascinating new book by Viet Thanh Nguyen – author of the brilliant novel The Sympathizer. His probing exploration of the differing experience of the Vietnamese (on the two sides) and the Americans in what has been assimilated from their encounter over a period of roughly 15 years offers insight into the make-up of each nation as well as casting light on the mechanisms by which collective memory takes shape.

In this sense, national memory is intimately bound up collective identities before and after the experience. It is a dynamic cultural phenomenon wherein politics per se plays a subordinate part.

While reams of studies have concentrated on the “lessons of Vietnam” in terms of foreign policy, military doctrine and so-called nation-building – relatively little attention has been paid this deeper process. Wars are trauma. They shake societies to their roots – especially when they are protracted, follow no established script and conclude with an unprecedented outcome. Those are features of the American experience in Vietnam and about Vietnam. One might naturally expect that the after-effects would cut deep into the national psyche and endure. Yet, oddly there is little evidence of that.

Americans are largely as oblivious to the war’s consequences as they are ignorant of its events. This is true not only now, but was discernible decades ago. Yes, many visit the moving memorial in Washington, veterans of the war are powerfully affected by grazing their fingers across the gilded names and conjuring visions of those long lost. Relatives stare with silent emotion at photographs half-a-century old. That, though, is a very small minority of citizens.

While many served, casualties were low relative to population or to World War II. Disruption, much less sacrifice, at home was minimal. The graphic images played on television screens are effaced over time and anyone under 50 never has seen them.

Most significant, the country has made a systematic effort to forget – to forget everything about Vietnam. Understandably, since most of it was ugly – on every count. Textbooks in American history give it little space; teachers downplay it; television disregards it as retro; Hollywood has other fish to fry as it strains and struggles to bring our more recent wars in the greater Middle East into line with American myth and legend.

All we have are cinematic antiques like The Green Berets, Deerhunter and the weird Apocalypse Now. Each stirred American feelings (in different ways) for a time before disappearing over the emotional horizon. One could speak of displacement were it not that Vietnam was expunged from the collective memory book well before 9/11, Iraq and all that.

Forgetting Napalmed Children

Even the most graphic images have proven transient. That came home for us just a few weeks ago when Facebook expunged the infamous picture of a young girl, her clothes burnt off her scorched body, fleeing in terror from her napalmed village. No one in the company recognized it as other than child pornography posted by a pedophile of the S&M variety. “Zuck,” America’s favorite genius, and his fellow ignoramuses in Menlo Park, were clueless. And that’s a guy who allegedly spent four years at Harvard. [Phan Thi Kim Phuc, still living in Vietnam, does not mind the photo being displayed.]

In a sense, the most noteworthy inheritance from the post-Vietnam experience is the honing of methods to photo shop history. Vietnam was a warm-up for the current  more thorough, systematic cleansing that has made palatable Presidential mendacity, sustained deceit, mind-numbing incompetence,  systemic torture, censorship, the shredding of the Bill of Rights and the perverting of national public discourse – as it degenerates into a mix of propaganda and vulgar trash-talking. The “War on Terror” in all its unsavory aspects.

The great innovation we Americans have made in the handling of collective memory is cultivated amnesia. That is a craft enormously facilitated by two broader trends in American culture: the cult of ignorance whereby a knowledge-free mind is esteemed as the ultimate freedom; and a public ethic whereby the nation’s highest officials are given license to treat the truth as a potter treats clay so long as they say and do things that make us feel good.

So our strongest collective memory of America’s wars of choice is the desirability – and ease – of forgetting them. “The show must go on” is taken as our imperative. Or “find closure” in the convenient pop psychology jargon that our elites favor. That is to say, the pageant of American life must go on: shopping, spectating, ogling celebrities; grabbing riches where and however we can; and titillating ourselves with games of every sort – sex, fantasy football and Pokeman being the outstanding examples.

The tumult that shook American in the late 1960s and early ‘70s had Vietnam as one epicenter – civil rights at the other. The rebellion in politics intersected the simultaneous youth rebellion in numerous complicated ways. One fed off the other. Each seemed poised to recast the United States’ collective identity – or at least transform it in significant respects. From today’s vantage-point, those expectations clearly were misplaced – whether one viewed them with hope or anxiety.

In regard to how we relate to the rest of the world, there is no discernible change whatsoever. The overweening pride, the belief in American exceptionalism – as duty and/or prerogative, the penchant for using military force, the self-righteousness, the double standards applied in politics and ethics – they remain hallmarks of our foreign policy.

Back to Picking Fights

That truth has been demonstrated in the Middle East, in the yen for picking fights with Russia, Iran or whomever, in our sub rosa interventions in Latin America. These days that is done without the Cold War justification of our facing a diabolical threat to our core interests (even survival) as the Soviet Union and/or Red China supposedly did. Instead we have the disorganized Salafist thugs with a penchant for acts of terror – 98 percent of them abroad. By no measure can so-called Islamo-Fascism be equated Soviet-led international communism (actual or imagined). On this score, America has become more belligerent than it was in 1968.

On the other side of the equation, today’s university campuses are more like the 1950s than 1965-1972 – as far as collective action is concerned. Almost no one protests our mindless wars, or draconian surveillance, or administration’s kow-towing to reactionary state legislators and other forces pushing hard for the vocationalizing of higher education. Only identity issues stir a modicum of student interest.

In the cultural domain, we observe a different story unfolding. But one with strange plot twists. If we think of what altered American life the most since that date, we have to put “the pill” and the behavioral revolution that it encouraged at the apex. At the personal level, that change has been dramatic and enduring. The same, though, does not hold for associated aspirations as regards life-style. Quite the opposite.

The communal ethic cum ideal is gone with the wind. Today, we are more isolated, individualized and atomized than ever before. Our liberation from the strictures and constraints of social convention has led to runaway selfishness. The man in the grey flannel suit may have given way to the gender unspecific person in jeans – but that person is a money-grubbing careerist whose idea of a morning workout is a sharpening of elbows.

In this society of the new nihilism, the ideal of humanistic equality is viewed as a quaint irrelevancy – like tie-dye paisley t-shirts. Our bimodal culture is anchored at its ends by gross billionaires and the burgeoning tattooed proletariat.

The one saving grace of the era which has brought to fruition 1960s hopes and expectations is the dedication to racial and ethnic tolerance. This proposition holds even in the year of Trump. The evidence is all around us – despite the disturbing headlines of outlaw police, the vicious racist attacks on Barack Obama, and the vicarious lynching of Mexicans and Muslims at Tea Party rallies. Step back and recall the state of affairs 50 years ago.

What we are seeing is the recrudescence of old, tarnished half-buried passions that have been brought back to life by the new-found insecurities of American life. Some insecurities are financial – the institutionalized gig economy (sweated labor), some stem from the renewed crisis in white masculine identity paradoxically heightened by the sexual revolution and its deformations in pop culture, some by the multiple neuroses pervading a country that has lost solid points of reference. Some have been stirred by politicians and self-seeking hustlers in the media or business on the make.

And some of this flailing about is due to the fraying of the myths that have given meaning to the American experience all these years. Those myths are bound up with the country’s unique place and mission in the world. Now untenable, the inability to come to terms with awakened awareness of realities that should have been evident in 1975 adds markedly to what haunts us.

Cultivated amnesia in effacing collective memory did not serve the nation well. It will harm us even more – going forward. It cannot be otherwise among those masses of Americans who see memory itself as a threat to the precious autonomy to live in the instant. Poking at their smart watches to recall the home address they text to the robot who sends an automated Uber taxi, they have closed off all mental space for pondering Tet, the Mekong, Pol Pot, My Lai and those fellow countrymen who fell in the misbegotten quest for an imagined America.

And the national memory book already is closing, too, for Guantanamo, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, “black” torture sites, Bush’s puerile “Mission Accomplished” stunt, and Obama’s hacking of the Senate Intelligence Committee to better serve the CIA’s extra-legal machinations abroad and spying at home. (Really? When did that happen?) In compensation, we’ll always have Zero Dark Thirty and The Sniper to cuddle with.

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




The Life and Death of Hanoi Hannah

Exclusive: The death of Hanoi Hannah, the radio voice urging U.S. G.I.’s to turn against the Vietnam War, brought back memories of another time when propaganda often trumped truth, writes veteran war correspondent Don North.

By Don North

Her name was Trinh Thi Ngo. She called herself Thu Houng – the fragrance of Autumn. We called her Hanoi Hannah. Her job was to chill and frighten, not to charm and seduce. Her English was almost impeccable and as North Vietnam’s premier propagandist she tried to convince American G.I.’s that the war was immoral and that they should lay down their arms and go home.

Hannah: How are you G.I. Joe? It seems to me that most of you are poorly informed about the going of the war, to say nothing about a correct explanation of your presence over here. Nothing is more confused than to be ordered into a war to die or to be  maimed for life without the faintest idea of what’s going on. Hanoi Hannah June 1967.

The wartime words of Hanoi Hannah, part of the loud soundtrack for the Vietnam War, which may have been the first war fought to a rock n’ roll background, but for American G.I.’s along with the beat came the message: propaganda from North Vietnam’s radio beamed south or misinformation from the U.S. Army radio in Saigon. Even so, radio brought music with a familiar sound to soldiers who thought the war was the end of the world, and to many it didn’t matter who was broadcasting: the Voice of Vietnam or U.S. Armed Forces Radio.

Trinh Thi Ngo’s death on Sept. 30 at the age of 87 brought back a flood of memories from my days as a young war correspondent covering the Vietnam War. I not only listened to Hanoi Hannah during the war, I got to interview her after the war.

Trinh was born in Hanoi in 1931. Her father owned the largest glass factory in Vietnam. She took a liking to American films. Her favorite was Gone With The Wind, which she watched five times. She wanted to enjoy American films without the French or Vietnamese subtitles, so her family gave her private English lessons.

She joined Voice of Vietnam (VOV) in 1955 as a volunteer. Her unaccented English, her correct intonation and her large vocabulary soon got her a staff job reading the news to Asia’s English-speaking countries. One of her tutors at the station was the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett.

When the first American ground forces, the U.S. Marines, landed at Danang in 1965, VOV decided to start propaganda broadcasts to the troops as they had done for the French. Hannah’s scripts were written by North Vietnam Army propaganda experts, advised by Cubans. Her programs were extended to 30 minutes and broadcast three times a day.

Arguably, Hanoi Hannah broke one of the most shocking news stories of the Vietnam War, the massacre of several hundred Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai. Just weeks after the massacre on March 16, 1968, Hanoi Hannah, in one of her broadcasts, accurately named the location and estimated the civilian death toll, but she misidentified the U.S. Army division involved, enabling the U.S. command to deny the report and treat it like another example of disinformation from North Vietnam.

The atrocity would take more than a year to be confirmed, following efforts by Americal Division veteran Ron Ridenhour, who had heard rumors about the massacre and interviewed fellow Americal vets before alerting members of Congress. In November 1969, the story was brought to the public’s attention by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reporting for Dispatch News, a disclosure that intensified domestic opposition to the war.

Hannah and Beer

I first heard the silken voice of Hanoi Hannah in a U.S. Special Forces base at An Lac,  about a hundred miles west of Nha Trang. I had been on patrol with Montagnard Irregulars and their American advisers. It had been raining hard for a week keeping the supply plane that was my ticket out from coming in. At night after the perimeter was secured, there wasn’t much to do but play cards, read, drink Ba Moi Ba beer and listen to the radio. Up in the Central Highlands the Voice of Vietnam boomed in loud and clear.

Hanna: We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do. We gotta get out of this place, surely there’s a better place for me and you. The Animals. Now for the war news. American casualties in Vietnam. Army Corporal Larry J. Samples, Canada, Alabama … Staff Sergeant Charles R. Miller, Tucson, Arizona … Sergeant Frank Hererra, Coolidge, Arizona. Hanoi Hannah, Sept. 15, 1965

Her broadcasts were mostly exaggerated war news, encouragement to frag an officer and go AWOL or suggestions that the soldiers wives or girlfriends at home were cheating on them. She was mostly greeted with loud laughs and often beer cans thrown at the radio. But taped interviews with downed U.S. pilots or from American anti-war advocates like Jane Fonda were heard with anger.

The Voice of Vietnam broadcasts, while mostly funny at the time, tended to stay with you like a Ba Moi Ba headache in the morning.

PsyOps: Winning Hearts and Minds

By 1965 the airwaves over North and South Vietnam had become a confusing battleground of conflicting propaganda voices. Working on the premise of “capture their hearts and minds and their hearts and souls will follow,” both sides supported dozens of radio stations spewing malice and disinformation 24 hours a day.

The American Voice of America with transmitters in Hue and the Philippines was one of the most powerful voices, rivalling the Voice of Vietnam. It is estimated the CIA ran 11 clandestine broadcasts of “black” or “false flag” radio like Red Star allegedly run by communist defectors. The American Studies and Observation Group (SOG) ran a broadcast with a fake Hanoi Hannah, while the South Vietnamese regime ran Mother of Vietnam radio with host Mai Lan, a South Vietnamese with a seductive voice who had studied broadcasting in the U.S.

All these stations knew that the first rule of propaganda broadcasting was to “know and understand your target audience.” It was recognized that if used properly the spoken word could be a powerful inspiration and motivator although most of the propagandists were not very effective in delivering the message.

My friend Thuc Pham from Hanoi explained to me the main reason both North and South broadcasts failed in their goal. “People were very poor, both sides distributed transistor radios tuned to the stations, but most Vietnamese during the war could not afford batteries. The North Vietnam government also forbid citizens to listen to foreign broadcasts and punished those who did.”

Women Broadcasters of Propaganda

Hanoi Hannah followed a line of women broadcasting propaganda to their mostly male audiences. They often had a history of failure.

Axis Sally: British and American troops on the march in Italy in World War II heard the voice of Rita Zucca, who was born in New York. She first broadcast for Mussolini’s fascist government and later for Nazi Germany. Based in Rome, she hosted Jerry’s Front. Her signature sign on was “Hello Suckers! Sally was captured by U.S. forces in February 1943 and convicted of collaboration with the enemy.

Tokyo Rose: Born in Los Angeles in 1916, a Nisei first generation American. She was visiting Japan when war broke out in 1941 and forced to broadcast for the Japanese. In her daily program, The Zero Hour, she would predict attacks, identify American ships and play American music while speaking American slang. After the war she was arrested by U.S authorities, convicted of treason and imprisoned until 1956. Some two decades later, she received a pardon from President Gerald Ford.

Seoul City Sue: During the Korean war, Anna Wallis, a Methodist missionary from Arkansas, was the North Korean radio voice in 1950. Her programs named American soldiers captured or killed, and she threatened newly arrived soldiers. She spoke in a monotone and had little pop music to offer, so her show was not popular. In 1969, she was executed by the North Korean Army, suspected of being a South Korean agent.

Baghdad Betty: In September 1990 soon after the arrival in Saudi Arabia of the U.S. 82nd Airborne, Iraq’s Voice of Peace began broadcasting with an English-speaking Iraqi woman. Americans named her Baghdad Betty. She played pop music more popular than the religious music on Saudi stations, but to bolster their own forces and influence Arab allies, she bad-mouthed American troops saying they drank liquor and defiled the holy places of Islam. Her propaganda writers had a jaundiced view of American culture.

Betty was often humorous, but mostly absurd. She is alleged to have said, “American soldiers, while you are here your wives and girlfriends are making love to Tom Cruise, Robert Redford and Bart Simpson.” If true, her comment was typical of her misinformed message, but the words may have originated with American psy-ops specialists to mock and discredit her.

Covering preparations for war in the Saudi desert, I heard some of her broadcasts. She was no Hanoi Hannah, who was far more skilled and polished.

Col. Jeff Jones, chief of the U.S. Army’s 8th Psychological Task Force, told me Betty’s broadcasts just made our troops laugh: “Her broadcasts proved the Iraqi’s didn’t understand us at all. Her ignorance was pervasive. She was never sure of her sources and broadcast dated news.” Saddam Hussien wasn’t impressed either and fired her after three months.

Hanoi Hannah: American G.I.’s don’t fight this unjust, immoral and illegal war of Johnson’s. Get out of Vietnam now while you’re still alive. This is the Voice of Vietnam. Now here’s Connie Francis singing “I almost lost my mind.” August. 1967.

For almost five years, after I became a radio and TV correspondent for ABC News, I would tape-record her programs most days in case she said something newsworthy or presented a captured American pilot on her program. It was just another source of information or disinformation to be checked out and sorted out in the communications pudding of the Vietnam War.

But for bored G.I.’s her broadcasts were often rare sources of amusement. The G.I’s radio was, after their rifle, a most valued possession. Like the rifle butt, the radio was often wrapped in frayed black tape for protection. Troops would laugh over Hanna’s attempts to scare them into defection or suggestions to frag an officer. If their unit was mentioned, a great cheer went up and they pelted the radios with empty beer cans. Although virtually no one took her seriously, they did wonder if she was as lovely as she sounded, and many considered her the most prominent enemy after Ho Chi Minh.

Hannah’s broadcasts to American troops lasted eight years, ending in 1973 after most U.S. troops left for home. However, on April 30, 1975, she was the first person in the world to break the news: “Saigon is liberated. Vietnam is completely independent and unified.”

Post-War Life

In May 1978, I returned to Vietnam and requested the Foreign Ministry arrange an interview for me with Trinh Thi Ngo. By then, Hanoi Hannah had left her beloved Hanoi and moved to Ho Chi Minh City, the renamed city of Saigon, with her husband who was a southerner and Vietnamese Army officer.

The appointment was set up for the rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel, where I waited along with Ken Watkins, 31, a Vietnam veteran from Houston, Texas, who had been a Corpsman with the First U.S. Marines and a regular listener to Hannah. While waiting, Ken recalled his memories of Hanoi Hannah: “The signal was pretty good around Danang and we would tune in once or twice a week to hear her talk about the war. U.S. Armed Forces radio didn’t talk about the war or attitudes at home.

“Hannah didn’t necessarily make sense, she used American English, but really didn’t speak our language in spite of hip expressions and hit tunes, even tunes banned on U.S.

Army radio. The best thing going for her was that she was female and had a nice soft voice. Whenever she named our unit, the First Marines, and where we were, that always stands out in my mind. Some of us thought she had spies everywhere or a crystal ball.”

I asked, “Ken, do you still feel any anger toward her?”

“Sure some antagonism, add it to the Vietnam list. But this trip back is about coming full circle on a lot of things and she is another voice from the past I want to confront in person.”

So a ex-Marine and a former Vietnam war correspondent waited that sunny morning for the real Hanoi Hannah to appear, waiting for reality to sweep away years of bitter images in the windmills of our minds.

Dragon Lady? Prophet? Psy-warrior? Or what? Like so many of the phantoms from the war she was not what she seemed. She was no phantom. She didn’t look like the Dragon Lady from “Terry and the Pirates” comics. Elegant and attractive in a striking yellow Ao Dai, the Vietnamese traditional dress, she appeared happy to answer questions.

I asked: “Many American soldiers think you received excellent intelligence on their units, battle-readiness and casualties. What was the main source of your information?”

Hannah: “U.S. Army Stars and Stripes. We read from it. We had it flown in every day. We also read Newsweek, Time and several newspapers. We took remarks of American journalists and put them in our broadcasts, especially about casualties … high casualties.”

“Do you remember any articles in particular that you used?”

Hannah: “Yes, Arnaud De Borchegrave in Newsweek. I remember we used his articles. Americans are xenophobic, they will believe their own people rather than the adversary. And Don Luce about the tiger cages. We would often say to the G.I.’s that the Saigon regime was not worth their support.”

“Did you ever feel anger toward American soldiers?”

Hannah: “When the bombs came on Hanoi, I did feel angry. During the 1972 Christmas bombing, our broadcasting was moved to a remote area outside the city. To the Vietnamese, Hanoi is sacred ground. But even then, when I spoke to the G.I.’s I tried always to be calm, I never felt aggression toward Americans as a people. I never called them the enemy, only adversaries.”

June 1967

Hannah: “Now for our talk. A Vietnam black GI who refuses to be a victim of racism is Billy Smith. It seems on the morning of March 15th a fragmentation grenade went off in an officer’s barracks in Bien Hoa killing two gung-ho Lieutenants. Smith was illegally searched, arrested and put in Long Binh jail and brought home for trial. The evidence that showed him  guilty was this: being black, poor and against the war and refusing to be a victim of racism.”

Mike Roberts, 41, Detroit, Michigan remembers Hannah. Based in Danang through 1967 and 1968, Roberts summed up his recollections of the black veterans attitude toward Hannah’s broadcasts: I remember June 1968. I was sitting in a tent with guys from Charlie company and we were gambling, drinking and having a good time and listenin’ to the radio. One guy says ‘Sshh, sshh, be quiet’ and he says ‘There’s a riot in Detroit.’

There was no feeling of what were they rioting for? We all knew what they wanted, you know what I’m sayin’? So of course we would feel empathy for the folks back home.

“Then Hannah comes on and she knows what guard unit was called in and what kind of weapons were used … you know what I’m sayin’. That’s when it starts to hit home. We knew what kind of fire power and devastation that kind of weapon can do to people, and now those same weapons were turning on us, you know, our own military is killing our own people.

“We might as well have been Viet Cong. But Hannah picked up on it and talked about it. And clearly if she knew about it, Armed Forces radio did too. That was the first time I started hearing Hannah call upon Blacks, you know, to rethink the situation here. Why are you fighting? You have your own battle to fight in America. We were smokin’ herbs, you know and we decided to listen to Hanoi Hannah.”

Jim Maciolek, U.S. Army First Division, Lai Khe, 1966:When we heard Hannah mention our unit we would give a cheer and throw our beer cans at the radio. If she knew where we were, so did everybody else. But U.S. Armed Forces was on constantly, too. So we heard what they wanted us to hear. I would have liked to hear about opposition to the war that was being staged back home. That way I would have been better prepared when I got back home … seeing hippies, people chanting slogans against the war, people with black arm bands … that was all new to me.”

By zapping the truth through a censorship policy of deletions and by allowing in the exaggerations of propaganda, U.S. Armed Forces radio lost the trust of many American soldiers in Vietnam when they were most isolated and vulnerable to enemy propaganda.

It wasn’t that Hanoi Hannah always told the truth; she didn’t. But she was most effective when she did tell the truth and U.S. Armed Forces radio was fudging it. If we didn’t know before, the Vietnam War should have taught us that communications are now so pervasive in this shrinking world that suppression of information is impossible. Accuracy and honesty is essential, not just because it’s morally right but because it’s practical too.

A Captive Audience

Hanoi Hannah could always be assured of at least the American prisoner of war (POW) audience “authorized” to hear her broadcast in prisons like the Hanoi Hilton.

Sen. John McCain, a Hanoi Hilton inmate for over five years, recently remarked: “I heard Hannah every day. She was a marvelous entertainer. I’m surprised she didn’t get to Hollywood.”

Lt. Commander Ray Voden of McLean, Virginia, shot down over Hanoi on April 3, 1965, endured her broadcasts for eight years: “Hannah’s broadcasts often stirred up arguments among the POW’s. There were nearly fist  fights over the program. Some guys wanted to hear it, while others tried to ignore it. Personally, I listened because I usually gleaned information, reading between the lines. She always exaggerated our aircraft losses, often claiming hundreds of our planes shot down when we hadn’t heard anti-aircraft fire in weeks.

“Music was the best part of it. Sometimes playing American tunes that were supposed to make us homesick had the opposite effect. One time they played ‘Downtown’ by Petula Clark and everyone started dancing and yelling for an hour, just went wild. Another one that gave us a hoot was ‘Don’t Fence Me In.’

“I’ve no hatred for her now. She was doing her job and I was doing mine. But no, I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet her today if given a chance.”  

In our interview in 1978, I asked Hannah, “Did you ever evaluate the effects of your broadcasts?”

Hannah: “No, during the war it was difficult to get feedback except through foreign news reports but we knew we were being heard.”

“What were your main aims?”

Hannah: “We mentioned that G.I.’s should go AWOL and suggested some frigging, or is that fragging. We advised them to do what they think proper against the war.”

“I don’t know of a single fragging case after your suggestion, and there were few, if any defections, did that surprise you?”

Hannah: “No, we just continued our work. I believed in it. I put my heart in my work.”

“If you could make a final broadcast to American G.I.’s today, what would you say?”

Hannah: “Let’s let bygones, be bygones. Let’s move on and be friends. There will be many benefits if we can be friends together. There is no reason to be enemies.”

Meeting and interviewing Hanoi Hannah was, for me, like being Dorothy parting the curtains hiding the Wizard of Oz. The terrible Hannah behind the façade that we constructed, turned out to be a mild-mannered announcer who spoke English and read the Stars and Stripes.

After her death on Sept. 30, Madam Trinh Thi Ngo was interred in Long Tri, Chau Than District, Long An province, following the Vietnamese custom of burial next to her husband and his family.

Her only son escaped Vietnam in 1973 with the boat-people exodus and now lives in San Francisco.

Don North is a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world. He is the author of Inappropriate Conduct,  the story of a World War II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.




Applying Tolstoy to Today’s Rush to War

Rushing to war – justified by half-truths and propaganda – is a story as old as written history and the topic of great novelists like Leo Tolstoy, whose Anna Karenina offers lessons for today’s stampede toward WWIII, says Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

Russian literature is too important to be left to professors of Comp Lit or to Slavic Departments at our universities, as is so often the case with the novel that I propose to examine here, Leo Tolstoy’s, Anna Karenina. Great literature is great precisely because of its multi-layered construction and the timelessness of the issues and considerations that constitute its substance.

Like War and Peace, Karenina has been the subject of many films going back to 1911, running through the 1930s with two classic versions featuring the legendary Greta Garbo and right up to time present and the widely discussed version released in 2012.

The novel has a core triangle, the relations between the heroine, her unloved and unloving husband who is 20 years her senior, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, and her lover, Prince Alexei Vronsky, for whom she gives up everything but does not find happiness or inner peace, seeing instead that her only way out is suicide. It is about love and passion, about the basic building block of all societies, the family.

This side of Anna Karenina has been especially highlighted in the film versions, being universally appealing and not tedious in the least. Indeed, the first (silent) Garbo film was entitled Love. The novel’s basic narrative is also about the relations between the sexes. The issues surrounding feminism, aired at length throughout the development of the core plot, speak to our present day with perfect clarity notwithstanding the passage of 140 years from the time the words were written.

It is easy to understand the feeling of any film director taking in hand this magnificent novel with its splendid story line and turning literature into cinema. However, what Tolstoy produced may also be described as a piece of documentary film-making as we understand the profession today. The side plots, the relief to the main plot, are not just ballast. They are the result of the author’s going through salons and clubs in Moscow and St. Petersburg, going through the meetings of the nobility among themselves in corpore at their assemblies and individually over tea at their country estates, going through the interchanges between these landlords and their peasants over how to use the new farm machinery they have introduced and how to split up the profits, these and many other topics of the day as if with a team of cameramen and sound operators who record every word.

The whole of Russian society was “tape recorded” by Leo Tolstoy and its thinking on a great variety of subjects was set out in Karenina for our perusal.

Tolstoy’s enthusiasm for his role of public chronicler was such that he ignored the rules of the novel and continued the narration for more than 50 pages beyond the suicide of his heroine. It is to those last pages of the novel that I direct attention today, because the issues and the thinking about those issues recorded by Tolstoy parallel what we see around us today in the United States as we head into what may well be World War III.

Anna Karenina was written over the course of five years, from 1873 to 1877 and during that time the topics which predominated in the salons Tolstoy visited changed from domestic concerns like the effectiveness of the institutions of local self-government and justices of the peace introduced with the Great Reforms of the 1860s, the viability of noble estates as agricultural units in an age of railway construction and industrialization to one topic of international relations and Russia’s standing in the world.

The Slavophile movement was gathering speed and reached its culmination in the final year that Tolstoy wrote his novel, when, in the context of brutal massacres of Bulgarians, Serbs and other peoples in the Balkans seeking to cast off the Ottoman yoke, Russian civilians were volunteering in the hundreds and thousands to join their Slavic brethren for a decisive fight against the Turks.

Enthusiasm for Battle

The enthusiasm for battle in Russian liberal society, what we can the “country party,” was viewed skeptically, like any popular movement outside its control, by the tsarist authorities and their loyal supporters, whom we shall call the “court party.” This distrust on the part of authorities was all the more keen as it infringed on the monarchy’s key role of managing foreign and defense policy.51lkuhnlbtl-_sy445_ql70_

And, in the end, this distrust was well placed because the popular enthusiasm ultimately engaged the Russian imperial forces in a new war with the Ottoman Empire in 1877-78 which, though victorious on the battlefield, ended in a humiliating setback to Russia’s international standing when mediated by the Great Powers at the Congress of Berlin.

What occurred in 1878 was not a mere historical curiosity, but instead was a “dry run” for the conflict 36 years later which we all know as World War I. In 1914, as well, the “country party” and the “court party” were divided over the inevitability and desirability of the coming war with Austria-Hungary and its ally Prussia.

If I may change labels, it was the Realists (or court party) against the Romantic Nationalists (the country party) who were under the spell of ideology. This question has been examined in magisterial fashion by historian Dominic Lieven in his recent book The End of Tsarist Russia.

In Anna Karenina, the stormy debates between conservative monarchist and progressive noble elites over what should be done in the Balkans are embodied by his characters. The second or third most important personage in the novel, Prince Vronsky, is shown departing for Serbia together with a squadron of soldiers under his protection. His enthusiasm for the South Slav cause is shown to be an accidental consequence of his loss of Anna and of all reason to live.

By the same token, the volunteer soldiers boarding their train to the south for transfer to Serbia are depicted as drunkards, failed gamblers and other marginal persons in what is a clear tip-off of Tolstoy’s own feelings about war in general and this war in particular. But there is no reason to guess, Tolstoy’s views of the forces leading to war are expressed most clearly through the voices of his alter-ego, Konstantin Levin, the forever naïve and self-questioning hero of the novel, a provincial farmer-nobleman, and his father-in-law, Prince Shcherbatsky, the representative of an older generation raised under pre-Reform values.

When history repeats itself, the parties to conflicts do not necessarily occupy the same sides of a given argument. In the 1870s, Russian liberal society was deeply moved by the notion of humanitarian intervention, virtually in the same sense as this has become a fixture of the American political establishment and driver of foreign policy since Bill Clinton’s presidency in the U.S.

The voice for humanitarian intervention in Anna Karenina is Levin’s half brother, Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev, a Moscow intellectual, for whom the Pan-Slav cause has given him a preoccupation to fill his days and sense of purpose.

Below is the argumentation adduced in favor of the intervention in the Southern Balkans by the “country party” through Sergei Ivanovich. If we put aside the Christian factor, which today is so scorned in our  politically correct multiculturalism, you will find points very similar to what is today being adduced by American and European commentators in their expressions of horror over the Syrian-Russian bombing of east Aleppo and their urgent calls for humanitarian action:

“There is no question here of a declaration of war, but simply the expression of human Christian feeling. Our brothers, one with us in religion and in race, are being massacred. Even supposing they were not our brothers nor fellow-Christians, but simply children, women, old people, feeling is aroused and Russians go eagerly to help in stopping these atrocities. Fancy, if you were going along the street and saw drunken men beating a woman or a child – I imagine you would not stop to inquire whether war had been declared on the men, but would throw yourself on them, and protect the victim.”

To which, Sergei Ivanovich adds: “The people have heard of the sufferings of their brethren and have spoken.”

Levin casts the first stone against this blanket assertion: “Perhaps so,” he said evasively, “but I don’t see it. I’m one of the people myself, and I don’t feel it.”

Self-Interest for War

The old prince Shcherbatsky drives home the point: “I’ve been staying abroad and reading the papers, and I must own, up to the time of the Bulgarian atrocities, I couldn’t make out why it was all the Russians were all of a sudden so fond of their Slavonic brethren, while I didn’t feel the slightest affection for them. I was very much upset, thought I was a monster, or that it was the influence of Carlsbad on me. But since I have been here, my mind’s been set at rest. I see that there are people besides me who’re only interested in the yoke of Russia, and not in their Slavonic brethren.”

They ask a peasant standing by, Mihalich, about his views on the subject. Of course, Mihalich has no views, deferring to whatever position the tsar may hold, and Levin presses on:

“That word ‘people’ is so vague,” said Levin. “Parish clerks, teachers, and one in a thousand of the peasants, maybe, know what it’s all about. The rest of the eighty millions, like Mihalich, far from expressing their will, haven’t the faintest idea what there is for them to express their will about. What right have we to say that this is the people’s will?”

To this, Sergei Ivanovich responds in a way that lays bare what “public opinion” is all about. In my view, the exchange of opinions have direct relevance to where we, in American society, find ourselves today over the prosecution of our “humanitarian intervention” and “values guided” foreign policy in Syria at a moment when a great hue and cry has gone up over the killing in east Aleppo:

Sergey Ivanovitch: “let us look at society. … All the most diverse sections of the educated public, hostile before, are merged in one. Every division is at an end, all the public organs say the same thing over and over again, all feel the mighty torrent that has overtaken them and is carrying them in one direction.”

“Yes, all the newspapers do say the same thing,” said the prince.

“That’s true. But so it is the same thing that all the frogs croak before a storm. One can hear nothing for them.”

“Frogs or no frogs, I’m not the editor of a paper and I don’t want to defend them, but I am speaking of the unanimity in the intellectual world,” said Sergey Ivanovich, addressing his brother.

“Well, about that unanimity, that’s another thing, one may say,” said the prince, continuing: “So it is with the unanimity of the press. That’s been explained to me: as soon as there’s a war their incomes are doubled. How can they help believing in the destinies of the people and the Slavonic races … and all that?”

In effect, what Tolstoy was describing in these passages is precisely the “group think” of his day, when all of educated society and all the arbiters of public opinion in the print media were whipping up a pro-war fury that no one could publicly resist. So it is now, with the calls of our newspapers of record, of our major media and of the leading candidate for the presidency of the United States demanding a show of force in Syria, under the innocuous terms of imposing a “no-fly zone” and setting up “safe havens for refugees,” to put a halt to the killing in east Aleppo being perpetrated by the Syrian armed forces, in close collaboration with the Russian air force and Iranian fighters on the ground.

These voices of the Western establishment make these calls, willfully ignoring the plainly stated warning of the chief of Russian operations in Syria that the newly installed air defense systems will shoot down any unidentified planes or cruise missiles entering Syrian air space, even at the price of heading us into World War III.

The Western media and politicians today are all croaking like frogs before the storm. And the American public is as ignorant about the background issues to the present crisis in Syria, about the nefarious activities of their own and allied forces in support of the Islamic jihadist rebels controlling east Aleppo, just as Mihalich was ignorant about the issues surrounding the coming Balkan war. This “ostrich effect” is the true nature of modern day isolationism in the United States.

I close this review of the highly relevant exposition of reasoning about drivers of foreign policy in Anna Karenina by quoting Tolstoy’s recommended cure for the war fever of the arbiters of public opinion:

“I would only make one condition,” pursued the old prince. “Alphonse Karr said a capital thing before the war with Prussia. ‘You consider war to be inevitable? Very good. Let everyone who advocates war be enrolled in a special regiment of advance guards, for the front of every storm, of every attack, to lead them all’!”

“’A nice lot the editors would make!’ said Katavasov, with a loud roar, as he pictured the editors he knew in this picked legion.”

To update this proposal, I believe that our special forces operating illegally on the ground in Aleppo for the coordination and technical support of the jihadist rebels and “moderate opposition” to President Assad will very willingly trade places with an incoming special regiment of storm troopers drawn from the likes of Robert Kagan, William Kristol and Victoria Nuland, the irresponsible loudmouths who claim to speak for the American people and who are in fact leading us to collective suicide.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord. His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




Debate Moderator Distorted Syrian Reality

Exclusive: The American people are receiving a highly distorted view of the Syrian war – much propaganda, little truth – including from one of the moderators at the second presidential debate, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

How ABC News’ Martha Raddatz framed her question about Syria in the second presidential debate shows why the mainstream U.S. news media, with its deep-seated biases and inability to deal with complexity, has become such a driving force for wider wars and even a threat to the future of the planet.

Raddatz, the network’s chief global affairs correspondent, presented the Syrian conflict as simply a case of barbaric aggression by the Syrian government and its Russian allies against the Syrian people, especially the innocents living in Aleppo.

“Just days ago, the State Department called for a war crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its ally, Russia, for their bombardment of Aleppo,” Raddatz said. “So this next question comes through social media through Facebook. Diane from Pennsylvania asks, if you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?”

The framing of the question assured a response from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about her determination to expand the U.S. military intervention in Syria to include a “no-fly zone,” which U.S. military commanders say would require a massive operation that would kill many Syrians, both soldiers and civilians, to eliminate Syria’s sophisticated air-defense systems and its air force.

But Raddatz’s loaded question was also a way of influencing – or misleading – U.S. public opinion. Consider for a moment how a more honest and balanced question could have elicited a very different response and a more thoughtful discussion:

“The situation in Aleppo presents a heartrending and nettlesome concern. Al Qaeda fighters and their rebel allies, including some who have been armed by the United States, are holed up in some neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. They’ve been firing rockets into the center and western sections of Aleppo and they have shot civilians seeking to leave east Aleppo through humanitarian corridors.

“These terrorists and their ‘moderate’ rebel allies seem to be using the tens of thousands of civilians still in east Aleppo as ‘human shields’ in order to create sympathy from Western audiences when the Syrian government seeks to root the terrorists and other insurgents from these neighborhoods with airstrikes that have killed both armed fighters and civilians. In such a circumstance, what should the U.S. role be and was it a terrible mistake to supply these fighters with sophisticated rockets and other weapons, given that these weapons have helped Al Qaeda in seizing and holding territory?”

Siding with Al Qaeda

Raddatz also could have noted that a key reason why the recent limited cease-fire failed was that the U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels in east Aleppo had rebuffed Secretary of State John Kerry’s demand that they separate themselves from Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which now calls itself the Syria Conquest Front.

Instead of breaking ties with Al Qaeda, some of these “moderate” rebel groups reaffirmed or expanded their alliances with Al Qaeda. In other words, Official Washington’s distinction between Al Qaeda’s terrorists and the “moderate” rebels was publicly revealed to be largely a myth. But the reality of U.S.-aided rebels collaborating with the terror group that carried out the 9/11 attacks complicates the preferred mainstream narrative of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin “the bad guys” versus the rebels “the good guys.”

If Raddatz had posed her question with the more complex reality (rather than the simplistic, biased form that she chose) and if Clinton still responded with her recipe of a “no-fly zone,” the obvious follow-up would be: “Wouldn’t such a military intervention constitute aggressive war against Syria in violation of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg principles?

“And wouldn’t such a strategy risk tipping the military balance inside Syria in favor of Al Qaeda and its jihadist allies, possibly even its spinoff terror group, the Islamic State? And what would the United States do then, if its destruction of the Syrian air force led to the black flag of jihadist terror flying over Damascus as well as all of Aleppo? Would a Clinton-45 administration send in U.S. troops to stop the likely massacre of Christians, Alawites, Shiites, secular Sunnis and other ‘heretics’?”

There would be other obvious and important questions that a more objective Martha Raddatz would ask: “Would your no-fly zone include shooting down Russian aircraft that are flying inside Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government? Might such a clash provoke a superpower escalation, possibly even invite nuclear war?”

But no such discussion is allowed inside the mainstream U.S. media’s frame. There is an unstated assumption that the United States has the unquestioned right to invade other countries at will, regardless of international law, and there is a studied silence about this hypocrisy even as the U.S. State Department touts the sanctity of international law.

Whose War Crimes?

Raddatz’s favorable reference to the State Department accusing the Syrian and Russian governments of war crimes further suggests a stunning lack of self-awareness, a blindness to America’s own guilt in that regard. How can any American journalist put on such blinders regarding even recent U.S. war crimes, including the illegal invasion of Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?

While Raddatz referenced “the heart-breaking video of a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble after an air strike in Aleppo,” she seems to have no similar sympathy for the slaughtered and maimed children of Iraq who suffered under American bombs – or the people of Yemen who have faced a prolonged aerial onslaught from Saudi Arabia using U.S. aircraft and U.S.-supplied ordnance.

Regarding Iraq, there was the case at the start of the U.S.-led war when President George W. Bush mistakenly thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein might be eating at a Baghdad restaurant so U.S. warplanes leveled it, killing more than a dozen civilians, including children and a young woman whose headless body was recovered by her mother.

“When the broken body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out torso first, then her head,” the Associated Press reported, “her mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed.” The London Independent cited this restaurant attack as one that represented “a clear breach” of the Geneva Conventions ban on bombing civilian targets.

But such civilian deaths were of little interest to the mainstream U.S. media. “American talking heads … never seemed to give the issue any thought,” wrote Eric Boehlert in a report on the U.S. war coverage for Salon.com. “Certainly they did not linger on images of the hellacious human carnage left in the aftermath.”

Thousands of other civilian deaths were equally horrific. Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded in an American bombing raid, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 who had been the center of his life. “It wasn’t just ordinary love,” his wife said. “He was crazy about them. It wasn’t like other fathers.” [NYT, April 14, 2003]

The horror of the war was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a U.S. missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali’s father, his pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed. As the armless Ali was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of U.S. compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, the boy said he would rather die than live without his hands.

Because of the horrors inflicted on Iraq – and the resulting chaos that has now spread across the region and into Europe – Raddatz could have asked Clinton, who as a U.S. senator voted for the illegal war, whether she felt any responsibility for this carnage. Of course, Raddatz would not ask that question because the U.S. mainstream media was almost universally onboard the Iraq War bandwagon, which helps explain why there has been virtually no accountability for those war crimes.

Letting Clinton Off

So, Clinton was not pressed on her war judgments regarding either Iraq or the Libyan “regime change” that she championed in 2011, another war of choice that transformed the once-prosperous North African nation into a failed state. Raddatz’s biased framing also put Republican Donald Trump on the defensive for resisting yet another American “regime change” project in Syria.

Trump was left muttering some right-wing talking points that sought to attack Clinton as soft on Syria, trying to link her to President Barack Obama’s decision not to bomb the Syrian military in August 2013 after a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus, which occurred six months after Clinton had resigned as Secretary of State.

Trump: “She was there as Secretary of State with the so-called line in the sand, which…

Clinton: “No, I wasn’t. I was gone. I hate to interrupt you, but at some point…

Trump: “OK. But you were in contact — excuse me. You were…

Clinton: “At some point, we need to do some fact-checking here.

Trump: “You were in total contact with the White House, and perhaps, sadly, Obama probably still listened to you. I don’t think he would be listening to you very much anymore. Obama draws the line in the sand. It was laughed at all over the world what happened.”

In bashing Obama for not bombing Syria – after U.S. intelligence expressed suspicion that the sarin attack was actually carried out by Al Qaeda or a related group trying to trick the U.S. military into attacking the Syrian government – Trump may have pleased his right-wing base but he was deviating from his generally less war-like stance on the Middle East.

He followed that up with another false right-wing claim that Clinton and Obama had allowed the Russians to surge ahead on nuclear weapons, saying:our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good.”

Only after attacking Clinton for not being more militaristic did Trump say a few things that made sense, albeit in his incoherent snide-aside style.

Trump: “Now, she talks tough, she talks really tough against Putin and against Assad. She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn’t even know who the rebels are. You know, every time we take rebels, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else, we’re arming people. And you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people [we overthrow].

“Look at what she did in Libya with [Muammar] Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s out. It’s a mess. And, by the way, ISIS has a good chunk of their oil. I’m sure you probably have heard that.” [Actually, whether one has heard it or not, that point is not true. During the ongoing political and military strife, Libya has been blocked from selling its oil, which is shipped by sea.]

Trump continued: “It was a disaster. Because the fact is, almost everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake and it’s been a disaster.

“But if you look at Russia, just take a look at Russia, and look at what they did this week, where I agree, she wasn’t there, but possibly she’s consulted. We sign a peace treaty. Everyone’s all excited. Well, what Russia did with Assad and, by the way, with Iran, who you made very powerful with the dumbest deal perhaps I’ve ever seen in the history of deal-making, the Iran deal, with the $150 billion, with the $1.7 billion in cash, which is enough to fill up this room.

“But look at that deal. Iran now and Russia are now against us. So she wants to fight. She wants to fight for rebels. There’s only one problem. You don’t even know who the rebels are. So what’s the purpose?”

While one can’t blame Raddatz for Trump’s scattered thinking – or for Clinton’s hawkishness – the moderator’s failure to frame the Syrian issue in a factual and nuanced way contributed to this dangerously misleading “debate” on a grave issue of war and peace.

It is surely not the first time that the mainstream U.S. media has failed the American people in this way, but – given the stakes of a possible nuclear war with Russia – this propagandistic style of “journalism” is fast becoming an existential threat.

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).




Russia Reads US Bluster as Sign of War

Exclusive: As U.S. politicians and pundits have fun talking tough about Russia and demonizing President Putin, they are missing signs that Moscow isn’t amused and is preparing for actual conflict, writes ex-CIA analyst  Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

During the Reagan administration, I was one of the CIA analysts assigned to present to White House officials the President’s Daily Brief, which summed up the CIA’s views on the pressing national security issues of the day. If I were still in that job – and assuming CIA analysts are still able to speak truth to power – I am afraid that I would be delivering alarming news about the potential of a U.S.-Russian military clash.

We analysts were responsible for picking up warnings from Moscow and other key capitals that the U.S. news media often missed or downplayed, much as the major news outlets today are ignoring the escalation of warnings from Russia over Syria.

For instance, Russian defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned on Oct. 6 that Russia is prepared to shoot down unidentified aircraft – including any stealth aircraft – over Syria. It is a warning that I believe should be taken seriously.

It’s true that experts differ as to whether the advanced air defense systems already in Syria can bring down stealth aircraft, but it would be a mistake to dismiss this warning out of hand. Besides, Konashenkov added, in a telling ex-ante-extenuating-circumstance vein, that Russian air defense “will not have time to identify the origin” of the aircraft.

In other words, U.S. aircraft, which have been operating in Syrian skies without Syrian government approval, could be vulnerable to attack with the Russian government preemptively warning that such an incident won’t be Moscow’s fault.

As for the prospects of reviving the Syrian negotiation track, its demise was never clearer than in the remarks on Sunday by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a lengthy interview with Russian Channel One. He ended it with a pointed comment: “Diplomacy has several allies in this [Syria] endeavor – Russia’s Aerospace Forces, Army, and Navy.”

Lavrov recognizes that Secretary of State John Kerry has failed in his efforts to get the U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels to separate from Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which has been renamed from Nusra Front to the Syria Conquest Front. With that key “separation” feature of the partial cease-fire gone, Lavrov is saying that military force is the only way to drive the jihadists from their stronghold in east Aleppo and restore government control. 

President Vladimir Putin and his advisers seem willing to bear the risk of escalation in the hope that any armed confrontation can be limited to Syria. There also appears to be an important element of timing in Russia’s current behavior with the Russians considering it best to take that risk now, since they believe they are likely to face a more hawkish president on Jan. 20.

Of equal importance, there seems to be a new feeling of confidence inside the Kremlin, even though the “correlation of forces” globally and in the Middle East remains in favor of the United States. Russia has gained a key ally in China, and Chinese media have shown understanding and even sympathy for Russia’s behavior in Syria.

Often overlooked is the fact that China played down its longstanding insistence on the inviolability of sovereign borders and avoided criticizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, following what was widely viewed as a U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine that removed elected President Viktor Yanukovych. The Chinese do not care for “regime change” – whether in Kiev or Damascus – and look askance at U.S. insistence that President Assad “must go.”

More important, military cooperation between Russia and China has never been closer. If Russia finds itself in a major escalation of hostilities in the Middle East and/or Europe, the troubles may not end there. The U.S. should expect significant saber-rattling by China in the South China Sea

All of these signs point to very dangerous days ahead, though there has been little intelligent discussion of these risks in the major U.S. news media or, seemingly, in Washington’s halls of power. There is a sense of sleepwalking toward an abyss. 

Ray McGovern prepared the President’s Daily Brief for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.  During Reagan’s first term he conducted one-on-one morning briefings of the Vice President, Secretaries of State and Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President’s national security assistant.  He now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.




Trump’s Lies About a Nuke ‘Gap’

Exclusive: One of Donald Trump’s most dangerous lies is his claim about Russia surging ahead of the U.S. on nuclear weapons, a Cold War-style assertion of a nuke “gap” that goes unchallenged, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

“The country has never had a presidential candidate who lies the way that [Donald Trump] does,” remarked New York Times editor David Leonhardt after Sunday’s presidential debate. Yet his impressive list of 20 Trump lies is notably silent about one unchallenged whopper: that Russia is gaining military superiority over the United States.

Trump told debate watchers that Hillary Clinton “talks tough against Russia. But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.”

Hillary Clinton didn’t rebut him. The moderators didn’t rebut him. The Clinton campaign’s fact checkers didn’t rebut him. Nor did those of the mainstream media — perhaps because more than a few reporters and editors assume Trump is right.

In recent months, Trump has repeatedly peddled the same myth of Russian nuclear (and conventional military) superiority. It’s a familiar and politically potent lie dating back to 1950s, when militarists warned of alleged bomber and missile “gaps” favoring the Soviet Union.

At a rally in Atlanta last June, Trump complained that “Putin has built up their military again and again and again. Their military is much stronger. He’s doing nuclear, we’re not doing anything. Our nuclear is old and tired and his nuclear is tippy-top from what I hear.” (President Trump would presumably order the Pentagon to come up with some kind of nuclear Viagra to make our forces young, virile, and “tippy top” again.)

Speaking to supporters in Ashburn, Virginia, in August, the Republican candidate said, “Look at Russia, how they’ve built up their military . . . How they’ve built up their military and how we’re so far behind. And our equipment is obsolete in many cases. . . We’re falling way behind.”

And in the first presidential debate in September, again unrebutted by Clinton, Trump reiterated that Russia’s nuclear forces “have a much newer capability than we do. . . . We are not keeping up with other countries.”

After that first debate, a brief Associated Press fact check did note that “Russia has indeed been expanding its military and increasing spending on weapons and equipment. But the U.S. still has far more advanced military aircraft, weapons and capabilities than Russia. In addition, the Pentagon plans to spend $108 billion over the next five years to sustain and improve its nuclear force and is developing the next generation bomber.”

But the U.S. nuclear modernization program is much bigger even than AP indicated. As reported here, “the Obama administration plans to commit the nation to spending at least $1trillion over the next three decades to improve our ability to fight a nuclear war.” The Pentagon’s blueprint calls for building 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, 100 long-range strategic bombers armed with a new class of bombs, at least 400 silo-based ballistic missiles, and 1,000 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The United States currently has more deployed nuclear missiles and heavy bombers than Russia: 741 versus 521. The United States also has almost as large an inventory of nuclear weapons as Russia: 7,000 versus an estimated 7,300. The difference is meaningless: detonation of even a fraction of that total would annihilate not only both countries, but kill a large portion of the world’s population.

Washington can potentially also count on the United Kingdom and France for another 400 deployed nuclear warheads to make the rubble in Russia bounce higher in case of an all-out war.

The two countries’ nuclear arsenals are nearly matched by design — the result of many rounds of nuclear arms negotiations and treaties. By contrast, the U.S. military far outpaces Russia’s in most conventional categories.

US Spends Way More on Military

Washington spends 12 times more on “defense” than Russia, whose military budget ranks behind China, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. According to the website Global Fire Power, the United States has more than twice the population of Russia, 80 percent more active military personnel, and 285 percent more military aircraft. The U.S. Navy also outpaces Russia in aircraft carriers 10 to 1. (Russia has more tanks and artillery.) And that’s before counting the contribution of all our NATO allies.

James Hasik, an analyst for the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, observes that “The good news . . . is that the Russian Army today is a small fraction of the size of the Red Army of the Cold War. Russia is also almost bereft of allies, as Belarus and that collection of frozen-conflict oblasts don’t really add much. Thus, NATO’s ground forces actually outnumber the Russians several times over.”

Another prominent military analyst, Kyle Mizokami, notes that Russia’s military modernization plans have been severely crimped by falling oil prices and Western economic sanctions, sending Moscow’s defense budget “into a tailspin.”

“Russian forces are also, generally speaking, not as well trained as NATO forces,” he adds. “Russian forces performed badly in Chechnya . . . In its 2008 war with Georgia, Russian ground forces moved painfully slowly. . . Most NATO countries could have done a better job.”

Despite these facts, numerous Pentagon officers and armchair warriors today warn about NATO’s deficiencies in facing the growing Russian threat. But look closely and they all relate to scenarios of Russian forces moving en masse next door into the small and weakly defended Baltic States. That’s a far cry from what NATO feared when the alliance formed in 1949 to prevent a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Now that the Baltic States are part of NATO, Moscow would be risking World War III by invading them — for what purpose no one ever spells out.

Fear-mongering about Russia’s military and the Baltics reflects a classic imperial mentality — that the United States must be capable of prevailing militarily anywhere on the globe, no matter how far removed from our real security interests.

It’s time to recognize that relentless calls for greater military spending, constant agitation for a new Cold War, and the staging of provocative military exercises so close to Russia’s borders are creating the real threats to U.S. security and well-being.

Donald Trump’s lies about Russia’s military superiority are feeding those threats. It’s long overdue for his opponent and the news media to call him out.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Obama Flinches at Renouncing Nuke First Strike,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy,”  “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.