Trump Lets Saudis Off His ‘Muslim Ban’

Exclusive: By leaving Saudi Arabia and other key terrorism sponsors off his “Muslim ban,” President Trump shows the same cowardice and dishonesty that infected the Bush and Obama administrations, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

President Trump’s ban against letting people from seven mostly Muslim countries enter the United States looks to many like a thinly concealed bias against a religion, but it also is a troubling sign that Trump doesn’t have the nerve to challenge the false terrorism narrative demanded by Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The Israeli-Saudi narrative, which is repeated endlessly inside Official Washington, is that Iran is the principal sponsor of terrorism when that dubious honor clearly falls to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni-led Muslim states, including Pakistan, nations that did not make Trump’s list.

The evidence of who is funding and supporting most of the world’s terrorism is overwhelming. All major terrorist groups that have bedeviled the United States and the West over the past couple of decades – from Al Qaeda to the Taliban to Islamic State – can trace their roots back to Sunni-led countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Qatar.

Privately, this reality has been recognized by senior U.S. officials, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. But that knowledge has failed to change U.S. policy, which caters to the oil-rich Saudis and the politically powerful Israelis.

For instance, in August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency – then headed by General Flynn – warned that Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda were “the major forces driving the insurgency” against the largely secular government in Syria.

Flynn’s DIA advised President Obama that rebels were trying to establish a “Salafist principality in eastern Syria,” and that “western countries, the gulf states, and Turkey are supporting these efforts” to counter the supposed Shiite threat to the region.

Hillary Clinton also was aware of this reality, as the threat from the head-chopping Islamic State – also known as ISIL or ISIS – grew worse in summer 2014. In September 2014, the former Secretary of State wrote in an email that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups.”

Later in 2014, Vice President Joe Biden made the same point in a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria … the Saudis, the emirates, etc. what were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” [Quote starts at 53:25.]

Known But Unknown

So the truth was known at senior levels of the Obama administration – and now via National Security Advisor Flynn at the top of the Trump administration – but the Israelis and the Saudis don’t want that reality to shape U.S. foreign policy. In other words, this truth about the real source of terrorism was known but unknown.

Instead, Israel demands that Washington share its hatred of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, a Shiite force that organized in the 1980s to drive the invading Israeli army out of southern Lebanon. Because Hezbollah dealt a rare defeat to the Israeli Defense Force, Israel puts it at the top of “terrorist” organizations. And, Hezbollah is supported by Iran.

Saudi Arabia, too, hates Iran because the Sunni-fundamentalist Saudi monarchy considers Shia Islam heretical, a sectarian conflict that dates back to the Seventh Century. So, the Saudi government has viewed Sunni jihadists as the tip of the spear against these Shiite rivals.

Israeli and Saudi officials have even made clear that they would prefer Al Qaeda or Islamic State to prevail in the Syrian war rather than have the largely secular government of President Bashar al-Assad survive because they see his regime as part of a “Shiite crescent” reaching from Tehran through Damascus to the Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut.

In September 2013, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in the interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al Qaeda.

And, in June 2014, speaking as a former ambassador at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren expanded on his position, saying Israel would even prefer a victory by the brutal Islamic State over continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Israel, Saudi Arabia and Terrorism.”]

The West’s Worries

However, when Americans and Europeans worry about terrorism, they are talking about Al Qaeda and Islamic State, terror groups led by Sunni extremists. Those are the groups that have been responsible for bloody attacks on the United States and Western Europe.

The absurdity of Trump’s immigration ban is underscored by the fact that it would not have kept out the 15 Saudi hijackers dispatched by Al Qaeda to carry out the 9/11 attacks. They came from the home country of Al Qaeda’s Saudi founder Osama bin Laden.

Neither would Trump’s ban have stopped Muhamed Atta, one of the 9/11 ringleaders who was from Egypt, another country ignored by Trump, which also happens to be the original home of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s current leader.

So, what Trump’s initial foray into the complex issue of terrorism has revealed is that he is unwilling to take on the real nexus of terrorism, just as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama shied away from a clash with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikdoms.

In the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, the regional interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia have continued to dictate how Official Washington addresses terrorism.

Trump’s seven-nation list includes Iran, Syria and Sudan as state sponsors of terrorism and Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya as countries where there has been terrorist activity. But the governments of Iran and Syria arguably have become two of the leading fighters against the terrorist groups of most concern to the U.S. and European populations.

Iran is aiding both Syria and Iraq in their conflicts with Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Inside Syria, the Syrian army has borne the brunt of that fighting against terror groups funded and armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and – yes – at least indirectly, the United States. Yet while none of the Al Qaeda/Islamic State benefactors made Trump’s list, Iran and Syria did.

In other words, not only is Trump’s ban a blunderbuss blast at thousands of innocent Muslims who have no intention of hurting the United States but it doesn’t even take aim at the most dangerous targets which represent a genuine terrorist threat.

Trump’s ban is really a twisted case of “political correctness” purporting to reject “political correctness.” While Trump claims to recognize that it is dangerously naïve to let in Muslims when Islamic terrorism has remained a threat to Americans, Trump has left off his list the most likely sources of terrorists because – to do otherwise – would have negative political consequences in Official Washington.

By going after Iran and Syria, in particular, Trump appears to be currying favor with neoconservatives and liberal hawks in Congress and across Official Washington. Perhaps, he is simply hesitating while the Senate considers confirmation of his choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. The Senate also could reject other of his foreign policy nominees.

But that is exactly the kind of compromising that undermined any attempts by President Obama to engineer a real change from the “war of terror” strategy of George W. Bush. Obama was so afraid of going against the Israelis and the Saudis that he only altered U.S. policy on the margins and let himself get dragged into Israeli-Saudi-favored “regime change” adventures in Syria and Yemen.

Dashed or Delayed Hopes

When Trump initially rebuffed the neocons and liberal hawks who dominate Official Washington’s foreign establishment, there was hope that he might at least try to hold Saudi Arabia accountable as the chief sponsor of terrorism, rather than to continue the Israeli-Saudi-imposed narrative.

But to do so carried political risks beyond offending the politically potent Israelis who have forged a quiet alliance with the wealthy Saudis. Trump would also have to recognize the important role of Republican icon Ronald Reagan in creating the terrorist threat.

After all, the origins of the modern jihadist movement trace back to the $1 billion-a-year collaboration between the Reagan administration and the Saudi monarchy to support the Afghan mujahedeen in their war against a secular government in Kabul backed by the Soviet Union.

The extravagant arming of these Afghan fundamentalists, who were bolstered by international jihadists led by Osama bin Laden, dealt a harsh blow to the Soviet forces and ultimately led to the collapse of the secular regime in Kabul, but the victory also paved the way for the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, blowback that hit the United States on 9/11.

The U.S. reaction to that shock never directly addressed how the problem had originated and who the underlying culprits were. Though George W. Bush’s administration did begin by invading Afghanistan, the neoconservatives around him quickly turned the U.S. retaliation against longstanding Israeli targets, such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Assad dynasty though they had nothing to do with 9/11.

The fiction that these largely secular governments were responsible for Islamic terrorism — and the mislabeling of Shia-ruled Iran as the chief sponsor of such terrorism — have remained the myths confusing the American people and thus justifying continued U.S. support for the Israeli-Saudi war against the “Shiite crescent.”

Trump, who is heavily criticized for his inability to distinguish fact from fantasy, could have displayed a brave commitment to truth-telling if he had fashioned his counter-terrorism policy to actually address the real sponsors of terrorism. Instead, he chose to continue the lies that the Israelis and Saudis insist that Official Washington tell.

In doing so, Trump is not only offending much of the world and alienating countries that are at the forefront of the fight against the worst terrorist threats, but he is continuing to shield the key regimes that have perpetuated the scourge of terrorism.

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




The Tests Ahead for Trump

Donald Trump’s path to victory was eased by the fact that the Republican and Democratic parties were brittle, corrupt, hollowed-out institutions ready for cracking, but his tests have only begun, writes John Chuckman.

By John Chuckman

The chance for greatness is not something offered every leader. The opportunity requires both a set of extremely adverse circumstances and an exceptional person in power who overcomes them.

All too briefly, Barack Obama seemed to have the chance in 2008, but he very quickly proved himself incapable of rising to the challenge. So, Obama goes down in history, despite his remarkable achievement of becoming the first black President, as an extremely mediocre leader who was bent by the very forces he should have controlled.

He almost melted away before our eyes, proving definitively that there is a great difference between the talents required for political campaigning and those required for success in office.

Donald Trump now has an opportunity for greatness, more so than any politician I can recall. He is faced with huge problems, many of the them the work of the failed Obama, and they are more than just any set of problems, for they involve the deaths and misery of millions and the risks of an international nuclear holocaust.

It is already clear that Trump has the strengths required – immensely energetic and hard-working, absolutely not intimidated by a powerful and pervasive establishment, and a surprisingly resourceful mind. But there are clouds on the horizon.

Trump is one of those people whose mind seems to crackle with ideas and notions, and, just as is the case with others of this type, including many famous scientists and creative talents, a fair number of the ideas and notions are not worth pursuing and some are complete rubbish. I put into this category notions like a national Muslim registry or the round-up and deportation of millions of Mexican illegals or crippling the United Nations.

I would certainly add Trump’s words around the utterly repulsive subject of torture, but here we find an example of Trump being really clever, showing the kind of skill a statesman must possess. With his words on torture, Trump got to tell the belly-over-belt segment of his followers that he will do literally anything for dear old America, but he then played the game of deferring to the wisdom of one of his most intelligent appointments, General James Mattis, who opposes torture. Who can argue with a “Marine’s Marine” on such topics?

Some Bad Ideas

Trump’s wall with Mexico for me is neither here nor there. Lots of countries build walls, and while I am opposed to them in general, I recognize the arguments for them, and of course every country has the right to protect its borders.

But you cannot round up and deport millions, even if they are illegals, without great adverse consequences. It is a non-starter as an idea. What we have is a situation created by the ineffectiveness of past governments over many years. That is a reality you must accept unless you want to create, to put it mildly, one of the worst public relations fiascos of the century.

Remember, we live in the age of cell phone videos and the Internet, an entirely different situation than what prevailed the last time America did the very thing Trump is proposing, roughly 90 years ago. Not many Americans likely realize that there was a precedent. Starting in 1929 and for some years after, huge numbers of Mexicans – estimated to have been between half a million and two million – living in America were deported summarily.

It is not a precedent to copy, smelling as it does of activities we associate with the fascist governments of that same dark period. It is something that cannot even be done without many extremely unhappy scenes.

 

Trump should build his wall and keep strict compliance with law afterwards, but mass deportations will not go down well anywhere and will only create big and ugly barriers in many of America’s relationships, and not just those with Mexico.

Trump needs a filtering mechanism for his bubbling, teeming thoughts because his better ideas and notions are the ones that promise to mark him for greatness. I include here the end of America’s interfering and overthrowing foreign governments, the end of the terrible Bush-Obama Neocon Wars that have killed a couple of million and created millions of desperate refugees, and his bold efforts to bring jobs to millions of Americans living in what can only be called squalor. Those are the goals of a great leader.

And if he can succeed, I believe it is possible for Trump to build a new coalition for his party. This kind of thing has happened before, and if he could succeed at it, it would be yet another great achievement. The Republican Party, before Trump hijacked it and gave it new purpose, was moribund, lacking any clear purpose beyond trying to achieve power and divvy up the spoils of periodic victory.

The Democratic Party that Trump defeated has been in a somewhat similar state. Perhaps that fact is part of why it morphed into the War Party under the de facto leadership — since the 1990s – of the Clintons with their bounteous, mafia-like money connections.

But the Clintons were not only defeated by Trump; their defeat was accompanied by shocking revelations about them and their party’s inner workings which I do not believe can be easily lived down. There remains a possibility that one or both of them is going to be prosecuted, either for the actions of the Clinton Foundation or for the behavior of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

All that makes Trump’s opportunity even greater. He can rise to it, or he can fall over his worst ideas and become just one more failed American President.

John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company.




Deep State vs. Donald Trump

President Trump has stepped onto a high-wire in defying America’s Deep State, but can he withstand the powerful winds that will surely buffet him and what will President Putin do to help or hurt, asks ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said it often: the door to co-operation (with the U.S.) “lies ajar.” He has said it repeatedly: that it was not Moscow in the first place that had withered – and then severed – the lines of communication with Washington. And Mr. Putin has been consistent in periodically easing the path to “Moscow” for President Trump.

(The Americans had hinted recently that they might appreciate “a gesture” from the Russians – and they got one: Russia invited the incoming U.S. administration to the Syria talks, at Astana. Moscow made this gesture – even at the cost of almost losing their Iranian ally’s support at the talks.)

Perhaps it is this “door ajar” stance by Mr. Putin that has given rise to the idea, in much of the press, that détente between the two leaders is somehow a “slam dunk” bet — that Trump and Putin are cut from similar cloth, and will somehow end up bashing Islamic radicals together. If that is the consensus, then it is perhaps premature, and possibly wrong.

The door is indeed “open,” and it is possible that the two leaders may indeed conjure up a détente. But it is no “slam dunk” (certainty). And Moscow certainly does not regard it to be “slam dunk” – at all. On the contrary, they are aware that whereas there are areas of common approach, there are also areas of obvious difference – and possible disagreement – between the new U.S. administration and Moscow. The hope for détente ultimately may prove to lie just beyond reach. We shall have to see.

We do not know what President Trump’s foreign policy – in practice – will be. It is not at all clear (intentionally so, in part. But, also because the details have not yet been thrashed out within the team, who are busy with managing a complex transition). Nonetheless we can tease out, perhaps, a few solid pointers in the wake of the new U.S. President’s inaugural speech:

–Mr. Trump has witnessed America’s political and economic decline over the years (he made plain previously his concerns about America’s deteriorating situation in his 2000 campaign publication).

–He sincerely believes the U.S. to be in crisis – and that without radical, urgent and comprehensive reform, America (qua “America”) will be in peril. He is, as it were, someone who has looked upon decay and corruption, and been transfigured by that which he saw: Yes, there was a Cromwellian “New Model Army” whiff to his inauguration speech. He said that he intends to purge – and then to remake – America, no less.

–He has arrayed against him the still intact power of the Deep State, yet he chooses mainly to taunt them. His inaugural speech told the Deep State flatly to prepare for its own disempowerment. He has thereby “burnt his bridges” in respect to any subsequent Faustian sale of his soul. He can only succeed, or dramatically fail.

–For all the pomp of an orderly transfer of power on Jan. 20th, the reality behind the trappings is one of a “state of war” between the U.S. President and the still-present Deep State elites (but not necessarily the Deep State’s foot soldiers, many of whom, it appears, voted for Trump).

Political Tactics

Artemis Capital presciently describes Trump’s likely political tactics: “Trump knows that if you can’t win [as matters stand], then you change the rules of the game – this is what he has already done with American politics – and what he is about to do to the entire Post-Bretton Woods World Order. If you really want to know a person, watch what they do, and not what they say … or what they tweet … the rants and twitter storms are part of a strategy of media control and distraction.

“Trump’s business career was largely comprised of three core strategies 1) Leverage 2) Restructure 3) Brand … in that order. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s Trump rode a generational decline in interest rates and debt binge to purchase a range of high profile real estate projects including the Grand Hyatt (1978), Trump Tower (1983), the Plaza Hotel (1988) and the Taj Mahal (1988). In the 1990s he went through a total of 6 bankruptcies due to over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City and New York. In the 2000s he pivoted to move away from debt-driven property investments to building a global brand through the ‘Apprentice’ TV show.

“Trump will run the country as he ran his businesses …. He will lever, and lever, and lever, and lever … and lever … and then restructure his way to success, or whatever success is defined as, by the broadest measure of popularity at any given time. Trumponomics, if it delivers, will be a supply-side free for all: massive tax cuts, deficit spending to create jobs, financial and energy deregulation, business creation, and trade protectionism – all driving inflation. More importantly, Trump sees bankruptcy as a tool and not an obligation and will have no problem pushing the US to the limits of debt expansion. ‘I do play with bankruptcy laws, they’re very good to me!’ he once said.”

‘The Destructor’

And this is what – in broad outline – we already see. Trump’s tweets are “the destructor” element: Creating negotiating leverage through uncertainty. No one can be sure of Trump’s final aims, or his “bottom line.”

This is his strategy. The tweets are mini-grenades tossed into the mix, precisely to confuse, to distract, and to loosen up the existing “order” – and to make it more susceptible to negotiation – and to subsequent “re-structuring” – should initial negotiations hit a brick wall.

Similarly, with leverage. Trump has leverage: Most significantly, the U.S. is the globe’s biggest buyer of consumer goods; it possesses the world’s reserve currency, and controls all the Bretton Woods financial institutions, with all the privileges which that implies. It has the Federal Reserve and can manipulate other states’ currencies; the U.S. “owns” NATO, and the defense protection it does (or does not) choose to confer on other states; it has the biggest military; and is more or less energy independent. Not bad cards.

Trump may be expected to lever, and lever again, all these assets. He will pull out all the stops in the interest of putting America First, and returning jobs and manufacturing to America’s marginalized white middle- and blue-collar classes. He will lever this aim financially (i.e. debt, border taxes and tax incentives) too, as well as politically strong-arm America’s trading rivals.

Brand “America” will be advanced by all the tradecraft that Trump acquired though his “reality” TV show: distractions, surprises, and publicity stunts to create an aura of success – for he is determined to succeed. It is almost as if he feels he can lift the “animal spirits” of Americans, as it were, by willpower, and pithy, one-liner tweets. To an extent, he already has – to judge by polls on business confidence in the U.S.

A Method Behind Madness

The above account may imply that, with Trump, all policy will essentially be determined by the seat of his pants. But if that is what conveyed, it is only half the story. John Maudlin of Maudlin Economics provides this corrective:

“This is going to be a short letter summarizing my impressions from the last few days [in Washington talking with Trump’s transition team]. I think it might be easiest to present them in the form of a list.

“If you listen to the media you might have the impression that the Trump transition team is in complete disarray. Talking with leaders of the transition team certainly didn’t leave me with that impression. They have broken the transition process down into over 30 departments and have created a ‘landing document’ for each department. The analogy they are using is that this process is like planning an invasion, and they are going to hand the landing document off to the ‘beachhead teams’ who will then execute the plans.

“I was briefly allowed to look at (without actually being able to read) the plan for one cabinet-level department. It appeared to be about 100 pages plus of serious detail as to exactly what executive orders would need to be removed and added, what personnel would have to be replaced (both appointees and regular staff), what policies would need to be changed, and so forth.

“I was told that this level of planning was being done for every department. My impression is that there are a lot of people from various think tanks and others with experience in the presidential transition process who are involved in directing the plan for each department. That level of detailed planning doesn’t happen in less than two months. My guess is that some of that thinking has been going on for years, and now it can be implemented.

“That being said, we know that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy; and it was instructive to sit with Bill Bennett, who talked about his experience in trying to reform the Department of Education under Reagan. They were still dealing with personnel and policy issues a year later, and this was when the department was much smaller than it is today. And that is just one department.

“When I asked a key person how much of the overall plan would likely come to fruition, I got a rueful smile and a shrug. ‘If we even get half of this done in the first few years, that will be major reform’…

“Trump’s management style is going to drive the media (and admittedly, much of the country and the world) nuts. One person who has worked closely with Trump during the transition says it is a lot like the HBO show Entourage and not at all like the British sitcom Yes, Minister. Trump will have people in his entourage competing to give him the pieces of information he needs. In his business organization, he sets the vision and then hires people to execute that vision; and then he goes back to doing what we have seen him do so well, which is to create the brand and image.

“He is bringing in people to execute his vision, and he’s going to expect them to get it done. He will jump in when he thinks he’s needed or when he can add something to the process, but he will mostly be paying attention to his team’s performance.

“One assessment suggests that there is going to be more than the usual amount of personnel turnover in the first six months. The media will be writing about how Trump can’t keep people and about all the chaos in the White House and other parts of government. But from Trump’s perspective, and given his management style, that’s not necessarily bad in terms of his longer-term goal of changing things.

“We have not had a president with this type of management style in my lifetime. Since it’s not something that any of us are going to be familiar with, it is going to make some of us uncomfortable until we get used to it (and some people never will).”

Putin and Trump

Where does this put Russia? Is President Putin, then, cut from similar cloth, as many commentators suggest?

Superficially: Yes (but in other ways, no). President Putin too saw his nation in decline (the Yeltsin years). And yes, Putin also sincerely believed that Russia was in crisis when he assumed the Presidency.

President Putin did face Russian Deep State powers arrayed against him, but, unlike Trump, there was no public declaration of war against the Russian Deep State, but rather, the Russian President has made it his objective to try to “heal Russia,” and to keep the opposing Russian political poles from splintering away from the main trunk. In this respect, President Putin is no populist: there has been no metaphorical rallying of blue-collar “pitchforks and torches” against the Elites. Putin has preferred to out-maneuver his enemies in more discreet, less public, ways.

So the “chemistry,” if it transpires in the flesh, derives from something else. Steve Bannon, Trump’s close confidant, in a 2014 interview, said simply enough: The “very, very, very intelligent” Putin just “gets it.” He understands “us.” He can see what our various Tea Party Movements are about (this interview was before Trump was a Candidate). Putin can tell that a “revolution” in America and Europe is brewing, Bannon implies, and notes that the Russian President has been quietly, (and “cleverly”) positioning himself towards it, especially in Europe.

In other words, it is not so much the transactional possibilities that attracts Bannon to Putin, but a sense of dealing with someone who has an instinctive, almost telepathic, shared understanding of what Bannon and his Breitbart circle (now including Trump) are about, and how they view the world. This type of empathetic communication – if borne out by experience – does have a real potential to overcome otherwise difficult political differences.

Russia’s Hot Buttons

And political differences, there are. Major potential hurdles: The “America First” policy, and that of aggressively re-building the home base, will not ruffle President Putin one jot. He feels the same about Russia. Ditto for the America First energy policy. Mr. Putin will have no problems with that (there can be fruitful exchanges with Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, who is leaving his job as Exxon-Mobil’s CEO, on this issue).

However, three issues could be very problematic: The first is Trump’s emphasis that the U.S. “military dominance must be unquestioned” since this directly touches on Russia’s own national security. Moscow does not seek an absolute “balance,” but a balance of esteem, and “strategic stability” with the U.S. Two, Team Trump says the president will not “allow other nations to surpass our [U.S.] military capability”; and (in a White House policy outline), “We [the U.S.] will also develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already warned that nuclear weapons, strategic stability and nuclear and strategic parity, will be the key issue in Russian-U.S. relations. And the third “hot” issue will be whether Trump is intent on driving a wedge into the strategic security architecture linking China, Russia and Iran. Again, any attempt to split the coalition, or to collapse the keystone of the Eurasian economic “arch” (One Belt, One Road), could sour any entente between Trump and Putin.

There is however another major consideration for Russia: Can he do it? And, should he fail, what would be the implications for Russia? Might Trump’s term in office be curtailed? Might the U.S. President be removed, and replaced by an administration that would pursue vindictive retribution against Russia, for having allegedly “sided with” Trump?

Trump is determined to pull out all the stops: to succeed, but it will not be easy. The headwinds are strong. Growth is proving elusive – globally – for a range of complex factors. It is not Trump’s fault. It’s just how it is.

Economic Challenges

And a Damocles’ sword hangs over his economic program: Yes, he will try to lever, lever and lever again, as it he did in his business career (infrastructure projects, tax breaks and higher spending). For sure it is going to be inflationary – and interest rates already are rising. What happens when 10-year U.S. Treasuries hit 3 percent or more? Will it be war with a “tightening” Federal Reserve? Will debt markets generally, enter crisis?

But really, this program can, and almost certainly will, spice up life (and equity prices), for some U.S. corporations, but can it reach down, in the only sense that ultimately matters for Mr. Trump – to the level of bringing home the jobs to middle-class and blue-collar America? Who will work these newly returned plants? Robots? Americans on $15 an hour, or Americans on $45 an hour (a well-paid hourly job)?

And if the latter, who is going to purchase the expensive products which these well-paid workers will manufacture? Fellow Americans presumably, but it will take many millions of consumers, themselves on $45 an hour, to afford these high price goods. But if it is Americans on $15 per hour, from whence will come the revived consumer “animal spirits” and free spending? And if it is ‘bots…?

And is “tough on China” really viable? Modern industrial supply lines are long, transnational and complex. If America plays tough with end-product locus of manufacture, Asia can hit back in the supply lines. A whole supply line is much harder to pick up and put down elsewhere – than is one single plant.

More salient is the question: does China in fact have the economic “fat” to afford to part with some of it, to please America? Parts of America have been suffering from the effects of globalization, but now China has begun to be globalization’s latest victim, too. China may not have any “fat” to negotiate away. And China certainly does have “cards” of its own.
We have entered upon a bold experiment. Is it fully thought through, though? The Russians must be wondering, 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.




Donald Trump and His ‘Magic Mirror’

Exclusive: President Trump’s vain tirades about crowd size and voter fraud make him look like Snow White’s evil queen gazing into her mirror, but he could turn that around by telling some important truths, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

By insisting that he is the legitimate winner of the U.S. popular vote and the man who drew the largest inaugural crowd ever, President Trump is behaving like the evil queen in “Snow White” gazing into a “magic mirror” and refusing to accept that he isn’t the “fairest of them all.”

To protect his giant but fragile ego, Trump concocts fantasies about three million to five million illegal votes – enough to cover his actual deficit of 2.8 million – and he disputes the obvious fact that his inaugural turnout was far less than Barack Obama’s.

Having attended both Obama’s inaugural in 2009 and Trump’s in 2017, I can assure you that Obama’s crowd was much bigger. While my son Jeff and I had to squeeze into and out of packed Metro stations on Jan. 20, 2009, we had no trouble getting on a train on Jan. 20, 2017.

Even at the outskirts of Trump’s inauguration, protesters far outnumbered celebrants. One vendor selling Trump-inaugural tee shirts remarked that he had been sitting there for four hours and had only sold five shirts.

Of course, none of that is too surprising since Obama was the first African-American president and Washington D.C. and its surrounding suburbs have large black populations as well as being heavily Democratic districts. In other words, it was easier for many Obama supporters to get to his inaugural than it was for Trump’s backers to travel longer distances to get to his.

As for the crowds on the Mall, Trump’s turnout was further depressed by the fact that large numbers of protesters, especially north of the inaugural parade route, clogged the security checkpoints. Some protesters even locked arms to slow the entry process.

So there were logical reasons – not reflective of Trump’s overall popularity – explaining why his numbers were a lot lower than Obama’s. But rather than accept this minor slight – as well as the fact that he lost the national popular vote by a significant margin – Trump has behaved like Snow White’s vain queen who can’t accept the inevitability of her fading beauty and the unwelcome news that someone younger has supplanted her as “the fairest” in the land.

Trump could have scored valuable political points by demonstrating some uncharacteristic grace, acknowledging that as the popular vote loser whose crowds fell short of Obama’s record turnout, he recognizes his responsibility to be the president of all the people and to respect dissenting opinions.

Instead, he marred his first week in the White House by pushing easily debunked claims that he was the victim of conspiracies to disparage his inaugural turnout and deny him a popular-vote victory.

More Dangerous Lies

While Trump’s refusal to accept unpleasant realities raises fresh concerns about his fitness for office – since his presidency will surely face some painful reversals and rejecting reality is a dangerous way to respond – he is certainly not the first president to lie to the American people.

One difference between Trump’s lies and many other lies, however, is that Trump’s are both more personal and more obvious. Only his most benighted followers will continue to contest his popular vote loss and the comparatively small size of his inaugural crowds. Most government lies are both harder to detect and more sinister in their consequences.

Think, for example, of President George W. Bush’s falsehoods about Iraq’s WMDs and Saddam Hussein’s alleged collaboration with Al Qaeda. That deceptive propaganda led to the deaths of more than 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, not to mention a price tag of more than $1 trillion and the spreading of chaos across the Middle East and into Europe.

President Obama also found deception a useful tool for herding the American people behind his administration’s foreign interventions. For instance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials lied about Muammar Gaddafi engaging in “genocide” against the people of eastern Libya when that was clearly not true. But they wanted to justify another “regime change” project, so the truth was readily sacrificed in the name of the “Clinton Doctrine” and her idea of “smart power.”

Similarly, in trying to justify direct U.S. military intervention in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly claimed “we know” that Bashar al-Assad’s military was responsible for a sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. Kerry made the false claim of certainty to justify a “retaliatory” assault.

Although Obama ultimately decided not to bomb Syria’s army, he also asserted no doubt about Assad’s guilt. Obama declared in a formal address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, that “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”

Yet, we now know that Obama’s own intelligence analysts were among those who questioned whether Assad’s military was responsible. I was hearing in real time from intelligence sources that a number of U.S. analysts believed that the attack might well have been a provocation by Syrian rebels to draw the U.S. military into the conflict on their side, a suspicion later confirmed by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

No Slam Dunk

And, we learned last year from The Atlantic’s long interview with Obama about his foreign policies that he was told by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that there was no “slam dunk” evidence implicating the Syrian government in the sarin attack.

However, instead of informing the American people about these doubts, Secretary Kerry and President Obama insisted that there were no doubts. In other words, they lied – and those lies helped justify continued U.S. arms shipments to “moderate” rebels, who were largely under the command of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate which ultimately got possession of many of those sophisticated weapons.

To this day, the false sarin certainty remains part of Official Washington’s conventional wisdom with CNN’s Jake Tapper citing the “Assad gassed his own people” claim on Wednesday in challenging Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, about her decision to meet with the Syrian president during a recent fact-finding trip to the war-ravaged country.

Similarly, the Obama administration pushed propaganda themes to justify another “regime change” project in Ukraine, on Russia’s border. Obama’s State Department fed dubious and false claims to credulous mainstream reporters, including accusations that elected President Viktor Yanukovych was responsible for the bloodshed that preceded the putsch that ousted him on Feb. 22, 2014.

Obama and his team also concealed evidence about who was behind the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. Though I was told that some U.S. intelligence analysts had determined that a rogue element of the Ukrainian military had fired the fateful missile, Obama withheld the intelligence community’s findings while the guilt was pinned on Russia.

Early last year when the father of the one U.S. citizen killed among the 298 dead on the flight was begging the U.S. government to open its files, a well-placed intelligence source told me that the request was given serious consideration but was rejected because the truth would “destroy the narrative,” which had made Russian President Vladimir Putin the villain and thus was a key factor in justifying the New Cold War.

By withholding the U.S. intelligence evidence, Obama gave the MH-17 murderers more than two years to get away and cover their tracks – and allowed the disreputable Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU, to take control of the supposedly “Dutch-led” investigation and thus steer the conclusions in support of the anti-Russian propaganda narrative. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Troubling Gaps in the New MH-17 Report” and “The Official and Implausible MH-17 Scenario.”]

Double Standards

Obama’s secretive approach toward those pivotal events was in marked contrast to his eagerness to have his intelligence agencies brief reporters on allegations that Putin had helped Trump’s campaign and had blackmailed him over evidence of supposedly salacious behavior with Moscow prostitutes.

Even though Obama’s intelligence officials presented no evidence to support those accusations, the charges undermined Trump’s legitimacy as many Democrats echoed Hillary Clinton in calling Trump Putin’s “puppet.”

The contrast between Obama’s eagerness to release secret allegations to disparage Trump and Obama’s refusal to give the public substantive information for judging issues of war or peace reflects the elitism that came to infect Obama’s administration.

Information – or disinformation – was valued for guiding the American people in desired directions. Facts didn’t have an intrinsic value as a way to empower the public to understand the world and to make informed judgments. Instead, “information war” was viewed as a means to weaken and defeat “enemies,” part of “smart power.”

To cite another children’s fable, Obama’s administration went down the rabbit hole in its foreign policy where reality and logic no longer prevailed. But pretty much the entire Washington establishment was there, too, Republicans, Democrats and the mainstream media, so there was a self-reinforcing quality to the madness.

President Trump clearly doesn’t have the mainstream media on his side nor much of the establishment, so he cannot expect the kind of nodding acquiescence that greeted false claims by George W. Bush and Barack Obama – or, for that matter, presidents dating back generations.

But Trump does not help himself by destroying his own credibility by making easily debunked claims about crowd sizes and voter fraud, what one of his aides called “alternative facts.”

Still, Trump could reverse his image as a self-absorbed con man by standing up for real government transparency and showing genuine trust in the American people. He could start by declassifying evidence on the Syrian sarin case, the Ukrainian coup, the MH-17 shoot-down and other turning-point moments in recent history. He could show bipartisanship, too, by revealing some historic secrets about Republican administrations as they also sought to manipulate the American people.

Trump could arm Americans with real facts and show genuine respect to the citizens as the nation’s true sovereigns, the “We the People” of the U.S. Constitution’s opening words, not lambs for herding to the next war-of-choice slaughterhouse.

If he could stop gazing into that mirror, Trump could transform himself from being just one more villain feeding fantasies to the American people into a real-world hero by telling important truths. But he has gotten off to a very rocky start by telling some very petty lies.

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).




Death of the Syrian ‘Moderate’ Fantasy

Exclusive: Neocons and liberal hawks sold the fantasy that Syrian “moderate” rebels were a viable option when all they did was help arm Al Qaeda jihadists and worsen the bloodshed, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

The neoconservative and liberal interventionist case for arming Syria’s rebels lost its last vestige of credibility this week with the routing of Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in northwestern Syria.

Washington think-tank warriors and editorial writers have long looked to the FSA as America’s natural allies in the Syrian conflict — so-called “moderates” unblemished by the Assad regime’s cruel record of repression, or the Islamists’ preference for cutting the throats of apostates.

In her memoir Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recounted her hope that “if the United States could train and equip a reliable and effective moderate rebel force, it could help hold the country together during a transition . . . and prevent ethnic cleansing and score settling.”

In much the same way, the Reagan administration hoped — and failed — to cultivate “moderate elements” in Iran’s army through its covert arms deals with Tehran in the mid-1980s. The truth of the matter — exposed again this week — is that the FSA and other “moderates” never had the popular support or the grit to take on more fanatical warriors in Syria.

On Tuesday, the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate that rebranded itself last year as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), attacked the FSA in Idlib and Aleppo provinces with heavy artillery, suicide bombs, and even cyber attacks. Within a day, they largely succeeded in wiping out local FSA forces.

JFS explained that it was punishing the FSA for “trying to divert the course of the revolution towards reconciliation with the criminal regime” of President Bashar al-Assad. The FSA recently joined other non-extremist rebel groups in Kazakhstan for inconclusive talks with the Syrian government.

If Washington had provided the FSA with portable anti-aircraft missiles, as advocated by influential interventionists like Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, those dangerous weapons would now be in the hands of one of the most extreme and lethal factions fighting in Syria with the possibility that they could be used for terrorist purposes such as shooting down civilian airliners.

Similar debacles, complete with weapons transfers to extremists, have taken place many times over the past few years. In September 2013, FSA forces in the northern city of Raqqa surrendered abjectly to Islamists, despite outnumbering them. One top rebel commander said, “There is no such thing as the FSA [here]. We are all Al Qaeda now. Half of the FSA has been devoured by ISIS, and the other half joined Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Collaborating with Al Qaeda

Many FSA commanders learned their lesson and began to collaborate with Nusra Front, essentially fighting under Al Qaeda’s command. Those that steadfastly remained “moderate” paid a heavy price.

In September 2014, the Washington Post’s national security columnist David Ignatius described visiting the commander of Harakat al-Hazm, the largest CIA-vetted (i.e., “moderate”) rebel group in Syria. They had just been “chased from their headquarters” by Nusra Front, and forced to abandon their U.S.-provided anti-tank missiles and other lethal equipment.

“At some point, the Syrian street lost trust in the Free Syrian Army,” the despondent commander told Ignatius. He explained, as Ignatius put it, that “many rebel commanders aren’t disciplined, their fighters aren’t well-trained and the loose umbrella organization of the FSA lacks command and control. The extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra have filled the vacuum.”

An Arab intelligence source confirmed to Ignatius, “the FSA is a kind of mafia. Everyone wants to be head. People inside Syria are tired of this mafia. There is no structure. It’s nothing.” Based on this experience, Ignatius declared flatly, “The problem is that the ‘moderate opposition’ that the United States is backing is still largely a fantasy.”

His conclusion was borne out a month later when Nusra Front vanquished the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front in Idlib province. Worse yet, the following summer, the Pentagon graduated 60 rebels, hand-picked and trained at a cost of half a billion dollars, only to have them fall apart and flee when attacked by Nusra Front.

One month after that debacle, another group of rebels handed over their U.S.-supplied trucks and ammunition to Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage — repeating the process of U.S. taxpayers arming Al Qaeda in the name of promoting “moderates.”

That pattern continues. Citing FSA officers, the ardent think-tank interventionist Thanassis Cambanis admits that “Nusra routinely harvests up to half the weapons supplied by the Friends of Syria, a collection of countries opposed to Assad, and has regularly smashed FSA factions that . . . Nusra thought were getting too strong or too popular.”

A Strategy That Backfired

In 2015, former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who has long advocated a more muscular policy of arming moderate rebels against the Assad regime, confessed that the strategy had backfired.

“For a long time,” Ford said, “we have looked the other way while the Nusra Front and armed groups on the ground, some of whom are getting help from us, have coordinated in military operations against the regime. I think the days of us looking the other way are finished.”

Joshua Landis, the respected Syria expert and head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, goes further and argues that trying to buy moderate allies with money and arms was doomed from the start.

As Landis told an interviewer recently, “Many activists and Washington think tankers argue that the reason the radicals won in Syria is because they were better funded than moderate militia . . . No evidence supports this. Radicals . . . fought better, had better strategic vision and were more popular. The notion that had Washington pumped billions of dollars to selected moderate militias, they would’ve killed the extremists and destroyed Assad’s regime, is bunkum.”

Bunkum it may be, but mainstream pundits continue to demand that Washington support anti-Assad forces in Syria — whether in the name of saving lives, fighting tyranny, or making life uncomfortable for the Russians. We can only hope that President Trump ignores them and confines his wars to Twitter.

Jonathan Marshall is author of many recent articles on arms issues, including “How World War III Could Start,” “NATO’s ProvocativeAnti-Russian Moves,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” “Ticking Closer to Midnight,” and “Turkey’s Nukes: A Sum of All Fears.”

 




Trump’s Ego-Driven Lies

U.S. government lying is surely not a new thing – recall the Iraq War deceptions – but Donald Trump has started off his presidency with clearly false claims that make the problem worse, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

We are less than a week into the Trump presidency, and it is apparent that one of the more disturbing practices of Mr. Trump’s campaign he intends to continue while in office.

The practice involves the President’s disdain for truth, but it is not just a matter of the volume of lies and how he has built his political career on falsehood, as disturbing as that is. Rather it is the more specific technique of unrelentingly repeating a lie so often and with such apparent conviction, while ignoring all contrary evidence and refutations, that through sheer repetition many people are led to believe it to be true.

The technique has been demonstrated by authoritarian regimes elsewhere. Many results of modern opinion polling suggest that now, in the post-truth era, there is even greater potential for making the technique work than for dictatorships of the past. Even a fact-checking free press cannot stop it; the fact-checking gets shoved aside amid the repetition.

The early subjects of post-inaugural use of the big lie have been ones closest to the bruises the new president’s ego suffered from the nature of last year’s election and Mr. Trump’s status as the least popular incoming president since such polls began to be taken. These subjects have included the size of inaugural crowds and audiences and the President’s baseless accusation that widespread voter fraud accounted for much of the popular vote that went against him. As the administration is forced to make real public policy, there is good reason to expect that the same techniques being applied now to ego-driven questions will also be applied to substantive policy matters to bolster public support for them.

There is no limit to the range of policy questions on which such efforts may be made, but consider the chief implications for foreign relations of the United States.

The first consequence is a loss of trust among foreign governments and populations, who see how frequent and shameless is the lying and thereby become less inclined to believe the U.S. government even when it is telling the truth.

Gideon Rachman addresses this effect in the Financial Times, asking, “When an international confrontation looms, the US has traditionally looked to its allies for support — at the UN or even on the battlefield. But how will America be able to rally support, in the Trump era, if its allies no longer believe what the US president and his aides have to say?”

A lesser ability to muster international support in pursuit of shared interests is one of the specific harms that flow from a loss of foreign trust. Another more general harm is the loss of one of the biggest advantages that the free world, and the United States as leader of the free world, have had over unfree countries — a loss that comes from stooping to use one of the favorite techniques of regimes that rule the unfree.

As Rachman observes, “If the Trump administration now destroys American credibility, it will have handed the Russian and Chinese governments a victory of historic proportions. The cold war was a battle not just about economics or military strength, but also about the truth. The Soviet Union collapsed, in the end, partly because it was too obvious that it was a regime based on lies.”

Ill-informed Public

Another consequence of directing the big lie to domestic audiences is that this audience will become that much worse of an ill-informed constituency, incapable of engaging in the kind of well-informed debate that serves as a check against ill-advised foreign policies and can muster solid support for well-advised ones.

The difficulty in generating that kind of well-informed discussion is hard enough amid fake news and post-truth nonchalance about accuracy. Willing and relentless use of lying by those in power makes the difficulty even greater.

The problem is already great regarding domestic issues on which the people have some basis for making direct and independent observations. For example, two-thirds of Trump voters erroneously believe that unemployment increased during Barack Obama’s presidency, even though it significantly decreased. The problem will be at least as great on matters of foreign relations on which the public has less basis for direct observation and follows more what their leaders say.

A subtler but potentially significant consequence is that the leaders who propagate a big lie, by being so committed to sustaining the message contained in it, come to believe the lie themselves. And when this happens, foreign policy and its execution become based directly, not just indirectly by way of a duped public, on falsehood.

We saw a bit of this with the more fanatical of the promoters of the Iraq War. One of the most fanatical of them, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (who, in the words of an anonymous official who worked with him, “has an unfortunate ability to delude himself because he believes so passionately in things”), came to believe that the mythical alliance between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda, manufactured as a propaganda point to gain public support for the invasion, actually existed, and even after the invasion he was wastefully directing resources to try to find evidence that it existed.

It is surely no coincidence that in this first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, George Orwell’s 1984 rose to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. We have not yet heard of any proposed government reorganization to create a Department of Truth.  We already have, however, gag orders to keep truth-telling public servants (especially, it appears, those who might have facts related to climate change) from interfering with messages from the top, including any messages that take the form of big lies.

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




The Injustices of Manning’s Ordeal

Exclusive: For exposing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pvt. Chelsea Manning suffered nearly seven years in prison, an ordeal President Obama finally is ending but without acting on the crimes she revealed, says Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

After overseeing the aggressive prosecution and near-seven-year incarceration of Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, President Obama – in one of his last acts in office – commuted all but four months of her remaining sentence but ignored the fact that he had taken no action on the war crimes that Manning revealed.

At his final news conference, Obama explained his reasons for commuting Manning’s record-setting 35-year sentence for leaking classified information to the public. Manning is scheduled to be released on May 17.

“Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence,” Obama said. “It has been my view that given she went to trial; that due process was carried out; that she took responsibility for her crime; that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received; and that she had served a significant amount of time; that it made sense to commute and not pardon her sentence. … I feel very comfortable that justice has been served.”

But there has been no justice for the Iraqis and Afghans whose unjustified deaths and mistreatment were exposed by the then-22-year-old Army private, known at the time as Bradley Manning. An Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning sent hundreds of thousands of classified files, documents and videos, including the “Collateral Murder” video, the “Iraq War Logs,” the “Afghan War Logs” and State Department cables, to WikiLeaks. Many of the items that she transmitted contained evidence of war crimes.

In an online chat attributed to Manning, she wrote, “If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”

Manning went on to say, “God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.“

Callous Killings

The Collateral Murder video depicts a U.S. Apache attack helicopter killing 12 people, including two Reuters journalists, and a passerby who stopped his van to rescue the wounded. Also wounded were two children in the van. Finally, a U.S. tank drove over one of the bodies, cutting the man in half. These acts constitute three separate war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual.

Manning fulfilled her legal duty to report war crimes. She complied with her duty to obey lawful orders but also her duty to disobey unlawful orders. Enshrined in the U.S. Army Subject Schedule No. 27-1 is “the obligation to report all violations of the law of war.”

Manning went to her chain of command and asked them to investigate the Collateral Murder video and other “war porn,” but her superiors refused. “I was disturbed by the response to injured children,” Manning stated. She was also bothered by the soldiers depicted in the video who “seemed to not value human life by referring to [their targets] as ‘dead bastards.’”

The Uniform Code of Military Justice sets forth the duty of a service member to obey lawful orders. But that duty includes the concomitant duty to disobey unlawful orders. An order not to reveal evidence of war crimes would be an unlawful order. Manning had a legal duty to expose the commission of war crimes.

Manning’s revelations actually saved lives. After WikiLeaks published her documentation of Iraqi torture centers established by the United States, the Iraqi government refused Obama’s request to extend immunity to U.S. soldiers who commit criminal and civil offenses there. As a result, Obama had to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

Although Manning pled guilty to 10 offenses that carried 20 years in prison, military prosecutors insisted on pursuing charges of aiding the enemy and violation of the Espionage Act, that carry life in prison. Manning was not allowed to present evidence that she had been acting in the public interest.

When she entered her plea, Manning stated, “I believed if the public, particularly the American public, could see this it could spark a debate on the military and our foreign policy in general as it applied to Iraq and Afghanistan.” She added, “It might cause society to reconsider the need to engage in counter terrorism while ignoring the situation of the people we engaged with every day.”

Col. Denise Lind, the presiding judge, found Manning not guilty of the most serious charge – aiding the enemy – because the evidence failed to establish that Manning knew information she provided to WikiLeaks would reach Al Qaeda. A conviction of aiding the enemy would have sent a chilling message to the media and to whistleblowers that leaked classified information could lead to sentences of life in prison. That would deprive the public of crucial information.

Although that draconian possibility was averted, Manning still was convicted of 20 crimes, including Espionage Act offenses, itself an ominous warning that could deter future whistleblowers from exposing government wrongdoing. Traditionally, the act has been used only against spies and traitors, not whistleblowers. Yet Obama used the Espionage Act to prosecute more whistleblowers than all prior administrations combined.

Judge Lind, who sentenced Manning to 35 years in prison, reduced her sentence by 112 days because of the mistreatment she suffered in custody.

Harsh Treatment

For the first 11 months, Manning was held in solitary confinement and subjected to humiliating forced nudity during inspection. In fact, Juan Mendez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, characterized her treatment as cruel, inhuman and degrading. He said, “I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to [her] regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the Convention against Torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”

Mendez could not conclusively say Manning’s treatment amounted to torture because he was denied permission to visit her under acceptable circumstances. Mendez also concluded that, “imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of [her] right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of [her] presumption of innocence.”

Manning, who began her gender transition following her sentencing, has been denied critical and appropriate treatment related to her gender identity at various points during her imprisonment. Her long sentence and harsh incarceration also drew protests from other human rights advocates.

“Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the U.S. government for years,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”

“Instead of punishing the messenger, the U.S. government can send a strong signal to the world that it is serious about investigating the human rights violations exposed by the leaks and bringing all those suspected of criminal responsible to justice in fair trials,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

The commutation was the culmination of efforts by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, her legal team, and hundreds of thousands of people who signed petitions demanding her release.

Indeed, Kathleen Gilberd, executive director of the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild, stated, “While Chelsea’s freedom is long-overdue, we are gratified that she has been afforded some measure of delayed justice. There is no doubt that the tremendous outpouring of public support and organizing for commuting the sentence contributed to this outcome. Still,” she added, “we remain critical of a government that seems more intent on prosecuting those who expose war crimes than those who commit them.”

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly put Manning’s scheduled release at March 17, instead of May 17.)

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and on the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her books include Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd) and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter @MarjorieCohn




Did Manning Help Avert War in Iran?

From the Archive: Though President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence, he showed no appreciation for her brave disclosures, including one that undercut war plans with Iran, Robert Parry reported in 2013.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on Aug. 19, 2013)

From U.S. embassy cables leaked by Pvt. Bradley Manning, you can easily imagine how the propaganda game might have played out, how Americans could have been panicked into supporting another unnecessary war in the Middle East, this time against Iran. Except that Manning’s release of the documents spoiled the trick.

The gambit might have gone this way: One morning, a story would have led the front page of, say, the Washington Post citing how the widely respected International Atomic Energy Agency and its honest-broker Director-General Yukiya Amano had found startling “evidence” that Iran was nearing a nuclear bomb despite a longstanding U.S. intelligence estimate to the contrary and despite Iranian denials.

Next, the neocon-dominated opinion pages would ridicule anyone who still doubted these “facts.” After all, these articles would say, “even” the IAEA, which had challenged President George W. Bush’s claims about Iraq in 2002, and “even” Amano, who had initially believed Iran’s denials, were now convinced.

Neocon think tanks would rush to join the chorus of alarm, dispatching WMD “experts” to TV talk shows bracing the American people on the need for military action. From Fox News to CNN to MSNBC, there would be a drumbeat about Iran’s perfidy. Then, as hawkish Republicans and Democrats ratcheted up their rhetoric — and as Israeli leaders chortled “we told you so” — the war-with-Iran bandwagon might have begun rolling with such velocity that it would be unstoppable.

Perhaps, only years later after grave human costs and severe economic repercussions would the American people learn the truth: that the IAEA under Amano wasn’t the objective source that they had been led to believe, that Amano was something of a U.S.-Israeli puppet who had feigned a pro-Iranian position early on to burnish his credentials for pushing an anti-Iranian line subsequently, that after he was installed, he had even solicited U.S. officials for money and had held secret meetings with Israelis (to coordinate opposition to Iran’s nuclear program while maintaining a polite silence about Israel’s rogue nuclear arsenal).

However, because of the actions of Bradley Manning, the rug was pulled out from under this possible ruse. The U.S. embassy cables revealing the truth about Amano were published by the U.K. Guardian in 2011 (although ignored by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other mainstream U.S. news outlets). The cables also drew attention from Web sites, such as Consortiumnews.com.

So, the gambit could not work. If it had been tried, enough people would have known the truth. They wouldn’t be fooled again and they would have alerted their fellow citizens. Bradley Manning had armed them with the facts.

And this scenario, while admittedly hypothetical, is not at all far-fetched. When the cables were leaked about a year after Amano’s appointment, his IAEA was busy feeding the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear program with reports trumpeted by think tanks, such as the Institute for Science and International Security, and by The Washington Post and other U.S. news media.

Revealing Cables

According to those leaked U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, American diplomats in 2009 were cheering the prospect that Amano would advance U.S. interests in ways that outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wouldn’t; Amano credited his election to U.S. government support; Amano signaled he would side with the United States in its confrontation with Iran; and he stuck out his hand for more U.S. money.

In a July 9, 2009, cable, American chargé Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. “Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive,” the cable said.

The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director general, he would take a different “approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei” and he “saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council] Board resolutions,” i.e. U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.

Amano also discussed how to restructure the senior ranks of the IAEA, including elimination of one top official and the retention of another. “We wholly agree with Amano’s assessment of these two advisors and see these decisions as positive first signs,” Pyatt commented.

In return, Pyatt made clear that Amano could expect strong U.S. financial support, stating that “the United States would do everything possible to support his successful tenure as Director General and, to that end, anticipated that continued U.S. voluntary contributions to the IAEA would be forthcoming. Amano offered that a ‘reasonable increase’ in the regular budget would be helpful.”

Pyatt learned, too, that Amano had consulted with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli “immediately after his appointment” and that Michaeli “was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues.” Michaeli added that he discounted some of Amano’s public remarks about there being “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” as just words that Amano felt he had to say “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality.’”

In private, Amano agreed to “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. (It is ironic indeed that Amano would have secret contacts with Israeli officials about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, which has yet to yield a single bomb, when Israel possesses a large and undeclared nuclear arsenal.)

In a subsequent cable dated Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission in Vienna said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

“More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain ‘constructive ambiguity’ about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December” 2009.

In other words, Amano was a bureaucrat eager to bend in directions favored by the United States and Israel regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Amano’s behavior surely contrasted with how the more independent-minded ElBaradei resisted some of Bush’s key claims about Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapons program, correctly denouncing some documents as forgeries.

Update: It also is significant that Geoffrey Pyatt was rewarded for his work lining up the IAEA behind the anti-Iranian propaganda campaign by being made U.S. ambassador to Ukraine where he helped engineer the Feb. 22, 2014 coup that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych. Pyatt was on the infamous “fuck the E.U.” call with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland weeks before the coup as Nuland handpicked Ukraine’s new leaders and Pyatt pondered how “to midwife this thing.”

Salvaging Some Hype

Though Manning’s release of the U.S. embassy cables from Vienna apparently scotched any large-scale deployment of the Amano ploy, some elements of the gambit did go forward nonetheless, albeit with less oomph than they might have had.

In February 2013, the front page of The Washington Post offered a taste of what the propaganda campaign might have looked like when investigative reporter Joby Warrick hyped an account about Iran’s nuclear program pushed by David Albright, director of the Institute for Science and International Security who had given support to Bush’s invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

The Albright/Warrick alarm cited Iran’s alleged effort to place an Internet order for 100,000 ring-shaped magnets that would work in some of the country’s older centrifuges.

“Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability,” Warrick wrote in his lede paragraph.

You had to read to the end of the long story to hear a less strident voice, saying that Iran had previously informed IAEA inspectors that it planned to build more of its old and clunkier centrifuges, which use this sort of magnet, and that the enrichment was for civilian energy, not a nuclear bomb.

“Olli Heinonen, who led IAEA nuclear inspections inside Iran before his retirement in 2010, said the type of magnet sought by Iran was highly specific to the IR-1 centrifuge and could not, for example, be used in the advanced IR-2M centrifuges that Iran has recently tested,” according to the final paragraphs of Warrick’s article.

“‘The numbers in the order make sense, because Iran originally told us it wanted to build more than 50,000 of the IR-1s,’ Heinonen said. ‘The failure rate on these machines is 10 percent a year, so you need a surplus.’”

At the bottom of Warrick’s story, you’d also learn that “Iran has avoided what many experts consider Israel’s new ‘red line’: a stockpile of medium-enriched uranium greater than 530 pounds, roughly the amount needed to build a weapon if further purified.”

So there was nothing urgent or particularly provocative about this alleged purchase, though the structure and placement of the Post story suggested otherwise. Many readers likely were expected to simply jump to the conclusion that Iran was on the verge of building an atomic bomb and that it was time for President Barack Obama to join Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in another Middle East war.

The pressure from the Post and other neocon-leaning news outlets on the Obama administration to fall in line with Netanyahu’s belligerence toward Iran has been building for years, often with Warrick channeling anti-Iranian propaganda from Albright and his ISIS, which, in turn, seems to be a pipeline for hardliners at the IAEA.

A decade ago, Albright and his ISIS [not to be confused with the head-chopping terrorist outfit] were key figures in stoking the hysteria for invading Iraq around the false allegations of its WMD program. In recent years, Albright and his institute have adopted a similar role regarding Iran and its purported pursuit of a nuclear weapon, even though U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran terminated that weapons project in 2003.

Nevertheless, Albright has transformed his organization into a sparkplug for a new confrontation with Iran. Though Albright insists that he is an objective professional, ISIS has published hundreds of articles about Iran, which has not produced a single nuclear bomb, while barely mentioning Israel’s rogue nuclear arsenal.

An examination of the ISIS Web site reveals only a few technical articles relating to Israel’s nukes while ISIS has expanded its coverage of Iran’s nuclear program so much that it’s been moved onto a separate Web site. The articles not only hype developments in Iran but also attack U.S. media critics who question the fear-mongering about Iran.

Despite this evidence of bias, the Post and other mainstream U.S. news outlets typically present Albright as a neutral analyst. They also ignore his checkered past, for instance, his prominent role in promoting President Bush’s pre-invasion case that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD.

Stoking a War

At the end of summer 2002, as Bush was beginning his advertising roll-out for the Iraq invasion and dispatching his top aides to the Sunday talk shows to warn about “smoking guns” and “mushroom clouds,” Albright co-authored a Sept. 10, 2002, article entitled “Is the Activity at Al Qaim Related to Nuclear Efforts?” which declared:

“High-resolution commercial satellite imagery shows an apparently operational facility at the site of Iraq’s al Qaim phosphate plant and uranium extraction facility This site was where Iraq extracted uranium for its nuclear weapons program in the 1980s. This image raises questions about whether Iraq has rebuilt a uranium extraction facility at the site, possibly even underground. The uranium could be used in a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.”

Albright’s alarming allegations fit neatly with Bush’s propaganda barrage, although as the months wore on with Bush’s warnings about aluminum tubes and yellowcake from Africa growing more outlandish Albright did display more skepticism about the existence of a revived Iraqi nuclear program.

Still, he remained a “go-to” expert on other Iraqi purported WMD, such as chemical and biological weapons. In a typical quote on Oct. 5, 2002, Albright told CNN: “In terms of the chemical and biological weapons, Iraq has those now.”

After Bush launched the Iraq invasion in March 2003 and Iraq’s secret WMD caches didn’t materialize, Albright admitted that he had been conned, explaining to the Los Angeles Times: “If there are no weapons of mass destruction, I’ll be mad as hell. I certainly accepted the administration claims on chemical and biological weapons. I figured they were telling the truth. If there is no [unconventional weapons program], I will feel taken, because they asserted these things with such assurance.” [See FAIR’s “The Great WMD Hunt,”]

Given the horrendous costs in blood and treasure resulting from the Iraq fiasco, an objective journalist might feel compelled to mention Albright’s track record of bias and error. But the Post’s Warrick didn’t, even though Albright and his ISIS were at the core of the February story, receiving credit for obtaining copies of the magnet purchase order.

So, while we’ll never know if the Amano ploy would have been tried — since Manning’s disclosures made it unfeasible — it surely would not have been unprecedented. The American people experienced similar deceptions during the run-up to war with Iraq when the Bush-43 administration assembled every scrap of suspicion about Iraq’s alleged WMD and fashioned a bogus case for war.

Eventually, Manning was pulled into that war as a young intelligence analyst. He confronted so much evidence of brutality and dishonesty that he felt compelled to do something about it. What he did in leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks and, thus, to other news outlets was to supply “ground truth” about war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His disclosure of diplomatic cables also gave the American people and the world a glimpse behind the curtain of secrecy that often conceals the dirty dealings of statecraft. Perhaps most significantly, those revelations helped sparked the Arab Spring, giving people of the Middle East a chance to finally take some political control over their own lives.

And, by letting Americans in on the truth about Amano’s IAEA, Bradley Manning may have helped prevent a war with Iran.

[Update: In August 2013, Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents. Although President Obama supported her prosecution, he did – in one of his final acts in office – commute Manning’s sentence to her nearly seven years already served in prison. She is scheduled for release on March 17.]

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




Obama Bequeaths a More Dangerous World

Special Report: President Obama may have entered the White House with a desire to rein in America’s global war-making but he succumbed to neocon pressure and left behind an even more dangerous world, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Any fair judgment about Barack Obama’s presidency must start with the recognition that he inherited a dismal situation from George W. Bush: the U.S. economy was in free-fall and U.S. troops were bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly, these intertwined economic and foreign policy crises colored how Obama viewed his options, realizing that one false step could tip the world into the abyss.

It’s also true that his Republican rivals behaved as if they had no responsibility for the messes that Obama had to clean up. From the start, they set out to trip him up rather than lend a hand. Plus, the mainstream media blamed Obama for this failure of bipartisanship, rewarding the Republicans for their nihilistic obstructionism.

That said, however, it is also true that Obama – an inexperienced manager – made huge mistakes from the outset and failed to rectify them in a timely fashion. For instance, he bought into the romantic notion of a “Team of Rivals” with his White House trumpeting the comparisons to Abraham Lincoln (although some of Lincoln’s inclusion of rivals actually resulted from deals made at the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago to gain Lincoln the nomination).

In the real world of modern Washington, Obama’s choice of hawkish Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State and Republican apparatchik Robert Gates to remain as Secretary of Defense – along with keeping Bush’s high command, including neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus – guaranteed that he would achieve little real foreign policy change.

Indeed, in 2009, this triumvirate collaborated to lock Obama into a futile counterinsurgency escalation in Afghanistan that did little more than get another 1,000 or so U.S. soldiers killed along with many more Afghans. In his memoir Duty, Gates said he and Clinton could push their joint views – favoring more militaristic strategies – in the face of White House opposition because “we were both seen as ‘un-fireable.’”

Seasoned Operatives

So, Obama’s rookie management mistake of surrounding himself with seasoned Washington operatives with a hawkish agenda doomed his early presidency to maneuvering at the edges of change rather than engineering a major – and necessary – overhaul of how the United States deals with the world.

Obama may have thought he could persuade these experienced players with his intellect and charm but that is not how power works. At moments when Obama was inclined to move in a less warlike direction, Clinton, Gates and Petraeus could easily leak damaging comments about his “weakness” to friendly journalists at mainstream publications. Obama found himself consistently under pressure and he lacked the backbone to prove Gates wrong by firing Gates and Clinton.

Thus, Obama was frequently outmaneuvered. Besides the ill-fated counterinsurgency surge in Afghanistan, there was his attempt in 2009-10 to get Brazil and Turkey to broker a deal with Iran in which it would surrender much of its enriched uranium. But Israel and the neocons wanted a “regime change” bombing strategy against Iran, leading Secretary Clinton to personally torpedo the Brazil-Turkey initiative (with the strong support of The New York Times’ editorial page) as Obama silently acquiesced to her insubordination.

In 2011, Obama also gave in to pressure from Clinton and one of his key advisers, “humanitarian” warmonger Samantha Power, to support another “regime change” in Libya. That U.S.-facilitated air war devastated the Libyan military and ended with Islamic militants sodomizing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with a knife and then murdering him, a grisly outcome that Clinton celebrated with a chirpy rephrase of Julius Caesar’s famous boast about a conquest, as she said: “We came, we saw, he died.”

Clinton was less upbeat a year later when Islamic militants in Benghazi, Libya, killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel, launching a scandal that led to the exposure of her private email server and reverberated through to the final days of her failed presidential campaign in 2016.

Second-Term Indecision

Even after Clinton, Gates and Petraeus were gone by the start of Obama’s second term, he continued to acquiesce to most of the demands of the neocons and liberal interventionists. Rather than act as a decisive U.S. president, Obama often behaved more like the sullen teen-ager complaining from the backseat about not wanting to go on a family trip. Obama grumbled about some of the neocon/liberal-hawk policies but he mostly went along, albeit half-heartedly at times.

For instance, although he recognized that the idea of “moderate” Syrian rebels being successful in ousting President Bashar al-Assad was a “fantasy,” he nevertheless approved covert shipments of weapons, which often ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists and their  allies. But he balked at a full-scale U.S. military intervention.

Obama’s mixed-signal Syrian strategy not only violated international law – by committing aggression against a sovereign state – but also contributed to the horrific bloodshed that ripped apart Syria and created a massive flow of refugees into Turkey and Europe. By the end of his presidency, the United States found itself largely sidelined as Russia and regional powers, Turkey and Iran, took the lead in trying to resolve the conflict.

But one of the apparent reasons for Obama’s susceptibility to such fruitless undertakings was that he seemed terrified of Israel and its pugnacious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who made clear his disdain for Obama by essentially endorsing Obama’s 2012 Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Although Obama may have bristled at Netanyahu’s arrogance – displayed even during meetings in the Oval Office – the President always sought to mollify the tempestuous Prime Minister. At the peak of Obama’s power – after he vanquished Romney despite Netanyahu’s electoral interference – Obama chose to grovel before Netanyahu with an obsequious three-day visit to Israel.

Despite that trip, Netanyahu treated Obama with disdain, setting a new standard for chutzpah by accepting a Republican invitation to appear before a joint session of Congress in 2015 and urge U.S. senators and representatives to side with Israel against their own president over Obama’s negotiated agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu and the neocons wanted to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran.

However, the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu failed to derail, may have been Obama’s most significant diplomatic achievement. (In his passive-aggressive way, Obama gave Netanyahu some measure of payback by abstaining on a December 2016 motion before the United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. Obama neither vetoed it nor voted for it, but let it pass.)

Obama also defied Washington’s hardliners when he moved to normalize relations with Cuba, although – by 2016 – the passionate feelings about the Caribbean island had faded as a geopolitical issue, making the Cuban sanctions more a relic of the old Cold War than a hot-button issue.

Obama’s Dubious Legacy

Yet, Obama’s fear of standing up consistently to Official Washington’s  neocons and cowering before the Israeli-Saudi tandem in the Middle East did much to define his foreign policy legacy. While Obama did drag his heels on some of their more extreme demands by resisting their calls to bomb the Syrian government in 2013 and by choosing diplomacy over war with Iran in 2014, Obama repeatedly circled back to ingratiating himself to the neocons and America’s demanding Israeli-Saudi “allies.”

Instead of getting tough with Israel over its continued abuse of the Palestinians, Obama gave Netanyahu’s regime the most sophisticated weapons from the U.S. arsenal. Instead of calling out the Saudis as the principal state sponsor of terrorism – for their support for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State – Obama continued the fiction that Iran was the lead villain on terrorism and cooperated when the Saudis launched a brutal air war against their impoverished neighbors in Yemen.

Obama personally acknowledged authorizing military strikes in seven countries, mostly through his aggressive use of drones, an approach toward push-button warfare that has spread animosity against the United States to the seven corners of the earth.

However, perhaps Obama’s most dangerous legacy is the New Cold War with Russia, which began in earnest when Washington’s neocons struck back against Moscow for its cooperation with Obama in getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons (which short-circuited neocon hopes to bomb the Syrian military) and in persuading Iran to accept tight limits on its nuclear program (another obstacle to a neocon bombing plan).

In both cases, the neocons were bent on “regime change,” or at least a destructive bombing operation in line with Israeli and Saudi hostility toward Syria and Iran. But the biggest challenge to these schemes was the positive relationship that had developed between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. So, that relationship had to be shattered and the wedge that the neocons found handy was Ukraine.

By September 2013, Carl Gershman, the neocon president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, had identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and a steppingstone toward the ultimate goal of ousting Putin. By late fall 2013 and winter 2014, neocons inside the U.S. government, including Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, were actively agitating for a “regime change” in Ukraine, a putsch against elected President Viktor Yanukovych that was carried out on Feb. 22, 2014.

This operation on Russia’s border provoked an immediate reaction from the Kremlin, which then supported ethnic-Russian Ukrainians who had voted heavily for Yanukovych and who objected to the coup regime in Kiev. The neocon-dominated U.S. mainstream media, of course, portrayed  the Ukrainian conflict as a simple case of “Russian aggression,” and Obama fell in line with this propaganda narrative.

After his relationship with Putin had deteriorated over the ensuring two-plus years, Obama chose to escalate the New Cold War in his final weeks in  office by having U.S. intelligence agencies leak unsubstantiated claims that Putin interfered in the U.S. presidential election by hacking and publicizing Democratic emails that helped Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

Smearing Trump

The CIA also put in play salacious rumors about the Kremlin blackmailing Trump over a supposed video of him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. And, according to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. counterintelligence agents investigated communications between retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, and Russian officials. In the New McCarthyism that now surrounds the New Cold War, any conversation with Russians apparently puts an American under suspicion for treason.

The anti-Russian frenzy also pulled in The New York Times, The Washington Post and virtually the entire mainstream media, which now treat any dissent from the official U.S. narratives condemning Moscow as prima facie evidence that you are part of a Russian propaganda apparatus. Even some “progressive” publications have joined this stampede because they so despise Trump that they will tout any accusation to damage his presidency.

Besides raising serious concerns about civil liberties and freedom of association, Obama’s end-of-term anti-Russian hysteria may be leading the Democratic Party into supplanting the Republicans as America’s leading pro-war party allied with neocons, liberal hawks, the CIA and the Military-Industrial Complex – in opposition to President Trump’s less belligerent approach toward Russia.

This “trading places” moment over which party is the bigger warmonger could be another profound part of Obama’s legacy, presenting a crisis for pro-peace Democrats as the Trump presidency unfolds.

The Real Obama

Yet, one of the mysteries of Obama is whether he was always a closet hawk who just let his true colors show over the course of his eight years in office or whether he was a weak executive who desperately wanted to belong to the Washington establishment and underwent a gradual submission to achieve that acceptance.

I know some Obama watchers favor the first answer, that he simply bamboozled people into thinking that he was an agent for foreign policy change when he was always a stealth warmonger. But I tend to take the second position. To me, Obama was a person who – despite his intelligence, eloquence and accomplishments – was never accepted by America’s predominantly white establishment.

Because he was a black male raised in a white family and in a white-dominated society, Obama understood that he never really belonged. But Obama desperately wanted to be part of that power structure of well-dressed, well-schooled and well-connected elites who moved with such confidence within the economic-political system.

An instructive moment came in 2014 when Obama was under sustained criticism for his refusal to bomb the Syrian military after a sarin gas attack outside Damascus that was initially blamed on the government though later evidence suggested that it was a provocation committed by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

Despite the uncertainty about who was responsible, the neocons and liberal hawks deemed Obama “weak” for not ordering the bombing strike to enforce his “red line” against chemical weapons use.

In a 2016 article in The Atlantic, Obama cited his sarin decision as a moment when he resisted the Washington “playbook” that usually favors a military response. The article also reported that Obama had been informed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that there was no “slam dunk” evidence pinning the attack on the Syrian military. Yet, still Obama came under intense pressure to strike.

A leader of this pressure campaign was neocon ideologue Robert Kagan, an architect of the Iraq War and the husband of Assistant Secretary of State Nuland. Kagan penned a long essay in The New Republic entitled “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.” A subsequent New York Times article observed that Kagan “depicted President Obama as presiding over an inward turn by the United States that threatened the global order and broke with more than 70 years of American presidents and precedence.”

Kagan “called for Mr. Obama to resist a popular pull toward making the United States a nation without larger responsibilities, and to reassume the more muscular approach to the world out of vogue in Washington since the war in Iraq drained the country of its appetite for intervention,” the Times article read.

Obama was so sensitive to this criticism that he modified his speech to the West Point graduation and “even invited Mr. Kagan to lunch to compare world views,” the Times reported. A source familiar with that conversation described it to me as a “meeting of equals.”

So, Obama’s subservience to the neocons and liberal hawks may have begun as a case of an inexperienced president getting outmaneuvered by rivals whom he had foolishly empowered. But Obama’s descent into a full-scale New Cold Warrior by the end of his second term suggests that he was no longer an overpowered naïf but someone who had become a committed convert.

How Obama reached that point may be less significant than the fact that he did. Thus, the world that President Obama bequeaths to President Trump may not have all the same dangers that Bush left to Obama but the post-Obama world has hazards that Obama did more to create than to resolve — and some of the new risks may be even scarier.

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).




Need to Reorganize US Spy Agencies

On President Trump’s first full day in office, he went to the CIA and promised to back the nation’s spy agencies, but his time would be better spent downsizing the sprawling intelligence community, says Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

Originating from the dispute over whether the Russians hacked the U.S. election and tried to influence it, rumblings came from the Trump transition team about reorganizing the intelligence community or parts thereof. That’s not a bad idea at all.

Prior to 9/11, the U.S. intelligence community had grown to 16 sprawling, secretive agencies, which stayed in their stovepipes, thus cooperating insufficiently. For example, the CIA and FBI had coordination problems that really impaired the government’s warning of the 9/11 attacks.

Logically, coordination problems tend to multiply the more intelligence agencies the government has and the bigger they get. Yet after 9/11, the George W. Bush administration and Congress instead used political logic. They wanted to be perceived as “doing something,” often anything, about the problem — no matter whether it would be effective in dealing with it, a mere placebo with no effect but looked good, or an action that was actually counterproductive.

“Reform” of the intelligence community after 9/11 fell into the last category. After a crisis, politicians often add government bureaucracy to show the public they are not letting a problem slide. In this case, they added yet a 17th intelligence agency — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to “coordinate” the CIA, FBI, NSA and other mostly gargantuan organizations of the 16-agency community.

Of course, one person couldn’t herd all these big cats, so the DNI had to have a new bureaucracy to allegedly tame them. Yet the DNI’s bureaucracy did not win control over the budgets of the other 16 agencies. In fact, most of the intelligence community’s budget is controlled by the massive Department of Defense — in which many of the intelligence agencies reside.

Complicated enough? In the government, like everywhere else, controlling money directs effort. Thus, the DNI has been ineffectual in coordinating the U.S. intelligence community.

Instead of adding yet another bureaucracy to coordinate the existing ones (after 9/11, the president and Congress did the same thing in the homeland security sphere by creating the new Department of Homeland Security to incorporate and coordinate all the government entities dealing with that function), the politicians should have done the opposite.

The new enemy, which is not so new anymore, was small, agile cells of terrorists, not the traditional slothful nation states of the Cold War, such as the Soviet Union. In bureaucratic parlance, the terrorist chain of command is simple and responsive. To counter this threat, the intelligence community must also be nimbler, not less agile.

Dysfunction and Inefficiency

This means that after 9/11, intelligence agencies and excess personnel should have been pruned, not added. Dysfunction and inefficiency would have also been reduced when dealing with threats from other nation-states.

A specific plan for streamlining the intelligence community to make it more agile and effective for a new global security environment might begin by eliminating the ineffectual Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Then the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) should be merged with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which like the ODNI, sits on top of other intelligence agencies — the service intelligence agencies of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, which provide tactical battlefield intelligence.

The Marine and Coast Guard intelligence agencies could be folded under the umbrella of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The technical collection functions of the National Security Agency, The National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency should be merged into an Office of Technical Intelligence Collection.

The small Office of Intelligence and Research in the State Department, the only intelligence agency that was skeptical that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, should be left alone as a counter to the frequently alarmist threat inflation of the CIA/DIA.

The FBI should be returned to being a law enforcement agency, with its intelligence functions being transferred to the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the Homeland Security Department. The intelligence branches of the Energy and Treasury Departments, as well as that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the Justice Department, should be abolished (in fact, because the federal drug war has been such a costly and abysmal failure, the entire DEA should be dismantled).

Streamlining and Consolidation

Such streamlining of and consolidation in the intelligence community would enable many redundancies to be reduced or eliminated, thus eliminating much duplication and bureaucratic overhead.

In addition, during the Cold War the U.S. intelligence community concentrated on having the best technical means of gathering information in the world — satellites, spy aircraft, drones, and other technological marvels of modern intelligence gathering. However, such gadgets have their limitations when trying to penetrate a small, secretive terrorist cell; human agents are still needed. Yet a decade-and-a-half after 9/11, the intelligence community still needs to improve its human intelligence (humint) capability. One major reason humint has lagged is that it doesn’t generate big money contracts in states and congressional districts, as does the building of satellites, spy aircraft, drones, and other electronic collection gizmos.

Thus, some intelligence agencies need to be eliminated or combined with sister agencies and the excess personnel eliminated. On the other hand, money should be taken away from technical collection and used to recruit more human agents.

In sum, almost any Trump administration shake-up of the ossified intelligence community would be welcome.

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