The Goal of ‘Not Losing’ in Afghanistan

Exclusive: America’s adventures in Afghanistan – dating back to the 1980s – have led to one disaster after another with President Trump and other politicians afraid to finally admit failure, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

“Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense!” – Donald Trump, January 11, 2013

Taking a break from his defense of the “very fine people” who marched with Nazis in Charlottesville, President Trump will reportedly meet with his national security team today (Friday, August 18) at Camp David to discuss a far deadlier but ironically less controversial issue: the war in Afghanistan.

That war, the longest in our history, has cost the United States more than 2,350 killed, 20,000 injured, and a trillion dollars. Yet unlike Charlottesville, it arouses little passion. It gained impeccably bipartisan credentials through successive Republican and Democratic administrations. Although a huge majority of Americans today oppose the war, they lack sufficient conviction to prevent Congress from continuing to appropriate tens of billions of dollars each year to fund it.

Trump is in a bind. As Taliban forces continue to rack up military and political gains across their country, no serious expert can possibly believe that continued U.S. intervention will deliver “victory.” Sixteen years of experience show that almost every U.S. tactic has not only failed, but backfired.

Far from winning hearts and minds, nighttime Special Forces raids and bombing runs have turned countless villagers against the Afghan government and its foreign backers. Far from bolstering Kabul’s resources, tens of billions of dollars in U.S. aid created an epidemic of corruption that decimated the government’s credibility and put money and weapons in the hands of the Taliban.

Far from defeating Islamist tyranny, the United States has empowered viciously cruel warlords. Far from promoting law and order, U.S. anti-drug campaigns turned poppy-growing peasants into allies and funders of the Taliban. And far from closing off Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, Washington’s surly relations with Islamabad have amplified dangerous anti-American sentiments in that nuclear-armed, Islamic state.

A Parallel Disaster

“It is most disturbing to find that after [many] years [the country] appears less, not more, stable than it was at the outset,” said one prominent U.S. senator. “It appears more removed from, rather than closer to, the achievement of popularly responsible and responsive government.”

That was actually the observation of Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Montana, reporting on a study mission to Vietnam in the fall of 1962. It applies just as well to Afghanistan today.

Yet as Trump’s national security experts huddle with the President, most are almost certainly advocating an increased troop commitment to Afghanistan — not to bear the brunt of the fighting, but ostensibly to train government forces to stand on their own. That, of course, was the mission of U.S. military advisers sent to Vietnam in the early 1960s, before that war ballooned into a national disaster.

Trump’s generals — McMaster, Mattis and Kelly — know this history as well as anyone. (H. R. McMaster’s book, Dereliction of Duty, is considered a classic history of failed military leadership in the Vietnam War.) So does John McCain, the Senate’s most famous Vietnam veteran, who nonetheless insists on doing whatever it takes to “turn the tide” in Afghanistan. So why do they — like Obama’s team before them — keep calling for throwing away more lives and money on a lost cause?

The answer to that also lies in Vietnam. As former Defense Department official and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg argued in a seminal 1971 essay, “The Quagmire Myth and the Stalemate Machine,” U.S. leaders knew full well, every step of the way, that their successive escalations of that war would not bring victory. Instead, their goal was to prevent defeat — and with it, a repetition of the political traumas that followed the “loss of China” and the rise of McCarthism in the early 1950s.

“If I tried to pull out completely now, we would have another Joe McCarthy red scare on our hands,” President John F. Kennedy told Sen. Mansfield in 1963. The assassination of Kennedy that November precluded any possibility that he would pull out after his reelection. Two days later, President Lyndon Johnson told a White House meeting, “I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.”

The Cost of ‘Not Losing’

Forty-six years later, a Washington Post story on America’s longest war reports, “talk of ‘winning’ is scarce. The goal now seems more akin to ‘not losing.’” Pundits like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now talk of staying in Afghanistan for decades. It’s a replay of the Vietnam stalemate — but with more manageable costs, little TV coverage, and no mass anti-war demonstrations.

Most Washington leaders hardly know or care whether any U.S. “national interests” are actually at stake in Afghanistan. But they view the political risks of pulling out as worse than the risks of keeping the stalemate going. They don’t dare face charges that they allowed Afghanistan to become once again a haven for terrorists. No matter that Islamist jihadists operate just fine today without bases in Afghanistan — in our post-reality world, what counts are not the facts, but what fire-breathing analysts on Fox News will say about any apparent retreat.

No one knows what would happen if the United States were to pull out of Afghanistan. But if the Vietnam analogy holds, the consequences, though not pretty, would surely be less disastrous than many pundits predict. It’s hard to dispute the (admittedly self-serving) words of one Taliban spokesman, who said a U.S. withdrawal “will prevent further loss of its manpower and economy . . . This will be a means of salvage for us Afghans, too. . . Therefore, if America’s occupation comes to an end, it means that the problem between the two nations will end, too.”

Donald Trump, who had no trouble advising President Obama to quit the war, has reportedly ruled out a withdrawal from Afghanistan and complained to his military advisers that they aren’t giving him a strategy to win. If those reports are correct, he will forfeit his last opportunity to blame the war on his predecessor and cut his losses.

Senator McCain had it partly right when he said in July, “Eight [try 16] years of a ‘don’t lose’ strategy have cost us lives and treasure in Afghanistan. Our troops deserve better.”

So do American taxpayers — and Afghan civilians. Unfortunately, McCain, like most members of the Washington foreign policy “blob,” can only envision further military escalation to maintain the stalemate. What the United States desperately needs now is a mass movement to resist not only racism and plutocracy at home, but endless militarism abroad.

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to Consortiumnews.com.




Refusing to Learn Lessons from Libya

Exclusive: Official Washington never likes to admit a mistake no matter how grave or obvious. Too many Important People would look bad. So, the rationalizations never stop as with the Libyan fiasco, observes James W. Carden.

By James W. Carden

In recent weeks, the Washington Post’s Cairo bureau chief Sudarsan Raghavan has published a series of remarkable dispatches from war-torn Libya, which is still reeling from the aftermath of NATO’s March 2011 intervention and the subsequent overthrow and murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

On July 2, Raghavan reported on what amounts to Libya’s modern-day slave trade. According to his report, Libya is “now home to a thriving trade in humans. Unable to pay exorbitant smuggling fees or swindled by traffickers, some of the world’s most desperate people are being held as slaves, tortured or forced into prostitution.”

The numbers help tell the tale. “The number of migrants departing from Libya is surging,” writes Raghavan, “with more than 70,000 arriving in Italy so far this year, a 28 percent increase over the same period last year.”

On August 1, Raghavan returned to the pages of the Post with a disturbing portrait of life in Tripoli, reporting that: “Six years after the revolution that toppled dictator Moammar Gaddafi, the mood in this volatile capital is a meld of hopelessness and gloom. Diplomatic and military efforts by the United States and its allies have failed to stabilize the nation; the denouement of the crisis remains far from clear. Most Libyans sense that the worst is yet to come.”

Raghavan notes that “Under Gaddafi, the oil-producing country was once one of the world’s wealthiest nations.” Under his rule, “Libyans enjoyed free health care, education and other benefits under the eccentric strongman’s brand of socialism.” It would be difficult not to see, Raghavan writes, “the insecurity that followed Gaddafi’s death has ripped apart the North African country.”

Taken together, Raghavan’s reports should come as a rude shock to stalwart supporters of NATO’s intervention in Libya. Yet the embarrassing fervor with which many embraced the intervention remains largely undiminished – with, as we will see, one notable exception.

An Upside-Down Meritocracy

Anne Marie Slaughter, who served as policy planning chief at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, emailed her former boss after the start of the NATO operation, to say: “I cannot imagine how exhausted you must be after this week, but I have never been prouder of having worked for you.”

Five months after the start of NATO operation against Gaddafi, Slaughter went public with her approval in an op-ed for the Financial Times titled “Why Libya Skeptics Were Proved Badly Wrong.” Proving, if nothing else, that the foreign policy establishment is a reverse meritocracy, Slaughter holds an endowed chair at Princeton and is also the well-compensated president of the influential Washington think tank New America.

President Obama’s decision to intervene received wide bipartisan support in the Congress and from media figures across the political spectrum, including Bill O’Reilly and Cenk Uyghur.

Yet the casus belli used to justify the intervention, as a U.K. parliamentary report made clear last September, was based on a lie: that the people of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi were in imminent danger of being slaughtered by Gaddafi’s forces.

The report, issued by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, states that “Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.”

The report also noted that while “Many Western policymakers genuinely believed that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered his troops to massacre civilians in Benghazi … this did not necessarily translate into a threat to everyone in Benghazi. In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as ‘an intelligence-light decision.’”

Even as it became clear that the revolution had proved to be a disaster for the country, the arbiters of acceptable opinion in Washington continued to insist that NATO’s intervention was not only a success, but the right thing to do. It is a myth that has gained wide purchase among D.C.’s foreign policy cognoscenti, despite the judgment of former President Barack Obama, who famously described the intervention as “a shit show.”

Still Spinning

A full year after the commencement of NATO’s campaign against Gaddafi, former NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder and NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stravidis took to the pages of that reliable bellwether of establishment opinion, Foreign Affairs, to declare that “NATO’s operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention.”

According to Daalder and Stravidis, “the alliance responded rapidly to a deteriorating situation that threatened hundreds of thousands of civilians rebelling against an oppressive regime.”

In 2016, a Clinton campaign press release justifying the ill-starred intervention, claimed “Qadhafi and his regime made perfectly clear what their plans were for dealing with those who stood up against his reign, using disgusting language in urging his backers to cleanse the country of these rebels. This was a humanitarian crisis.”

Astonishingly, the campaign “Factsheet” goes on to assert that, “there was no doubt that further atrocities were on the way, as Qadhafi’s forces storming towards the county’s second biggest city.” Yet there is, as both the U.K. parliamentary report and a Harvard study by Alan J. Kuperman found, no evidence for this whatsoever.

“Qaddafi did not perpetrate a ‘bloodbath’ in any of the cities that his forces recaptured from rebels prior to NATO intervention — including Ajdabiya, Bani Walid, Brega, Ras Lanuf, Zawiya, and much of Misurata — so there was,” writes Kuperman, “virtually no risk of such an outcome if he had been permitted to recapture the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi.”

Nevertheless, the myth persists. Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Shadi Hamid, the author of Islamic Exceptionalismcontinues to insist, against all evidence, that the intervention was a success.

“The Libya intervention was successful,” says Hamid, “The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.”

In this, Hamid is hardly alone. Left-activists in thrall to a Trotskyite vision of permanent revolution also continue to make the case that NATO’s intervention was a net positive for the country.

In a recent interview with In These Times, Leila Al-Shami claimed that “If Gaddafi had not fallen, Libya now would look very much like Syria. In reality, the situation in Libya is a million times better. Syrian refugees are fleeing to Libya. Far fewer people have been killed in Libya since Gaddafi’s falling than in Syria. Gaddafi being ousted was a success for the Libyan people.”

That danger in all this is that by refusing to learn the lessons of Libya (and Kosovo and Iraq and Syria) the U.S. foreign policy establishment will likely continue to find itself backing forces that seek to turn the greater Middle East into a fundamentalist Sunnistan, ruled by Sharia law, utterly hostile to religious pluralism, the rights of women, minorities and, naturally, U.S. national security interests in the region.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton’s Failed Libya ‘Doctrine.’”]

James W. Carden served as an adviser on Russia policy at the US State Department. Currently a contributing writer at The Nation magazine, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Quartz, The American Conservative and The National Interest.




Photographing a White-Supremacist Attack

Some of the most dramatic scenes from last weekend’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville — images of white extremists beating a black man in a parking lot — were captured by photographer Zach Roberts who talked with Dennis J Bernstein.

Dennis J Bernstein

While many images of neo-Nazi violence from last Saturday’s riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, have gone viral around the world, the photographs taken by Zach Roberts, a fellow at GregPalast.com, are particularly shocking in their documentation of the brutal beating of a young black special-education teacher in a parking garage about 50 feet from where police park their patrol cars.

At one point during the beating, one of the neo-Nazis pulled out what appeared to be a Glock 9 and brandished it, threatening Roberts and others who came rushing on the scene to rescue their friend from being beaten to death.

Dennis Bernstein: Thanks for joining us, Zach Roberts. Where were you Saturday as the white supremacists began to expand out over the city? You took some photography that might mean a lot to law enforcement if they planned to file charges in this case.

Zach Roberts: After the breakdown of the rally in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, the marchers started to take to the streets around 11:30. I ended up following them as they marched down Market Street. There were people on the sidewalks with signs saying “You’re not welcome here,” “Charlottesville is against white supremacy,” and so on.

The white supremacists were yelling back racial slurs. Some of them were geared up with one-inch thick wooden dowels, with Confederate and Nazi-esque flags, helmets on, gas masks around their necks.

They were tooled up for violence. So when you hear people saying that this wasn’t supposed to be a violent rally, I’m sorry, but you don’t show up for a peaceful rally wearing combat gear. They were expecting violence and they got it, because they caused it.

A friend of mine, a female photographer named Stephanie Keith, was deeply affected by the sexist comments directed at her. She covered Standing Rock and other difficult assignments but I have never seen her affected that way.

DB: Tell us in detail about the beating that you witnessed.

ZR: We were marching down a commercial/residential street, small businesses along the way, almost everything closed down because they expected bad things to happen. I was walking alongside one of the more combat-ready groups of marchers.

As we got closer to the parking garage, all I saw was a young black man running and about a dozen white supremacists chasing after him with long poles and clubs. Someone with a shield pushed him into a parking arm. That broke and the young black man fell to the ground and was unconscious. They started beating him with their clubs, they picked up the parking arm

and started hitting him with that.

This went on for about thirty seconds. They scattered when some of the African American man’s friends showed up. His friends picked him up and helped him walk to the garage staircase. He was bleeding profusely from the head and knees and an elbow where he fell. As I was walking to the staircase, I saw that one of the supremacists was pointing a gun at us.

A single African-American police officer finally showed up. This is thirty feet away from the police station. The police actually keep a lot of their cars in this same parking garage. Five minutes later, an ambulance still hadn’t shown up. When more officers showed up about ten minutes later, all they did was stop journalists from taking photographs of the beaten man.

An ambulance finally did appear and took the man to a hospital. He had multiple stitches and a broken wrist. I’m sure people online are trying to come up with justifications for why this man was beaten. By the way, he is an assistant special education teacher in the local school system.

DB: It seems to me that the people who attacked him need some special education. Or maybe they have already been specially educated.

ZR: Yes, by people like Richard Spencer and other white supremacists.

DB: In various instances, the police seemed to turn a blind eye. There were plenty of cops around, except when violence broke out and then they seemed to disappear. The same thing happened when the car ran into the crowd. There was plenty of room for this car to come out of this blind alley and then even drive away before he was finally stopped. It really does seem that the police were somehow complicit in what was going on.

ZR: My understanding is that the police were basically issued a stand-down order to allow the protest to happen. Don’t arrest people unless they are doing something that is endangering lives. Keep everyone safe but don’t try to confront.

But in this case the police seemed to refuse to do anything at all. They seemed to consciously put themselves in places where nothing was happening. A colleague of mine fell and had a gash in her head. I waited beside her for ten minutes and none of the police officers called an ambulance.

DB: I saw on one of the cable stations a white guy pushing a cop in SWAT gear and nothing happened to him. Can you imagine somebody from Black Lives Matter shoving into a group of cops in riot gear and not being taken down?

ZR: When I cover protests, I purposely wear a polo shirt and khakis and try to look like the whitest guy in the room so I don’t get harassed by the police in any way. In this case it was easier to blend in with the white supremacists and they were comfortable talking to me. Some of them were complaining about the police, saying “Look, they let Black Lives Matter march down the middle of the street.” Well, if members of Black Lives Matter had AR-15’s and were marching with full combat gear, something tells me it would be a different scene.

DB: We saw that in the Sixties with the Panthers when they decided to exercise their Second Amendment rights. They were slaughtered.

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




Reflections on the Charlottesville Attacks

When Islamic extremists drive vehicles into crowds in Europe, the lethal attacks are condemned as terrorism, but President Trump took a more lenient view about a similar attack in Charlottesville, as Dennis J Bernstein notes.
By Dennis J Bernstein

Around the world, many people are confounded by the fact that the kind of terrorism that has been loudly decried in France, Great Britain and across the Middle East is being downplayed, indeed almost condoned, by the President of the United States.

Heavily armed neo-Nazis and Ku-Klux-Klanners descended on Charlottesville,Virginia, last weekend to intimidate the community into reversing a decision to remove a Confederate statue. The violence included one right-wing extremist plowing his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others, the same kind of attack that has occurred in Europe and drawn denunciations as terrorism.

I spoke with Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, about the recent violence and how the surge in racism is affecting the people whom she represents. Ai-jen Poo was named as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2012, and a MacArthur Genius Fellow in 2016.

Dennis Bernstein: Let me ask you, what was your initial reaction as you began to hear what was going on?

Ai-Jen Poo: It was terrifying to see the images of these white supremacists carrying torches. It was a reminder of the depths of racism that still exist in our country. The white supremacist movement has been emboldened and encouraged by the right-wing media. I think we have
our work cut out for us.

I was deeply moved by the people of Charlottesville who came out and counter-rallied. And then seeing over 600 vigils and rallies held across the country against white supremacy and for peace. So I think what we are seeing is the horror of white supremacy in this country but also an upsurge in justice-seeking and saying “this is not who we are as a country.”

DB: Among those standing up was not the president of the United States.

AJP: We have seen an incredible upsurge in hate violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations has documented a clear increase in hate-motivated attacks since the Trump campaign, before the administration took office.

Even during the campaign he refused to disavow his relationship with David Duke. Known white supremacist leaders were part of his campaign. Among our membership, we have seen an incredible rise in attacks. Over 70,000 people have been deported since the inauguration. Civilians are emboldened to turn their energy toward hateful, racist attacks on everyday people of color in the community.

DB: Could you describe the kinds of attacks we are talking about?

AJP: One of our members, a housecleaner, was on her way to work when someone got right up into her face, screaming that she should go back to her country and asking to see her passport. We have seen a lot of emotional attacks such as these in broad daylight.

DB: The attorney general has said that he is opening up a civil rights investigation into whether this was a terrorist act. Does this look any different from when the car in France drove into a crowd or the various car-rammings in England?

AJP: Since September 11, there have been about thirty attacks carried about by white terrorists, including the murder of nine people at the church in Charleston two years ago. This is no different from that. This is threatening our national security, threatening the moral fabric of our country. When the country is under attack, I think we need to respond appropriately.

At the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, we are dedicated to building a healthy, multiracial democracy that values and protects the humanity of every single person in this country. We took part in the vigils that happened over the weekend and there are going to be hundreds and thousands more of those.

We are going to be doing a lot of education around the country about the far-right and the white supremacist agenda. We are going to give people and communities tools to understand and talk about what is happening and understand their own agency in being a part of the solution. That means showing up for each other and challenging racism when we see it. We have to really protect vulnerable communities who are targets of this neo-Nazi aggression.

DB: Are you concerned that somebody like Steve Bannon has the president’s ear, that this might actually be considered a good thing for the Republican Party?

AJP: This is the moment for every single person in this country to show up and really start to embody the kind of country that we want to see long-term. There is no other way to create the inclusive, multiracial democracy that we know for a fact the vast majority of the people in this country want but to show up and stand together.

Whether it is marching, whether it is attending vigils, whether it is signing on to petitions, we must aggressively take a stand. The vast majority of Americans are opposed to this sort of far-right terrorism and we must be vigilant and we must take care of each other.

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




The Agony of ‘Regime Change’ Refugees

Exclusive: There are positive signs of Syrians returning to Aleppo after the ouster of Al Qaeda’s militants. But the legacy of Western “regime change” wars continues to plague Europe and inflict human suffering, writes Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus

European nations have been thrown into a political crisis by the hundreds of thousands of migrants coming north from the Middle East and Africa. The number has grown in recent years, due to a mix of wars and poverty, resulting in a visible increase of the influx of foreigners across Europe, and a popular backlash that has political institutions scrambling to find a way to stem the flow and lessen the sense of emergency.

The problem is that the causes of the mass migration have deep roots that cannot be solved in the short-term; and even a medium- to long-term solution will require serious changes in foreign and economic policy for the entire Western world.

In September 2015, as the number of refugees from Syria increased due to the ongoing military conflict there, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a surprising announcement. Going against the grain of public opinion, in which anti-immigrant sentiment seemed to be rising rapidly, Merkel announced that her country would open its doors and accept hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers. Germany already has a large number of recent immigrants among its population, and the view was that a wealthy country with a population of over 80 million could certainly do its part to deal with the humanitarian crisis enveloping the Middle East.

The open attitude didn’t last long. In March 2016, Germany played a key role in reaching a deal with President Erdogan of Turkey, who in exchange for billions of euros, essentially closed the land route towards Europe through the Balkans. As a result, only the sea routes remained, with departures principally from Turkey, Egypt and Libya, making Greece and Italy the primary entry points to Europe. The routes have been further reduced over the past year, with the vast majority of departures currently originating in Libya.

Italy at Forefront

This has meant that in 2017 over 85 percent of total migrants headed towards Europe have arrived in Italy, a country that has led efforts to rescue people risking death in the Mediterranean in recent years. There have been ongoing negotiations with other European nations to relocate the migrants that are taken to Italian ports and lessen the burden on the country of entry, but the number of migrants relocated has been only a small portion of those that arrive.

As a result Italy, which is not particularly efficient in managing the new arrivals despite making significant strides in recent years, feels left alone to deal with a crisis that is straining its resources. One of the side effects is a palpable shift in public attitudes in this Catholic country, from openness to help those in need, to a feeling that the situation is out of control and that the identity of Europe is under threat from the constant influx of migrants from different cultures.

The Italian government is attempting to find a technical solution to reduce the flow across the sea, which includes negotiations with the various factions in Libya, a new code of conduct for NGOs working in the area, and tightening the rules for bringing migrants to Italian ports.

All of these measures address only the last link in the chain of migration from the Middle East and Africa though, and even if they were to succeed, would only block the flow from Libya – where migrants suffer horrendous conditions, including torture – while human traffickers would seek new routes to get around the obstacles put up by European governments.

The Larger Issue

The deeper problem to address is the causes of the migrant crisis. This requires taking a step backwards, to understand how the current situation was created. The first issue is that of Libya itself, a country without any effective centralized control, ruled over by rival factions that are unable or unwilling to stop the numerous human trafficking networks from taking money from desperate migrants and putting them on rafts pointed towards Italy, where they will either be rescued by naval forces or NGOs, or die along the way.

The prime responsibility for the Libyan chaos lies in Paris, London and Washington. The goal of overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi had been present for decades in Western capitals, but it was not until 2011 – under the cover of the “Arab Spring” – that the French government in particular began to organize the effort to overthrow him, and gain economic and strategic advantages for itself in Northern Africa as a result.

The French had already prepared the attack as they encouraged U.S. President Barack Obama to join the “humanitarian” war that was intended to save the opposition from being massacred by Gaddafi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed up the pro-intervention faction in the Obama Administration to the point that the Libyan campaign became known to many as “Hillary’s War.”

Upon learning of Gaddafi’s brutal murder, Clinton paraphrased Julius Caesar declaring: “We came, we saw, he died.” The result though, rather than being a triumph of democracy, has been a decent into chaos, that among other things has allowed the country to become a key gathering point for terrorist groups such as ISIS.

‘Regime Change’ Chaos

The Libyan chaos, the most immediate hindrance to stopping the flow of migrants to Europe at this moment, leads to the larger issue of Western policy regarding terrorism and the Middle East in general. The series of “regime change” wars in recent years have reflected the goal of using terrorist networks for the West’s strategic advantage, while ignoring the long-term effects of this tactic. The support for the Mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in an attempt to weaken the Soviet Union, led directly to the rise of Osama bin-Laden and Al Qaeda in the 1990s.

The financial backing given to Sunni extremism, provided in particular by allies such as Saudi Arabia, spawned the terrorist groups that today target the West. From the war in Iraq to support for the most extreme anti-Assad groups in Syria, the United States and other Western powers have had a major hand in creating the very problem they are scrambling to deal with today.

The Obama Administration began a timid shift away from “regime change,” with the decision not to bomb Syria in 2013, and rather to seek cooperation with Russia. The attempt to rebalance U.S. interests in the Middle East was also reflected in the nuclear deal reached with Iran. The effort ultimately proved to be too little, too late though, as large sections of the institutions resisted the shift and Obama himself essentially ran out of time; by the end of his term he had succumbed to the pressure to maintain a hostile position towards Russia, and failed to define a new strategic orientation towards the Middle East.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the policies of regime change and is moving forward on cooperation with Russia in Syria, despite the bombing of a Syrian air base in April in response to dubious claims of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government. Yet he has also toed the traditional pro-Saudi, anti-Iran line in the Middle East in general, making it seem doubtful that he is willing, or even able, to actually change U.S. policy in the region. As of now, the conflicts are far from being over, and from this perspective, it becomes clear that no short-term solutions are on the horizon.

An even broader issue is that of development, as economic conditions are once again overtaking political unrest as the main driver of migration. There has been talk recently of a European Plan for Africa, to spur economic development and remove the root causes that drive people to leave their homes and families despite the potential dangers. The reality though, is that the discussion still revolves around the type of limited initiatives that are all too similar to the programs of the International Monetary Fund, focused on improving the climate for private investment and other “structural reforms.”

Some of the goals may be laudable, but the approach is a far cry from that of the Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II – which is often thrown around as a precedent when new plans are announced – that involved large amounts of public investment in rebuilding industrial capacity.

On this front as well, Western nations seem unable to recognize their own mistakes and contribution to the poverty in Africa that is driving a decades-long humanitarian crisis, that has now become an urgent political crisis for much of Europe as well.

Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. He has published the books “Perché vince Trump” (Why Trump is Winning – June 2016) and “La rivolta degli elettori” (The Revolt of the Voters – July 2017).




Cataclysmic Risks of North Korean Crisis

The schoolyard taunts between President Trump and North Korean leaders have quieted for now. But the underlying risks of a nuclear showdown remain, as Korea expert Tim Shorrock explained to Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Many Asia experts are concerned that the war of words between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could turn Trump’s warning of “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen” into a catastrophic reality.

I spoke on August 10 with long-time Korea expert Tim Shorrock, a Washington-based journalist who spent a good deal of his youth in South Korea and has been writing about the Koreas for nearly 40 years. Shorrock has recently returned from a two-month stay in South Korea where he had an opportunity to interview the new president, Moon Jae-in.

Dennis Bernstein: Why don’t you begin by giving us a sense of what is going on in the South now. Are people afraid of a World War III?

Tim Shorrock: For most South Koreans, this is a confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea. The concern is that Donald Trump will follow up on the threat he made the other day and do something crazy. Of course, there is the fear that it could spill over into South Korea, but there is not any panic going on there.

DB: The new government in South Korea is more inclined to have negotiations with the North. But the United States has not even appointed an ambassador to the South. The situation seems very confusing and dangerous.

TS: The danger is miscalculation. You have Trump basically driving nuclear war with North Korea and you have North Korea saying that they will soon decide whether to send missiles toward Guam. It is a situation where someone could mistake an insignificant launch for something very significant. Or they could misinterpret something happening on the border and things could escalate out of control.

A lot of people in Congress were very concerned about Trump’s remarks. That was true around the world, as well. Moon Jae-in won the election based on his policy of wanting to engage again with North Korea. The last two presidents had rejected engagement and the situation had become very tense because of their hard-line policies.

Moon has not gotten much of a response yet from the North. He has proposed military-to-military talks but the North has not yet responded. Now with the latest missile test by the North, Moon has reversed himself on deployment of THAAD and has actually called for its expansion. However, he said today that the door is still open to dialogue.

DB: What is the history of negotiations between the North and the South?

TS: Moon Jae-in ran on what he called the “Sunshine Policy.” This policy was started by Kim Dae-jung, who was the president from the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s. He ran on a campaign to break down the barriers between the North and the South through cultural and economic outreach and political engagement. He had a summit in the 1990’s with Kim Jong-il and there was another summit with Kim Dae-jung’s successor, Noh Moo-hyun, in 2007. They made declarations about moving toward peace, demilitarizing the situation and reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons on the peninsula. During the Sunshine years, many South Koreans traveled to North Korea, and vice versa.

So there was actually a lot of contact until about 2007, the first time it had happened for 45 years or so. And many South Koreans began to see the North less as an enemy. The enmity has been broken down between the South and the North.

Now, this hasn’t improved relations between North Korea and America. Because of the death of this one American visitor who was imprisoned in North Korea and came back in a coma and died a few days later [Otto Warmbier], the US Congress moved to bar any travel from the US to North Korea. This is the first ban on Americans traveling to other countries in decades.

DB: You had a chance recently to interview the new president, Moon Jae-in. What did you learn from that experience?

TS: I met him two days before his election. He came up through the democratic movement. He was a labor rights and human rights lawyer for many years. He was very active in the opposition to the military dictator Park Chung-hee in the 1970’s. He was jailed twice for his anti-government activities. He was chief of staff under progressive president Noh Moo-hyun and was present when Noh met with Kim Jung-il in 2007.

I asked him about the Sunshine Policy and whether he thought there might be opposition from the US. He was already getting criticism from analysts in Washington and some politicians that his policies were soft on North Korea. His response was that if he could do something to reduce the tensions, especially between North Korea and the United States, that should be welcomed by the US.

I asked him about the 1980 massive uprising in Gwangju against martial law and the massacre that followed. The uprising was put down brutally by the South Korean military with help from the Americans. This is still a source of friction between South Koreans and the United States. While he said that the Americans could have done a lot more than they did at the time, he didn’t think it was necessary that the United States  apologize now, when the country has moved on and is now a democracy.

Right now, Moon is treading a very fine line: He is trying to reach out to North Korea but he is under a lot of pressure from the United States to adopt a more military-first stance. Many South Koreans have been criticizing him for agreeing to extend the deployment of the missile system that the US installed last year.

DB: If the United States tried to pull off a first strike, what might that look like?

TS: It would be a catastrophe. North Korea is fully capable of launching a counterattack. With its conventional weapons it could wipe out Seoul. It could reach Japan. There would be untold numbers of casualties. South Korea does not want the US to launch a unilateral war without taking into consideration the huge casualties that would result in South Korea and without consulting the South Koreans. It would rupture the alliance between the United States and South Korea. I think a lot of what Trump has been saying is pure bluster. It is very dangerous bluster and can only escalate the situation.

DB: Many people feel that this THAAD missile system is not in place to protect South Korea but is part of an offensive program known as the Pacific Pivot to control China and the region.

TS: The Chinese claim that the radar component of the system is very strong and can penetrate China very easily. Many in South Korea believe that the missiles are there to protect US bases. But even proponents of THAAD concede that, while it is capable of shooting a few missiles down, in the case of a large-scale war, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

It is actually more of a psychological weapon than something that can prevent an attack or a war. As you said, it is part of a broader system that is in place. Over the past few years there has been a huge military build-up in the region and particularly in Korea. This is a major confrontation and for most South Koreans the only way out is to have engagement.

DB: The American people have no knowledge of the violent history of US involvement in Korea which makes the North Koreans incredibly nervous and reluctant to give up what they see as a bargaining chip with nuclear weapons.

TS: During the Korean War, the United States completely obliterated the North. Eventually there were literally no targets left. Three million people, most of them civilians, were killed by US planes. It was a complete scorched earth policy. Trump’s rhetoric reminds people of what happened in the Korean War.

The North Koreans have a very real fear of the United States launching its military on them again. The American people have so little knowledge of this history. All they hear in the news are numbers: How far can the North Korean missiles go, how many people would be killed in a war? Nobody is talking about how we got into this situation and how we can get out.

Again and again, US officials and the US media will say that North Korea refuses to negotiate on their nuclear weapons. What they leave out is that North Korea, in every one of their statements, has said that, until the United States drops its hostile policy, they will not negotiate.

What would it mean to end our hostile policy? That is what happened under Clinton in the late 1990’s. The agreement was to end their nuclear program. At that time they didn’t have any nuclear weapons. That program was frozen for twelve years until the agreement was ripped up in 2003 by the Bush administration. After that they built a bomb and exploded it in 2006.

Most importantly, the United States has never ended its hostile policy. That is the only way this is going to be resolved. As recently as 2015, the North Koreans offered to put another moratorium on weapons development if the United States would sign a peace agreement. Obama rejected that. Even more recently the North Koreans, together with the Chinese and the Russians, proposed that North Korea freeze their nuclear missile programs in exchange for a drawback of the US/South Korean military exercises. That has also been rejected so far by the United States.

DB: Do you see it as a problem that the Trump administration doesn’t seem very interested in diplomacy? They seem to want to solve matters with B1 bombers.

TS: Interestingly, Trump has had some negotiations with the North Korean government. Soon after he took office in January, the US ambassador to North Korea met with the North Korean foreign minister and that is when we reached an agreement to free some of the Americans in prison in North Korea. But those talks were aimed toward opening the door to broader negotiations.

Less than a week ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at his first press conference that he would welcome direct talks with North Korea if they would put a moratorium on their missile tests. A couple days later, Trump makes this statement about nuclear war. I believe there is a split in the administration about this. There are definitely forces within the administration who are pushing for military action.

DB: The Trump administration has taken to blaming the Chinese, saying they haven’t done enough to rein in North Korea. My understanding is that the Chinese are pretty upset about THAAD and in general about the role the US has been playing in its attempt to surround China with this military ring. What role could China be playing here?

TS: The predominant line right now in Washington is to outsource policy to China, to have China put the screws on North Korea. That’s just not going to happen. They have a long relationship. After all, one million Chinese soldiers died in the Korean War trying to defend North Korea. China certainly does not want to have a situation in a unified Korea where suddenly they have US forces right on the border of the Yellow River. Neither is China going to put pressure on North Korea until it collapses.

China has been quite accommodating to US demands for sanctions. The Chinese and the Russians both voted at the UN for a vast expansion of sanctions which will affect one-third of North Korea’s exports. But after the vote, both the Chinese and the Russian ambassadors made it very clear that they want the United States to negotiate with the North. They see sanctions as only one part of a larger strategy. They came up with a proposal they are calling “freeze for freeze,” which would freeze North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons if the US freezes its military exercises.

Actually, I think the Chinese are playing an important role right now. Just today [August 10], they put out a statement warning Trump that his language is not helping. North Korea has always taken an independent course. They had a lot of disputes with the Soviet Union and they have had a lot of disputes with China. It has its own policies and doesn’t like to be pushed around by bigger powers.

This is a conflict between North Korea and the United States. The North Korean foreign minister just said that the only country they are going to use nuclear weapons against, if they have to, is the United States. What American officials and media would like us to think is that the United States is just an innocent bystander in Korea: “For some strange reason we cannot understand, the North Koreans just hate us so.”

Without understanding the history and the role of the United States in Korea, a lot of Americans are going along with this. We have had military forces in Korea since 1945. There are no Chinese troops, no Russian troops in North Korea.

DB: We hear a lot about poverty in the North, about hunger. I imagine that their heavy military build-up takes a toll on their own people.

TS: Absolutely. It has a huge military far out of proportion with their size and population. Of course, all this military spending deprives the civilian population of support. That was one of the factors that brought them to negotiate in the first place. In the late 1990’s there was a severe crisis when they experienced famine and floods and they lost their access to low-cost oil from the former Soviet Union. At that time, thousands and thousands of people did die from starvation.

It is still a very poor country but, even under the stiff sanctions, in the last few years North Korea’s economy has grown substantially. People who go there note that there is lots of new construction and economic activity. But I am sure that achieving peace with the outside world would certainly do a lot to improve its economy, to be able to divert resources away from military spending.

It is important to remember that, until the late 1970’s, North Korea’s industrial indices were actually higher than those in the South. They were doing well, especially by third-world standards. It is true that today the South Korean economy is miles ahead of the North. But a backward country could not be developing nuclear weapons. I believe that with years of peace and interchange with other countries, North Korea would be much better off. That should be the goal of everybody.

DB: What do you think will be the impact of these latest sanctions?

TS: Cutting one-third of exports and blocking remittances from workers abroad is surely going to hurt the people there. Any time you have sanctions it is the ordinary people who suffer. We saw this in Iraq. There could be some very tough years ahead for North Korea.

DB: Maybe we can come back to the geopolitical angle. Many critics of US foreign policy in the region feel that this is not about North Korea or South Korea, it is about the United States drawing a ring around China in order to control the resources, the trade routes. This is about the uppity North getting in the way of US interests in controlling the region.

TS: Certainly that conflict is there and the United States has moved very aggressively against China in many ways. But this particular conflict goes way back to the early days of the Cold War. The Korean War was one of the first hot battles of the Cold War. This is part of the legacy of the US intervention after World War II, of the choices the US made as to who would govern South Korea, consciously using those who had collaborated with the Japanese occupation.

I don’t see the question of Korea as a side issue from the broader picture. It is very important to find some solution to the Korean standoff. By this point, the US and Vietnam are almost military allies. The United States has been able to get past the war in Vietnam. It is about time we were able to do the same with Korea.

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




A Ukraine Link to North Korea’s Missiles?

Exclusive: By orchestrating the 2014 “regime change” in Ukraine, U.S. neocons may have indirectly contributed to a desperate Ukrainian factory selling advanced rocket engines to North Korea and endangering America, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

U.S. intelligence analysts reportedly have traced North Korea’s leap forward in creating an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking U.S. territory to a decaying Ukrainian rocket-engine factory whose alleged role could lift the cover off other suppressed mysteries related to the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev.

Because the 2014 coup – overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych – was partly orchestrated by the U.S. government’s influential neoconservatives and warmly embraced by the West’s mainstream media, many of the ugly features of the Kiev regime have been downplayed or ignored, including the fact that corrupt oligarch Igor Kolomoisky was put in charge of the area where the implicated factory was located.

As the region’s governor, the thuggish Kolomoisky founded armed militias of Ukrainian extremists, including neo-Nazis, who spearheaded the violence against ethnic Russians in eastern provinces, which had voted heavily for Yanukovych and tried to resist his violent overthrow.

Kolomoisky, who has triple citizenship from Ukraine, Cyprus and Israel, was eventually ousted as governor of Dnipropetrovsk (now called Dnipro) on March 25, 2015, after a showdown with Ukraine’s current President Petro Poroshenko over control of the state-owned energy company, but by then Kolomoisky’s team had put its corrupt mark on the region.

At the time of the Kolomoisky-Poroshenko showdown, Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, chief of the State Security Service, accused Dnipropetrovsk officials of financing armed gangs and threatening investigators, Bloomberg News reported, while noting that Ukraine had sunk to 142nd place out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruptions Perception Index, the worst in Europe.

Even earlier in Kolomoisky’s brutal reign, Dnipropetrovsk had become the center for the violent intrigue that has plagued Ukraine for the past several years, including the dispatch of neo-Nazi militias to kill ethnic Russians who then turned to Russia for support.

Tolerating Nazis

Yet, protected by the waves of anti-Russian propaganda sweeping across the West, Kolomoisky’s crowd saw few reasons for restraint. So, among the Kolomoisky-backed militias was the Azov battalion whose members marched with Swastikas and other Nazi insignias.

Ironically, the same Western media which heartily has condemned neo-Nazi and white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, adopted a much more tolerant attitude toward Ukraine’s neo-Nazism even as those militants murdered scores of ethnic Russians in Odessa in May 2014 and attacked ethnic Russian communities in the east where thousands more died.

When it came to Ukraine, The New York Times and other mainstream outlets were so dedicated to their anti-Russian propaganda that they veered between minimizing the significance of the neo-Nazi militias and treating them as bulwarks of Western civilization.

For instance, on Feb. 11, 2015, the Times published a long article by Rick Lyman that presented the situation in the port city of Mariupol as if the advance by ethnic Russian rebels amounted to the arrival of barbarians at the gate while the inhabitants were being bravely defended by the forces of civilization. But then the article cited the key role in that defense played by the Azov battalion.

Though the article provided much color and detail and quoted an Azov leader prominently, it left out the fact that the Azov battalion was composed of neo-Nazis.

This inconvenient truth that neo-Nazis were central to Ukraine’s “self-defense forces” would have disrupted the desired propaganda message about “Russian aggression.” After all, wouldn’t many Americans and Europeans understand why Russia, which suffered some 27 million dead in World War II, might be sensitive to neo-Nazis killing ethnic Russians on Russia’s border?

So, in Lyman’s article, the Times ignored Azov’s well-known neo-Nazism and referred to it simply as a “volunteer unit.”

In other cases, the Times casually brushed past the key role of fascist militants. In July 2015, the Times published a curiously upbeat story about the good news that Islamic militants had joined with far-right and neo-Nazi battalions to kill ethnic Russian rebels.

The article by Andrew E. Kramer reported that there were three Islamic battalions “deployed to the hottest zones,” such as around Mariupol. One of the battalions was headed by a former Chechen warlord who went by the name “Muslim,” Kramer wrote, adding:

“The Chechen commands the Sheikh Mansur group, named for an 18th-century Chechen resistance figure. It is subordinate to the nationalist Right Sector, a Ukrainian militia. Right Sector formed during last year’s street protests in Kiev from a half-dozen fringe Ukrainian nationalist groups like White Hammer and the Trident of Stepan Bandera.

“Another, the Azov group, is openly neo-Nazi, using the ‘Wolf’s Hook’ symbol associated with the [Nazi] SS. Without addressing the issue of the Nazi symbol, the Chechen said he got along well with the nationalists because, like him, they loved their homeland and hated the Russians.”

Rockets for North Korea

The Times encountered another discomforting reality on Monday when correspondents William J. Broad and David E. Sanger described U.S. intelligence assessments pointing to North Korea’s likely source of its new and more powerful rocket engines as a Ukrainian factory in Dnipro.

Of course, the Times bent over backward to suggest that the blame might still fall on Russia even though Dnipro is a stronghold of some of Ukraine’s most militantly anti-Russian politicians and although U.S. intelligence analysts have centered their suspicions on a Ukrainian-government-owned factory there, known as Yuzhmash.

So, it would seem clear that corrupt Ukrainian officials, possibly in cahoots with financially pressed executives or employees of Yuzhmash, are the likeliest suspects in the smuggling of these rocket engines to North Korea.

Even the Times couldn’t dodge that reality, saying: “Government investigators and experts have focused their inquiries on a missile factory in Dnipro, Ukraine.” But the Times added that Dnipro is “on the edge of the territory where Russia is fighting a low-level war to break off part of Ukraine” – to suggest that the Russians somehow might have snuck into the factory, stolen the engines and smuggled them to North Korea.

But the Times also cited the view of missile expert Michael Elleman, who addressed North Korea’s sudden access to more powerful engines in a study issued this week by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine — probably illicitly,” Elleman said in an interview with the Times. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.”

Yet, always looking for a chance to shift the blame to Russia, the Times quickly inserted that “Mr. Elleman was unable to rule out the possibility that a large Russian missile enterprise, Energomash, which has strong ties to the Ukrainian complex, had a role in the transfer of the RD-250 engine technology to North Korea.”

Of course by that standard – “unable to rule out the possibility” – almost anyone could be put under suspicion. One source familiar with the U.S. intelligence assessments said there is even suspicion that some operatives in Israel played a role in transferring the rocket engines to North Korea. The source cited Israel’s historic arms-trade with North Korea dating back to Israel’s covert arms pipeline to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

Israel, a rogue nuclear-weapons state itself, also has a history of collaborating with other “pariah” states on nuclear proliferation, including apartheid South Africa which joined Israel in nuclear tests before the democratic election of Nelson Mandela.

Kolomoisky cultivated close ties between Israel and Dnipro by helping to construct one of the largest Jewish centers in the world in the Ukrainian city, which has fallen on hard times since the 2014 coup shattered economic ties with Russia and left the Yuzhmash factory with little work.

Yet, while the Ukraine crisis may have reduced living standards for average Ukrainians, it was an important catalyst in the creation of the New Cold War between Washington and Moscow, which offers lucrative opportunities for U.S. military contractors and their many think-tank apologists despite increasing the risk of nuclear war for the rest of us.

In particular, U.S. neoconservatives have viewed heightened tensions between the West and Russia as valuable both in driving up military spending and laying the groundwork for a possible “regime change” in Moscow. The neocons have wanted to retaliate against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in frustrating neocon (and Israeli-Saudi) desires to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to bomb Iran, which Israel and Saudi Arabia now view as their principal regional adversary.

The neocon/Israeli-Saudi interests have produced many strange bedfellows with weapons flowing to Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and – because of Putin’s assistance to Syria and Iran – the tolerance of neo-Nazis and Islamic militants in Ukraine.

The MH-17 Case

Kolomoisky’s operation in Dnipro also has come under suspicion for a possible role in the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014. According to a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts, Dnipro was the center of a plot to use a powerful anti-aircraft missile to shoot down Putin’s official plane on a return flight from South America, but instead – after Putin’s plane took a more northerly route – the missile brought down MH-17, killing all 298 people aboard.

For reasons that have still not been explained, the Obama administration suppressed U.S. intelligence reports on the MH-17 tragedy and instead joined in pinning the shoot-down on ethnic Russian rebels and, by implication, Putin and his government.

In the West, the MH-17 shoot-down became a cause celebre, generating a powerful propaganda campaign to demonize Putin and Russia – and push Europe into joining sanctions against Moscow. Few people dared question Russia alleged guilt even though the Russia-did-it arguments were full of holes. [See here and here.]

Now this North Korean case forces the issue of Ukraine’s reckless behavior to the fore again: Did an inept or corrupt Ukrainian bureaucracy participate in or tolerate a scheme to sell powerful rocket engines to North Korea and enable a nuclear threat to U.S. territory?

In response to the reports of possible Ukrainian collusion in North Korea’s missile program, Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of the Ukrainian national security and defense council, issued a bizarre denial suggesting that The New York Times and U.S. intelligence agencies were pawns of Russia.

“This information [about North Korea possibly obtaining rocket engines from Ukraine] is not based on any grounds, provocative by its content, and most likely provoked by Russian secret services to cover their own crimes,” Turchynov said.

Press reports about Turchynov’s statement left out two salient facts: that as the interim President following the February 2014 coup, Turchynov ordered Right Sektor militants to begin the bloody siege of rebel-held Sloviansk, a key escalation in the conflict, and that Turchynov was the one who appointed Kolomoisky to be the ruler of Dnipropetrovsk.

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).




Hillary Clinton Promised Wars, Too

Exclusive: President Trump has shattered the hope of many peace-oriented Americans that he would pull back from U.S. foreign interventions, but Hillary Clinton might have pursued even more wars, notes James W. Carden.

By James W. Carden

The alliance between neoconservatives and the Democratic foreign policy establishment, which is largely made up of former Obama administration officials and former Clinton campaign surrogates, has been much noted of late, particularly since the formation of the German Marshall Fund’s “Alliance for Democracy Project” which brings together high-profile members of both groups in an effort to fight what is loosely (and often inaccurately) defined as Russian “disinformation.”

Those who applaud the new alignment are quick to point out that Donald J. Trump who, by virtue of his volatile temperament and his alarming ignorance and inexperience, is a menace to his country and the planet. And at this stage in Mr. Trump’s presidency, that would seem unarguable.

And yet, Clinton partisans charge that those who withheld their support from Clinton not only bear responsibility for Trump, but also had no right to do so since it was, according to them, obvious that Clinton would have been, among other things, a more responsible steward of U.S. foreign policy than Trump.

And so, given the extreme bitterness that Hillary Clinton’s loss has engendered among a number of prominent members of the liberal commentariat, it might be worth looking at what her campaign promised with regard to foreign policy to see if the above criticism holds water.

The argument here isn’t that Trump isn’t awful (which is something I’ve never argued); it’s that he’s proven to be every bit as bad as some of us reasonably expected Clinton would have been; and if one takes the time to consult the Clinton campaign’s own briefing papers and fact sheets, one will find that on issue after issue, Clinton invariably took hawkish positions that reflected the fact that Clinton was (and remains) a saber-rattler par excellence – very much on par with the current occupant of the White House.

When North Korea conducted a nuclear test in September 2016, she released a statement, if not quite promising “fire and fury,” that did declare: “North Korea’s decision to conduct another nuclear test is outrageous and unacceptable. … This constitutes a direct threat to the United States, and we cannot and will never accept this.”

No Regrets on ‘Regime Change’

Beyond that, Clinton remained a firm believer in regime-change strategies. On Syria, the Clinton campaign “proposed instituting a coalition no-fly zone in the air coupled with safe zones on the ground to protect Syrian civilians and create leverage for a diplomatic resolution that includes Assad’s departure.” She supported the “deployment of special operating forces to Syria” and “strongly urged President Obama to arm moderate rebels in support of the eventual removal of the brutal Assad regime.”

Clinton also favored escalation in other hot spots. On Iran, the Clinton campaign outlined “a plan to counter Iran’s other malicious behavior” which included pledges to “deepen America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security”; “expand our military presence in the region”; “increase security cooperation in areas like intelligence sharing, military backing and missile defense with our Gulf allies, to ensure they can defend themselves against Iranian aggression”; and “build a coalition to counter Iran’s proxies.”

When we also factor in Clinton’s support for the NATO’s illegal airstrikes on Kosovo (1999), her vote to authorize the second Iraq War (2003), her enthusiastic support for sending more troops to fight and die in Afghanistan (2009), and her disastrous embrace of regime change in Libya (2011) and Syria (2012), how can anyone be sure that her administration’s foreign policy would have been much of an improvement over what we now have?

Indeed, those who threw their support behind Clinton’s vision of American world leadership, like those associated with the “Alliance for Democracy,” really, with the notable exception of Trump’s abandonment of the Paris Climate Accord, have little to complain about.

Trump has done much as Clinton would have done by, among other things: slapping sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea; pledging unlimited support to Israel; reassuring “our allies” in the Persian Gulf and eastern Europe; condemning Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine; expanding military operations in eastern Syria; and lobbing none-to-veiled threats at the left-wing government in Venezuela.

So while it’s easy and almost certainly emotionally satisfying to the legions of Clinton supporters to tell themselves (and their readers) that of course Hillary would have been a better of steward of U.S. foreign policy than Trump, that assertion remains both unprovable and, given her record, highly questionable.

James W. Carden served as an adviser on Russia policy at the US State Department. Currently a contributing writer at The Nation magazine, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Quartz, The American Conservative and The National Interest.




Trump’s Soft-Shoe on Racist Violence

On Monday, President Trump did a second take on his remarks about the white-nationalist-sparked violence in Charlottesville, but his tepid first take offered a troubling look into his soul, says Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Enough. We have a president who is emotionally challenged and empathy-free, who on Saturday read from a prepared statement of concern and condemnation, incapable of speaking genuinely from the heart, apparently because he knows that those who speak racist hate and commit acts of deadly violence are a portion of his “base.”

Witness Ku Kluxer David Duke declaring in Charlottesville, Virginia, before Saturday’s violence, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

It’s true that you can’t always choose those who want to march in support of you, although Trump’s refusal to condemn his backing from white supremacists is appalling. Nor can it be denied that on the extreme left there are a few, like so many on the extreme right, who see violence as a means to an end. But Trump not only has failed to speak out against white nationalists, he allows them to work in his White House and mutter seditious nonsense into his all-too-susceptible ears.

As he spoke on Saturday afternoon he was unable to out-and-out condemn the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville without diluting his censure, saying there was “hatred, bigotry and violence” but adding “on many sides, on many sides.” And then he tweeted, “Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!”

Best regards? So sad? So lame. A woman died, a paralegal named Heather Heyer, and others were wounded at the hand of what appears to be a racist murderer using a car as a deadly weapon. This is a national tragedy, Mr. President. It is domestic terrorism and your reaction must be one of outrage, not left-handed sympathy.

On Saturday, Trump said, “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time.” He’s right about the long, long time part but as Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) wrote on Saturday:

“[F]rom the day he came down the escalator in the tower that bears his name, Trump consciously poured fuel on the fire. He ran a racist, xenophobic campaign that energized the radical right… Trump calls for the country to unite. But he is still ducking responsibility for his role in dividing it.”

Domestic Terrorism

Many Republican senators denounced Saturday’s fascist extremists more strongly and explicitly than the President, including Colorado’s Cory Gardner, who tweeted, “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”

But in the not-so-distant past, out of fear of alienating some conservative voters, Republicans have condemned groups like the SPLC for calling out the growing threat of the extreme right and white supremacy, just as those Republicans so vehemently attacked a 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security on rightwing domestic terrorism that it was withdrawn from circulation. That analysis found that every year, with the exception of 2001 and the 9/11 attacks, right-wing extremism was responsible for more violence in the United States than radical Islamic terrorism.

The report’s findings were backed up by an FBI analysis last year that hate crimes were up and by a 2015 survey conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum. Two of those involved, Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke University, wrote in The New York Times, “The main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists…

“An officer from a large metropolitan area said that ‘militias, neo-Nazis and sovereign citizens’ are the biggest threat we face in regard to extremism,” they wrote. “One officer explained that he ranked the right-wing threat higher because ‘it is an emerging threat that we don’t have as good of a grip on, even with our intelligence unit, as we do with the Al Shabab/Al Qaeda issue, which we have been dealing with for some time.’”

President Trump, you reap what you sow and boilerplate statements of sorrow ring hollow. Presidents are supposed to bring us together. Your predecessors, Republicans and Democrats, have done so with grace. But this President says he loves all Americans while working to deprive them of their freedoms. And keeps within his circle of advisors those for whom hate is an asset and not a dagger to the heart of democracy.

Fire Sebastian Gorka, the bogus security advisor who earlier this week told Breitbart News Daily that white supremacists are not a problem. Fire Stephen Miller, who seems to think the Statue of Liberty is more a symbol of exclusion than welcome. And fire Steve Bannon and his off-the-wall, destructive theories of white nationalism.

Their dismissals would be a start. But on Saturday, we saw into your soul, Donald Trump. And there was nothing there.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship. [This story first appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/charlottesville-goddam/]




Trump’s Shallow Thinking on ‘Terrorism’

Israel typically makes its enemies America’s enemies – think Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran – and few U.S. politicians dare step out of line. But hypocritical talk about “terrorism” has consequences, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Last month, President Trump made a joint appearance at the White House with a visiting head of government, during which Trump spoke of the visitor’s country being “on the front lines in the fight against” an organization that is part of that same country’s governing coalition. The visitor was Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the organization was Hezbollah. Members of Hezbollah are ministers in Hariri’s cabinet. Hezbollah has the fourth largest bloc of seats among the two dozen parties that are represented in Lebanon’s parliament.

Trump’s comment could be dismissed as an unsurprising gaffe from someone whose ignorance of the outside world is well known (and whose disorganized White House might have contributed to lousy staff work in preparing the President’s notes for the appearance with Hariri). Even if Trump had been better informed about current Lebanese politics, he might not have backed off from his comment. The United States does not have governing coalitions in the same sense as countries with parliamentary systems, but the nearest equivalent might arise with any glimmers of bipartisan cooperation on, say, health care.

Imagine that a foreign visitor came to the White House and praised the United States for being “on the front line in the fight against Democrats.” Although most observers would consider this to be a ridiculous and outrageously inappropriate remark, Trump might accept it smilingly as a personal compliment.

Where terrorism is involved, however, a simplistic approach often prevails that is broadly held and goes far beyond Trump. The problem arises in failing to recognize that terrorism is not some fixed set of people, groups, or states. It instead is a tactic that has been used by many different people and organizations in the pursuit of varying objectives. Yet the fixed-group attitude persists and frequently is visible in policy discussion and media coverage.

The official U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) is treated as if it were a master roster of organizations that we should never countenance, even though it was created 20 years ago only as a legal necessity to add precision to legislation that criminalized material support to terrorism.

If the United States supposedly were never to do any business with anyone who had used terrorism, it would somehow have to explain away the extensive business it has done with leaders who had been up to their eyeballs in terrorism, including Gerry Adams, Menachem Begin, and Yitzhak Shamir. The same is true not only of individual leaders but also some groups, such as the African National Congress.

We decide which of the users of terrorism we will countenance and which ones we won’t according to criteria other than terrorism itself. Only we don’t admit that we’re doing that, so as to preserve the fiction of being steadfastly opposed to terrorism wherever it arises. And this inconsistency doesn’t even take account of the U.S. acceptance of other applications of political violence that, although they do not meet the formal definition of terrorism because they involve overt use of force by a state, are just as deadly to many innocent civilians (such as the force that Saudi Arabia uses in Yemen, or that Israel regularly uses in the West Bank).

Differences Among Groups

The simplistic view of terrorism fails to distinguish among the vastly different interests and objectives of groups that have used terrorism and that may appear on the FTO list. This failure was prominent in Trump’s comment at his press conference with Hariri, in which the President listed as the groups that Lebanon supposedly was on the front lines against as “ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah”.

There is no comparison between the first two of those and the third. ISIS and Al Qaeda are transnational terrorist organizations that seek to overturn governing structures in the Muslim world and to impose an extreme form of rule throughout that world. Hezbollah, by contrast, is focused mainly on sectarian politics and the distribution of power in Lebanon and its environs. Hezbollah’s participation in a governing coalition with other parties in an existing nation-state is far beyond the realm of anything possible with ISIS or Al Qaeda.

Hamas is another group that undeniably has used terrorism but otherwise has very little in common with the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda. Like Hezbollah, it is focused primarily on more parochial political objectives — in Hamas’s case, on self-determination and political power in Palestine. It has demonstrated its ability and willingness to use peaceful means to pursue those objectives by winning a free and fair election among Palestinians.

The simplistic view tends to disregard the circumstances leading to the use of terrorism and to the emergence of groups that have used the tactic. Hezbollah was born in the early 1980s in the midst of a civil war in Lebanon. A major cause of both the war and the birth of the group was strong sentiment among Lebanon’s growing Shia population that it was underprivileged and unfairly underrepresented in Lebanese politics.

A more immediate circumstance underlying the emergence of Hezbollah was Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The invasion was intended to chase the Palestine Liberation Organization to the ends of the earth — or at least to Tunisia, to which it decamped. A salient episode in the Israeli military expedition was the Sabra and Shatila massacre], in which Israel’s army aided its Phalangist militia allies in the slaughter of hundreds and probably thousands of civilians, including Palestinian refugees and Lebanese Shia — Hezbollah’s constituency. Any reference to Hezbollah’s hostility toward Israel needs to recall these events for a full understanding.

Hezbollah terrorism against U.S. interests consisted of opposition to a foreign military presence. This was the case with the anti-U.S. terrorism in Lebanon in the 1980s (following a U.S. military intervention there, which came after the Israeli intervention), as well as with the one later attack against U.S. forces in which Hezbollah played a role: the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

These events are consistent with Robert Pape’s research finding that suicide bombings are motivated by opposition to the presence of foreign military forces. It is not consistent with any notion that Hezbollah is determined to kill Westerners or to attack U.S. interests in perpetuity.

Policy Implications

Failure to take into account the actual motivations, methods, objectives, and standing of a group such as Hezbollah leads to poor policy on problems that involve such groups. It leads to lack of awareness of how others perceive such groups and thus to what is or is not feasible as a U.S. policy objective.

These patterns are reflected in much of what is said in the United States about Hezbollah’s most important ally, Iran. “Number one state sponsor of terrorism” is part of the litany of labels that routinely are affixed to Iran in American discourse. But consult the State Department’s official justification for continuing to designate Iran as a state sponsor, and the gruel one sees is thinner than the discourse would suggest.

Most important, it is hard to see feasible changes from any Iranian regime that really did not want to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Much of what is in the U.S. official statement reflects history, which cannot be changed. Much of it involves Iran’s support, along with Russia, for the incumbent regime in Syria against a rebellion in which terrorist groups have played prominent roles. And much of it involves nonstate groups with which Iran does business, and especially its most important nonstate ally, Lebanese Hezbollah.

Whether we like it or not, Hezbollah is a well-established political actor in Lebanon, with its participation in Hariri’s government being part of that position. Most other political actors in Lebanon, even the group’s rivals, consider Hezbollah to be a legitimate and established actor that is here to stay, as do many other political actors elsewhere in the region. There is no way any Iranian regime would abandon its relationship with the group, which Iran sees as a major defender of Shia interests, let alone to try to justify to its Iranian constituents such a move as necessary to fight terrorism.

There cannot be, nor should there be, any forgiving or forgetting what Hezbollah did to Americans in the 1980s. The bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983 was, until 9/11, the deadliest terrorist attack ever against U.S. citizens. But not forgetting and not forgiving does not imply adopting the simplistic approach toward any group that is on our terrorist list. [Editor’s Note: The designation of the Marine barracks bombing as “terrorism” is itself questionable because the Reagan administration had militarily intervened in Lebanon by having the USS New Jersey shell targets on land and because the Marines were not civilians. The classic definition of “terrorism” is a willful attack on civilians to achieve a political goal.]

The current arrangements in Lebanon are probably the least bad way to keep that country from succumbing to full-scale civil war of the sort that afflicted it in the past and that afflicts Syria today. Prime Minister Hariri put it this way: “My job and my task as prime minister of Lebanon is to shield Lebanon from any instability like in Syria or Iraq or any other country that surrounds us. . . The political positions between us and Hezbollah are very well known. They don’t agree on my policies, and I don’t agree on their policies. But when it comes for the sake of the country, for the economy, how to handle those 1.5 million refugees, how to handle the stability, how to handle the governing our country, we have to have some kind of understanding, otherwise we would be like Syria. So, for the sake of the stability of Lebanon, we agree on certain things.”

Not seeing Lebanon fall into renewed civil war is in U.S. interests, so the arrangement Hariri describes is probably in U.S. interests as well. Many who find Hezbollah reprehensible are not aware that the United States provides financial assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which in turn has operational coordination with Hezbollah on some armed operations. Even some informed observers in quarters whose opposition to Hezbollah is unquestioned and usually don’t want to have anything to do with any ally of Iran see benefit in continuing that assistance.

These complexities are beyond the comprehension of Donald Trump. But what is at stake is not just the avoidance of gauche presidential statements but also the designing of prudent policy toward troublesome groups in troublesome regions, without making the mistake of treating all such groups as the same.

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.)