America’s Journalistic Hypocrites

Exclusive: The U.S. news media flip-flops on whether international law is inviolate or can be brushed aside at America’s whim – and similarly whether killing civilians is justified or not depending on who’s doing the killing, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Over the past few decades, the U.S. mainstream media has failed the American people in a historic fashion by spinning false or misleading narratives on virtually every important global issue, continuing to this day to guide the nation into destructive and unnecessary conflicts.

To me, a major turning point came with the failure of the major news organizations to get anywhere near the bottom of the Iran-Contra scandal, including its origins in illicit contacts between Republicans and Iranians during the 1980 campaign and the Reagan administration’s collaboration with drug traffickers to support the Contra war in Nicaragua. (Instead, the major U.S. media disparaged reporting on these very real scandals.)

If these unsavory stories had been fully explained to the American people, their impression of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush would be far less favorable and the rise of Reagan’s neocon underlings might well have been halted. Instead the neocons consolidated their dominance over Official Washington’s foreign policy establishment and Bush’s inept son was allowed to take the White House in 2001.

Then, one might have thought that the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 – justified by a legion of lies – would have finally doomed the neocons but, by then, they had deeply penetrated the national news media and major think tanks, with their influence reaching not only across the Republican Party but deeply into the Democratic Party as well.

So, despite the Iraq catastrophe, almost nothing changed. The neocons and their liberal interventionist chums continued to fabricate narratives that have led the United States into one mess after another, seeking more and more “regime change” and brushing aside recommendations for peaceful resolution of international crises.

Cognitive Dissonance

As part of this phenomenon, there is profound cognitive dissonance as the rationales shift depending on the neocons’ tactical needs. From one case to the next, there is no logical or moral consistency, and the major U.S. news organizations go along, failing again and again to expose these blatant hypocrisies.

The U.S. government can stand for a “rules-based” world when that serves its interests but then freely violate international law when it’s decided that “humanitarian warfare” trumps national sovereignty and the United Nations Charter. The latter is particularly easy after a foreign leader has been demonized in the American press, but sovereignty becomes inviolate in other circumstances when Washington is on the side of the killing regimes.

George W. Bush’s administration and the mainstream media justified invading Iraq, in part, by accusing Saddam Hussein of human rights violations. The obvious illegality of the invasion was ignored or dismissed as so much caviling by “Saddam apologists.” Similarly, the Obama administration and media rationalized invading Libya in 2011 under the propagandistic charge that Muammar Gaddafi was planning a mass slaughter of civilians (though he said he was only after Islamic terrorists).

But the same media looks the other way or make excuses when the slaughter of civilians is being done by “allies,” such as Israel against Palestinians or Saudi Arabia against Yemenis. Then the U.S. government even rushes more military supplies so the bombings can continue.

The view of terrorism is selective, too. Israel, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. “allies” in the Persian Gulf have aided and abetted terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, in the war against the largely secular government of Syria. That support for violent subversion followed the U.S. media’s demonization of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Thus, trying to avoid another Iraq-style morass, President Obama faces heavy criticism from neocon-dominated Washington for not doing more to force “regime change” in Syria, although he actually has authorized shipments of sophisticated U.S. weaponry to the supposedly “moderate” opposition, which often operates under Nusra’s command structure.

In other words, it’s okay to intervene overtly and covertly when Official Washington wants to do so, regardless of international law and even if that involves complicity with terrorists. But it’s different when the shoe is on the other foot.

In the case of Ukraine, any Russian assistance to ethnic Russian rebels under assault from a Ukrainian military that includes neo-Nazi battalions, such as the Azov brigade, is impermissible. International law and a “rules-based” structure must be defended by punishing Russia.

The U.S. news media failed its readers again with its one-sided coverage of the 2014 coup that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who had undergone another demonization process from U.S. officials and the mainstream press. So, the major U.S. news outlets cheered the coup and saw nothing wrong when the new U.S.-backed regime announced an “Anti-Terrorism Operation” – or ATO – against ethnic Russian Ukrainians who had voted for Yanukovych and considered the coup regime illegitimate.

In the Western media, the “white-hatted” coup regime in Kiev could do no wrong even when its neo-Nazi storm troopers burned scores of ethnic Russians alive in Odessa and spearheaded the ATO in the east. Everything was Russia’s fault, even though there was no evidence that President Vladimir Putin had any pre-coup role in destabilizing the political situation in Ukraine.

Indeed, the evidence was clear that the U.S. government was the one seeking “regime change.” For instance, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland was caught on an intercepted phone call conspiring with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt regarding who should take power – “Yats is the guy,” she said about Arseniy Yatsenyuk – and discussing how to “midwife” and “glue this thing.” The coup followed a few weeks later, with Yatsenyuk emerging as the new prime minister.

U.S. Exceptionalism

The U.S. news media acts as if it is the unquestionable right of the U.S. government to intervene in the internal affairs of countries all over the world – whether through subversion or military invasion – but the U.S. media then gets outraged if anyone dares to resist Washington’s edicts or tries to behave in any way similar to how the U.S. government does.

So, regarding Ukraine, when neighboring Russia intervened to prevent massacres in the east and to let the people of Crimea vote in a referendum on seceding from the new regime in Kiev, the U.S. government and media accused Putin of violating international law. National borders, even in the context of a violent coup carried out in part by neo-Nazis, had to be respected, Official Washington piously announced. Even the 96 percent will of Crimea’s voters to rejoin Russia had to be set aside in support of the principle of state sovereignty.

In other words, if Putin shielded these ethnic Russians from violent repression by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, he was guilty of “aggression” and his country needed to be punished with harsh sanctions. U.S. neocons soon began dreaming of destabilizing Russia and pulling off another “regime change,” in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime prosecuted its ATO, bringing heavy armaments to bear against the eastern Ukrainian dissidents in a conflict that has claimed some 10,000 lives including many civilians. The Ukrainian conflict is one of the worst bloodlettings in Europe since World War II, yet the calls from neocons and their liberal-hawk pals is to arm up the Ukrainian military so it can – once and for all – crush the resistance.

Early in the crisis, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, who has cultivated a reputation as a caring humanitarian, was eager to send more weapons to the Kiev regime and to western Ukrainians (who include his father’s relatives) so they could kill their ethnic Russian neighbors in the east – or “go bear-hunting,” as Kristof put it. By calling Russians “bears,” Kristof was likening their slaughter to the killing of animals.

Yet, in a recent column, Kristof takes a very different posture regarding Syria, where he wants the U.S. military to invade and create so-called “safe zones” and “no-fly zones” to prevent the Syrian army and air force from operating against rebel positions.

Sovereignty means one thing in Ukraine, even following a coup that removed the elected president. There, national borders must be respected (at least after a pro-U.S. regime had been installed) and the regime has every right kill dissenters to assert its authority. After all, it’s just like hunting animals.

But sovereignty means something else in Syria where the U.S. government is called on to intervene on one side in a brutal civil war to prevent the government from regaining control of the country or to obviate the need for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. In Syria, “regime change” trumps all.

Selective Outrage

In the column, Kristof noted other conflicts where the United States supposedly should have done more, calling the failure to invade Syria “a stain on all of us, analogous … to the eyes averted from Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur in the 2000s.”

Note again the selectivity of Kristof’s moral outrage. He doesn’t call for a U.S. invasion of Israel/Palestine to protect the Palestinians from Israel’s periodic “mowing the grass” operations. Nor does he suggest bombing the Saudi airfields to prevent the kingdom’s continued bombing of Yemenis. And, he doesn’t protest the U.S.-instigated slaughter in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of people perished, nor does he cite the seemingly endless U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Like many other mainstream pundits, Kristof tailors his humanitarianism to the cause of U.S. global dominance. After all, how long do you think Kristof would last as a well-paid columnist if he advocated a “no-fly zone” inside Israel or a military intervention against Saudi Arabia?

Put differently, how much professional courage does it take to pile on against “black-hatted” U.S. “enemies” after they’ve been demonized? Yet, it was just such a “group think” that cleared the way for the U.S. invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, a decision embraced by “liberal hawks” as well as neoconservatives and touching off mass suffering across the Mideast and now into Europe. Some estimates put the Iraqi dead at over one million.

So, it’s worth remembering how The New Yorker, The New York Times and other supposedly “liberal” publications hopped on George W. Bush’s Iraq War bandwagon. They became what Kristof’s former boss, Bill Keller, dubbed “the I-Can’t-Believe-I‘m-a-Hawk Club.” (Keller, by the way, was named the Times executive editor after the Iraq WMD claims had been debunked. Like many of his fellow hawks, there was no accountability for their gullibility or careerism.)

Kristof did not join the club at that time but signed up later, urging a massive bombing campaign in Syria after the Obama administration made now largely discredited claims accusing Bashar al-Assad’s government of launching a sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

We now know that President Obama pulled back from those bombing plans, in part, because he was told by U.S. intelligence analysts that they doubted Assad was responsible. The preponderance of evidence now points to a provocation by Al Qaeda-connected rebels to trick the United States into intervening in the civil war on their side, but the mainstream U.S. media continues to report as “flat fact” that Obama failed to enforce his “red line” against Assad using chemical weapons.

Though the Kristof-endorsed bombing campaign in 2013 might well have played into Al Qaeda’s hands (or those of the Islamic State) and thus unleashed even a worse tragedy on the Syrian people, the columnist is still advocating a U.S. invasion of Syria, albeit dressed up in pretty “humanitarian” language. But it should be clear that nice-sounding words like “safe zones” are just euphemisms for “regime change,” as we saw in Libya in 2011.

Forgetting Reality

The U.S. news media also often “forgets” that Obama has authorized the training and arming of so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels with many of them absorbed into the military command of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and with sophisticated U.S. weapons, such as TOW anti-tank missiles, showing up in the arsenals of Nusra and its jihadist allies.

In other words, beyond the selective outrage about morality and international law, we see selective reporting. Indeed, across American journalism, there has been a nearly complete abandonment of objectivity when it comes to reporting on U.S. foreign policy. Even liberal and leftist publications now bash anyone who doesn’t join the latest version of “the I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club.”

That means that as the neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment continues to push the world toward ever greater catastrophes, now including plans to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia (gee, how could that go wrong?), the U.S. news media is denying the American people the objective information needed to rein in the excesses.

Virtually nothing has been learned from the Iraq War disaster when the U.S. government cast aside negotiations and inspections (along with any appreciation of the complex reality on the ground) in favor of tough-guy/gal posturing. With very few exceptions, the U.S. media simply went along.

Today, the pro-war posturing has spread deeply within the Democratic Party and even among some hawkish leftists who join in the fun of insulting the few anti-war dissenters with the McCarthyite approach of accusing anyone challenging the “group think” on Syria or Russia of being an “Assad apologist” or a “Putin stooge.”

At the Democratic National Convention, some of Hillary Clinton’s delegates even chanted “USA, USA” to drown out the cries of Bernie Sanders’s delegates, who pleaded for “no more war.” On a larger scale, the mainstream U.S. news media has essentially ignored or silenced anyone who deviates from the neocon-dominated conventional wisdom.

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).




Washington’s Outrage and Excuses

Sometimes it seems that if not for double standards, Official Washington would have no standards at all – especially when it comes to outrage against some “strongmen” and excuses for others, as Lawrence Davidson describes.

By Lawrence Davidson

The United States has been, and continues to be, selective about which foreign strongmen it does and does not support. Among the latter, there have been Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (who was not as autocratic as publicly portrayed), Fidel Castro in Cuba, and Vladimir Putin in Russia. These are just a few of those recent rulers who have drawn the wrath of the “democratic” exemplars in Washington. That wrath often includes economic strangulation, CIA plots and even invasion.

In the meantime, another group of autocrats is well tolerated by the U.S. Among this group are Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and various European rightwing politicos such as Viktor Orban of Hungary. Each of these strongmen shows little tolerance for dissent and a ready willingness to exploit racially tinged nationalism.

What is behind Washington’s double standards – its contrasting reactions to one set of regimes as against another? Often American politicians will talk about promoting democracy and claim that the dictators they support have a better chance of evolving in a democratic direction than those they oppose. It might be that these politicians actually believe this to be the case, at least at the moment they make these declarations. But there is no historical evidence that their claims are true. This argument is largely a face-saving one. Other underlying reasons exist for the choices they make.

Here are a few of those probable reasons:

The friend/enemy of our friend/enemy is our friend/enemy. In this scenario the primary friend of the U.S. is Israel and the primary enemy is Russia. The secondary friend/enemy countries are the decidedly undemocratic Egypt and Syria. Egypt became a friend of the U.S. once Anwar Sadat made a peace treaty with Israel in March of 1979. Syria, on the other hand, has always been hostile to Israel and it has remained an enemy state. No democratic motivation is to be found here.

Cold War positioning rationale. After World War II Turkey became a “strategic asset” by virtue of its proximity to the Soviet Union and its willingness to house U.S. air bases and missile launchers. The repeated interference of the Turkish military in civilian politics was of no consequence to Washington. Present-day East European governments, increasingly autocratic in nature, seem to be considered by many in the Pentagon as “post Cold War” assets on the border of a Russia that never ceased to be an enemy. For a whole subset of Americans (militarists and neoconservatives), the Cold War never really did end.

Resource assets rationale. Autocracies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait fall into this category. The U.S. assumes a role of a supportive ally in exchange for stable and affordable worldwide oil prices. Sunni suppression of Shiite and other minorities in these countries is immaterial.

What happens if such resource-rich regimes do an about-face and are no longer cooperative with the United States? Well, you have your answer in Iran. Here the U.S. was once completely supportive of the Shah, but he was replaced by hostile ayatollahs in 1979. So friendliness has given way to tactics of economic isolation and CIA plots. Again, democracy has little to do with anything in these cases.

The classic left vs. right rationale.  Finally, there is the historically entrenched U.S. tradition that economically cooperative autocratic regimes are acceptable allies. “Cooperative” here means rulers who engage in friendly capitalist behavior: tolerate private enterprise and safeguard the property of foreign investors. Such an economic stance pre-dates the Cold War and has always been more important than political freedoms.

Those who act this way, such as Chile under Augusto Pinochet or Argentina under its brutal regime of military rule, get a free pass when they suppress democracy and civil rights. However, other regimes, such as those in Cuba under Castro and Venezuela under Chavez are treated differently. In the case of Venezuela, democracy was in fact practiced, but because of its socialist-leaning economic policies, Washington tried very hard to destroy the country’s government. For those interested in the evolution of this classic U.S. foreign policy, its history is explained in detail in my book, Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest.

Democracy and the “Other”

By prioritizing traditional alliances, control of resources and economic ideology, the U.S. turns a blind eye to other aspects of autocratic behavior that contradict its own avowed values, thereby setting up a vivid display of foreign policy hypocrisy. An example is the issue of democracy and the “Other.”

Since the 1960s the United States has been struggling with its racist impulses. That is, most of its population knows that discrimination against the “Other” is wrong. They can recognize it in the country’s voting laws, in the behavior of its police, and in the attitude of a political candidate like Donald Trump. Official steps, even if they are agonizingly slow and subject to periodic reversals, are taken to dampen down, if not overcome, such public biases. You would think that such sensitivity would carry over into foreign affairs. Yet the opposite is true.

Many of the autocratic leaders the U.S. favors have risen to power, at least in part, through instilling fear of the “Other” – those who threaten the fantasies of an eternal national character, pure blood, and the status of a God-chosen people. For instance, Washington’s premier ally in the Middle East, Israel, is a state that, at best, can be described as an officially discriminatory democracy where bias against the “Other” (in this case the Palestinians and other non-Jews) is legally sanctioned.

In the case of Europe, the present rising popularity of the right wing and its authoritarian leaders is directly derived from a fear of the “Other.” This, in turn, has been stimulated by a refugee crisis that the United States and its allies helped to create.

The destruction of Iraq was a catalyst that let loose forces that have also overwhelmed Syria and Libya and set in motion the deluge of refugees moving out of the Middle East and North Africa toward Europe. The U.S. government accepts the anti-democratic rightwing autocrats who now exploit a fear of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons for which Washington is, in large part, responsible.

The end of the Cold War did not put to rest the West’s militaristic ideological forces. Indeed it gave them a boost. Those pushing “neoconservative” foreign policies are still well represented within U.S. government bureaucracies. Their policies are based on fantasies of “regime change” and remaking the world so it comes under the permanent influence of the United States. Democracy, however, is not now, nor has it ever been, the end game of this process.

Instead, U.S. foreign affairs have been designed to spread capitalist economic practices that facilitate the prosperity of its own “ruling” class. Along the way, the U.S, seeks resource reliability for itself and its trading partners, security for its traditional allies and strategic advantage over old enemies.

In all these pursuits, the United States has long ago contented itself with what Jonathan Freedland once called the “sonofabitch school of foreign policy.” In other words, Washington doesn’t care if its cooperating allies are murderers, corrupt thieves, racists and the like. They might be bastards of the first order, but it is OK as long as they are “our bastards.” Such is the company we keep.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




US War Crimes or ‘Normalized Deviance’

The U.S. foreign policy establishment and its mainstream media operate with a pervasive set of hypocritical standards that justify war crimes — or what might be called a “normalization of deviance,” writes Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

Sociologist Diane Vaughan coined the term “normalization of deviance as she was investigating the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. She used it to describe how the social culture at NASA fostered a disregard for rigorous, physics-based safety standards, effectively creating new, lower de facto standards that came to govern actual NASA operations and led to catastrophic and deadly failures.

Vaughan published her findings in her prize-winning book, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA, which, in her words, “shows how mistake, mishap, and disaster are socially organized and systematically produced by social structures” and “shifts our attention from individual causal explanations to the structure of power and the power of structure and culture – factors that are difficult to identify and untangle yet have great impact on decision making in organizations.”

When the same pattern of organizational culture and behavior at NASA persisted until the loss of a second shuttle in 2003, Diane Vaughan was appointed to NASA’s accident investigation board, which belatedly embraced her conclusion that the “normalization of deviance” was a critical factor in these catastrophic failures.

The normalization of deviance has since been cited in a wide range of corporate crimes and institutional failures, from Volkswagen’s rigging of emissions tests to deadly medical mistakes in hospitals.  In fact, the normalization of deviance is an ever-present danger in most of the complex institutions that govern the world we live in today, not least in the bureaucracy that formulates and conducts U.S. foreign policy.

The normalization of deviance from the rules and standards that formally govern U.S. foreign policy has been quite radical.  And yet, as in other cases, this has gradually been accepted as a normal state of affairs, first within the corridors of power, then by the corporate media and eventually by much of the public at large.

Once deviance has been culturally normalized, as Vaughan found in the shuttle program at NASA, there is no longer any effective check on actions that deviate radically from formal or established standards – in the case of U.S. foreign policy, that would refer to the rules and customs of international law, the checks and balances of our constitutional political system and the experience and evolving practice of generations of statesmen and diplomats.

Normalizing the Abnormal

It is in the nature of complex institutions infected by the normalization of deviance that insiders are incentivized to downplay potential problems and to avoid precipitating a reassessment based on previously established standards.  Once rules have been breached, decision-makers face a cognitive and ethical conundrum whenever the same issue arises again: they can no longer admit that an action will violate responsible standards without admitting that they have already violated them in the past.

This is not just a matter of avoiding public embarrassment and political or criminal accountability, but a real instance of collective cognitive dissonance among people who have genuinely, although often self-servingly, embraced a deviant culture.  Diane Vaughan has compared the normalization of deviance to an elastic waistband that keeps on stretching.

Within the high priesthood that now manages U.S. foreign policy, advancement and success are based on conformity with this elastic culture of normalized deviance.  Whistle-blowers are punished or even prosecuted, and people who question the prevailing deviant culture are routinely and efficiently marginalized, not promoted to decision-making positions.

For example, once U.S. officials had accepted the Orwellian “doublethink” that “targeted killings,” or “manhunts” as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them, do not violate long-standing prohibitions against assassination, even a new administration could not walk that decision back without forcing a deviant culture to confront the wrong-headedness and illegality of its original decision.

Then, once the Obama administration had massively escalated the CIA’s drone program as an alternative to kidnapping and indefinite detention at Guantanamo, it became even harder to acknowledge that this is a policy of cold-blooded murder that provokes widespread anger and hostility and is counter-productive to legitimate counterterrorism goals – or to admit that it violates the U.N. Charter’s prohibition on the use of force, as U.N. special rapporteurs on extrajudicial killings have warned.

Underlying such decisions is the role of U.S. government lawyers who provide legal cover for them, but who are themselves shielded from accountability by U.S. non-recognition of international courts and the extraordinary deference of U.S. courts to the Executive Branch on matters of “national security.” These lawyers enjoy a privilege that is unique in their profession, issuing legal opinions that they will never have to defend before impartial courts to provide legal fig-leaves for war crimes.

The deviant U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy has branded the formal rules that are supposed to govern our country’s international behavior as “obsolete” and “quaint”, as a White House lawyer wrote in 2004.  And yet these are the very rules that past U.S. leaders deemed so vital that they enshrined them in constitutionally binding international treaties and U.S. law.

Let’s take a brief look at how the normalization of deviance undermines two of the most critical standards that formally define and legitimize U.S. foreign policy: the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

The United Nations Charter

In 1945, after two world wars killed 100 million people and left much of the world in ruins, the world’s governments were shocked into a moment of sanity in which they agreed to settle future international disputes peacefully.  The U.N. Charter therefore prohibits the threat or use of force in international relations.

As President Franklin Roosevelt told a joint session of Congress on his return from the Yalta conference, this new “permanent structure of peace … should spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balance of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries – and have always failed.”

The U.N. Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of force codifies the long-standing prohibition of aggression in English common law and customary international law, and reinforces the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy in the 1928 Kellogg Briand Pact. The judges at Nuremberg ruled that, even before the U.N. Charter came into effect, aggression was already the “supreme international crime.”

No U.S. leader has proposed abolishing or amending the U.N. Charter to permit aggression by the U.S. or any other country.  And yet the U.S. is currently conducting ground operations, air strikes or drone strikes in at least seven countries: Afghanistan; Pakistan; Iraq; Syria; Yemen; Somalia; and Libya. U.S. “special operations forces” conduct secret operations in a hundred more. U.S. leaders still openly threaten Iran, despite a diplomatic breakthrough that was supposed to peacefully settle bilateral differences.

President-in-waiting Hillary Clinton still believes in backing U.S. demands on other countries with illegal threats of force, even though every threat she has backed in the past has only served to create a pretext for war, from Yugoslavia to Iraq to Libya. But the U.N. Charter prohibits the threat as well as the use of force precisely because the one so regularly leads to the other.

The only justifications for the use of force permitted under the U.N. Charter are proportionate and necessary self-defense or an emergency request by the U.N. Security Council for military action “to restore peace and security.”  But no other country has attacked the United States, nor has the Security Council asked the U.S. to bomb or invade any of the countries where we are now at war.

The wars we have launched since 2001 have killed about 2 million people, of whom nearly all were completely innocent of involvement in the crimes of 9/11. Instead of “restoring peace and security,” U.S. wars have only plunged country after country into unending violence and chaos.

Like the specifications ignored by the engineers at NASA, the U.N. Charter is still in force, in black and white, for anyone in the world to read. But the normalization of deviance has replaced its nominally binding rules with looser, vaguer ones that the world’s governments and people have neither debated, negotiated nor agreed to.

In this case, the formal rules being ignored are the ones that were designed to provide a viable framework for the survival of human civilization in the face of the existential threat of modern weapons and warfare – surely the last rules on Earth that should have been quietly swept under a rug in the State Department basement.

The Geneva Conventions

Courts martial and investigations by officials and human rights groups have exposed “rules of engagement” issued to U.S. forces that flagrantly violate the Geneva Conventions and the protections they provide to wounded combatants, prisoners of war and civilians in war-torn countries:

–The Command’s Responsibility report by Human Rights First examined 98 deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. It revealed a deviant culture in which senior officials abused their authority to block investigations and guarantee their own impunity for murders and torture deaths that U.S. law defines as capital crimes.

Although torture was authorized from the very top of the chain of command, the most senior officer charged with a crime was a Major and the harshest sentence handed down was a five-month prison sentence.

–U.S. rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan have included: systematic, theater-wide use of torture; orders to “dead-check” or kill wounded enemy combatants; orders to “kill all military-age males” during certain operations; and “weapons-free” zones that mirror Vietnam-era “free-fire” zones.

A U.S. Marine corporal told a court martial that “Marines consider all Iraqi men part of the insurgency”, nullifying the critical distinction between combatants and civilians that is the very basis of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

When junior officers or enlisted troops have been charged with war crimes, they have been exonerated or given light sentences because courts have found that they were acting on orders from more senior officers. But the senior officers implicated in these crimes have been allowed to testify in secret or not to appear in court at all, and no senior officer has been convicted of a war crime.

–For the past year, U.S. forces bombing Iraq and Syria have operated under loosened rules of engagement that allow the in-theater commander General McFarland to approve bomb- and missile-strikes that are expected to kill up to 10 civilians each.

But Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network has documented that U.S. rules of engagement already permit routine targeting of civilians based only on cell-phone records or “guilt by proximity” to other people targeted for assassination. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has determined that only 4 percent of thousands of drone victims in Pakistan have been positively identified as Al Qaeda members, the nominal targets of the CIA’s drone campaign.

–Amnesty International’s 2014 report Left In The Dark documented a complete lack of accountability for the killing of civilians by U.S. forces in Afghanistan since President Obama’s escalation of the war in 2009 unleashed thousands more air strikes and special forces night raids.

Nobody was charged over the Ghazi Khan raid in Kunar province on Dec. 26, 2009, in which U.S. special forces summarily executed at least seven children, including four who were only 11 or 12 years old.

More recently, U.S. forces attacked a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, killing 42 doctors, staff and patients, but this flagrant violation of Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention did not lead to criminal charges either.

Although the U.S. government would not dare to formally renounce the Geneva Conventions, the normalization of deviance has effectively replaced them with elastic standards of behavior and accountability whose main purpose is to shield senior U.S. military officers and civilian officials from accountability for war crimes.

The Cold War and Its Aftermath

The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy is a byproduct of the disproportionate economic, diplomatic and military power of the United States since 1945. No other country could have got away with such flagrant and systematic violations of international law.

But in the early days of the Cold War, America’s World War II leaders rejected calls to exploit their new-found power and temporary monopoly on nuclear weapons to unleash an aggressive war against the U.S.S.R.

General Dwight Eisenhower gave a speech in St. Louis in 1947 in which he warned, “Those who measure security solely in terms of offensive capacity distort its meaning and mislead those who pay them heed. No modern nation has ever equaled the crushing offensive power attained by the German war machine in 1939. No modern nation was broken and smashed as was Germany six years later.”

But, as Eisenhower later warned, the Cold War soon gave rise to a “military-industrial complex” that may be the case par excellence of a highly complex tangle of institutions whose social culture is supremely prone to the normalization of deviance. Privately, Eisenhower lamented, “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.”

That describes everyone who has sat in that chair and tried to manage the U.S. military-industrial complex since 1961, involving critical decisions on war and peace and an ever-growing military budget. Advising the President on these matters are the Vice President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, several generals and admirals and the chairs of powerful Congressional committees. Nearly all these officials’ careers represent some version of the “revolving door” between the military and “intelligence” bureaucracy, the executive and legislative branches of government, and top jobs with military contractors and lobbying firms.

Each of the close advisers who have the President’s ear on these most critical issues is in turn advised by others who are just as deeply embedded in the military-industrial complex, from think-tanks funded by weapons manufacturers to Members of Congress with military bases or missile plants in their districts to journalists and commentators who market fear, war and militarism to the public.

With the rise of sanctions and financial warfare as a tool of U.S. power, Wall Street and the Treasury and Commerce Departments are also increasingly entangled in this web of military-industrial interests.

The incentives driving the creeping, gradual normalization of deviance throughout the ever-growing U.S. military-industrial complex have been powerful and mutually reinforcing for over 70 years, exactly as Eisenhower warned.

Richard Barnet explored the deviant culture of Vietnam-era U.S. war leaders in his 1972 book Roots Of War. But there are particular reasons why the normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy has become even more dangerous since the end of the Cold War.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. and U.K. installed allied governments in Western and Southern Europe, restored Western colonies in Asia and militarily occupied South Korea. The divisions of Korea and Vietnam into north and south were justified as temporary, but the governments in the south were U.S. creations imposed to prevent reunification under governments allied with the U.S.S.R. or China. U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam were then justified, legally and politically, as military assistance to allied governments fighting wars of self-defense.

The U.S. role in anti-democratic coups in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana, Chile and other countries was veiled behind thick layers of secrecy and propaganda. A veneer of legitimacy was still considered vital to U.S. policy, even as a culture of deviance was being normalized and institutionalized beneath the surface.

The Reagan Years

It was not until the 1980s that the U.S. ran seriously afoul of the post-1945 international legal framework it had helped to build. When the U.S. set out to destroy the revolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua by mining its harbors and dispatching a mercenary army to terrorize its people, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) convicted the U.S. of aggression and ordered it to pay war reparations.

The U.S. response revealed how far the normalization of deviance had already taken hold of its foreign policy. Instead of accepting and complying with the court’s ruling, the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the binding jurisdiction of the ICJ.

When Nicaragua asked the U.N. Security Council to enforce the payment of reparations ordered by the court, the U.S. abused its position as a Permanent Member of the Security Council to veto the resolution. Since the 1980s, the U.S. has vetoed twice as many Security Council resolutions as the other Permanent Members combined, and the U.N. General Assembly passed resolutions condemning the U.S. invasions of Grenada (by 108 to 9) and Panama (by 75 to 20), calling the latter “a flagrant violation of international law.”

President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher obtained U.N. authorization for the First Gulf War and resisted calls to launch a war of regime change against Iraq in violation of their U.N. mandate. Their forces massacred Iraqi forces fleeing Kuwait, and a U.N. report described how the “near apocalyptic” U.S.-led bombardment of Iraq reduced what “had been until January a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society” to “a pre-industrial age nation.”

But new voices began to ask why the U.S. should not exploit its unchallenged post-Cold War military superiority to use force with even less restraint. During the Bush-Clinton transition, Madeleine Albright confronted General Colin Powell over his “Powell doctrine” of limited war, protesting, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Public hopes for a “peace dividend” were ultimately trumped by a “power dividend” sought by military-industrial interests. The neoconservatives of the Project for the New American Century led the push for war on Iraq, while “humanitarian interventionists” now use the “soft power” of propaganda to selectively identify and demonize targets for U.S.-led regime change and then justify war under the “responsibility to protect” or other pretexts. U.S. allies (NATO, Israel, the Arab monarchies et al) are exempt from such campaigns, safe within what Amnesty International has labeled an “accountability-free zone.”

Madeleine Albright and her colleagues branded Slobodan Milosevic a “new Hitler” for trying to hold Yugoslavia together, even as they ratcheted up their own genocidal sanctions against Iraq. Ten years after Milosevic died in prison at the Hague, he was posthumously exonerated by an international court.

In 1999, when U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Secretary of State Albright the British government was having trouble “with its lawyers” over NATO plans to attack Yugoslavia without U.N. authorization, Albright told him he should “get new lawyers.”

By the time mass murder struck New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the normalization of deviance was so firmly rooted in the corridors of power that voices of peace and reason were utterly marginalized.

Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz told NPR eight days later, “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done. …  We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others.  If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”

But from the day of the crime, the war machine was in motion, targeting Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

The normalization of deviance that promoted war and marginalized reason at that moment of national crisis was not limited to Dick Cheney and his torture-happy acolytes, and so the global war they unleashed in 2001 is still spinning out of control.

When President Obama was elected in 2008 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, few people understood how many of the people and interests shaping his policies were the same people and interests who had shaped President George W. Bush’s, nor how deeply they were all steeped in the same deviant culture that had unleashed war, systematic war crimes and intractable violence and chaos upon the world.

A Sociopathic Culture

Until the American public, our political representatives and our neighbors around the world can come to grips with the normalization of deviance that is corrupting the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, the existential threats of nuclear war and escalating conventional war will persist and spread.

This deviant culture is sociopathic in its disregard for the value of human life and for the survival of human life on Earth. The only thing “normal” about it is that it pervades the powerful, entangled institutions that control U.S. foreign policy, rendering them impervious to reason, public accountability or even catastrophic failure.

The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy is driving a self-fulfilling reduction of our miraculous multicultural world to a “battlefield” or testing-ground for the latest U.S. weapons and geopolitical strategies. There is not yet any countervailing movement powerful or united enough to restore reason, humanity or the rule of law, domestically or internationally, although new political movements in many countries offer viable alternatives to the path we are on.

As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned when it advanced the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 3 minutes to midnight in 2015, we are living at one of the most dangerous times in human history. The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy lies at the very heart of our predicament.

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




Rigging the Coverage of Syria

The major U.S. news media has consistently slanted its coverage of the Syrian conflict to back neocon desires for more U.S. military intervention in support of “regime change,” Gareth Porter wrote for FAIR.

By Gareth Porter

Coverage of the breakdown of the partial ceasefire in Syria illustrated the main way corporate news media distort public understanding of a major foreign policy story. The problem is not that the key events in the story are entirely unreported, but that they were downplayed and quickly forgotten in the media’s embrace of themes with which they were more comfortable.

In this case, the one key event was the major offensive launched in early April by Al Nusra Front — the Al Qaeda franchise in Syria — alongside U.S.-backed armed opposition groups. This offensive was mentioned in at least two “quality” U.S. newspapers. Their readers, however, would not have read that it was that offensive that broke the back of the partial ceasefire.

On the contrary, they would have gotten the clear impression from following the major newspapers’ coverage that systematic violations by the Assad government doomed the ceasefire from the beginning.

Corporate media heralded the ceasefire agreement when it was negotiated by the United States and Russia in February, with the Los Angeles Times (2/3/16) calling it “the most determined diplomatic push to date aimed at ending the nation’s almost five-year conflict.” The “partial cessation of hostilities” was to apply between the Syrian regime and the non-jihadist forces, but not to the regime’s war with Nusra and with ISIS.

The clear implication was that the U.S.-supported non-jihadist opposition forces would have to separate themselves from Nusra, or else they would be legitimate targets for airstrikes.

But the relationship between the CIA-backed armed opposition to Assad and the jihadist Nusra Front was an issue that major U.S. newspapers had already found very difficult to cover (FAIR.org, 3/21/16).

U.S. Syria policy has been dependent on the military potential of the Nusra Front (and its close ally, Ahrar al Sham) for leverage on the Syrian regime, since the “moderate” opposition was unable to operate in northwest Syria without jihadist support. This central element in U.S. Syria policy, which both the government and the media were unwilling to acknowledge, was a central obstacle to accurate coverage of what happened to the Syrian ceasefire.

Shaping the Story

This problem began shaping the story as soon as the ceasefire agreement was announced. On Feb. 23, New York Times correspondent Neil MacFarquhar wrote a news analysis on the wider tensions between the Obama administration and Russia that pointed to “a gaping loophole” in the Syria ceasefire agreement: the fact that “it permits attacks against the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate, to continue.”

MacFarquhar asserted that exempting Nusra from the ceasefire “could work in Moscow’s favor, since many of the anti-Assad groups aligned with the United States fight alongside the Nusra Front.” That meant that Russia could “continue to strike United States-backed rebel groups without fear … of Washington’s doing anything to stop them,” he wrote.

On the same day, Adam Entous of the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama’s “top military and intelligence advisers don’t believe Russia will abide by a just-announced ceasefire in Syria and want to ready plans to increase pressure on Moscow by expanding covert support to rebels fighting the Russia-backed Assad regime.”

For two of the country’s most prominent newspapers, it was thus clear that the primary context of the Syria ceasefire was not its impact on Syria’s population, but how it affected the rivalry between powerful national security officials and Russia.

Contrary to those dark suspicions of Russian intentions to take advantage of the agreement to hit U.S.-supported Syrian opposition groups, however, as soon as the partial ceasefire agreement took effect on Feb. 27, Russia released a map that designated “green zones” where its air forces would not strike.

The green zones, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, corresponded with Syrian opposition groups that had signed on to the ceasefire. Furthermore, Russia stopped bombing the Nusra-controlled areas of northwest Syria, instead focusing on ISIS targets, as Pentagon spokesperson Jeff Davis confirmed on March 14.

Breaking the Ceasefire

But instead of separating themselves from Nusra Front, the U.S.-supported armed opposition joined with Nusra and its jihadist allies in a major offensive aimed at destroying the ceasefire.

Charles Lister, a leading British specialist on the jihadists in Syria, has recounted being told by the commander of a U.S.-backed armed group that around March 20, Nusra officials began a round of meetings with non-jihadist opposition groups from Hama, Latakia and southern Aleppo — including those supported by the United States — to persuade them to participate in a major offensive against the Assad regime, rather than in a ceasefire and political negotiations.

News media did not ignore the offensive launched on April 3 by Nusra Front and its “moderate” allies. The Los Angeles Times (4/4/16) described a “punishing attack” by Nusra and several “so-called moderate rebel factions” on the town of Al Eis, southwest of Aleppo, “overlooking the M5 highway, a vital artery connecting the Syrian capital, Damascus, in the southwest of the country, with the government-held city of Homs, in west-central Syria, and Aleppo in the north.”

Associated Press (4/3/16) reported that Nusra Front’s closest ally, Ahrar al Sham, together with U.S.-supported factions had simultaneously “seized government positions in heavy fighting in northwestern Latakia province.” The story quoted Zakariya Qaytaz of the U.S.-supported Division 13 brigade as telling the agency through Twitter: “The truce is considered over. This battle is a notice to the regime.”

The Nusra-led offensive was a decisive violation of the ceasefire, which effectively frustrated the intention of isolating the jihadists. It led to continued high levels of fighting in the three areas where it had taken place, and Russian planes returned to Nusra Front-controlled territory for the first time in nearly six weeks. Yet after the first reports on the offensive, its very existence vanished from media coverage of Syria.

Disappearing Key Facts

No U.S. newspaper followed up over the next two weeks to analyze its significance in terms of U.S. policy, especially in light of the role of “legitimate” armed opposition groups in trashing the ceasefire.

Wall Street Journal correspondent Sam Dagher (4/4/16)  suggested in his initial report on the offensive that it was a response to a Syrian air force airstrike in an opposition-controlled suburb of Damascus two days earlier, which activists said killed 30 civilians. But the offensive was so complex and well-organized that it had obviously been prepared well in advance of that strike.

None of the other papers sought to portray the offensive as the result of a pattern of increasing military pressure on the Nusra Front or its allies. In fact, after the initial reports, all four major newspapers — the New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post — simply ignored the fact that the offensive had been carried out.

On April 19, three separate articles presented three variants of what became the broad media approach to explaining the fate of the ceasefire agreement. The Journal’s Nour Malas and Sam Dagher wrote: “A limited truce in Syria, brokered by the US and Russia in late February, has unraveled in recent weeks, with government forces escalating attacks on several fronts and rebels relaunching operations around the northern city of Aleppo.”

That formulation clearly suggested that either the regime had moved first, or that government and rebels had somehow both taken the offensive at the same moment; the former interpretation was encouraged by the headline, “Syrian Government Steps Up Airstrikes.”

On the same day, New York Times Beirut correspondent Anne Barnard wrote a piece focused mainly on regime airstrikes in two Idlib towns, Maarat al Numan and Kafr Nable, that had killed many as 40 civilians.

Barnard’s piece was headlined, “Ceasefire Crumbles as Bombings Kill Dozens” — suggesting that the airstrikes had somehow led to the “crumbling.” Barnard did refer to an otherwise unidentified “insurgent offensive” that preceded the strikes, but did not draw any causal relationship between it and the bombing.

The article cited the opposition claim that the government had repeatedly violated the partial ceasefire, but didn’t cite a single concrete instance of such a violation. And it appears to contradict that argument by observing that the Idlib airstrikes had ended “the relative respite from airstrikes that had lasted nearly two months” – i.e., from the time the ceasefire had gone into effect.

Yet a third article to appear that day, published by Reuters, explicitly asserted that the regime airstrike on a crowded market by Syrian planes to which Barnard referred was the cause of the failure of the partial ceasefire.

“Syrian peace talks appeared all but doomed on Tuesday,” it said, “after airstrikes killed about 40 people in a crowded vegetable market in rebel territory, with the opposition saying a truce was finished and it would keep out of negotiations indefinitely.”

Wrapping Up the Distortions

Finally, on April 27, Karen DeYoung, associate editor of the Washington Post, wrote a news analysis piece looking back on what happened to the ceasefire. The piece never mentioned the major Nusra Front offensive in which U.S.-supported armed groups had played a key role, passing on instead the distorted explanation of the fate of the ceasefire offered by national security bureaucrats.

“Some Defense Department and intelligence officials,” she wrote, “think Russia and its Syrian government client are clearly violating the ceasefire and provoking the opposition into doing the same.”

Like the three April 19 articles, DeYoung focused entirely on military moves taken by the regime more than two weeks after the joint Nusra/opposition April offensive. She cited the Syrian government bombing of Kafr Nabl and Maarat al Numan the previous week, asserting that the towns were “heavily bombed by Assad after rebel forces threw out Nusra occupiers and civilians took to the streets in anti-Assad demonstrations.”

But that characterization of the situation in the two towns, clearly aimed to support the notion that they were free of Nusra control, was false. In fact, Kafr Nabl had formerly been the home of the U.S.-backed Division 13, but far from having been thrown out, Nusra Front had reasserted its direct control over the towns in mid-March, kicking Division 13 out of its base and seizing its U.S.-supplied weapons after a fight over the larger town Maarat al Numan.

DeYoung went so far as to embrace the CIA/Pentagon bureaucrats’ argument that the United States should not have agreed to allow any attacks on Nusra Front in the ceasefire agreement.

“The Nusra ceasefire exception had already left a hole big enough for the Syrian government and Russia to barrel through,” she wrote, “and they have not hesitated to do so in pursuit of regaining the initiative on the ground for Assad.”

The implication of the argument is that the United States should do nothing to interfere with Nusra’s capacity to strike at the Assad regime. Thus DeYoung quoted an analyst for the Institute for the Study of War, which favors a more belligerent U.S. policy in Syria, dismissing the military collaboration by U.S.-supported groups with Nusra Front as not really significant, because it is only “tactical,” and that Nusra merely offers to help those allies “retaliate” against regime attacks, rather than seeking a military solution to the conflict.

Such arguments are merely shallow rationalizations, however, for the preference of hardliners in Washington for pitting Al Qaeda’s military power against Russia and its Syrian client, enhancing the power position of the U.S. national security state in Syria.

A Simplistic Summary

As more time passes, the media version of why the partial ceasefire failed has become even more simplistic and distorted. On July 12, DeYoung revisited the issue in the context of the Obama administration’s negotiations with Russia on military cooperation against Nusra Front. This time she portrayed the ceasefire quite starkly as the victim of Syrian and Russian bombing:

“Despite a ceasefire ostensibly in effect since February, Syrian planes have kept up a steady bombardment of both civilian and opposition sites — where they have argued that Al Nusra forces, exempt from the truce, are mixed with rebel groups covered by the accord. After observing the early weeks of the ceasefire, Russian planes joined the Syrian forces, including in an offensive last weekend that took over the only remaining supply route for both rebels and civilians hunkered down in the northern city of Aleppo.”

Playing the role of ultimate media arbiter of how the attentive public is to understand the pivotal issue of why the ceasefire failed, DeYoung has deleted from memory the essential facts. In her narrative, there was no Nusra Front plan to destroy the ceasefire, and no April Nusra offensive to seize strategic territory south of Aleppo with the full participation of U.S.-supported opposition groups.

The lesson of the Syrian ceasefire episode is clear: The most influential news media have virtually complete freedom to shape the narrative surrounding a given issue simply by erasing inconvenient facts from the storyline. They can do that even when the events or facts have been reported by one or more of those very news media.

In the world of personal access and power inhabited by those who determine what will be published and what won’t, even the most obviously central facts are disposable in the service of a narrative that maintains necessary relationships.

Gareth Porter, an independent investigative journalist and historian on US national security policy, is the winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.  His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014. [This article was originally published by FAIR at http://fair.org/home/how-media-distorted-syrian-ceasefires-breakdown/]




Mike Morell’s Kill-Russians Advice

Exclusive: Washington’s foreign policy hot shots are flexing their rhetorical, warmongering muscles to impress Hillary Clinton, including ex-CIA acting director Morell who calls for killing Russians and Iranians, notes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Perhaps former CIA acting director Michael Morell’s shamefully provocative rhetoric toward Russia and Iran will prove too unhinged even for Hillary Clinton. It appears equally likely that it will succeed in earning him a senior job in a possible Clinton administration, so it behooves us to have a closer look at Morell’s record.

My initial reaction of disbelief and anger was the same as that of my VIPS colleague, Larry Johnson, and the points Larry made about Morell’s behavior in the Benghazi caper, Iran, Syria, needlessly baiting nuclear-armed Russia, and how to put a “scare” into Bashar al-Assad give ample support to Larry’s characterization of Morell’s comments as “reckless and vapid.” What follows is an attempt to round out the picture on the ambitious 57-year-old Morell.

I suppose we need to start with Morell telling PBS/CBS interviewer Charlie Rose on Aug. 8 that he (Morell) wanted to “make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. … make the Russians pay a price in Syria.”

Rose: “We make them pay the price by killing Russians?”

Morell: “Yeah.”

Rose: “And killing Iranians?”

Morell: “Yes … You don’t tell the world about it. … But you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran.”

You might ask what excellent adventure earned Morell his latest appearance with Charlie Rose? It was a highly unusual Aug. 5 New York Times op-ed titled “I ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.”

Peabody award winner Rose — having made no secret of how much he admires the glib, smooth-talking Morell — performed true to form. Indeed, he has interviewed him every other month, on average, over the past two years, while Morell has been a national security analyst for CBS.

This interview, though, is a must for those interested in gauging the caliber of bureaucrats who have bubbled to the top of the CIA since the disastrous tenure of George Tenet (sorry, the interview goes on and on for 46 minutes).

A Heavy Duty

Such interviews are a burden for unreconstructed, fact-based analysts of the old school. In a word, they are required to watch them, just as they must plow through the turgid prose of “tell-it-all” memoirs. But due diligence can sometimes harvest an occasional grain of wheat among the chaff.

For example, George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points, included a passage the former president seems to have written himself. Was Bush relieved to learn, just 15 months before he left office, the “high-confidence,” unanimous judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and had not resumed work on such weapons? No way!

In his memoir, he complains bitterly that this judgment in that key 2007 National Intelligence Estimate “tied my hands on the military side. … After the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” No, I am not making this up. He wrote that.

In another sometimes inadvertently revealing memoir, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, CIA Director George Tenet described Michael Morell, whom he picked to be CIA’s briefer of President George W. Bush, in these terms: “Wiry, youthful looking, and extremely bright, Mike speaks in staccato-like bursts that get to the bottom line very quickly. He and George Bush hit it off almost immediately. Mike was the perfect guy for us to have by the commander-in-chief’s side.”

Wonder what Morell was telling Bush about those “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” and the alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Was Morell winking at Bush the same way Tenet winked at the head of British intelligence on July 20, 2002, telling him that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of invading Iraq?

High on Morell

Not surprisingly, Tenet speaks well of his protégé and former executive assistant Morell. But he also reveals that Morell “coordinated the CIA review” of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous Feb. 5, 2003 speech to the United Nations – a dubious distinction if there ever was one.

So Morell reviewed the “intelligence” that went into Powell’s thoroughly deceptive account of the Iraqi threat! Powell later called that dramatic speech, which wowed Washington’s media and foreign policy elites and was used to browbeat the few remaining dissenters into silence, a “blot” on his record.

In Morell’s own memoir, The Great War of Our Time, Morell apologized to former Secretary of State Powell for the bogus CIA intelligence that found its way into Powell’s address. Morell told CBS: “I thought it important to do so because … he went out there and made this case, and we were wrong.”

It is sad to have to remind folks almost 14 years later that the “intelligence” was not “mistaken;” it was fraudulent from the get-go. Announcing on June 5, 2008, the bipartisan conclusions from a five-year study by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller described the intelligence conjured up to “justify” war on Iraq as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

It strains credulity beyond the breaking point to think that Michael Morell was unaware of the fraudulent nature of the WMD propaganda campaign. Yet, like all too many others, he kept quiet and got promoted.

Out of Harm’s Way

For services rendered, Tenet rescued Morell from the center of the storm, so to speak, sending him to a plum posting in London, leaving the hapless Stu Cohen holding the bag. Cohen had been acting director of the National Intelligence Council and nominal manager of the infamous Oct. 1, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate warning about Iraq’s [non-existent] WMD.

Cohen made a valiant attempt to defend the indefensible in late November 2003, and was still holding out some hope that WMD would be found. He noted, however, “If we eventually are proved wrong — that is, that there were no weapons of mass destruction and the WMD programs were dormant or abandoned – the American people will be told the truth …” And then Stu disappeared into the woodwork.

In October 2003, the 1,200-member “Iraq Survey Group” commissioned by Tenet to find those elusive WMD in Iraq had already reported that six months of intensive work had turned up no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. By then, the U.S.-sponsored search for WMD had already cost $300 million, with the final bill expected to top $1 billion.

In Morell’s The Great War of Our Time, he writes, “In the summer of 2003 I became CIA’s senior focal point for liaison with the analytic community in the United Kingdom.” He notes that one of the “dominant” issues, until he left the U.K. in early 2006, was “Iraq, namely our failure to find weapons of mass destruction.” (It was a PR problem; Prime Minister Tony Blair and Morell’s opposite numbers in British intelligence were fully complicit in the “dodgy-dossier” type of intelligence.)

When the storm subsided, Morell came back from London to bigger and better things. He was appointed the CIA’s first associate deputy director from 2006 to 2008, and then director for intelligence until moving up to become CIA’s deputy director (and twice acting director) from 2010 until 2013.

Reading his book and watching him respond to those softball pitches from Charlie Rose on Monday, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that glibness, vacuousness and ambition can get you to the very top of U.S. intelligence in the Twenty-first Century – and can also make you a devoted fan of whoever is likely to be the next President.

Wisdom’ on China

For those who did not make it to the very end in watching the most recent Michael-and-Charlie show, here is an example of what Morell and Rose both seem to consider trenchant analysis. Addressing the issue of U.S. relations with China, Morell described the following as a main “negative:”

“We both have large militaries in the same place on the planet, the Pacific. What does that mean? It means you have to plan for war against each other, and we both do; it means you have to equip yourself with weapons systems for war against each other, which both of us do; and it means you have to exercise those forces for war against each other, and both of us do. And both sides see all of three of those things. That leads to a natural tension and pulls you apart. …”

Those who got to the end of Morell’s book had already been able to assimilate that wisdom on page 325:

“The negative side [regarding relations with China] includes the fact that … each country needs to prepare for war against each other (because our militaries are in close proximity to each other). Each plans for such a war, each trains for it, and each must equip its forces with the modern weaponry to fight it [leading] to tension in the relationship. …”

Well, Morell is at least consistent. More telling, this gibberish is music to the ears of those whom Pope Francis, speaking to Congress last September, referred to as the “blood-drenched” arms traders. Morell seems to be counting on his deep insights being music to the ears of Hillary Clinton, as well.

As for Morell’s claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin is somehow controlling Donald Trump, well, even Charlie Rose had stomach problems with that and with Morell’s “explanation.” In the Times op-ed, Morell wrote: “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

Let the bizarre-ness of that claim sink in, since it is professionally impossible to recruit an agent who is unwitting of being an agent, since an agent is someone who follows instructions from a control officer.

However, since Morell apparently has no evidence that Trump was “recruited,” which would make the Republican presidential nominee essentially a traitor, he throws in the caveat “unwitting.” Such an ugly charge is on par with Trump’s recent hyperbolic claim that President Obama was the “founder” of ISIS.

Looking back at Morell’s record, it was not hard to see all this coming, as Morell rose higher and higher in a system that rewards deserving sycophants. I addressed this five years ago in an article titled “Rise of Another CIA Yes Man.” That piece elicited many interesting comments from senior intelligence officers who knew Morell personally; some of those comments are tucked into the end of the article.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as a CIA analyst from the administration of John Kennedy to that of George H.W. Bush, and prepared the President’s Daily Brief for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

 




Magical Thinking in US Foreign Policy

Exclusive: The U.S. foreign policy establishment cloaks its desire for global dominance in the language of humanitarianism and “democracy promotion” even when the policies lead to death and chaos, as James W Carden describes.

By James W Carden

Despite America’s myriad problems domestically and internationally, its geo-strategic position remains the envy of the world. Protected in the east by the Atlantic, in the west by the Pacific, to the north by Canada and to the south by Mexico, the United States is, for all intents and purposes, impervious to a foreign invasion.

Its advanced and mobile nuclear arsenal and conventional force projection capabilities further serve as a deterrent against attacks from rival nation-states. The country’s strategic position is enhanced, too, by what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has referred to as the “exorbitant privilege” – that of possessing the world’s reserve currency. As such, the U.S. does not face the same restraints on spending that other nations do.

Because the dollar accounts for so high a proportion of the balance sheets of other countries, the rest of the world is tacitly committed to propping up its value. Taken together, America’s isolated and protected geo-strategic position combined with the “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar means, in effect, that the U.S. has an unrivaled geo-strategic position.

Yet since the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy establishment and three successive administrations have committed the U.S. to a dangerous and ill-conceived pursuit of global military and economic hegemony which has only served to undercut the country’s economy and security. It is a pursuit that is frequently cloaked in the rhetoric of humanitarianism and “democracy promotion.”

United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power recently declared in the pages of the New York Review of Books that it is “our self-interest that requires us to get better at improving human security in the service of national security.”

Power – like nearly all members of the foreign policy establishment today – believes (or says she believes) that the way foreign governments treat their own citizens “matters because it can have a direct impact on international peace and security – and on our respective national interests.”

To bolster her argument she takes the example of the Russian government which, she claims, habitually lies to its own people about what it is really up to in Ukraine. “The elimination of critical voices inside Russia,” writes Power, “helps enable acts that are profoundly destabilizing outside of Russia.”

Power’s claims are part of the widely shared, bipartisan consensus among the post-Cold War foreign policy elites who believe that the problem is not that the United States has intervened around the world too much and too often but rather that it has intervened too little. In Power’s view, “we must never be ashamed to ask whether we have been too reticent in pressing certain governments to reform and to respond to the demands of their citizens.”

This last point is a curious claim that, I suspect, quite intentionally skirts the question of whether the U.S., by actively pushing its “pro-democracy” agenda abroad, is itself the instigator of many of those “demands” (by financing and organizing many of the groups clamoring for U.S. intervention).

Financing Destabilization

Efforts – almost too numerous to count – by USAID, the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy, often in conjunction with various think tanks, TOR developers (software that enables anonymous communications), and George Soros-funded Open Society Institutes – have sought to materially aid a plethora of  opposition groups across the globe. (They, in turn, seek more U.S. intervention to enhance their political positions within their societies.)

Contrary to what the scholar, diplomat George Kennan urged – that diplomacy, properly executed, was necessarily a government-to-government interaction – Power believes that “we need to broaden the spectrum of whom we engage with our diplomacy.”

She writes that diplomats must court “civil society organizations” and other groups such as “teachers association, workers’ unions and leaders in the business community” – never mind the very plain fact that State Department diplomats and Commerce Department officials, among others, have been doing outreach of that sort for some time.

The results of all this U.S. meddling have been little short of disastrous. Take, for instance, the failed state of Ukraine, where USAID and other U.S. institutions spent $5 billion in the quarter century since the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland (and that was before the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected government in February 2014 and the current civil war which has claimed the lives of some 10,000 Ukrainians).

This generation of American “humanitarian” crusaders, as exemplified by the career of Ambassador Power, continually seeks to sacrifice stability on the altar of “democratic” idealism (even when that involves reversing democratic results and contributing to humanitarian suffering). Further, the problem that these efforts engender for U.S. national security interests are legion: war continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, Libya is completely destabilized, likewise Syria and Iraq.

Contrary to what Power would have us believe, the “democratization” crusade undermines, rather than strengthens U.S. national security. As the Greek statesman Pericles famously observed: “I am more afraid of our own mistakes than of our enemies’ designs.”

James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.




A Rush to Judgment on Russian Doping

The West’s anti-Russian bias is so strong that normal standards of fairness are cast aside whenever a propaganda edge can be gained, a factor swirling around the treatment of Russian athletes at the Rio Olympics, Rick Sterling says.

By Rick Sterling

There is an ugly anti-Russian mood in various Rio Olympic venues. When the Russian swimmers entered the pool for the 4×100-meter Freestyle team event, they were loudly booed. When the Russian team barely lost third place, the announcer happily announced that Russian had been “kept off the medal stand”.

Last Sunday, it was announced that the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had decided to ban the entire Russian team from the upcoming Paralympics to be held in Rio in September. Next day, The Associated Press story opened as follows: “After escaping a blanket ban from the Olympics, Russia was kicked out of the upcoming Paralympics on Sunday as the ultimate punishment for the state running a doping operation that polluted sports by prioritizing ‘medals over morals.’”2016_1

Is this true, exaggerated or false? In this article I will show how some big accusations based on little evidence have contributed to discrimination against clean Russian athletes and fostered a dangerous animosity contrary to the intended spirit of the Olympics.

The IPC made its decision to ban all 267 Russian Paralympic athletes largely on the basis of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s July 16 McLaren Report and private communications with its chief author Richard McLaren.

IPC President Sir Phillip Craven issued a statement full of accusations and moral outrage. He said, “In my view, the McLaren Report marked one of the darkest days in the history of all sport.” However, the McLaren Report is deeply biased. Here are some of the problems with the report:

–It relied primarily on the testimony of one person, the former Director of Moscow Laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov, who was implicated in extorting Russian athletes for money and was the chief culprit with strong interest in casting blame somewhere else.

–It accused Russian authorities without considering their defense and contrary information.

–It excluded a written submission and documents provided by a Russian authority.

–It failed to identify individual athletes who benefited but instead cast suspicion on the entire team.

–It ignored the statistical data compiled by WADA which show Russian violations to be NOT exceptional.

–It did not provide the source for quantitative measurements.

–It claimed to have evidence but failed to reveal it.

A detailed critique of the McLaren Report can be found at Sports Integrity Initiative, Consortiumnews, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, True Publica, Global Research, Telesur, and other sites.

Collective Punishment

The IPC explanation of why they banned the entire Paralympic team boils down to the accusation that the State-sponsored doping programme that exists within Russian sport regrettably extends to Russian Para sport as well. The facts really do hurt; they are an unprecedented attack on every clean athlete who competes in sport. The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised. …

“The doping culture that is polluting Russian sport stems from the Russian government and has now been uncovered in not one, but two independent reports commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. … I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its Para athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me. The complete corruption of the anti-doping system is contrary to the rules and strikes at the very heart of the spirit of Paralympic sport.”

These are strong words and accusations, not against the athletes, but against the Russian government. It seems the Russian Paralympic athletes are being collectively punished as a means to punish the Russian government.

But what are the facts? First, it’s true some Russian athletes have used prohibited steroids or other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The documentaries by Hajo Seppelt expose examples of Russian athletes admitting to taking PEDs, a banned coach clandestinely continuing to coach, and another banned coach dealing in prohibited drugs.

Another fact is that this problem exists in many if not all countries, especially since professional athletics is big business. WADA data shows that many countries have significant numbers of doping violations.

It is claimed that doping by elite athletes is pervasive in Russia but is this true? To answer that accurately would require an objective examination, not a sensation seeking media report. In the current controversy the accusations and assumptions rely substantially on individual anecdotes and testimony which has been publicized through media reports (ARD documentaries, “60 Minutes” report and New York Times stories) with very little scrutiny.

In contrast with the accusations, the scientific data prepared by WADA indicates that Russian athletes have a fairly low incidence of positive drug tests in international certified laboratories. The biggest question is whether the Russian government has been “sponsoring” or somehow supervising prohibited doping. This has been repeated many times and is now widely assumed to be true.

But the evidence is far from compelling. The accusations are based primarily on the testimony of three people: the main culprit and mastermind Grigory Rodchenkov who was extorting athletes and “whistle-blowers” Vitaliy and Yuliya Stepanov. The Stepanovs were the star witnesses in the “60 Minutes” feature on this topic.

The report was factually flawed: it mistakenly reports that Vitaliy had a “low level job at the Russian Anti Doping Agency RUSADA.” Actually he was adviser to the Director General, close to the Minister of Sports and a trainer of doping control officers.

The “60 Minutes” story also failed to include the important fact that Vitaliy was directly involved in his wife’s doping. According to Seppelt’s documentary “The Secrets of Doping,” “First, Vitaliy even helps his wife with doping, procures the drugs, leads a kind of double life.”(5:45) Adding to the argument there may be a political bias in these accusations, all three witnesses (Rodchenkov and the Stepanovs) are now living in the United States.

The “proof” of Russian state-sponsored doping rests on remarkably little solid evidence. The principal assertion is that the Deputy Minister of Sports issued email directives to eliminate positive tests of “protected” athletes. McLaren claims to have “electronic data” and emails proving this. But he has not revealed the emails.

If the emails are authentic, that would be damning. How would the Ministry of Sports officials explain it? Do they have any alternative explanation of the curious directives to “Quarantine” or “Save” doping test samples? Astoundingly, McLaren decided not to ask them and he still has not shown the evidence he says that he has.

Tampering with Bottles?

Another controversial issue is regarding the opening and replacement of “tamper proof” bottles. The Rodchenkov account is that in the middle of the night, in cahoots with FSB (successor to KGB), they would replace “dirty” urine with “clean” urine. Rodchenkov says they found a way to open the tamper-proof urine sample bottles. But the Swiss manufacturer Berlinger continues to stand by its product and has effectively challenged the veracity of the Rodchenkov/McLaren story.

Since the release of the McLaren Report, Berlinger has issued a statement saying:

–To the statement in the McLaren investigation report that some such bottles proved possible to open Berlinger Special AG cannot offer any authoritative response at the present time.

–Berlinger Special AG has no knowledge at present of the specifications, the methods or the procedures involved in the tests and experiments conducted by the McLaren Commission.

–Berlinger Special AG conducts its own regular reappraisals of its doping kits, and also has its products tested and verified by an independent institute that has been duly certificated by the Swiss authorities.

–In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open.

–This also applies to the “Sochi 2014” sample bottle model.

–The specialists at Berlinger Special AG are able at any time to determine whether one of the company’s sample bottles has been tampered with or unlawfully replicated.

McLaren says he does not know how the Russians were opening the bottles but he knows it can be done because someone demonstrated it to him personally. In contrast with McLaren’s assertions, Berlinger states unequivocally: “In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open. This also applies to the ‘Sochi 2014’ sample bottle model.”

If McLaren’s claims are true, why has he not discussed this with the manufacturer? If McLaren’s claims are true, isn’t it of the highest importance to identify the weakness in the system so that doping test samples cannot be swapped?

McLaren further claims to be able to forensically determine when a “tamper proof” bottle has been opened by the “marks and scratches” on the inside of the bottle caps. His report does not include photos to show what these “marks and scratches” look like, nor does it consider the possibility of a mark or scratch resulting from some other event such as different force being applied, cross-threading or backing off on the cap.

In this area also, McLaren has apparently not had his findings confirmed by the Swiss manufacturer despite the fact that the company states: “The specialists at Berlinger Special AG are able at any time to determine whether one of the company’s sample bottles has been tampered with or unlawfully replicated.”

If the findings of McLaren’s “marks and scratches expert” are accurate, why did they not get confirmation from the specialists at Berlinger? Perhaps it is because Berlinger disputes McLaren’s claims and says “Our kits are secure.”

The IPC decision substantially rests on the fact-challenged McLaren report. The IPC statement falsely claims that the McLaren bottle top “scratches and marks” expert has “corroborated the claim that the State directed scheme involved Russian Paralympic athletes.”

Rush to Judgment

The IPC report includes data that purports to show widespread doping manipulation in Russia, saying: “Professor McLaren provided the names of the athletes associated with the 35 samples … and whether the sample had been marked QUARANTINE or SAVE.” These 35 samples are presumably the same Paralympic 35 which are identified on page 41 of the McLaren Report as being “Disappearing Positive Test Results by Sport Russian Athletes.”

There is no source for this data but supposedly it covers testing between 2012 and 2015. McLaren provided another 10 samples thus making 45 samples relating to 44 athletes.

It is then explained that 17 of these samples are actually not from IPC administered sport. So the actual number is 27 athletes (44-minus-17) implicated. However, in another inconsistency, the IPC statement says not all these samples were marked “SAVE” by Moscow Laboratory. That was only done for “at least” 11 of the samples and athletes.

If the IPC final number is accurate, it means the committee confirmed 11 Paralympic athletes who tested positive between 2012 and 2015 but had their positive tests “disappeared” to allow these athletes to compete. If that’s true, these athletes should be suspended or banned. Instead of doing that, the IPC banned the entire 267-member Russian Paralympic team.

The McLaren Report looks like a rush to judgment. The report was launched after the sensational New York Times story based on Grigory Rodchenkov and the “60 Minutes” segment based on the Stepanovs. Before he was half way done his investigation, Richard McLaren was advising the IAAF to ban the entire Russian team.

The McLaren Report, with all its flaws and shortcomings, was published just a few weeks ago on July 16. Then, on Aug. 7, the IPC issued its decision to ban the Russian Paralympic Team from the September Rio Paralympics.

The IPC statement claims that the committee “provided sufficient time to allow the Russian Paralympic Committee to present their case to the IPC” before they finalized the decision. While the Russian Paralympic Committee appeared before the IPC, it’s doubtful they had sufficient time to argue their case or even to know the details of the accusations.

In summary, the accusation of Russian “state sponsored doping” by McLaren and Craven is based on little solid evidence. Despite this, the accusations have resulted in the banning of many hundreds of clean athletes from the Olympics and Paralympics and are contributing to the ugly “ant-Russian” prejudice and discrimination happening at the Olympics right now.

This seems to violate the purpose of the Olympics movement which is to promote international peace, not conflict and discrimination.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com




‘Sage’ Advice That’s Nuttier Than Trump

Mike Morell was twice “acting” CIA director but never got the job outright, which may be a blessing now that this Hillary Clinton supporter is publicly urging acts of war against Russia and Iran, notes ex-CIA analyst Larry Johnson.

By Larry Johnson

There was a time that I believed that a U.S. president would only appoint knowledgeable, capable people to serve at the head of an important defense or a national intelligence organization, like the CIA. Mike Morell, the former Acting Director of the CIA, proves that belief naive and wrong.

Mike Morell’s performance as CIA Director and his subsequent efforts to portray himself as a sage voice in the foreign policy arena borders on criminal negligence and utter incompetence.

An intelligence professional, regardless of his or her personal political views, has a responsibility to tell the truth and offer unvarnished, bias-free analysis. By this standard Morell is an utter disgrace. My wrath is not just inspired by his reckless and vapid recent comments on the Charlie Rose Show. Even before this latest debacle, Morell demonstrated in his actions to help Hillary Clinton lie about Benghazi that he would shade the truth and hide the facts in service of a politician whose ass he desperately wanted to kiss.

During a Tuesday night appearance on Charlie Rose, Morell said the following: “What they need is to have the Russians and Iranians pay a little price. … When we were in Iraq, the Iranians were giving weapons to the Shia militia, who were killing American soldiers, right? The Iranians were making us pay a price. We need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. We need to make the Russians pay a price . . . .[and] you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran.”

This paragraph elevated my blood pressure into stroke region. I have taken some deep breaths and will try to address this stupidity in a calm, logical fashion.

First, with respect to our time in Iraq. After we invaded Iraq, the United States provided safe haven and support to the Mujahedin El Khalq aka MEK, who in turn carried out terrorist attacks inside Iran and killed Iranians. So, we did not have clean hands.

Second, 90 percent of U.S. casualties came from SUNNI groups with ties Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led governments. Not, I REPEAT, not Iran. Iran did have an extensive intelligence network in place throughout Iraq but that existed to help the Iranian-backed leaders of Iraq (WHO WE INSTALLED, NOT IRAN) hang on to control. Iran was not trying to provoke a fight with us because we were doing their dirty work for them. Those who want to argue otherwise are either ignorant or intellectually dishonest.

Most of the Shia backed attacks against us came from groups loyal to Moqtada Al-Sadr and others like him. (I prefer to refer to him as MOOKIE.) Calling Mookie a stooge or puppet of Iran is akin to calling Donald Trump a stooge or puppet of the Republican National Committee. Anyone prepared to make that argument? Hell, no. Unlike Trump, however, Mookie had access to a militia and to weapons, some that he got from friends in Iran. But he was not easily controlled by Iran.

Syrian Intervention

With respect to Syria I will repeat a point I have made previously. Part of the blame for the bloody civil war there lies with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and has been made more deadly and bloody because Obama/Clinton helped provide weapons and training to radical Islamists. Come to think of it, Mike Morell was part of that process. Besides calling into question his judgment let me add to the bill of particulars that he also is a war criminal.

What, under other circumstances would be funny incident, is listening to Mike Morell desperately try to smear Donald Trump as dangerous, ignorant and reckless while he, Morell, is calling for killing Russians in Syria who are there at the express and legal invitation of recognized state. That, boys and girls, is called an act of war.

It is the kind of provocation that would fully entitle Russia to retaliate militarily against the United States. So let me get this straight, Morell wants us to think he is the voice of reason and moderation, like Hillary Clinton, and he wants to start a fight with a nuclear power? Yeah, that’s brilliant judgment.

Morell was not finished with his display as the King of all Cretins. Morell also proposed that U.S. forces begin bombing Syrian government installations, including government offices, aircraft and presidential guard positions. The former acting CIA director said that he wanted to “scare Assad.”

Let’s review the reality in Syria. Russia has helped Syria obtain air superiority. Russia has installed an anti-aircraft defense system capable of shooting down U.S. aircraft. And Morell’s prescription? Launch airstrikes on a sovereign nation (again, an act of war on our part) but with only one objective – “scare Assad.”

Let’s ignore for a moment his wildly reckless proposal to risk a military confrontation with the Russians. Focus instead on what he sees as the ultimate goal for using military force and having your sons put their lives on the line – he wants to “scare Assad.” …

I suppose there is one bit of good news with respect to Morell – he resigned from CBS as a talking head and we won’t have to listen to his bullshit as much (I hope). Let’s put the former Director of the CIA up against Trump and what Trump is saying. Morell favors actions that could provoke a war with a nuclear-armed Russia and Trump wants to have a better relationship with Russia. So you tell me: Who is the real reckless, dangerous moron?

Larry Johnson is a former CIA analyst and counterterrorism official at the State Department. [This article originally appeared at Larry Johnson’s blog No Quarter,  http://www.noquarterusa.net/blog/79264/incompetence-ignorance-mike-morell/]




Donald Trump’s Incendiary Language

Exclusive: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is taking a P.R. pounding for a sloppy Second Amendment reference interpreted as calling for Hillary Clinton’s assassination, but what was his intent, asks Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Donald Trump’s strange comment about “Second Amendment people” somehow stopping gun-control initiatives of a Hillary Clinton presidency has earned him condemnation for supposedly suggesting the assassination of his Democratic rival. And his inarticulate half sentence surely could be interpreted that way, which is alarming enough.

But I saw the phrase somewhat differently, that Trump – in his shock-jock style – was suggesting that Americans with AR-15s slung over their shoulders and with Glocks open-carried on their hips would respond to any new gun-control measures by mounting an armed insurrection against the hated “Guv-mint.”

Such militant fantasies pervade the American Right (and some areas of the American Left), with the Second Amendment venerated not because it allows for hunting or even “home defense” but because it fits the vivid imaginations of people who contend that the power of the federal government can only be restrained by killing its agents and representatives.

It is part of the militia-movement folk lore that the Founders enacted the Second Amendment so the American people could rise up against their elected government. Though that is bad history – since the Framers of the Constitution set as their goal “domestic Tranquility” and defined “levying war against” the United States as treason – this false notion that the Framers wanted a violent populace resisting the government has become an article of faith in Trump’s world of political paranoia.

So, when Trump spoke off-the-cuff at a North Carolina rally on Tuesday, it seemed to me that he was referencing the fanciful idea of gun-control opponents waging war on the federal government rather than calling for the assassination of Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, Trump’s short-hand comment was dangerous regardless of which form of violent action he meant. His campaign’s claim that he was simply talking about political organizing for “gun rights” doesn’t fit with his choice of buzz words.

Trump said, “If she gets to pick her judges [for the Supreme Court], nothing you can do, folks,” adding amid boos from his audience: “Although the Second Amendment people – maybe there is. I don’t know.”

If Trump had simply meant applying political pressure, he could easily have said so, and there would be no reason for the ameliorating line, “I don’t know.” It surely sounded as if he was suggesting that the heavily armed “Second Amendment people” might take up their guns to battle any federal or state restrictions limiting their access to firearms.

This sort of macho rhetoric is common on right-wing talk radio where there has long been talk about oppressive federal agents trampling on American liberties. This rhetoric occasionally spills over to the Left where there remains some romantic belief that a violent revolution is the only way to reorder the society.

But it has been the Republican Party that has coyly courted right-wing extremists since the days of Richard Nixon and his “Southern strategy” which sought to pry working-class whites especially in the unreconstructed South away from the Democratic Party because of its support for civil rights laws that ended segregation. This pandering to the Southern white resistance to racial integration also appealed to many whites in the North, especially when framed as standing up for “liberty.”

This outreach to working- and middle-class whites continued through Ronald Reagan’s portrayal of many blacks as welfare cheats in the 1980s and George H.W. Bush’s highlighting violent black-on-white crime in his 1988 campaign. Then, with the election of Bill Clinton and the rise of right-wing talk radio in the early 1990s, white anger took on an openly militaristic style with armed “militias” forming across the country.

Heated rhetoric about “jack-booted” federal agents gave rise to the likes of Timothy McVeigh who lashed out at the U.S. government by bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people.

Though denying responsibility for such violence, the Republican Party kept on feeding this white anger by insisting that Democratic presidents were “illegitimate,” a theme used against both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who further angered many on the Right because of the color of his skin, his exotic name, and his Kenyan father’s Islamic religion.

The ‘Birther’ Conspiracy

Donald Trump made his first big splash in the political world by picking up and promoting the “birther” conspiracy theory that held that Obama was born in Kenya (not Hawaii as his birth certificate showed) and thus was supposedly not a “naturally born American” eligible to be President of the United States (though his mother was undeniably an American citizen, making him one too).

The racism of that myth was hard to miss (especially after many conservatives saw nothing wrong with right-wing and light-skinned Sen. Ted Cruz running for president though he actually was born outside the United States, in Canada, to an American mother and a Cuban father).

Despite the growing ugliness of U.S. politics, Republicans continued to see political value in delegitimizing and demonizing Democratic presidents. The rise of the Tea Party in 2009 cemented the GOP bond to this idea that “real America” was under assault by people of color and “politically correct” advocates of multiculturalism.

Pandering to this angry crowd, the Republican congressional establishment sought to block virtually every initiative proposed by Obama, most notably a health-insurance program modeled after a plan first developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But GOP leaders weren’t as fluent in the language of this seething Republican base as Donald Trump was. Trump had mastered the sharp-edged lingo from his experience in “reality TV” and from his frequent appearances on shock-jock and conspiratorial radio shows. Trump knew the code words and the appeal of hyperbole.

The wealthy real-estate mogul understood that these Tea Party types liked their red meat served very rare and were accustomed to the style of Rush Limbaugh, with his locker-room conservatism; Howard Stern, with his lewd rants; and Alex Jones, with his dark world of conspiracy theories.

In large part, that was why Trump was able to outmaneuver the Republican establishment which favored more tepid language to create greater deniability if someone called them on their implicit racism and bigotry.

So, it is not surprising that Trump would slip back into this rhetoric – with its macho fantasies about going to war with a corrupt “guv-mint” – when he speaks extemporaneously to his adoring audiences. There is a video-game unreality to this posturing, a pretense of masculine toughness but it’s mostly empty bravado.

Though most of his followers surely get the theatrics of his violent references, there is the real possibility that – by seeming to invite violence as the way to protect “gun rights” – Trump is encouraging some unbalanced individual to take matters into his or her own hands.

After all, some gun zealots believe the mythical sanctity of the Second Amendment must be defended at all costs, much as Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric in 1995 about Israel’s sacred right to Palestinian lands contributed to a young Zionist extremist assassinating Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Words do have consequences and politicians should be held accountable for their intemperate remarks. Yet, my impression on Tuesday was that Trump was running off at the mouth, much as he regularly did in making himself popular on talk-radio shows.

The fact, however, that Trump can’t seem to turn off that side of his personality and control his mouth is arguably disqualifying for someone who aspires to be President of the United States.

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’s Turn to McCarthyism

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton’s campaign is engaging in over-the-top Russia-bashing and guilt-by-association tying Donald Trump to the Kremlin, a McCarthyism that previously has been used on Democrats, including Bill Clinton, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The irony of Hillary Clinton’s campaign impugning the patriotism of Donald Trump and others who object to a new Cold War with Russia is that President George H.W. Bush employed similar smear tactics against Bill Clinton in 1992 by suggesting that the Arkansas governor was a Kremlin mole.

Back then, Bill Clinton countered that smear by accusing the elder President Bush of stooping to tactics reminiscent of Sen. Joe McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiter from the 1950s. But today’s Democrats apparently feel little shame in whipping up an anti-Russian hysteria and then using it to discredit Trump and other Americans who won’t join this latest “group think.”

As the 1992 campaign entered its final weeks, Bush – a much more ruthless political operative than his elder-statesman image of today would suggest – unleashed his subordinates to dig up whatever dirt they could to impugn Bill Clinton’s loyalty to his country.

Some of Bush’s political appointees rifled through Clinton’s passport file looking for an apocryphal letter from his student days in which Clinton supposedly sought to renounce his citizenship. They also looked for derogatory information about his student trips to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

The assault on Clinton’s patriotism moved into high gear on the night of Sept. 30, 1992, when Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Tamposi – under pressure from the White House – ordered three aides to pore through Clinton’s passport files at the National Archives in Suitland, Maryland.

Though no letter renouncing his citizenship was found, Tamposi still injected the suspicions into the campaign by citing a small tear in the corner of Clinton’s passport application as evidence that someone might have tampered with the file, presumably to remove the supposed letter. She fashioned that speculation into a criminal referral to the FBI.

Within hours, someone from the Bush camp leaked word about the confidential FBI investigation to reporters at Newsweek magazine. The Newsweek story about the tampering investigation hit the newsstands on Oct. 4, 1992. The article suggested that a Clinton backer might have removed incriminating material from Clinton’s passport file, precisely the spin that the Bush people wanted.

Immediately, President George H.W. Bush took to the offensive, using the press frenzy over the criminal referral to attack Clinton’s patriotism on a variety of fronts, including his student trip to the Soviet Union in 1970.

Bush allies put out another suspicion, that Clinton might have been a KGB “agent of influence.” Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times headlined that allegation on Oct. 5, 1992, a story that attracted President Bush’s personal interest.

“Now there are stories that Clinton … may have gone to Moscow as [a] guest of the KGB,” Bush wrote in his diary that day.

Democratic Suspicions

With his patriotism challenged, Clinton saw his once-formidable lead shrink. Panic spread through the Clinton campaign. Indeed, the suspicions about Bill Clinton’s patriotism might have doomed his election, except that Spencer Oliver, then chief counsel on the Democratic-controlled House International Affairs Committee, suspected a dirty trick.

“I said you can’t go into someone’s passport file,” Oliver told me in a later interview. “That’s a violation of the law, only in pursuit of a criminal indictment or something. But without his permission, you can’t examine his passport file. It’s a violation of the Privacy Act.”

After consulting with House committee chairman Dante Fascell, D-Florida, and a colleague on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Oliver dispatched a couple of investigators to the Archives warehouse in Suitland. The brief congressional check discovered that State Department political appointees had gone to the Archives at night to search through Clinton’s records and those of his mother.

Oliver’s assistants also found that the administration’s tampering allegation rested on a very weak premise, the slight tear in the passport application. The circumstances of the late-night search soon found their way into an article in The Washington Post, causing embarrassment to the Bush campaign.

Yet still sensing that the loyalty theme could hurt Clinton, President Bush kept stoking the fire. On CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Oct. 7, 1992, Bush suggested anew that there was something sinister about a possible Clinton friend allegedly tampering with Clinton’s passport file.

“Why in the world would anybody want to tamper with his files, you know, to support the man?” Bush wondered before a national TV audience. “I mean, I don’t understand that. What would exonerate him – put it that way – in the files?” The next day, in his diary, Bush ruminated suspiciously about Clinton’s Moscow trip: “All kinds of rumors as to who his hosts were in Russia, something he can’t remember anything about.”

But the GOP attack on Clinton’s loyalty prompted some Democrats to liken Bush to Sen. Joe McCarthy, who built a political career in the early days of the Cold War challenging people’s loyalties without offering proof.

On Oct. 9, the FBI further complicated Bush’s strategy by rejecting the criminal referral. The FBI concluded that there was no evidence that anyone had removed anything from Clinton’s passport file.

At that point, Bush began backpedaling: “If he’s told all there is to tell on Moscow, fine,” Bush said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I’m not suggesting that there’s anything unpatriotic about that. A lot of people went to Moscow, and so that’s the end of that one.”

Not Really

But documents that I obtained years later at the Archives revealed that privately Bush was not so ready to surrender the disloyalty theme. The day before the first presidential debate on Oct. 11, 1992, Bush prepped himself with one-liners designed to spotlight doubts about Clinton’s loyalty if an opening presented itself.

“It’s hard to visit foreign countries with a torn-up passport,” read one of the scripted lines. Another zinger read: “Contrary to what the Governor’s been saying, most young men his age did not try to duck the draft. … A few did go to Canada. A couple went to England. Only one I know went to Russia.”

If Clinton had criticized Bush’s use of a Houston hotel room as a legal residence, Bush was ready to hit back with another Russian reference: “Where is your legal residence, Little Rock or Leningrad?”

But the Oct. 11 presidential debate – which also involved Reform Party candidate Ross Perot – did not go as Bush had hoped. Bush did raise the loyalty issue in response to an early question about character, but the incumbent’s message was lost in a cascade of inarticulate sentence fragments.

“I said something the other day where I was accused of being like Joe McCarthy because I question – I’ll put it this way, I think it’s wrong to demonstrate against your own country or organize demonstrations against your own country in foreign soil,” Bush said.

“I just think it’s wrong. I – that – maybe – they say, ‘well, it was a youthful indiscretion.’ I was 19 or 20 flying off an aircraft carrier and that shaped me to be commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and – I’m sorry but demonstrating – it’s not a question of patriotism, it’s a question of character and judgment.”

Clinton countered by challenging Bush directly. “You have questioned my patriotism,” the Democrat shot back.

Clinton then unloaded his own zinger: “When Joe McCarthy went around this country attacking people’s patriotism, he was wrong. He was wrong, and a senator from Connecticut stood up to him, named Prescott Bush. Your father was right to stand up to Joe McCarthy. You were wrong to attack my patriotism.”

Many observers rated Clinton’s negative comparison of Bush to his father as Bush’s worst moment in the debate. An unsettled Bush didn’t regain the initiative for the remainder of the evening.

Czech-ing on Bill

Still, the Republicans didn’t give up on the idea of smearing Clinton by highlighting his association with college friends in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, both communist countries in 1970.

Another GOP pre-election ploy was to have Czech newspapers run stories about the communist affiliations of Clinton’s hosts – and then try to blow back those stories to the U.S. news media. Three Czech papers carried such stories on Oct. 24, 1992. The headline in the Cesky Denik newspaper read: “Bill Was With Communists.”

However, without today’s Internet to spread the word and with the right-wing U.S. news media not nearly as large as it is today – Fox News didn’t launch until 1996 – the Czech stories didn’t get the attention that some in the Bush campaign had hoped.

More than a year into Clinton’s presidency, in January 1994, the Czech news media reported that the Czech secret police, the Federal Security and Information Service (FBIS), had collaborated with the Bush reelection campaign to dig up dirt on Clinton’s student trip to Prague. The centrist newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes reported that during the 1992 campaign, FBIS gave the Republicans internal data about Clinton’s Moscow-Prague trips and supplied background material about Clinton’s “connections” inside Czechoslovakia.

In fall 1992, the Bush administration’s nighttime search of Clinton’s passport file had other repercussions. The State Department’s inspector general sought a special prosecutor investigation for a scandal that became known as Passportgate, which wasn’t resolved until after Bush lost to Clinton.

In the end, George H.W. Bush escaped any legal consequences from the passport gambit in large part because a Republican attorney, Joseph diGenova, was named to serve as special prosecutor. DiGenova’s investigation cleared Bush and his administration of any wrongdoing, saying the probe “found no evidence that President Bush was involved in this matter.”

FBI documents that I reviewed at the Archives, however, presented a more complicated picture. Speaking to diGenova and his investigators in fall 1993, former President George H.W. Bush said he had encouraged then-White House chief of staff James Baker and other aides to investigate Clinton and to make sure the information got out.

“Although he [Bush] did not recall tasking Baker to research any particular matter, he may have asked why the campaign did not know more about Clinton’s demonstrating,” said the FBI interview report, dated Oct. 23, 1993.

“The President [Bush] advised that … he probably would have said, ‘Hooray, somebody’s going to finally do something about this.’ If he had learned that the Washington Times was planning to publish an article, he would have said, ‘That’s good, it’s about time.’ …

“Based on his ‘depth of feeling’ on this issue, President Bush responded to a hypothetical question that he would have recommended getting the truth out if it were legal,” the FBI wrote in summarizing Bush’s statements. “The President added that he would not have been concerned over the legality of the issue but just the facts and what was in the files.”

Bush also said he understood how his impassioned comments about Clinton’s loyalty might have led some members of his staff to conclude that he had “a one-track mind” on the issue. He also expressed disappointment that the Clinton passport search uncovered so little.

“The President described himself as being indignant over the fact that the campaign did not find out what Clinton was doing” as a student studying abroad, the FBI report said.

Bush’s comments seem to suggest that he had pushed his subordinates into a violation of Clinton’s privacy rights. But diGenova, who had worked for the Reagan-Bush Justice Department, already had signaled to Bush that the probe was going nowhere.

At the start of the Oct. 23, 1993, interview, which took place at Bush’s office in Houston, diGenova assured Bush that the investigation’s staff lawyers were “all seasoned prof[essional] prosecutors who know what a real crime looks like,” according to FBI notes of the meeting. “[This is] not a gen[eral] probe of pol[itics] in Amer[ica] or dirty tricks, etc., or a general license to rummage in people’s personal lives.”

As the interview ended, two of diGenova’s assistants – Lisa Rich and Laura Laughlin – asked Bush for autographs, according to the FBI’s notes on the meeting. [For the fullest account of the 1992 Passportgate case, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Red-baiting Tactics

But the ugly history of Red-baiting American citizens, including Bill Clinton, has not deterred Hillary Clinton and her Democratic backers from using similar tactics. In the hard-fought 2008 campaign against Barack Obama, then-Sen. Clinton sought to discredit Obama with McCarthy-style guilt by association.

In an April 16, 2008, debate, Hillary Clinton pounced when her husband’s former adviser, George Stephanopoulos, asked one of her campaign’s long-plotted attack lines – raising a tenuous association between Obama and an aging Vietnam-era radical William Ayers.

In his role as an ABC News debate moderator, Stephanopoulos — and Clinton — also injected a false suggestion that Ayers had either hailed the 9/11 attacks or had used the occasion as a grotesque opportunity to call for more bombings.

(In reality, an earlier interview about Ayers’s memoir was coincidently published by the New York Times in its Sept. 11, 2001, edition, which went to press on Sept. 10, before the attacks. But Stephanopoulos and Clinton left the impression with the public that Ayers’s comments represented a ghoulish reaction to the 9/11 attacks.)

In another guilt-by-association moment, Hillary Clinton linked Obama, via his former church pastor Jeremiah Wright, to Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan and a Hamas representative who had been allowed to publish an essay in the church’s newsletter.

“You know, these are problems, and they raise questions in people’s minds,” Clinton said. “And so this is a legitimate area, as everything is when we run for office, for people to be exploring and trying to find answers.”

Now, Clinton’s 2016 campaign is back wallowing in similar muck, both hyping animosity toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin – and portraying Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as some kind of Manchurian candidate secretly under the control of the Kremlin.

While lacking any verifiable proof, Clinton’s campaign and its allied mainstream media have blamed Russian intelligence for hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s emails and then publicizing them through Wikileaks. This conspiracy theory holds that Putin is trying to influence the U.S. election to put his secret agent, Donald Trump, into the White House.

The parallels to George H.W. Bush’s 1992 smear of Bill Clinton are striking. In both cases, fairly innocuous activities – whether Clinton’s student trip to Moscow in 1970 or Trump’s hosting a beauty pageant there in 2013 – are given a nasty twist with the suggestion that something sinister occurred behind the scenes.

In neither case is any actual evidence presented, just innuendo and suspicion. The burden presumably falls on the victim of the smear to somehow prove his innocence, which, of course, can’t really be done because it’s impossible to prove a negative. It’s like the old tactic of calling someone a child molester and watching the accused flail around trying to remove the stain.

Similar accusations of “Moscow stooge” and “Putin apologist” have been leveled at others of us who have questioned the anti-Russian “group think” pervading Official Washington’s neoconservative-dominated foreign policy establishment and the mainstream news media. But it is noteworthy that the Democrats, who have often been the victim of this sort of smear tactic, are now relishing in its use against a Republican.

The Hillary Clinton campaign might recall the calumnies hurled at Bill Clinton as well as how things ended for Sen. Joe McCarthy after he questioned the loyalty of a young Army lawyer. The bullying senator was famously rebuked by Joseph Welch, the Army’s chief legal representative: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” (McCarthy was ultimately censured by the Senate and died in disgrace.)

As her campaign sinks into its own anti-Russian mud pile of guilt-by-association, Hillary Clinton and her supporters may ask themselves how far are they prepared to go – and whether their ambitions have overwhelmed any “sense of decency.”

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).