Telling Only Part of the Story of Jihad

A CNN star reporter should not be shocked to learn that U.S. allies are consorting with Yemeni terrorists, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

A recent CNN report about U.S. military materiel finding its way into Al Qaeda hands in Yemen might have been a valuable addition to Americans’ knowledge of terrorism.

Entitled Sold to an ally, lost to an enemy,” the 10-minute segment, broadcast on Feb. 4, featured rising CNN star Nima Elbagir cruising past sand-colored “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected” armored vehicles, or MRAPs, lining a Yemeni highway.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” she says.  “And this is not under the control of [Saudi-led] coalition forces.  This is in the command of militias, which is expressly forbidden by the arms sales agreements with the U.S.”

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she adds.  “CNN was told by coalition sources that a deadlier U.S. weapons system, the TOW missile, was airdropped in 2015 by Saudi Arabia to Yemeni fighters, an air drop that was proudly proclaimed across Saudi backed media channels.”  The TOWs were dropped into Al Qaeda-controlled territory, according to CNN.  But when Elbagir tries to find out more, the local coalition-backed government chases her and her crew out of town.

U.S.-made TOWs in the hands of Al Qaeda?  Elbagir is an effective on-screen presence.  But this is an old story, which the cable network has long soft-pedaled.

In the early days of the Syrian War, Western media was reluctant to acknowledge that the forces arrayed against the Assad regime included Al Qaeda. In those days, the opposition was widely portrayed as a belated ripple effect of the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings elsewhere in the region.

However, in April-May 2015, right around the time that the Saudis were air-dropping TOWs into Yemen, they were also supplying the same optically-guided, high-tech missiles to pro-Al Qaeda forces in Syria’s northern Idlib province.  Rebel leaders were exultant as they drove back Syrian government troops.  TOWs “flipped the balance,” one said, while another declared: “I would put the advances down to one word – TOW.”

CNN reported that story very differently. From rebel-held territory, CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh described the missiles as a “possible game-changer … that may finally be wearing down the less popular side of the Shia-Sunni divide.”  He conceded it wasn’t all good news: “A major downside for Washington at least, is that the often-victorious rebels, the Nusra Front, are Al Qaeda.  But while the winners for now are America’s enemies, the fast-changing ground in Syria may cause to happen what the Obama administration has long sought and preached, and that’s changing the calculus of the Assad regime.”

Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The New York Times all reacted the same way, furrowing their brows at the news that Al  Qaeda was gaining, but expressing measured relief that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was at last on the ropes.

But now that Elbagir is sounding the alarm about TOWs in Yemen, CNN would do well to acknowledge that it has been distinctly more blasé in the past about TOWs in the hands of al Qaeda.

The network appears unwilling to go where Washington’s pro-war foreign-policy establishment doesn’t want it to go.  Elbagir shouldn’t be shocked to learn that U.S. allies are consorting with Yemeni terrorists.

U.S. History with Holy Warriors    

What CNN producers and correspondents either don’t know or fail to mention is that Washington has a long history of supporting jihad. As Ian Johnson notes in  A Mosque in Munich” (2010), the policy was mentioned by President Dwight Eisenhower, who was eager, according to White House memos, “to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect” in his talks with Muslim leaders about the Cold War Communist menace.”  [See How U.S. Allies Aid Al Qaeda in Syria,” Consortium News, Aug. 4, 2015.]

Britain had been involved with Islamists at least as far back as 1925 when it helped establish the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and both the U.S. and Britain worked with Islamists in the 1953 coup in Iran, according to Robert Dreyfus in Devil’s Game” (2006)

By the 1980s a growing Islamist revolt against a left-leaning, pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan brought U.S. support.    In mid-1979, President Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed the Afghan mujahideen — not at first to drive the Soviets out, but to lure them in. Brzezinski intended to deal Moscow a Vietnam-sized blow, as he put it in a 1998 interview.

Meanwhile, a few months after the U.S. armed the mujahideen, the Saudis were deeply shaken when Islamist extremists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca and called for the overthrow of the royal family. While Saudi Arabia has been keen to repress jihadism at home, it has been a major supporter of Sunni extremists in the region, particularly to battle the Shi‘ite regime that came to power in Tehran, also in 1979.

Since then, the U.S. has made use of jihad, either directly or indirectly, with the Gulf oil monarchies or Pakistan’s notoriously pro-Islamist Inter-Services Intelligence agency.  U.S. backing for the Afghan mujahideen helped turn Osama bin Laden into a hero for some young Saudis and other Sunnis, while the training camp he established in the Afghan countryside drew jihadists from across the region.

U.S. backing for Alija Izetbegovic’s Islamist government in Bosnia-Herzegovina brought al-Qaeda to the Balkans, while U.S.-Saudi support for Islamist militants in the Second Chechen War of 1999-2000 enabled it to establish a base of operations there.

Downplaying Al Qaeda

Just six years after 9/11, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the U.S. downplayed the fight against Al Qaeda to rein in Iran  – a policy, Hersh wrote, that had the effect of “bolstering … Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”

Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, policy toward Al-Qaeda turned even more curious.  In March 2011, she devoted nearly two weeks to persuading Qatar, the UAE and Jordan to join the air war against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, only to stand by and watch as Qatar then poured hundreds of millions of dollars of aid into the hands of Islamist militias that were spreading anarchy from one end of the country to the other.  The Obama administration thought of remonstrating with Qatar, but didn’t in the end.

Much the same happened in Syria where, by early 2012, Clinton was organizing a “Friends of Syria” group that soon began channeling military aid to Islamist forces waging war against Christians, Alawites, secularists and others backing Assad.  By August 2012, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the [anti-Assad] insurgency”; that the West, Turkey, and the Gulf states supported it regardless; that the rebels’ goal was to establish “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria,” and that “this is exactly what the supporting powers want in order to isolate the Syrian regime….”

Biden Speaks Out 

Two years after that, Vice President Joe Biden declared at Harvard’s Kennedy School: 

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. …  The Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. what were they doing?  They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do?  They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”  (Quote starts at 53:25.)

The fact that Obama ordered the vice president to apologize to the Saudis, the UAE and Turkey for his comments provided back-handed confirmation that they were true.   When TOWs turned up in the hands of pro-Qaeda rebels in Syria the following spring, all a senior administration official would say was: “It’s not something we would refrain from raising with our partners.”

It was obvious that Al Qaeda would be a prime beneficiary of Saudi intervention in Yemen from the start. Tying down the Houthis — “Al Qaeda’s most determined foe,” according to the Times — gave it space to blossom and grow.  Where the State Department said it had up to 4,000 members as of 2015, a UN report put its membership at between 6,000 and 7,000 three years later, an increase of 50 to 75 percent or more.

In early 2017, the International Crisis Group found that Al Qaeda was “thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy.”

In Yemen, Al Qaeda “has regularly fought alongside Saudi-led coalition forces in … Aden and other parts of the south, including Taiz, indirectly obtaining weapons from them,” the ICG added. “…In northern Yemen … the [Saudi-led] coalition has engaged in tacit alliances with AQAP fighters, or at least turned a blind eye to them, as long as they have assisted in attacking the common enemy.”

In May 2016, a PBS documentary showed Al Qaeda members fighting side by side with UAE forces near Taiz.  (See The Secret Behind the Yemen War,” Consortium News, May 7, 2016.)  

Last August, an Associated Press investigative team found that the Saudi-led coalition had cut secret deals with Al Qaeda fighters, “paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment, and wads of looted cash.” Saudi-backed militias “actively recruit Al Qaeda militants,” the AP team added, “…because they’re considered exceptional fighters” and also supply them with armored trucks.

If it’s not news that U.S. allies are providing pro-Al Qaeda forces with U.S.-made equipment, why is CNN pretending that it is?  One reason is that it feels free to criticize the war and all that goes with it now that the growing human catastrophe in Yemen is turning into a major embarrassment for the U.S.  Another is that criticizing the U.S. for failing to rein in its allies earns it points with viewers by making it seem tough and independent, even though the opposite is the case.

Then there’s Trump, with whom CNN has been at war since the moment he was elected.  Trump’s Dec. 19 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria thus presented the network with a double win because it allowed it to rail against the pullout as bizarre and a win for Moscow while complaining at the same time about administration policy in Yemen.  Trump is at fault, it seems, when he pulls out and when he stays in.

In either instance, CNN gets to ride the high horse as it blasts away at the chief executive that corporate outlets most love to hate.  Maybe Elbagir should have given her exposé a different title: “Why arming homicidal maniacs is bad news in one country but OK in another.”

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.




Tulsi Gabbard Is Driving The MSM Crazy

The newly minted presidential candidate is serving as a lightning rod for the debate about U.S. warmongering, writes Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone
CaitlinJohnstone.com

When Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard announced her plans to run in the 2020 presidential election, I predicted that it would disrupt war propaganda narratives and force a much-needed conversation about U.S. interventionism, but I didn’t realize that it would happen so quickly, so ubiquitously and so explosively. Gabbard officially began her campaign for president a little over a week ago, and already she’s become the front line upon which the debate about U.S. warmongering is happening. 

This dynamic became more apparent than ever in Gabbard’s recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, hosted by spouses Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

It should here be noted since we’re talking about war propaganda that in 2009 Scarborough turned down an easy run for the U.S. Senate because he decided that he could have more influence on public policy as the host of Morning Joe than he could as one of 100 U.S. senators, which tells you everything you need to know about why I focus more on U.S. mass media propaganda than I do on U.S. politics. It should also be noted that Brzezinski is the daughter of the late Carter administration Cold Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose influential ideas about U.S. world domination, arming extremist factions to advance U.S. interests, and hawkish agendas against Russia continue to infect U.S. foreign policy to this day. Mika is part of a political dynasty, with both brothers being U.S. political insiders as well.

Aligning the Message

So if you’ve ever wondered how outlets like MSNBC keep everyone on message and fully in alignment with the U.S. war machine’s agendas, there’s a good insight into how. Combine that with the way they stock their punditry lineup with U.S. intelligence community insiders and fire any pundit who refuses to toe the military-industrial complex line, and it’s not hard to see how they’ve developed such a tight echo chamber of hostility toward any resistance to U.S. interventionism. Which explains what we’re about to discuss next.

 

Morning Joe’s pile-on began when the subject of Syria came up, and panelist Kasie Hunt instantly became agitated. 

“Do you think Assad is our enemy?” Hunt interrupted during Gabbard’s response to a question about her meeting with Syria’s president in 2017, her voice and face both strained with emotion.

“Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” Gabbard replied.

“What do you say to Democratic voters who watched you go over there, and what do you say to military members who have been deployed repeatedly in Syria pushing back against Assad?” Hunt asked, somehow believing that U.S. soldiers are in Syria fighting against the Syrian government, which would probably come as a shock to the troops who’ve been told that they are there to defeat ISIS.

Journalist Rania Khalek summed up this insanity perfectly, tweeting, “The journalist interrogating Tulsi seems to believe that U.S. forces in Syria are fighting Assad. Tulsi corrects her, says those troops were deployed there to fight ISIS. These people don’t even know what’s happening in the places they want the U.S. to occupy.”

Journalist Max Blumenthal agreed with Khalek in a response to her tweet.  

And it didn’t get any better from there. After Gabbard took some time to explain to a professional cable news reporter the basic fundamentals of the U.S. military’s official involvement in Syria, Scarborough interjected to ask if Assad isn’t an enemy, would Gabbard at least concede that he is “an adversary of the United States.”

Whatever that means. What Assad is is the leader of a sovereign nation which has nothing to do with the United States and isn’t taking anything from or harming the United States in any way.

Back and Forth 

Scarborough and Gabbard went back and forth about this stupid, nonsensical question before Brzezinski interjected to ask “So what would you say he is to the United States? If you cannot say that he’s an adversary or an enemy, what is Assad to the U.S.? What is the word?”

“You can describe it however you want to describe it,” Gabbard responded, explaining that whether a nation is adversarial or not comes down to whether or not they are working against U.S. interests.

“Are Assad’s interests aligned with ours?” asked Hunt.

“What are Assad’s interests?” Gabbard countered.

“Assad seems interested primarily in the slaughter of his own people,” Hunt replied with a straight face.

“Survival,” Scarborough interjected, trying to save his colleague some embarrassment with a less insane response to the question of Assad’s interests.

Other Crazy Questions

Other crazy questions Gabbard was asked during her appearance include the following:

“You know there are people who will watch this have heard your previous comments who will wonder, what’s going on here? Why you met with Assad, why it looks like you were very cozy with Assad and why you’ve sort of taken his side in this argument. What would you say to that?”

“Do you think that Assad is a good person?”

“Your hometown paper said that you should focus on your job and talked about your presidential campaign being in disarray. How would you respond to your hometown paper?”

“Any idea why David Duke came out and supported you?”

“There have been reports that that Russian apparatus that interfered in 2016 is potentially trying to help your campaign. Why do you think that is?”

“Have you met with any Russians over the past several years?”

Gabbard shoved back against the various accusations of alignment with Trump, Putin and Assad, asserting correctly that those lines are only being used to smear anyone who voices an objection to endless war and insane nuclear escalations. She pushed back particularly hard on Kasie Hunt’s reference to the obscene NBC smear piece which cited the discredited narrative control firm New Knowledge to paint Gabbard as a favorite of the Kremlin, claiming that the article has been thoroughly debunked (and it has).

After the show, still unable to contain herself, Hunt jumped onto Twitter to share the discredited NBC smear piece. 

Hunt then followed up with a link to an RT article which she captioned with an outright lie: “Here is the ‘debunking’ of the NBC News report from RT, the Russian state media. You tell me which you think is more credible.”

I say that Hunt is lying because the RT article that she shared to falsely claim that the only objection to NBC’s smear piece came from Russia explicitly names an Intercept article by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, upon which the RT article is based and which does indeed thoroughly discredit the NBC smear piece. If Hunt had read the article that she shared, she necessarily would have known that, so she was either lying about the nature of the article she shared or lying about knowing what was in it.

So that was nuts. We can expect to see a whole, whole lot more of this as the plutocratic media works overtime to undermine Gabbard’s message in order to keep her from disrupting establishment war narratives, and I’m pleased as punch to see Gabbard firing back and calling them out for the sleazy war propagandists that they are. Her presidential campaign is shaking the foundations of the establishment narrative control matrix more than anything else that’s going on right now, so it looks like writing about these embarrassing mass media debacles she’s been provoking may be a big part of my job in the coming months.

Military interventionism is by far the most depraved and destructive aspect of the U.S.-centralized power establishment, and it is also the most lucrative and strategically crucial, which is why so much energy is poured into ensuring that the American people don’t use the power of their numbers to force that interventionism to end.

Anyone who throws a monkey wrench in the works of this propaganda machine is going to be subjected to a tremendous amount of smears, and I’m glad to see Gabbard fighting back against those smears. From personal experience I know that smear campaigns must be fought against ferociously, because the only alternative is to allow your detractors to control the narrative about you, which as far as your message goes is the same as allowing them to control you. 

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on Facebook, Twitteror her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.” This article was re-published with permission.




The Memo That Helped Kill a Half Million People in Syria

The memo shows the advice Hillary Clinton was getting to plunge the U.S. deeper into the Syrian war. As Trump seeks to extricate the U.S. the memo has again become relevant, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

memo sent to Hillary Clinton that WikiLeaks made public in 2016 has not gotten the attention it deserves. Now is the time. After President Donald Trump tweeted that he was pulling American troops out of Syria, Clinton joined his vociferous critics who want more war in Syria.

Actions have consequences, and whether we’re in Syria or not, the people who want to harm us are there & at war,” Clinton tweeted in response to Trump. “Isolationism is weakness. Empowering ISIS is dangerous. Playing into Russia & Iran’s hands is foolish. This President is putting our national security at grave risk.”

Actions indeed have consequences.

The memo shows the kind of advice Clinton was getting as secretary of state to plunge the U.S. deeper into the Syrian war. It takes us back to 2012 and the early phase of the conflict.

At that point, it was largely an internal affair, although Saudi arms shipments were playing a greater and greater role in bolstering rebel forces. But once the President Barack Obama eventually decided in favor of intervention, under pressure from Clinton, the conflict was quickly internationalized as thousands of holy warriors flooded in from as far away as western China.

The 1,200-word memo written by James P. Rubin, a senior diplomat in Bill Clinton’s State Department, to then-Secretary of State Clinton, which Clinton twice requested be printed out, begins with the subject of Iran, an important patron of Syria.

The memo dismisses any notion that nuclear talks will stop Iran “from improving the crucial part of any nuclear weapons program—the capability to enrich uranium.” If it does get the bomb, it goes on, Israel will suffer a strategic setback since it will no longer be able to “respond to provocations with conventional military strikes on Syria and Lebanon, as it can today.” Denied the ability to bomb at will, Israel might leave off secondary targets and strike at the main enemy instead.

Consequently, the memo argues that the U.S. should topple the Assad regime so as to weaken Iran and allay the fears of Israel, which has long regarded the Islamic republic as its primary enemy. As the memo puts it:

Bringing down Assad would not only be a massive boon to Israel’s security, it would also ease Israel’s understandable fear of losing its nuclear monopoly.  Then, Israel and the United States might be able to develop a common view of when the Iranian program is so dangerous that military action could be warranted.”

This document, making the case to arm Syrian rebels, may have been largely overlooked because of confusion about its dates, which appear to be inaccurate.

The time stamp on the email is “2001-01-01 03:00” even though Clinton was still a New York senator-elect at that point. That date is also out of synch with the timeline of nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

But the body of the email gives a State Department case and document number with the date of 11/30/2015. But that’s incorrect as well because Clinton resigned as secretary of state on Feb. 1, 2013.

Central to the Great Debate

Consequently, anyone stumbling across the memo in the Wikileaks archives might be confused about how it figures in the great debate about whether to use force to bring down Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. But textual clues provide an answer. The second paragraph refers to nuclear talks with Iran “that began in Istanbul this April and will continue in Baghdad in May,” events that took place in 2012. The sixth invokes an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Rubin’s wife, conducted with then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak “last week.” Since the interview took place on April 19, 2012, the memo can therefore be dated to the fourth week in April. (After it was sent as a memo to Clinton, Rubin published a version of it in Foreign Policy on June 4, 2012.)

The memo syncs with Clinton’s thinking on Syria, such as calling for Assad’s overthrow and continuing to push for a no-fly zone in her last debate with Donald Trump even after Gen. Joseph Dunford had testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that it could mean war with Russia.

The memo was sent to her shortly before Clinton joined forces with then-CIA Director David Petraeus to push for an aggressive program of rebel military aid.

Needless to say, the memo’s skepticism about negotiating with Iran proved to be unwarranted since Iran eventually agreed to shut down its nuclear program. The memo, which Clinton twice asked to be printed out for her, underscores the conviction that Israeli security trumps all other considerations even if it means setting fire to a region that’s been burned over more than once.

But the memo illustrates much else besides: a recklessness, lack of realism and an almost mystical belief that everything will fall neatly into place once the United States flexes its muscle.  Overthrowing Assad would be nothing less than “transformative,” the memo says.

“…Iran would be strategically isolated, unable to exert its influence in the Middle East. The resulting regime in Syria will see the United States as a friend, not an enemy. Washington would gain substantial recognition as fighting for the people in the Arab world, not the corrupt regimes. For Israel, the rationale for a bolt from the blue attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be eased. And a new Syrian regime might well be open to early action on the frozen peace talks with Israel. Hezbollah in Lebanon would be cut off from its Iranian sponsor since Syria would no longer be a transit point for Iranian training, assistance and missiles.”

It was “a low-cost high-payoff approach,” the memo says, that would eliminate one enemy, weaken two more, and generate such joy among ordinary Syrians that peace talks between Damascus and Tel Aviv will spring back to life. The risks appeared to be nil. Since “the Libyan operation had no long-lasting consequences for the region,” the memo supposes, referring to the overthrow of strongman Muammer Gaddafi six months earlier, the Syrian operation wouldn’t either. In a passage that may have influenced Clinton’s policy of a no-fly zone, despite Dunford’s warning, the memo says:

Some argue that U.S. involvement risks a wider war with Russia. But the Kosovo example [in which NATO bombed Russian-ally Serbia] shows otherwise. In that case, Russia had genuine ethnic and political ties to the Serbs, which don’t exist between Russia and Syria, and even then Russia did little more than complain. Russian officials have already acknowledged they won’t stand in the way if intervention comes.”

So, there was nothing to worry about. Sixty-five years of Arab-Israeli conflict would fall by the wayside while Russia remains safely marginalized.

How it Turned Out

Needless to say, that’s not how things turned out. At that moment, Libya seemed under control. But three or four months later, it would explode as Western-backed Islamist militias blasted away at one another, imposing strict Sharia law, re-instituting slavery and rolling back decades of social progress. Once President Barack Obama approved a modified version of the Clinton-Petraeus plan, Syria would plunge into the same abyss as jihadis funded by Saudi Arabia and the other oil monarchies, many of whom came from Libya, spread sectarian violence and fear.

The memo’s assumption that the U.S. could neatly and cleanly decapitate the Syrian government without having to worry about broader consequences was little short of deluded.

The notion that ordinary Syrians would fall to their knees in gratitude was ludicrous while Clinton’s disregard for the intricacies of Syrian politics was astonishing.

There is also the memo’s blithe suggestion that Washington “work with regional allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to organize, train, and arm Syrian rebel forces.”

In late 2009, Secretary of State Clinton sent another diplomatic memo made public by Wikileaks saying that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” So what made her think two years later that the kingdom would not fund Syrian jihadis of precisely the same ilk?

The 2009 memo slammed Qatar for allowing Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups to use the sheikdom “as a fundraising locale.” She was well aware then that a pro-Al Qaeda autocracy would now help Syrians “fight for their freedom,” as the memo she sent puts it.

There is a remarkable continuity between the Syria policy that Clinton backed and earlier policies in Afghanistan and Libya. In the first, U.S. military aid wound up flowing to the notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a religious sectarian and raging anti-western xenophobe who nonetheless was “the most efficient at killing Soviets,” as Steve Coll put it in “Ghost Wars,” his bestselling 2004 account of the CIA’s love affair with jihad.

Hekmatyar’s cutthroats wound up with the lion’s share of American arms. More or less the same thing happened in Libya once Clinton persuaded Qatar to join the anti-Gaddafi coalition. The sheikdom seized the opportunity to distribute some $400 million to various rebel militias, many of them extreme Islamist. The Obama administration said nothing in response.

Once again, U.S. arms and materiel flowed to the most reactionary elements. The same would happen in Syria where U.S. and Saudi arms went to the local Al Qaeda affiliate, known as Jabhat al-Nusra, and even to ISIS, as a meticulous report by Conflict Armament Research, a Swiss and EU-funded study group in London, has shown. (See Did Obama Arm Islamic State Killers?” Consortium News, Dec. 21, 2017.)

Insurgency Mix

By August 2012, a secret Defense Intelligence Agency report found that Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda were already “the major forces driving of the insurgency” and that the U.S. and Gulf states backed them regardless. The report warned that the U.S. and some of its allies were supporting the establishment of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria to pressure Assad that could turn into an “Islamic State”–two years before the Islamic State was declared in 2014. Clinton was among senior Obama administration officials who had to have seen the report as it was sent to the State Department among several other agencies.

In 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed this policy in a leaked audio conversation,  saying that the U.S., rather than seriously fighting the Islamic State in Syria, was ready to use the growing strength of the jihadists to pressure Assad to resign, just as outlined in the DIA document.

“We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh [an Arabic name for Islamic State] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened,” Kerry said. “We thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.”

Speechwriter Ben Rhodes summed up the problem of “moderate” rebels who were indistinguishable from Al Qaeda, in his White House memoir, The World As It Is.” He writes:

“Al Nusra was probably the strongest fighting force within the opposition, and while there were extremist elements in the group, it was also clear that the more moderate opposition was fighting side by side with al Nusra. I argued that labeling al Nusra as terrorists would alienate the same people we want to help, while giving al Nusra less incentive to avoid extremist affiliations.”

The problem was how to separate the “good” Al Qaeda fighters from the “bad.” Rhodes later complained when Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he and his fellow Obama officials were “trying to climb a spruce tree naked without scratching our ass.” This was “smug,” Rhodes writes. But Putin was merely using a colorful expression to say that the policy made no sense; which it didn’t.

The cost of the Clinton-backed policy in Syria has been staggering. As many as 560,000 people have died, and half the population has been displaced, while the World Bank has estimated total war damage at $226 billion, roughly six years’ income for every Syrian man, woman, and child.

A cockeyed memo thus helped unleash a real-life catastrophe that refuses to go away. It’s a nightmare from which Trump is struggling to escape by trying to withdraw U.S. troops in his confused and deluded way. And it’s a nightmare that warmongers from arch-neocon John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, to “liberal” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to Hillary Clinton are determined to keep going. 

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy”(Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to LeMonde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

CORRECTION: The first memo discussed in this article was written by U.S. diplomat James Rubin to Hillary Clinton and not by her, as an earlier version of this article said. It has also been revised with additional information.




Has Trump Been Outmaneuvered on Syria Troop Withdrawal?

Trump’s possible backtracking on withdrawal from Syria means he may have been once again outmaneuvered by the Deep State, says Virginia State Senator Dick Black. 

Following the outcry after President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria, it appears that Trump may be succumbing to political pressure. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) visited the White House on Dec. 30 and afterward told reporters:  “We talked about Syria. He told me some things I didn’t know that made me feel a lot better about where we’re headed in Syria,” Graham said.  Trump’s withdrawal plans are “slowing down in a smart way,” Graham said, according to NBC News.

The Washington Post added: ” ‘Graham described Trump’s decision as ‘a pause situation’ rather than a withdrawal, telling reporters, “I think the president’s taking this really seriously.”  Graham said: “He promised to destroy ISIS. He’s going to keep that promise. We’re not there yet. But as I said today, we’re inside the 10-yard line, and the president understands the need to finish the job.”

By Senator Dick Black
Virginia State Senate, 13th District

The mainstream media refuses to acknowledge that the hardest fighting against ISIS and al Qaeda has been done by Syria and its allies.  Indeed, we label Iran’s fight against Syrian terrorists as “malign activity,” ignoring the fact that al Qaeda in Syria [al Nusra] is the progeny of the al Qaeda force that highjacked jets and flew them into the Twin Towers and Pentagon, killing 3,000 Americans on 9-11.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Seymour Hersh, wrote that a Defense Intelligence Agency review of Syrian policy in 2013 revealed that clandestine CIA Program Timber Sycamore, had degenerated into a program that armed all terrorists indiscriminately, specifically including ISIS and al Qaeda.  I seriously doubt that this was merely a program failure.  There is strong evidence that the U.S. planned to overthrow Syria in 2001; the U.S. Embassy in Damascus issued a detailed strategy to destabilize Syria in 2006–long before the so-called “Arab Spring;” and that our focus has consistently been on toppling the duly elected, constitutional and UN-recognized government of Syria.

It’s sickening to hear these clowns repeatedly claim that “Assad murdered 500,000 of his people,” as though the U.S.-backed terrorists have played no role in the killings.  I’ve viewed hundreds of beheadings and crucifixions online but none committed by Syria troops–all were proudly posted by the hellish filth that we’ve recruited, armed and trained for the past eight years.  Major war crimes, like beheading 250 Syrian soldiers after running them across the desert in their underpants, were scarcely mentioned by the MSM.

During a five-hour drive across liberated Syria this September, I spoke with many people, from desert shepherds, to nuns and Muslim religious.  There were palpable expressions of joy that the Syrian armed forces had liberated them from the terrorists.  That was coupled with broad-based, unequivocal support for President Bashar al Assad and the Syrian Armed Forces.

This disastrous war would never have occurred without American planning and execution.  And it would have ended years and hundreds of thousands of casualties ago had we closed our training and logistics bases in Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  The Syrian War had little to do with the “Arab Spring” and much to do with clandestine actions of CIA, MI-6, Mossad, Turkish MIT, French DGSE, Saudi GID and others, working with the savage Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.  We trained and recruited far more terrorists than we killed, and we will encounter those survivors again, at other times and places.

It is instructive that, despite President Donald Trump’s strong directive on a rapid Syrian pull-out, apparently not one soldier or Marine has departed Syria.  And the argument that they’re tied up with fighting ISIS doesn’t hold water.  On Syria’s southern border, across from Jordan, lies the U.S. base at al Tanf.  ISIS is nowhere around.  Al Tanf’s sole purpose is to hold and defend the sovereign territory of Syria (using a 55 km no-fly zone).  It denies Syria the right to restore order and provide aid to starving Syrians trapped in the American zone.

Al Tanf is the canary in the Syrian coal mine.  If Trump’s pullout has any credibility, the 800 or so troops and equipment assigned there could be withdrawn across the Jordanian border within 24 hours.  Their failure to do so suggests duplicity by our foreign policy shadow government.  The Pentagon seems unresponsive to the Commander-in-Chief, and he has surrounded himself with advisors whose allegiance does not lie with him–or with the American people.

Republican Senator Richard H. Black represents the 13th district of Virginia, encompassing parts of both Loudoun and Prince Williams Counties in northern Virginia.




Critics of Syria Withdrawal Fueled Rise of ISIS

Too many of those protesting the removal of U.S. forces are authors of the catastrophe that tore Syria to pieces, reports Max Blumenthal for Consortium News.

By Max Blumenthal
Special to Consortium News

President Donald Trump’s announcement of an imminent withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria summoned a predictable paroxysm of outrage from Washington’s foreign policy establishment. Former secretary of state and self-described “hair icon” Hillary Clinton perfectly distilled the bipartisan freakout into a single tweet, accusing Trump of “isolationism” and “playing into Russia and Iran’s hands.”

Michelle Flournoy, the DC apparatchik who would have been Hillary’s secretary of defense, slammed the pull-out as “foreign policy malpractice,” while Hillary’s successor at the State Department, John Kerry, threw bits of red meat to the Russiagate-crazed Democratic base by branding Trump’s decision “a Christmas gift to Putin.” From the halls of Congress to the K Street corridors of Gulf-funded think tanks, a chorus of protest proclaimed that removing U.S. troops from Syria would simultaneously abet Iran and bring ISIS back from the grave.

Yet few of those thundering condemnations of the president’s move seemed able to explain just why a few thousand U.S. troops had been deployed to the Syrian hinterlands in the first place. If the mission was to destroy ISIS, then why did ISIS rise in the first place? And why was the jihadist organization still festering right in the midst of the U.S. military occupation?

Too many critics of withdrawal had played central roles in the Syrian crisis to answer these questions honestly. They had either served as media cheerleaders for intervention, or crafted the policies aimed at collapsing Syria’s government that fueled the rise of ISIS. The Syrian catastrophe was their legacy, and they were out to defend it at any cost.

Birthing ISIS From the Womb of Regime Change

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Clinton, Kerry, and the rest of the Beltway blob lined up reflexively behind George W. Bush. The insurgency that followed the violent removal of Iraq’s Ba’athist government set the stage for the declaration of the first Islamic State by Abu Musab Zarqawi in 2006.

Five years later, with near-total consent from Congress, Hillary enthusiastically presided over NATO’s assault on Libya, cackling with glee when she learned that the country’s longtime leader, Moammar Gaddafi, had been sodomized with a bayonet and shot to death by Islamist insurgents — “We came, we saw, he died!” It was not long before an Islamist Emirate was established in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, while 31 flavors of jihadi militias festered in Tripoli and Benghazi. 

While still defending her vote on Iraq, Hillary made the case for arming the anti-Assad opposition in Syria. “In a conflict like this,” she said, “the hard men with the guns are going to be the more likely actors in any political transition than those on the outside just talking.”

In 2012, the CIA initiated a one billion dollar arm-and-equip operation to fund the so-called “moderate rebels” united under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). A classified Defense Intelligence Agency memo distributed across Obama administration channels in August of that year warned that jihadist forces emanating from Iraq aimed to exploit the security vacuum opened up by the US-backed proxy war to establish a “Salafist principality in eastern Syria” — an “Islamic State,” in the exact words of the memo.  

Referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s Syrian affiliate by its name, Jabhat al-Nusra, before Western media ever had, the DIA emphasized the close ties the group had fostered with Syria’s “moderate rebels”: “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. AQI declared its opposition to Assad’s regime from the beginning because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”

The memo was authored under the watch of then-Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was convicted this year of failing to register as a foreign agent of Turkey — an extremely ironic development considering Turkey’s role in fueling the Syrian insurgency. Predictably, the document was ignored across the board by the Obama administration. Meanwhile, heavy weapons were flowing out of the U.S. Incirlik air base in Turkey and into the hands of anyone who could grab them across the Syrian border.

As early as February 2013, a United Nations independent inquiry report concluded, “The FSA has remained a brand name only.” The UN further issued a damning assessment of the role of the United States, UK and their Gulf allies in fueling extremism across Syria. “The intervention of external sponsors has contributed to the radicalization of the insurgency as it has favoured Salafi armed groups such as the al-Nusra Front, and even encouraged mainstream insurgents to join them owing to their superior logistical and operational capabilities,” the report stated.

US Arms, ISIS Caliphate

How ISIS overran large swaths of territory in northeastern Syria and established its de facto capital Raqqa is scarcely understood, let alone discussed by Western media. That is partly because the real story is so inconvenient to the established narrative of the Syrian conflict, which blames Assad for every atrocity that has ever occurred in his country, and for some horrors that may not have ever taken place. Echoing the Bush administration’s discredited attempts to link Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, some neoconservative pundits hatched a conspiracy theory that accused Assad of covertly orchestrating the rise of ISIS in order to curry support from the West. But the documented evidence firmly established the success of ISIS as a byproduct of the semi-covert American program to arm Assad’s supposedly moderate opposition.

Back in March 2013, a coalition of Syrian rebel forces representing the CIA-backed FSA, the Turkish and Qatari proxy, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Al Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra, overwhelmed the Syrian army in Raqqa. Opposition activists declared the city the “icon of the revolution” and celebrated in Raqqa’s town center, waving the tricolor flags of the FSA alongside the black banners of ISIS and al-Nusra, which set up its headquarters in the city’s town hall.

But disorder quickly spread throughout the city as its residents attempted to order their affairs through local councils. Meanwhile, the US-backed FSA had ceded the city to al-Nusra, taking the fight to the front lines against government forces further afield. The chaos stirred by the insurgents and their foreign backers had created the perfect petri dish for jihadism to fester.

A month after Raqqa was taken, the Iraqi zealot and ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi revealed that al-Nusra had been a Trojan horse for his organization, referring to its commander, Mohammed Jolani, as “our son.” Jolani, in turn, admitted that he had entered Syria from Iraq as a soldier of the Islamic State, declaring, “We accompanied the jihad in Iraq as military escorts from its beginning until our return [to Syria] after the Syrian revolution.”

By August, Baghdadi completed his coup, announcing control over the city. According to the anti-Assad website, Syria Untold, the U.S.-backed FSA had “balked in the face of ISIS and avoided any military confrontation with it.” Many of its fighters quickly jumped ship to either the Islamic State or al-Nusra.

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“The [FSA] battalions are scared to become the weakest link, that they will be swallowed by ISIS,” a media activist named Ahmed al-Asmeh told the journalist Alison Meuse. “A number joined ISIS, and those who were with the people joined Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Backing “Territorial ISIS”

As the insurgency advanced towards Syria’s coast, leaving piles of corpses in its wake and propelling a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions, the U.S. stepped up its arm-and-equip program. By 2015, the CIA was pouring anti-tank missiles into the ranks of Nourredine Al-Zinki, an extremist militia that eventually forged a coalition with bands of fanatics that made no attempt to disguise their ideology. Among the new opposition umbrella group was one outfit called, “The Bin Laden Front.”

Despite all its war on terror bluster, the U.S. was treating ISIS as an asset in its bid to topple Assad. Then Secretary of State Kerry copped to the strategy in a leaked private meeting with Syrian opposition activists in Sept. 2016: “We were watching,” Kerry revealed. “We saw that Daesh [ISIS] was growing in strength and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, you know, that Assad might negotiate and instead of negotiating, you got Assad, ah, you got Putin supporting him.”

When Russia directly intervened in Syria in 2015, the Obama administration’s most outspoken interventionists railed against its campaign to roll back the presence of Al Qaeda and its allies, comparing it to the Rwandan genocide. These same officials were curiously quiet, however, when Russia combined forces with the Syrian military to drive ISIS from the city of Palmyra, to save the home of the world’s most treasured antiquities from destruction.

At a March 24, 2016, press briefing, a reporter asked U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner, “Do you want to see the [Syrian] regime retake Palmyra, or would you prefer that it stays in Daesh’s [ISIS] hands?”

Toner strung together empty platitudes for a full minute.

“You’re not answering my question,” the reporter protested.

Toner emitted a nervous laugh and conceded, “I know I’m not.”

About a year later, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman openly called for the U.S. to use ISIS as a strategic tool, reiterating the cynical logic for the strategy that was already in place. “We could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad,” Friedman proposed. “After all, they’re the ones overextended in Syria, not us. Make them fight a two-front war—the moderate rebels on one side and ISIS on the other.”

Giving ISIS ‘Breathing Space’

When the U.S. finally decided to make a move against ISIS in 2017, it was gripped with anxiety about the Syrian government restoring control over the oil-rich areas ISIS controlled across the northeast.

With help from Russia, and against opposition from the U.S., Syria had already liberated the city of Deir Ezzor from a years-long siege by the Islamic State. Fearing that ISIS-occupied Raqqa could be next to be returned to government hands, the U.S. unleashed a brutal bombing campaign while its allies in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (a rebranded offshoot of the People’s Protection Units or YPG) assaulted the city by ground.

The U.S.-led campaign reduced much of Raqqa to rubble. In contrast to Aleppo, where rebuilding was underway and refugees were returning, Raqqa and outlying towns under U.S. control were cut off from basic government services and plunged into darkness.

The U.S. proceeded to occupy the city and its outlying areas, insisting that the Syrian government and its allies were too weak to prevent the resurgence of ISIS on their own. But almost as soon as U.S. boots hit the ground, ISIS began to gather strength. In fact, a report this August by the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team found that in areas under direct American control, ISIS had suddenly found “breathing space to prepare for the next phase of its evolution into a global covert network.”

This October, when Iran launched missile strikes against ISIS, nearly killing the ISIS emir, Baghdadi, the Pentagon complained that the missiles had struck only three kilometers from U.S. positions. The protest raised uncomfortable questions about what the top honchos of the Islamic State were doing in such close proximity to the American military, and why the U.S. was unwilling to do what Iran just had done and attack them. No answers from the Pentagon have arrived so far.

Target: Iran

With the appointment this August of James Jeffrey, a self-described “Never Trumper” from the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as Trump’s special representative for Syria engagement, it became clear that the mission to eradicate ISIS was of secondary importance. In testimony before Congress this December, Jeffrey laid out an agenda that focused heavily on what he called “Iran’s malign influence in the region,” “countering Iran in Syria,” and “remov[ing] all Iranian-commanded forces and proxy forces from the entirety of Syria.” In all, Jeffrey made 30 mentions of Iran, all of them hostile, while referring only 23 times to ISIS. It was clear he had regime change in Tehran on the brain.

Trump, for his part, had been mulling a removal of U.S. forces from northern Syria since at least last Spring, when he put forward a vision for an all-Arab military force funded by Saudi Arabia to replace them. But when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was sawed apart inside his country’s embassy in Istanbul this October, Trump’s plan went to pieces as well. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan exploited the Khashoggi saga to perfection, helping to transform Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman from the darling of America’s elite into persona non grata in Washington. As a result, he arranged a front line position for Turkey in the wake of any U.S. withdrawal.

There are now real reasons to fear that a Turkish advance will ignite a resurgence of ISIS. Turkey was not only a source of aid and oil sales to the jihadist group, it currently oversees a mercenary force of Salafi militiamen that includes droves of former Islamic State fighters. If the Turkish onslaught proves destabilizing, Iran and its allied Shia militias could ramp up their deployment in Syria, which would trigger a harsh reaction from Israel and its Beltway cut-outs.

Then again, the Kurdish YPG is in high level negotiations with Damascus and may team up with the Syrian military to fill the void. From an anti-ISIS standpoint, this is clearly the best option. It is  therefore the least popular one in Washington.

Whatever happens in Syria, those who presided over U.S. policy towards the country over the past seven years are in no position to criticize. They set the stage for the entire crisis, propelling the rise of ISIS in a bid to decapitate another insufficiently pliant state. And though they may never face the accountability they deserve, the impending withdrawal of American troops is a long overdue and richly satisfying rebuke.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the PartyGoliath: Life and Loathing in Greater IsraelThe Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and the forthcoming The Management of Savagery, which will be published by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the newly released Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the GrayzoneProject.com in 2015 and serves as its editor.

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Don’t Hold Your Breath on US Troop Withdrawal from Syria

It would be nice to think the president has final say on foreign policy, given the U.S. Constitution. But the misleading troop withdrawal announcement, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggests the exact opposite, says Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The announcement on Wednesday that the U.S. will withdraw all remaining troops from Syria within the next month looked at first like a rare victory for Donald Trump in his admittedly erratic opposition to senseless wars of adventure. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there,” the president tweeted with an unmistakable air of triumph.

Don’t get your hopes up. Just about everything in these initial reports is either wrong or misleading. One, the U.S. did not defeat the Islamic State: The Syrian Arab Army, aided by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah militias did. Two, hardly was ISIS the only reason the U.S. has maintained a presence in Syria. The intent for years was to support a coup against the Assad government in Damascus—in part by training and equipping jihadists often allied with ISIS. For at least the past six months, the U.S. military’s intent in Syria has been to counter Iranian influence.

Last and hardly least, the U.S. is not closing down its military presence in Syria. It is digging in for an indefinite period, making Raqqa the equivalent of the Green Zone in Baghdad. By the official count, there are 503 U.S. troops stationed in the Islamic State’s former capital. Unofficially, according to The Washington Post and other press reports, the figure is closer to 4,000—twice the number that is supposed to represent a “full withdrawal” from Syrian soil.

It would be nice to think Washington has at last accepted defeat in Syria, given it is preposterous to pretend otherwise any longer. Damascus is now well into its consolidation phase. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are currently working with Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, to form a committee in January to begin drafting a new Syrian constitution.

It would also be nice to think the president and commander-in-chief has the final say in his administration’s policies overseas, given the constitution by which we are supposed to be governed. But the misleading announcement on the withdrawal of troops, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggest something close to exactly the opposite.

As Trump finishes his second year in office, the pattern is plain: This president can have all the foreign policy ideas he wants, but the Pentagon, State, the intelligence apparatus, and the rest of what some call “the deep state” will either reverse, delay, or never implement any policy not to its liking.

Blocking Few Good Ideas

Syria is a case in point, but one among many. Trump announced in March that he would withdraw American troops as soon as the fight against ISIS was finished. By September the Pentagon was saying no, U.S. forces had to stay until Damascus and its political opponents achieved a full settlement. From the new HQ in Raqqa, The Washington Post tells us, U.S. forces will extend “overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria.”

This is how 2018 has gone for Trump. This president has very few good ideas, but we can count on his foreign policy minders to block those he does have if they fail to conform to the orthodox playbook—the foreign policy “blob,” as Barack Obama famously called it.

Reversal on Military Budget

Earlier this month Trump complained about the Pentagon’s out-of-control budget and pledged to cut it, if marginally, from its current $716 billion to $700 billion in the 2020 fiscal year. “I am certain that, at some time in the future,” he said in one of his inevitable tweets, “President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race. The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!”

Days later the president had a meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis and the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. The White House announced immediately afterward that the three had agreed on a 2020 defense budget of $750 billion: from a 2 percent cut to an increase of nearly 5 percent in the course of one meeting.

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Trump’s idea of improving relations with Russia has faced a wall of opposition from the first, needless to say. His summit with President Putin in Helsinki last July ignited a fresh uproar—and his suggestion that Putin come to Washington in the autumn still another. With Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in the lead, that invitation was mocked to death within days. A New Year’s prediction: There will be no second summit with Putin, probably for the duration of Trump’s term in office.

Among the biggest disappointments of the year has been the administration’s failure to build on Trump’s effort to advance a settlement with North Korea after seven decades of tension in Northeast Asia. The Trump–Kim summit in Singapore last May did what initial encounters between heads of state are supposed to do: It established a working rapport. By that measure, any detached judgment of the meeting would have to count it a success.

But the U.S. press uniformly criticized Trump nonetheless for not coming home with the full details of the North’s nuclear disarmament. These same media have since treated us to the usual stories, sourced from the intelligence agencies, that the North is misleading us once again. Result: A second summit appears to have fallen off the White House’s agenda despite Trump’s statement at the UN last autumn that the two leaders would meet again “quite soon.”

One does not have to entertain any liking for Donald Trump to find this pattern disturbing. It suggests that our foreign policy cliques, wedded to an orthodoxy devoted more or less entirely to U.S. primacy, have positioned themselves—over the course of many administrations—to dictate America’s conduct abroad even to our presidents. There is danger in this, no matter who the occupant of the White House happens to be.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work viwww.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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America’s Absence in Istanbul: A Sign of Decline, Not Surrender

Team Trump missed the summit on Syria. In that, Patrick Lawrence sees another sign of Washington’s failure to accept its loss of diplomatic primacy.

Lost in the Memory Palace:
US Leads, But No One Follows

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

You would hardly know it from reading the U.S. press, but a summit of considerable significance took place late last month. German, French, Russian, and Turkish leaders convened in Istanbul Oct. 27 to create a comprehensive plan to end the seven-year war in Syria. On the agenda: increase humanitarian aid, rebuild ruined towns and cities, assist returning refugees, draft a new constitution and arrange internationally supervised elections. All this will take time, but the Syria story is evolving from one of conflict to one of reconciliation and reconstruction.

Two features of the summit deserve special note.

The four nations are not all fast friends, to put it mildly. But they drew together to find common interests in resolving what may count as the worst crisis since the Cold War’s end. Second, there was a conspicuous absence at the Istanbul gathering: the United States. Despite its prominent role in the Syrian conflict for at least the past six years, if not longer, the United States wanted no part of a many-sided summit dedicated to resolving it via negotiation.

A matter of days later came the Trump administration’s sweeping new sanctions against Iran, planned for many months and put into force at midnight on Nov. 4.

Never mind Washington’s adversaries: Even its traditional allies in Europe are resisting the United States.  This new round of sanctions rank among the stupidest foreign policy moves of Trump’s two years in office. Two others were withdrawing from the climate pact in June 2017 and  unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital six months later.

Three Things Now Clear 

At this point, three things are clear about the Trump administration’s approach to global affairs.

No. 1: Team Trump’s foreign policies are easily the most incoherent of any administration in recent memory. The United States does or does not want to settle the Korean question. It does or does not have an even-handed plan for peace in the Mideast. It has or has not abandoned its campaign to depose the Assad government in Damascus. What appears so on Monday appears otherwise by midweek.

No 2: Time and again, this administration overplays its hand. In case after case it acts on its own, expecting other nations to follow, only to discover that few or none do. Since Trump took office, misjudging U.S. prerogatives may be among the only consistent feature of his foreign policy.

No. 3: “America First” begins to shape up as “America Last” on the foreign policy side. We are a long way from “the indispensable nation,” the phrase that Madeleine Albright used for the United States during her time as secretary of state in the Clinton administration.  Two years into Trump’s presidency, Albright’s assertion—which was never more than U.S. hubris at its purest—looks like it might be headed to a museum.

This is not solely due to incompetence in the Trump White House, although this is considerable. The United States has been unable to find its place in a swiftly changing world order at least since the George W. Bush administration. It has consistently mishandled relations with China and Russia from one administration to the next, to take two prominent examples: trans–Atlantic ties with longtime allies (who too often behave like vassals) have deteriorated steadily for years due to Washington’s misjudgments.

The Trump administration’s confusion merely makes the gravity of our moment more difficult to deny: Absent last century’s simplicities—chief among them the binary East-West division—the United States is losing its grip on leading.   

Talk of Withdrawal

There is much talk in Washington these days of a U.S. withdrawal from global affairs. Ivo Daalder, a former ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, recently co-authored a book, with James Lindsay, called “The Empty Throne: America’s Abdication of Global Leadership.” It is a long lament about what its title suggests: the United States is surrendering—supposedly—its position as No. 1 among nations.

This is a misreading, perfectly upside down from reality. The United States is not surrendering anything. That is precisely the problem. It refuses to give up its long-asserted right to act unilaterally on the assumption other nations will either fall in line or silently acquiesce.

At the same time, Washington declines to participate in multilateral efforts to resolve wars, competing political or territorial claims, and other such problems via diplomatic negotiation, often with adversaries. This helps explain why the Trump administration repudiated the Paris climate pact and then the accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs: Both implicitly demonstrate that multipolarity is an inevitable 21st Century reality.

Daalder acknowledged this during a recent talk at the Council on Foreign Relations, even if he seemed not to have grasped his own lesson. “As the U.S. withdraws,” he said, “it’s not involved in building coalitions bringing people together to deal with global challenges, people are going to turn to others.”

The Istanbul summit on Syria is an excellent case in point. The United States should have been there. South Korea is another. While President Moon Jae-in has to manage Seoul’s traditional ties to Washington delicately, he has unmistakably seized the lead in Northeast Asia and repeatedly signals that he remains committed to a settlement with the North—ultimately with or without U.S. cooperation.

Nostalgia is part of the problem. The world turns, and Washington is lost in a kind of memory palace, where it nurses the desire to prolong those decades of unchallenged primacy that it enjoyed after World War IIIt refuses to accept there is no turning back the clock. While it wants to play “follow the leader” other nations drop out of the game.

Vigorous, nearly universal opposition to the new sanctions against Iran, Seoul’s determination to press on toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, the summit on Syria in Istanbul: They all make the same point. Washington must abandon its Wilsonian ambition to shape the world in its own image if it is to remain an effective power—as it can and should—in the new global order. The new Iran sanctions already appear to be a turning point in this respect: Donald Trump’s Washington thought it could lead, but virtually no one is following. 

There is no “abdication” and no new isolationist era in the offing. But until the U.S. accepts the new norms of statecraft in a world of rising powers, we will watch as other nations withdraw from America—a very different thing.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work viwww.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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The Battle for Our Minds

There are battlefields in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere, but given the state of corporate media, perhaps the most consequential battle now being fought is for our minds, says Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

After reading The New York Times piece “The Plot to Subvert an Election” I put the paper down with a single question.

Why, after two years of allegations, indictments, and claims to proof of this, that, and the other did the newspaper of record—well, once the newspaper of record—see any need to publish such a piece? My answer is simple: The orthodox account of Russia-gate has not taken hold: It has failed in its effort to establish a consensus of certainty among Americans. My conclusion matches this observation: The orthodox narrative is never going to achieve this objective. There are too many holes in it.

The information age is actually a media age,” John Pilger, the noted British–Australian journalist, remarked during a symposium four years ago, when the Ukraine crisis was at its peak. “We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media—a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.” Pilger revisited the theme in a piece last week on Consortium News, arguing that once-tolerated, dissenting opinion has in recent years “regressed into a metaphoric underground.”

There are battlefields in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere, but perhaps the most consequential battle now being fought is for our minds.

Those who dispense with honest intellectual inquiry, healthy skepticism of all media, and an insistence that assertions require supporting evidence should not win this war. The Times piece by Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti—two of the paper’s top-tier reporters—is a case in point: If the Russia-gate narrative were so widely accepted as their report purports, there would have been no need to publish such a piece at this late date.

Many orthodox narratives are widely accepted however among a public that is not always paying attention. The public too often participates in the manufactured consent. Usually it take years for the truth to be widely understood. Sometimes it comes when the U.S. admits it decades later, such as the role of the CIA in the coups in Iran and Chile. Other times it comes through admissions by former U.S. officials, such as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about the Vietnam War.

Even Recent Narratives are Fraying

There are more recent examples of official narratives quickly fraying if not starting to fall apart, though Establishment media continues to push them.

For instance, there are serious doubts about who was responsible for alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The most significant was in Eastern Ghouta in August 2013 followed by attacks in Khan Sheikhoun (April 2017) and Douma (April 2018).

The corporate media accounts of each of these attacks have been countered with persuasive evidence against the prevailing view that the government of Bashar al–Assad was to blame. It has been provided journalists (Seymour Hersh ), a scientist (Theodore Postol ), and on-the-ground correspondents and local witnesses. These reports are subject to further verification. But by no means do official narratives stand without challenge.

There is also the case of Malaysian Flight MH–17, shot down over Ukrainian territory in June 2014. The official report, issued a year later, concluded that the plane was downed by Ukrainian rebels using a Russian-supplied missile. The report was faulty from the first: Investigators never visited the site , some evidence was based on a report produced by Bellingcat , an open-source web site affiliated with the vigorously anti–Russian Atlantic Council, and Ukraine was given the right to approve the report before it was issued.

Last week the Russian military disclosed evidence that serial numbers found in the debris at the MH–17 crash site indicate the missile that downed the plane was produced at a Soviet military-production plant in 1986 owned by Ukraine. Let us see further verification of this evidence (although I seriously doubt any Western correspondent will seek any). The official report of 2015 noted the serial numbers, so we know they are authentic, but it did not use them to trace the missile’s provenance.

There is also the seriously muddled case of the poisoning of the Skripals in Britain.  Why hasn’t the Western media dug into this story rather than accept at face value the pronouncements of the British government?

A month ago I lamented the damage Russia-gate has done to many of our most important institutions, the press not least among them. What is the corporate media thinking? That once President Trump is dumped, all will return to normal and professional standards will be restored? One can also argue the reverse: that adversarial journalism has returned to the White House beat largely out of personal animus towards Trump and that it will disappear again once a more “normal” president is in office.

As Pilger put it, “This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new ‘groupthink,’ as [Robert] Parry called it, dispensing myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.”

In other words, Establishment journalism has shifted far afield from its traditional ideals of non-partisan, objective reporting and is instead vying for your mind to enlist it in its agenda to promote American interests abroad or one party or the other at home.

We can’t let them get away with it. Our minds are our own.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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On the Brink with Russia in Syria Again, 5 Years Later

It’s deja-vu all over again in Syria, with the U.S. on the verge of a confrontation with Russia as Donald Trump faces his biggest decision yet as president, comments Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times, on September 11, 2013, accommodated Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s desire “to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders” about “recent events surrounding Syria.”

Putin’s op-ed in the Times appeared under the title: “A Plea for Caution From Russia.” In it, he warned that a military “strike by the United States against Syria will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders … and unleash a new wave of terrorism. … It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

Three weeks before Putin’s piece, on August 21, there had been a chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was immediately blamed. There soon emerged, however, ample evidence that the incident was a provocation to bring direct U.S. military involvement against Assad, lest Syrian government forces retain their momentum and defeat the jihadist rebels.

In a Memorandum for President Barack Obama five days before Putin’s article, on September 6, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) had warned President Barack Obama of the likelihood that the incident in Ghouta was a false-flag attack.

Despite his concern of a U.S. attack, Putin’s main message in his op-ed was positive, talking of a growing mutual trust:

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. [Syria’s chemical weapons were in fact destroyed under UN supervision the following year.]

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive … and steer the discussion back toward negotiations. If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust … and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.”

Obama Refuses to Strike

In a lengthy interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg published in The Atlantic much later, in March 2016, Obama showed considerable pride in having refused to act according to what he called the “Washington playbook.”

He added a telling vignette that escaped appropriate attention in Establishment media. Obama confided to Goldberg that, during the crucial last week of August 2013, National Intelligence Director James Clapper paid the President an unannounced visit to caution him that the allegation that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack in Ghouta was “not a slam dunk.”

Clapper’s reference was to the very words used by former CIA Director George Tenet when he characterized, falsely, the nature of the evidence on WMD in Iraq while briefing President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in December 2002. Additional evidence that Ghouta was a false flag came in December 2016 parliamentary testimony in Turkey.

In early September 2013, around the time of Putin’s op-ed, Obama resisted the pressure of virtually all his advisers to launch cruise missiles on Syria and accepted the Russian-brokered deal for Syria give up its chemical weapons. Obama follow public opinion but had to endure public outrage from those lusting for the U.S. to get involved militarily. From neoconservatives, in particular, there was hell to pay.

Atop the CNN building in Washington, DC, on the evening of September 9, two days before Putin’s piece, I had a fortuitous up-close-and-personal opportunity to watch the bitterness and disdain with which Paul Wolfowitz and Joe Lieberman heaped abuse on Obama for being too “cowardly” to attack.

Five Years Later

In his appeal for cooperation with the U.S., Putin had written these words reportedly by himself:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

In recent days, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has left no doubt that he is the mascot of American exceptionalism. Its corollary is Washington’s “right” to send its forces, uninvited, into countries like Syria.

We’ve tried to convey the message in recent days that if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger,” Bolton said on Monday. “I can say we’ve been in consultations with the British and the French who have joined us in the second strike and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response.”

As was the case in September 2013, Syrian government forces, with Russian support, have the rebels on the defensive, this time in Idlib province where most of the remaining jihadists have been driven. On Sunday began what could be the final showdown of the five-year war. Bolton’s warning of a chemical attack by Assad makes little sense as Damascus is clearly winning and the last thing Assad would do is invite U.S. retaliation.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, with remarkable prescience, has already blamed Damascus for whatever chemical attack might take place. The warnings of direct U.S. military involvement, greater than Trump’s two previous pin-prick attacks, is an invitation for the cornered jihadists to launch another false-flag attack to exactly bring that about.

Sadly, not only has the growing trust recorded by Putin five years ago evaporated, but the likelihood of a U.S.-Russian military clash in the region is as perilously high as ever.

Seven days before Putin’s piece appeared, citizen Donald Trump had tweeted: “Many Syrian ‘rebels’ are radical Jihadis. Not our friends & supporting them doesn’t serve our national interest. Stay out of Syria!”

In September 2015 Trump accused his Republican primary opponents of wanting to “start World War III over Syria. Give me a break. You know, Russia wants to get ISIS, right? We want to get ISIS. Russia is in Syria — maybe we should let them do it? Let them do it.”

Last week Trump warned Russian and Syria not to attack Idlib. Trump faces perhaps his biggest test as president: whether he can resist his neocon advisers and not massively attack Syria, as Obama chose not to, or risk the wider war he accused his Republican opponents of fomenting.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, and was a Presidential briefer from 1981 to 1985.

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Moscow Has Upped the Ante in Syria

As Syrian forces backed by Russia launch the final showdown in Syria against jihadist extremists in Idlib province, the potential for a U.S.-Russia confrontation has never been greater, as VIPS warns in this memo to the president. September 9, 2018

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: Moscow Has Upped the Ante in Syria

Mr. President:

We are concerned that you may not have been adequately briefed on the upsurge of hostilities in northwestern Syria, where Syrian armed forces with Russian support have launched a full-out campaign to take back the al-Nusra/al-Qaeda/ISIS-infested province of Idlib.  The Syrians will almost certainly succeed, as they did in late 2016 in Aleppo.  As in Aleppo, it will mean unspeakable carnage, unless someone finally tells the insurgents theirs is a lost cause.

That someone is you. The Israelis, Saudis, and others who want unrest to endure are egging on the insurgents, assuring them that you, Mr. President, will use U.S. forces to protect the insurgents in Idlib, and perhaps also rain hell down on Damascus.  We believe that your senior advisers are encouraging the insurgents to think in those terms, and that your most senior aides are taking credit for your recent policy shift from troop withdrawal from Syria to indefinite war.

Big Difference This Time 

Russian missile-armed naval and air units are now deployed in unprecedented numbers to engage those tempted to interfere with Syrian and Russian forces trying to clean out the terrorists from Idlib. We assume you have been briefed on that — at least to some extent. More important, we know that your advisers tend to be dangerously dismissive of Russian capabilities and intentions.

We do not want you to be surprised when the Russians start firing their missiles.  The prospect of direct Russian-U.S. hostilities in Syria is at an all-time high.  We are not sure you realize that.

The situation is even more volatile because Kremlin leaders are not sure who is calling the shots in Washington.  This is not the first time that President Putin has encountered such uncertainty (see brief Appendix below).  This is, however, the first time that Russian forces have deployed in such numbers into the area, ready to do battle.  The stakes are very high.

We hope that John Bolton has given you an accurate description of his acerbic talks with his Russian counterpart in Geneva a few weeks ago. In our view, it is a safe bet that the Kremlin is uncertain whether Bolton faithfully speaks in your stead, or speaks INSTEAD of you.

The best way to assure Mr. Putin that you are in control of U.S. policy toward Syria would be for you to seek an early opportunity to speak out publicly, spelling out your intentions.  If you wish wider war, Bolton has put you on the right path. 

If you wish to cool things down, you may wish to consider what might be called a pre-emptive ceasefire. By that we mean a public commitment by the presidents of the U.S. and Russia to strengthen procedures to preclude an open clash between U.S. and Russian armed forces.  We believe that, in present circumstances, this kind of extraordinary step is now required to head off wider war.

For the VIPS Steering Group, signed: 

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Richard H. Black, Senator of Virginia, 13th District; Colonel, US Army (ret.); former Chief, Criminal Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Pentagon (Associate VIPS)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and Division Director, State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Bogdan Dzakovic, former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security (ret.) (Associage VIPS)

Philip Giraldi, CIA Operations Officer (retired)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator (Alaska)

James George Jatras, former U.S. diplomat and former foreign policy adviser to Senate Republican leadership (Associate VIPS)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, U.S. Air Force, Intelligence Officer, and former Master SERE Instructor (retired)

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and Former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., USAF (ret.)

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC Iraq; Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret) (Associate VIPS)

David MacMichael, Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, Army/Infantry Intelligence Officer and CIA Presidential Briefer (retired)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (retired)

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former MAJ, USMC, former UN Weapons Inspector, Iraq

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Lawrence Wilkerson, Col. US Army (ret.); former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State; Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary (Associate VIPS)

Sarah G. Wilton, CDR, USNR (ret.); Defense Intelligence Agency (ret.)

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (Associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army reserve colonel and former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War

APPENDIX: 

Sept 12, 2016:  The limited ceasefire goes into effect; provisions include separating the “moderate” rebels from the others. Secretary John Kerry had earlier claimed that he had “refined” ways to accomplish the separation, but it did not happen; provisions also included safe access for relief for Aleppo.

Sept 17, 2016: U.S. Air Force bombs fixed Syrian Army positions killing between 64 and 84 Syrian army troops; about 100 others wounded — evidence enough to convince the Russians that the Pentagon was intent on scuttling meaningful cooperation with Russia.

Sept 26, 2016:  We can assume that what Lavrov has told his boss in private is close to his uncharacteristically blunt words on Russian NTV on Sept. 26. (In public remarks bordering on the insubordinate, senior Pentagon officials a few days earlier had showed unusually open skepticism regarding key aspects of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement – like sharing intelligence with the Russians (a key provision of the deal approved by both Obama and Putin).   Here’s what Lavrov said on Sept 26:

“My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the US military machine. Despite the fact that, as always, [they] made assurances that the US Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin), apparently the military does not really listen to the Commander in Chief.”

Lavrov went beyond mere rhetoric. He also specifically criticized JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford for telling Congress that he opposed sharing intelligence with Russia, “after the agreements concluded on direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama stipulated that they would share intelligence. … It is difficult to work with such partners. …”

Oct 27, 2016:  Putin speaks at the Valdai International Discussion Club
At Valdai Russian President Putin spoke of the “feverish” state of international relations and lamented: “My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results.” He complained about “people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice” and, referring to Syria, decried the lack of a “common front against terrorism after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort, and difficult compromises.”

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is made up of former intelligence officers, diplomats, military officers and congressional staffers. The organization, founded in 2002, was among the first critics of Washington’s justifications for launching a war against Iraq. VIPS advocates a US foreign and national security policy based on genuine national interests rather than contrived threats promoted for largely political reasons. An archive of VIPS memoranda is available at Consortiumnews.com.