The Left’s Risk in Blaming Russia

Despite the lack of verifiable evidence, many progressives have jumped on the blame-Russia-for-Trump’s-victory bandwagon, but it’s a dangerous and dead-end ride for the Left, warns Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

This week began with a mass email from the head of the Democratic National Committee, who declared: “By now, Americans know beyond any reasonable doubt that the Russian government orchestrated a series of cyberattacks on political campaigns and organizations over the past two years and used stolen information to influence the presidential campaign and congressional races.” DNC chair Donna Brazile went on: “The integrity of our elections is too important for Congress to refuse to take these attacks seriously.”

The importance of election integrity had eluded Brazile when she was a regular on CNN, posing as neutral in the Clinton-Sanders battle. “Brazile is not apologizing for leaking CNN debate questions and topics to the Hillary Clinton campaign during the Democratic primary,” the Washington Post reported last month. “Her only regret, it seems, is that she got caught.”

Many big factors affect any presidential race, and the Russian government may have tried to be one of them for the 2016 election — though it’s hardly the slam dunk that agencies like the CIA and U.S. mass media are now claiming. But in any event, this month it has become routine for a lot of progressive organizations and individuals to descend into a dangerous mode of partisan flackery.

Less than two weeks ago — as soon as unnamed CIA sources told journalists that the Kremlin was behind hacks of DNC and Clinton campaign emails — a wide range of progressive online groups, activists and commentators reflexively embraced the dominant media spin. High profile among them was MoveOn, which used its big digital footprint to spur the frenzy.

MoveOn matter-of-factly decried the “chilling news” of “Russia’s election tampering.” And, without a hint of media literacy, the group also informed its readers that “news broke that the Russian president himself was involved in the efforts to influence our November election — in favor of Donald Trump.”

Such eagerness to share undocumented spin as absolute fact has led many progressive groups to go with knee-jerk reactions. Bent on gaining a propaganda advantage over Trump, those reactions are helping to stampede this country toward a modern form of McCarthyism — as well as brinkmanship with Russia that could lead to a cataclysmic military conflict.

A Contagion

Zeal to blame Russia for a bad election outcome has spread like contagion among countless self-described progressives, understandably appalled by the imminent Trump presidency. But those who think they’re riding a helpful tiger could find themselves devoured later on.

If civil liberties instead of repression — and diplomacy instead of war — are progressive values, then all too many progressives — eager to tar Trump as a Kremlin product — have been undermining those values.

Already, from witch-hunt legislation in Congress to pernicious media blacklisting, the anti-Russia hysteria — being fueled by the high-octane election-intervention storyline — has gained enormous momentum.

Days ago, assessing the momentum of that hysteria, Russian studies scholar Stephen F. Cohen cited some of the key motives propelling it (the first of which touted extremely farfetched hopes):

–“One is to reverse the Electoral College vote.”

–“Another is to exonerate the Clinton campaign from its electoral defeat by blaming that instead on Putin and thereby maintaining the Clinton wing’s grip on the Democratic Party.” Thus, countless Bernie supporters have been unwittingly strengthening the Clinton wing of the party while beating on the anti-Putin drum.

–“Yet another is to delegitimate Trump even before he is inaugurated. And certainly no less important, to prevent the détente with Russia that Trump seems to seek.”

Of all the good reasons to “delegitimate” Trump, alleged Kremlin intervention in the election should rank quite low. Trump’s evils are huge, with a very incomplete list including vast greed, pathological lying, contempt for facts, enthusiasm for oligarchy, bigotry, environmental destruction, racism, misogyny, economic injustice, voter suppression and rampant conflicts of interest.

While echoing the anti-Russia themes belted out by Democratic Party officials and loyalists, the chorus on the left may think it’s merely grabbing the low-hanging political fruit of this historical moment. But the fruit is already turning rancid, and apt to become poisonous.

It won’t be the first time in recent decades when liberals and others thought they were being clever and politically adroit as they aided and abetted the suppression of principles found in the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, while helping to gear up the machinery of war.

In Bed with Neocons

This month, by following the line of the Democratic Party leadership, groups like MoveOn actually have helped to set the stage for pressurizing Trump to deter him from pursuing policies that may be (along with opposition to trade deals such as the TPP) the only ways in which he might be appreciably better than Hillary Clinton would have been as president.

Let’s face it: Some of the fierceness of media attacks on Trump, such as from de facto neoconservative liberal-tinged entities like the Washington Post, is propelled by rage that his stance toward Russia lacks the neocon qualities that a Hillary Clinton presidency offered.

To be crystal clear: The election of Donald Trump as president is a horrific disaster, and his regime must be resisted on a vast array of issues with eternal vigilance. And, meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is a repressive ruler.

At the same time, it’s a rather glaring omission in the current outraged discourse that the U.S. government, from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Central Asian nations and beyond, continues to avidly support regimes far worse than Russia’s.

As for intervening in foreign elections, the CIA has excelled at that anti-democratic game for many decades — and mainline U.S. media outlets have been inclined to nod or even cheer when the American government and allied U.S. operatives succeed in working their will on electorates overseas.

Oh, and must we forget that U.S. efforts to determine the government leaders of other countries have sometimes gone far beyond techniques like hacking and disseminating emails?

As Janine Jackson of the media watchdog group FAIR wrote, “in back of it all, what makes the umbrage of elite media so hard to stomach is the hypocrisy. This is, after all, the same elite media that supports outsider-induced ‘regime change’ anywhere and everywhere they see an official enemy, from Iraq to Honduras to Libya to Syria. … You can make ‘one law for me, another for thee’ your credo, but you can’t be too surprised when others are unimpressed.”

And Jackson added: “Whatever story there is to be told about Russia and the 2016 election, corporate media have squandered the credibility it would take to tell it.”

Now, a crucial choice is right in front of the progressive groups and commentators who’ve been echoing the anti-Russia barrage from U.S. mass media. Staying on course will help to undermine civil liberties at home and will help to escalate conflicts with Russia that could end with nuclear war. Doesn’t sound “progressive” to me.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Behind the Russia-Hack Allegations

Though no public evidence has yet been provided, it’s now conventional wisdom that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election, a dangerous moment in U.S.-Russia relations, explains ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

I cannot recall a period in which the U.S. public debate across the media has reached such implacably partisan and toxic proportions. The issues are indeed important — particularly the specific allegation of Russian involvement in helping make public the activities of the Democratic National Committee — information that was strongly unfavorable to the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton.

It is imperative that such Russian actions be thoroughly investigated and aired publicly by responsible authority as soon as possible. To date such information has not been forthcoming.

Worse, however, is that such information war — while venerable in the history of intelligence organizations — now has achieved greater clout with the advent of electronic media and Internet.

As a former CIA operations officer I can well remember routinely helping promote anti-Soviet material, usually veering towards disinformation or “false news,” to be played in various overseas media to weaken the Soviet image and position. The Soviets were spreading similar disinformation about the U.S.

But a traditional game is getting ever more dangerous now, and new rules of the road have yet to be written. Broad investigation of the doings of Russia, China and indeed the U.S. itself needs to be aired as a foundation for reaching some potential agreement on what states may or may not do in interfering in whatever way in foreign affairs and elections. Indeed, as the article I reproduce below points out, “legal” efforts by foreign countries to tilt American elections have been in place for a long time, including from foreign “friends.”

But it’s not like Russia can simply throw stuff out on the table and the damage is done. We also need to perceive the diverse agendas at work here, the co-actors in the heated rhetoric issuing from among various U.S. groups on the Russian issue.

The Political Motive

First, harping on the alleged Russian role in publicizing the backroom activities of the DNC is designed to distract attention from the actual content of that DNC activity which aimed (successfully) at denigrating and weakening the candidacy of Bernie Sanders; all of that now conveniently shoved under the rug. Yet it mattered heavily to our democracy.

Second, it represents a drive to delegitimize the victory of Donald Trump. Now Trump is a figure about whose presidency I feel the deepest forebodings. But delegitimization of now-elected officials is in the longer run even more unhealthy to the political health of the Republic, yet it seems now to be part of the new U.S. politics since President Obama took office. (Obama also was subjected to efforts at delegitimization, including bogus claims that he was born in Kenya, a charge popularized ironically by Donald Trump). Opposition yes, delegitimization no.

Third, the Russian theme represents from the conservative and neocon side a desire to undercut any effort by Trump to improve relations with Russia; the anti-Putin cabal is deeply tied into the roots of the Cold War. An improvement of relations with Russia is furthermore very bad news for the military industrial complex and all its outlying organizations and consultants in and out of government.

Any improvement of relations with Russia also undercuts those who still yearn for “U.S. leadership” against global enemies — with Russia and China at the top of the list. These are the people who view international relations as a zero-sum game; whatever benefits China or Russia is automatically and by definition a setback for the U.S. Everything is win-lose, never a possible win-win game.

At this point I am delighted to turn over the rest of this blog to offer a highly balanced and insightful commentary on all these issues by Ambassador Robert E. Hunter. Hunter says it as well or better than I could; his piece is required reading in the midst of so much herd mentality in the national press.

Hunter offers a wise and sober commentary on the toxic state of politics in Washington today. He also reminds us of many of the core realities of international relations that we often forget. Equally importantly, he writes as a solidly establishment figure in U.S. foreign affairs and defense circles: Robert E. Hunter is a former senior National Security Council official and was U.S. Ambassador to NATO in the Bill Clinton administration.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle)


Rex Tillerson and the Russian Problem

by Robert E. Hunter

Lobelog, December 16, 2016

Washington, DC, our nation’s capital and the center of governmental angst in fair times and foul, is going through its most profound trauma in years, a collective PTSD. For most of Washington’s political class, even on the Republican side of the aisle that divides the city, “this wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Hillary Clinton was to be president and Donald Trump an also-ran, a showman who provided entertainment, though all-too-often holding up a mirror to the foibles and hypocrisies of those who do politics for a living.

But here we are.

At least three major institutions have been given an unprecedented shaking: the pollsters, who believe that their computer-driven Ouija boards can be dignified by a formal name–psephology; the Mainstream Media that (with few exceptions) worked assiduously to defeat Donald Trump, after first having raked in the big bucks by promoting him when they thought he was just a second-rate Elmer Gantry; and the foreign policy establishment, most of whose members will now be excluded from power and influence, deprived of their God-given right to set the nation’s agenda abroad and determine its directions.

The turmoil in these three institutions (and there are others) is so profound that more than a month after the election provided a definitive outcome – by the rule-book that every political animal knows by heart and follows assiduously, even when believing that the Electoral College “are an ass” – efforts are still underway to reverse Nov. 8’s outcome.

A truly minor candidate asked for and got recounts in three key Trump states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – which, if Mrs. Clinton were judged the victor in all three, would have made her president. This maneuver came up empty.

The latest ploy is an effort by several Electors to ask that they play their constitutional role as actual deliberators. Striking, however, is that all but one of the many signatories to this plea come from states that Hillary Clinton won. But to be relevant, at least 37 additional Electors from states that Trump carried would have to play this game. …

Russia and the Election

Each of these points is worth a major article or even a book. But here I will confine myself to the state of play as it relates to foreign policy and national security. There are two primary but interlocking activities underway: one is to reduce the legitimacy of Trump’s victory, perhaps hoping that this will make him more responsive to views of the Disappointed and Dispossessed after he becomes president; the other is to reduce his latitude for action in at least one major area of foreign policy.

The focus of these efforts can be summarized in one word: Russia. For months, there have been reports, some even endorsed by leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community, first, that Russia has been trying to show that American democracy is corrupt and not worthy of emulation; and, second, that Moscow has been using advanced cyber tools both to sow confusion in America and actually to sway votes.

The clear implication is that Trump won the 2016 presidential election because Russia’s Vladimir Putin interfered, directly and indirectly, in the U.S. electoral process. He was, in this view, violating unwritten rules of how major states are supposed to conduct their struggles for power and influence (latter-day Marquis of Queensbury Rules, which were indeed devised and largely followed during the Cold War, when the consequences of not doing so could have been a nuclear conflict).

Make no mistake: this matter is serious. At the extreme, it could even produce a U.S. constitutional crisis without precedent. It turns on the presumption that the Russian impact on the U.S. electoral process was large enough in key swing states to determine the outcome (or at least to leave the validity of the outcome in doubt.) Maybe so, but highly doubtful.

Yet the idea has attained widespread currency, including White House allegations of Mr. Putin’s direct engagement. The full case has been laid out in a five-page article, beginning in the middle of Page One, in the December 14 New York Times. Its bottom line is summarized as follows:

“Did he [Putin] seek to mar the brand of American democracy, to forestall anti-Russian activism for both Russians and their neighbors? Or to weaken the next American president, since presumably Mr. Putin had no reason to doubt American forecasts that Mrs. Clinton would win easily? Or was it, as the C.I.A. concluded last month, a deliberate attempt to elect Mr. Trump?

In fact, the Russian hack-and-dox scheme accomplished all three goals.”

It would be difficult to be more definitive than that!

Certainly, given the seriousness of the charges, Congressional hearings (endorsed by leaders of both political parties) are appropriate, as is President Barack Obama’s call for a root-and branch investigation. The key question is why he took so long to act, and why he is asking for a report only before he leaves office (January 20)…

“They All Do It”

Anyone with experience in international politics or historical knowledge knows that interfering in other countries’ politics and even elections is SOP–standard operating procedure. Others regularly do it to us: legally through their embassies, tolerated through K Street lobbyists they employ to the tune of millions of dollars, and also through their expatriates or others who convince themselves that the interests of foreign government X are also in the best interests of the United States.

In the early 20th century, Americans of Irish and Italian descent used to be masters of this game. In the 1930s, until discredited by Adolf Hitler’s actions, many German-Americans joined the German American Bund, which tried to keep the United States out of the Second World War. American citizens, misled by foreign propaganda and arguments that the United States had “lost China,” revered Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and kept the United States from normalizing relations with the People’s Republic of China from 1949 until “Nixon’s visit to China” in 1971. And the Israel lobby actively seeks to influence U.S. Middle East policy. This was evidenced most clearly by congressional cheering for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a joint session of Congress, when, in speaking of Iran’s nuclear program, he asked its members to trust his judgment rather than that of the U.S. president.

At the same time, the United States has regularly interfered in the politics and elections of other states, notably during the Cold War, and it still does now. People in both political parties argue that it is in a “good cause” or at least in a “necessary cause.” Perhaps at times they are right.

The New York Times exposé, cited above, elides over one event, when it scolds Russia for “outing” a phone call between the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, as they were trying to affect the outcome of Ukraine’s political struggle. According to the Times: “Ms. [Victoria] Nuland [the assistant secretary] was heard describing a little-known American effort to broker a deal in Ukraine, then in political turmoil.”

In this case, “broker a deal” is a euphemism for “promote a coup d’état.” Maybe that was the right course (though I do not agree), and it certainly did not justify the Russian military intervention in Ukraine that followed; but it was not as though we were the impeccable “good guys,” just trying to promote democracy, to Putin’s demonstrable “bad guy.”

The Tillerson Nomination and Russia

Now, from the wings, enters Mr. Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. With all the media coverage, it is not necessary here to recount all the potential problems there might be with this choice in the one place that matters, legally if not politically: the U.S. Senate.

Suffice it to recall that Mr. Tillerson’s company has massive business dealings in the Russian Federation, some of which he negotiated personally, that he is on record as having opposed sanctions imposed when Mr. Putin seized Crimea, and that he has had a long-standing relationship with the Russian president. This includes his having received a decoration, though not one on a par with the old Soviet honor of “Hero of the Soviet Union.”

Mr. Tillerson’s activities in industry are thus sufficient to raise questions about whether he would be an effective steward of American interests rather than being compromised, in fact as opposed to perception – the Caesar’s Wife of political combat, even when invoked by people whose own “skirts are not clean.” Perhaps he would be so inclined as Secretary of State, but given his experience and reputation, it is hard for an outsider like me (who has never met him) to conclude that he would sell out U.S. interests because of a supposed “friendship” with Putin or a mess of pottage for ExxonMobil.

Mr. Tillerson has certainly displayed none of the traits of deep ideological bias that mark another of Mr. Trump’s senior national security selections, LTG Michael Flynn, who, while reportedly inclined to support a new approach in U.S. dealings with Russia, has repeatedly made statements and written a book about Iran and Islam that raise profound doubts about his fitness to be National Security Advisor.

Further, Mr. Tillerson’s nomination elides into the other question that is most pertinent, now: the allegations of Russian meddling in our election campaign, whether accurately portrayed or inflated in their impact (which can never be truly assessed). At one level, Mr. Tillerson is a stand-in for Mr. Trump, who has spoken so often of wanting to create a more positive relationship with Russia and Mr. Putin.

What that would in fact mean is anyone’s guess – most likely Trump himself does not yet know. There is some risk that, in seeking both to “reach a deal” and to be different (and more effective) that President Obama, President Trump might compromise objectively-important interests – both America’s and others’. But it is easier for opponents of any change in U.S. policy toward Russia to challenge a nominee for a cabinet post than to take on the president, while sending the same “message.”

This debate comes at a difficult time in relations between the United States, along with several European states, and the Russian Federation, where “difficult” is defined not just in terms of some profound differences of interest and the facts of Russian aggression in Ukraine and intimidation of other European countries.

“Difficult” also means that in both Russia and the United States there has been a steady rise of attitudes that are redolent of the Cold War. People in both countries who should know better have been invoking the existence and even potential role of nuclear weapons; Russia has characterized NATO as its enemy; and some top U.S. military leaders have argued that Russia is an “existential threat” to the United States – a view, given that “existential” means “ready and perhaps willing to destroy us,” that is both absurd and as dangerous as some rhetoric by Russia.

The wheel thus comes full circle: allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election campaign become a tool to limit, if not cripple, President Trump’s attempts to change the downward course of U.S. and Western relations with Russia.

Of course, what calculations Putin is making are unknowable, but we do know one thing: he is playing a weak hand. Russia is not the Soviet Union. Its economy was struggling even before imposition of sanctions. Its principal source of wealth and export earnings, hydrocarbons, is not worth what it was even a couple of years ago, and oil is unlikely, at least anytime soon, again to reach $100 or more a barrel. The Russian population is aging and, while its decline in numbers may have been arrested, the population is certainly not growing significantly.

The Russian Federation is also socially fractured. Notably, Russia has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, a major part of which is disaffected from ethnic Russian domination. Thus, it is no wonder that Moscow has cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan and regarding the nuclear deal with Iran.

Unfortunately for Rex Tillerson, these factors will come together in his Senate confirmation hearings and will distract from due consideration whether he is qualified to do the job in terms that are truly relevant. His task before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will not be easy, given that so much extraneous material – he surely had nothing to do with Russian hacking – will be introduced. His background will work against him, both as portrayed by much of the mainstream media, which already have him in their sights, and among any senators who choose to grandstand.

But if because of Russian matters he is defeated for confirmation or must ask that his nomination be withdrawn, the implications will go far beyond the issues being debated. The new U.S. president could find himself crippled in trying to work out the kind of relationship with Russia that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry would have liked to achieve but could not – in major part because of Russian behavior, but also because of hardening attitudes here, including old Cold War overtones, that exist far more in the foreign policy establishment than in the country at large.

If that is what happens, we in the United States stand to be big-time losers.

Extracting Aleppo from the Propaganda

The mainstream U.S. news has supplied a consistent narrative regarding Syria that treats the “rebels” as the good guys and the “regime forces” as the bad guys, but it has never been that clear-cut, as Dennis J Bernstein reports.

By Dennis J Bernstein

It’s rare for Americans to hear any version of the Syrian conflict other than the simplistic accounts favored by the U.S. government and the mainstream news media that rely heavily on rebel sources and their international supporters who often traffic in propaganda.

One of the few independent Western journalists covering the horrific conflict is Eva Bartlett who has traveled to Syria six times in the last two years and just returned from a six-month stint in the war-torn country where she investigated human rights violations and terrorism against Syrians.

Her multiple investigations have led the seasoned Canadian journalist and human rights activist to conclusions that contradict what the Western media and governments have been reporting non-stop, regarding human rights violations by all sides.

I spoke with Bartlett last Thursday during her West Coast speaking tour about her discoveries, the situation in Aleppo, and the impact the war has had on large numbers of Palestinians who live in exile in Syria.

Dennis Bernstein: Eva, tell us, when were you last in Aleppo?

Eva Bartlett: I was in Aleppo twice in November, for my third and fourth visits to Aleppo.

DB: Okay, and describe the situation there on the ground. What’s happening, what’s… daily life like?

EB: I’m going to describe what it was like then, and note that, as of the last week, things have change dramatically. When I was there, in prior visits, as well, July and August and in November, the situation was that, on a daily basis, terrorists that are in many ways backed by the West and Gulf nations, financially and otherwise, were, on a daily basis, firing a variety of bombs on the civilian areas of Aleppo, which we never hear about in the corporate media.

In these areas there are over 1.5 million people. And on a daily basis they were subject to bombings of grad missiles, explosive bullets, mortars, gas canister bombs, water heater bombs, which are basically improvised bombs using gas canisters and water heaters, stuffed with explosives and shrapnel.

When I was there, I experienced some of that myself, with a bomb going off half a kilometer away, and with an explosive bullet landing about fifteen meters away. I also met with many people who had lost loved ones due to these bombings. I went to hospitals that themselves had been hit, like the al-Dabit Maternity Hospital.

In May of this year the al-Dabit Maternity Hospital was destroyed internally by a terrorist’s fired rocket. And when it was destroyed, three women inside were killed, and many more were injured. This was not, to my knowledge, reported in the corporate media, although the media’s always talking about alleged strikes on hospitals in Aleppo.

DB: Now… so we keep it clear, and untangled, when you say terrorists, are you talking about the people that the United States is supporting?
EB: Yes, I am. The United States will say, at least, that Jabhat al-Nusra–which is Al Qaeda in Syria, and which tried to rebrand itself as Fatah al-Sham, but which is still Al Qaeda in Syria–the U.S. will say that they are terrorists.

But the United States will not say, for example, that Ahrar al-Sham are terrorists, although on their internal documents when they discuss funding, they do acknowledge that they are terrorists. But, publicly they don’t state that.

They also don’t state that Nour al-Din al-Zenki are terrorists, even though this particular group savagely and methodically beheaded a 12 year old Palestinian boy, Abdullah Issa, some months ago.

These terrorists have participated in bombings of Aleppo, and also other villages we never hear about, and which I will be discussing today, al-Fu’ah and Kefriya. So, I do mean terrorists from those groups and also from the so-called Free Syrian Army. The Free Syrian Army has been as heinous and as gruesome as ISIS and as al-Nusra.

DB: Alright, you mentioned… a bunch of things we’re hearing here. Let’s just go over a few of them. You talked about the situation of the child, the Palestinian child who was beheaded. And you’re saying that he was beheaded by forces supported by the West?

EB: Yes.

DB: And how does the West support this particular force?

EB: They deem Nour al-Din al-Zenki a moderate group. I’m not aware if there’s financial support, there’s certainly support in terms of whitewashing their crimes. And when the cease fires are enacted, for example, in September and in February, these groups were not expected to participate in the cease fires. Only al-Nusra and ISIS and other al Qaeda affiliated groups were expected to participate.

But the problem with this is the U.S. themselves cannot control the terrorists that they support as moderates, who intermingle with the terrorists that they designate as terrorists. So they’re very aware of the crimes that these different groups they deem as moderates are committing, yet, they cannot control them.

DB: Alright, let me ask you a broad question, this way. You certainly do not get this story in watching the U.S. corporate media. So, let me ask you… what’s missing, from the U.S. corporate media’s picture? I mean you’ve been describing some atrocities that we haven’t heard about, but in the broader picture what’s missing?

EB: The Syrian voice. […] The corporate media interviews people that might be representatives of Syria, living abroad who haven’t been to Syria for years, or people they claim are in eastern Aleppo, until recently (now eastern Aleppo is liberated).

But they don’t [talk to civilians on the streets]… I mean how many western journalists have gone to Aleppo? And, you can. I’ve applied for visas and I’ve waited well over a month for my journalist visa. It’s not impossible, and other western journalists have gone to Syria and gone to Aleppo.

But they largely do not bother to talk to the Syrian people there, and ask how has life been for you these past years in Aleppo? If they had, they would find out that people have fled from eastern Aleppo. Something like 600,000 people over the years have fled from eastern areas of Aleppo which the terrorists’ factions occupied, to government-secured greater Aleppo. They did so for their own safety and they were given shelter by the government in university housing and in other shelters.

But this is never talked about in the corporate media. They would never talk about the fact that water and electricity have been cut off, since the terrorists took over these areas, of eastern and outskirts of Aleppo. They wouldn’t talk about the bombings that I’ve mentioned. They wouldn’t talk about the period of prolonged sieges, when terrorist factions cut off the only road that was leading into Aleppo. And these prolonged sieges meant that people weren’t getting food and medicine, etc. from outside.

DB: […] Is there a web site that people can go and find out [more about your lecture series]?

EB: Yeah. The tour is largely organized by a coalition of anti-war, anti-imperialist groups. The is the website.


DB: Now … you probably heard that we just had a presidential election, here. And there’s a big struggle… everybody, you know, is pretty clear that Trump is a white supremacist and serial liar, but when you consider what Trump has been saying and what Clinton was saying about Syria policy, Trump was making more sense.

In terms of the two candidates, you had to feel for what Trump was saying because Clinton wanted to draw down the same policy that gave us Libya, and a policy that puts the US head to head with Russia, and now China. And that could lead to WWIII. Your impressions and your thoughts on that?

ED: I mean, I’m up front in saying I don’t follow U.S. politics that closely for a variety of reasons. I believe that the U.S. and the military industrial complex obviously profits out of bringing wars upon these countries that it declares, we declare (we, the West declare) we’re going into these countries for human rights and democracy.

So I can’t really address a whole lot to do with Trump and Clinton, but on the note of human rights and on the note of rights of women, these so-called moderates that the West supports and that the corporate media whitewashes, look at how they treat women in Aleppo. I met with displaced people from eastern Aleppo, people that had fled years prior, and people who had fled weeks prior, when I met them. And they spoke of how women had to be covered head to toe, including their hands. Women had no rights in Aleppo. And people in general, were being starved.

And these are things that are coming out now that Aleppo is liberated, the testimonies of people on the ground, meeting these people that were evacuated and saved from the eastern areas of Aleppo, are horrific. And, you know, all the corporate media has been accusing the Syrian government of starving… what the U.N. said was 250,000 people in eastern Aleppo. Now there’s only a small pocket, I think the measurements were something like two-square miles, in Aleppo, now that still have some militants.

Are we expected to believe that since roughly 100,000 people have come out of the areas occupied, until recently, that the remaining two-squared kilometers are holding 150,000 people? Because the U.N. has said for years, and even [on December 15, 2016], [Staffan] de Mistura, the representative of the U.N., the peacekeeper, said there’s 50,000 in that small pocket. I mean how credible is this? Are they standing on one another’s head and shoulders?

This is an important point, because these numbers were inflated. And they’ve been inflated throughout the conflict on Syria–the war on Syria–in order to make people feel that they have to do something, and usually that something is supporting a no-fly zone. Which, like Libya, will just bring so much “human rights and democracy”.

The other point I wanted to make is that, you know, in terms of all the myths we’ve heard about Syria, over the years, the Syrian government has been accused of so many things, chemical weapons, they’ve been accused of massacring civilians. And every time there has been an investigation, all fingers have pointed to the rebels. Even Carla Del Ponte, who’s of the U.N. investigative team in a 2013 chemical attacks accusations, said, “No, it was the terrorists that had”… she said rebels… but they had “sarin.”

So … you asked earlier what are we not hearing from the corporate media. I’ll tell you what we’re not hearing, now, from the corporate media: The scenes, the voices of the people who have been liberated, saying “Thank you” to the army.

The army, by the way are not Assad’s forces. The army, the Syrian army is actually made up of Syrian people. And it’s not simply Alawite. It’s Sunni, it’s Alawite, it’s Christian. And the people in Aleppo… if people bother to search out independence, on the ground, Syrian journalists, or if you want, Russia Today, you will find footage of people praising the army. And people who have been terrorized for years by these terrorists that the West calls “moderates”.

DB: … We know there are major Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. The Palestinians haven’t done very well as a result of U.S. supported so-called… whatever you want to call them, the opposition to the government there. We know that thousands have come over the border, and have become refugees one time over again in crowded refugee camps. Can you talk about that?

EB: I mean, I don’t know about the number about thousands of Palestinians. It’s quite possible. But what I do know is that, first of all, prior to this war on Syria, Palestinians in Syria had the best existence of any area where they lived outside of occupied Palestine. You cannot compare their existence in Syria to say that of in Jordan or Lebanon, where they have no rights, whatsoever. In Syria they held equal rights, as Syrian citizens including free health care, free education, etc. And they were treated as Syrians, respected. And I spent a lot of time in Lebanon. And they are not respected there.

The second point is that there are Palestinians who have fought against the state, including Hamas. And there are Palestinians who have fought alongside the Syrian army, including groups like Liwa al-Quds, who are instrumental in liberating areas of Aleppo. I visited the University of Aleppo residences which, 16 of 20, are housing IDPs [internally displaced persons] from other areas of Aleppo. And one of the buildings was dedicated to Palestinians from Handarat camp. So, I mean, that’s one thing.

I would highly recommend people read a very detailed and thoroughly researched article by Sharmine Narwani called “Who dragged Palestinians into the Syria conflict?” She visited, I wasn’t able to [simply because I didn’t have time], but she visited… many Palestinian camps in Syria. And she spoke with them extensively. And she wrote a very thorough article on what happened with Palestinians in Syria. And it’s contrary to what we’re hearing in the corporate media, which likes to divide supporters of Palestine and supporters of Syria, because divide and conquer.

I’d also like to suggest people look at the web site where there’s a statement of solidarity from various prominent Palestinians, who are in solidarity with Syria’s sovereignty and their right to fight against terrorism.

DB: Let me ask you, what would your advice be to U.S. officials dealing at this point? What would you want to see happen?

EB: Stop arming the terrorists, stop whitewashing their crimes. Stop allowing Turkey to keep its borders open and terrorists to flood in and out through Turkey’s borders. Stop supporting the regimes of Saudi Arabia, which are in turn arming terrorists, which are brainwashing terrorists. Stop interfering in a sovereign nation.

The U.S. was not invited, nor was Canada, nor were any of the groups that are in the U.S. coalition that is supposedly fighting ISIS in Syria. And yet, out of, something like 15,000 sorties, as of a couple of months ago, they’ve done very little in terms of actually fighting ISIS. To the contrary, they’ve repeatedly attacked Syrian infrastructure, including bridges in eastern Syria, in Deir ez-Zor. They attacked a Syrian military position in September killing at least 83 Syrian soldiers. And only have finally owned up to this in an attack that lasted nearly one hour that enabled ISIS to take over the position.

So, you know, if U.S. officials, with all their crocodile tears, actually care about human rights in Syria, stop supporting the terrorists who are destroying the country.

DB: And maybe we can end this way. If there isn’t a sane policy prevailing here, what are your worst concerns? I mean, this is the part of the world that everybody worries about, it takes us to that next level that we don’t even want to think about. So you want to talk about if we go the wrong way here, how this can unravel? What if there was a no-fly zone?

EB: If there was a no-fly zone, above all, it would not mean human rights and it would not mean peace for Syrians, and that’s the whole pretext of the no-fly zone. Because the U.S. administration, and their lackey corporate media, whitewash the crimes of the terrorists. They vilify the government. And nobody is saying the government is perfect. Because no government is perfect.

But the point is, this is a war on Syria, with terrorists from over 100 nations, waging their wicked and distorted version of Jihad in Syria, or just acting as paid and drugged out mercenaries. If the U.S. was to compose a no-fly zone, there are various allies of Syria that are not going to stand for it.

If people don’t actually care about human rights in Syria think about it from a U.S. perspective–you are actually putting yourself at war with Russia. Russia is an ally of Syria. It was invited by Syria. And it does have its own interest in Syria. And clearly it’s not going to stand for the U.S. destroying Syria as it did Libya.

DB: Alright, we’re going to leave it right there. Again, what’s that website if people want to follow your lectures?

EB: Yeah, it’s the And I just wanted to say if people really want an honest taste of what’s going on in Aleppo, I recommend taking a look at the Facebook page of Vanessa Beeley. She can also be found on 21st Century Wire. She was on the ground in Aleppo just this week. And she was interviewing these people who we are not hearing in our media.

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

Russia-Hack Story, Another Media Failure

The mainstream U.S. media’s gullible acceptance of unproven CIA claims about Russian interference in the U.S. elections is another reason to doubt the media and fear for the future of American democracy, says Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

President Obama admitted in his press conference on Friday that his government hasn’t released any evidence yet of Russian interference in the election, but he said some would be coming.

That’s proof that an uncritical press has already printed stories as if true without any evidence just on the say-so of the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization long dedicated to deception, disinformation and meddling in other countries’ elections, not to mention arranging coups to overthrow elected governments.

Forty years ago, the established press would have been skeptical to buy anything the CIA was selling after a series of Congressional committees exposed a raft of criminal acts and abuses of power by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Today’s journalists work for newspapers that fraudulently still bear the names New York Times and Washington Post, but they are no longer the same papers.

The vast U.S. news media also is not the same. The working journalist today is living off the reputation for skepticism and determination to get beyond government pronouncements that was established by their papers decades ago. Rather than add to that reputation, the credibility of the biggest newspapers continues to erode.

Both the Times and the Post should today be stained by their credulous reporting of official lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Instead of showing professional skepticism, the big papers became cheerleaders for an illegal invasion that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left behind a disaster that still reverberates today. Neither the Times nor the Post suffered any consequences and have picked up where they left off, still uncritically reporting anonymous U.S. officials without demanding proof.

On the contrary, any reporter who did demand evidence was in danger of career consequences. An editor for a newspaper chain that I was reporting for called me to chew me out because he said my stories were not in support of the Iraq war effort. He told me his son was a Marine. I told him I was sure he was proud but that my job was to report the news based on the evidence. On the very day when the invasion began, I was fired.

Of course, the television networks, including CNN, were most egregious for selling the war. I was shocked when I heard reporter Kyra Philips from aboard a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf gleefully announce: “Welcome to Shock and Awe!” just after a cruise missile was shown being fired. The people it killed on the receiving end were almost never mentioned.

CNN, which has accepted Russian interference in the U.S. election as a given, is also living off its reputation of a once very serious news organization. On its very first broadcast on June 1, 1980, Cable News Network aired as its second story a lengthy investigative report on faulty fuel gauges in commercial airliners. It broadcast an in-depth live report from the Middle East, and veteran newsman Daniel Schorr interviewed and challenged President Jimmy Carter.

But 1980 was when the period of skeptical, professional journalism that demanded proof from its own government started to decline as Ronald Reagan was elected. He worked to stamp out the skepticism bred from Watergate, Vietnam and the Congressional intelligence hearings. Reagan did this, in part, by resurrecting the most obvious and adolescent myths about America. And he worked with the CIA to manage America’s perceptions away from the critical thinking of the 1970s, as journalist Robert Parry has extensively reported.

There have been a few periods in American journalism when demanding proof from government was expected. The muckraking period led by Lincoln Steffens of the Progressive Era was one. The 1970s was another. But mostly it has been a business filled with careerists who live vicariously through the powerful people they cover, disregarding the even greater power the press has to cut the powerful down to size.

Egregious Case

The reporting on the supposed Russian hack of the elections is one of the most egregious examples of unprofessional journalism since 2003, particularly because of the stakes involved.

There have now been a slew of stories, each of which seems to offer a new promise of evidence, such as one under the ludicrous New York Times headline, “C.I.A. Judgment on Russia Built on Swell of Evidence.” But when you read the piece, its only sources are still unnamed intelligence officials. A later 8,000-word Times article was the same, as though the length by itself was supposed to lend it more credibility.

If there were any doubts, Obama wiped them away with his admission that no evidence had been released. Worse still, perhaps, is that counter-evidence has been suppressed, another consistent feature of today’s journalism.

The former British diplomat Craig Murray, has written and told at least two radio interviewers that the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails were not obtained by WikiLeaks through hacks, but instead from leaks by American insiders.

This story was totally ignored by established media until the Daily Mail in London reported it online, but incorrectly said Murray had himself received the leak. In the U.S., only The Washington Times reported the story, quoting the Mail. But that story took a swipe at Murray’s reputation, merely saying he was “removed from his diplomatic post amid allegations of misconduct.” In fact, Murray was let go for blowing the whistle on U.K. use of evidence extracted by torture by the corrupt Karimov administration in Uzbekistan. The rest of the Washington Times story just repeats what every other reporter has written about Russian interference.

Two Obstacles

Even if it were proven that Russian government operatives hacked these emails as part of their intelligence gathering, there remains the additional evidentiary hurdle that they then supplied the data to WikiLeaks, when the recipients, including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, say the source or sources weren’t Russians.

It’s also noteworthy that none of the information in the emails has been shown to be false. The leaks provided real insights into how the DNC favored Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders and revealed some shady practices of the Clinton Foundation as well as the contents of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street bankers that she had tried to hide. In other words, the leaks gave voters more information about Hillary Clinton, confirming what many voters already believed: that she was beholden to the financial sector and benefited from her insider connections. But none of that was particularly news.

It is important to note, too, that Obama himself in his press conference said there is zero evidence Russia tried to hack into the electronic voting systems. In fact it now emerges from dogged reporting by a local Atlanta TV station that the Department of Homeland Security appears to have been behind earlier attempted hacks of voting systems in several states.

So, it would be virtually impossible to prove that the DNC and Podesta emails were the deciding factor in the election. Indeed, before the election, pro-Clinton corporate media downplayed the email-related stories and Podesta said the emails may have been faked (although none of them appears to have been made up).

The emails also revealed numerous instances of reporters colluding with the Clinton campaign before publishing stories, something no hard-boiled editor from an earlier era would have stood for.

Democratic Misdirection

By focusing on the alleged Russian role now, Democrats also have diverted attention from other factors that likely were far more consequential to the outcome, such as Clinton largely ignoring the Rust Belt and not going once to Wisconsin or her calling many Trump supporters “deplorables” and “irredeemable.” Further, Clinton was a quintessential Establishment candidate in an anti-Establishment year.

And, there was the fact that in the campaign’s final week, FBI Director James Comey briefly reopened the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State, a move that reminded many Americans why they distrusted Clinton.

Yet, as the mainstream U.S. media now hypes as flat fact the supposed Russian role, there remains the inconvenient truth that the Obama administration’s intelligence community has presented no verifiable evidence that the Russians were the source of the leaks.

Demanding to see the evidence on Russia, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee called the CIA, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to a closed-door briefing. Though these agencies are obligated to show up in response to requests from their Congressional oversight committees, the three agencies flatly refused. Then, DNI James Clapper refused to brief concerned Electoral College voters whose votes for or against Trump may have been influenced by the news media frenzy about alleged Russian interference. Clapper reportedly is preparing a report on Russia’s “hacking” for Congress.

Political Strategy

The Russia fiasco appears to have been part of a political strategy that I first wrote about on Nov. 5 – three days before the election – that a fallback plan, if Trump won a narrow victory, would be to influence the electors to reject Trump when they assemble in state capitals on Dec. 19. Playing the Russian card was designed to appeal to the electors’ patriotism to defend their country against foreign interference.

Assuming that Electoral College long shot failed, there would be one more chance for Clinton to stop Trump: on Jan. 6, when Congress meets to certify the election. The Clinton camp needs one Senator and one Representative to sign an objection to Trump’s certification (no doubt citing Russia) forcing a vote by both chambers.

If Trump loses – and there are a number of anti-Trump Republicans in Congress – the election would be thrown to the House where Clinton or a more conventional Republican could be selected as President.

Given those stakes for the American democracy and the risks inherent in U.S. relations with nuclear-armed Russia, the fact that the most influential establishment media has bought into this extremely flimsy story about Russian hacking should condemn them further in the minds of the public.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.

Exploiting the Tragedy of Aleppo

Official Washington’s dominant neocons have pushed emotional propaganda about Syria as a way to justify a “regime change” project there and are now furious with its apparent failure, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

Among large-scale tragedies involving human suffering and the many examples of man’s inhumanity toward man, only a few capture our imaginations and sway our collective emotions. The question of which specific episodes achieve this special salience does not seem to depend on the scale of the suffering or even on the degree of immorality involved.

The salience instead arises through accidents and vagaries of history. The villains in particular episodes may have been primed to play such a role because of previous affinities and alignments and how we had already come to see them as villains. Some episodes get more Western press coverage than many other episodes because of where reporters happen to be, what competition there is for headlines, or other random influences. All of this makes for much inconsistency in what grabs our heartstrings as well as our attention.

Once a situation achieves the special status of being the focus of elevated indignation and emoting, the phenomenon of concentrated attention and moralizing becomes self-reinforcing. Repeated references to the situation as inhumane and a moral litmus test stimulate further similar references.

Once this process is under way, it discourages sound discussion of policy options, including options of the past, present, and future. One reason is the oversimplification involved in treating a complex situation as a litmus test that supposedly has clear right and wrong answers. Another reason is the precedence that emotion comes to take over dispassionate reasoning.

This process is now being applied to the battle within the Syrian civil war in the city of Aleppo, with government forces having recently concluded the battle by achieving surrender of the remaining portion of the city that rebel forces had held. This front of the war came to get disproportionate attention partly because Aleppo had been the largest city in Syria and partly because the battle there saw intense combat over an extended period.

The length of the battle was in turn an artifact of how front lines of the war had evolved in that part of Syria. Both government and rebel forces each came to hold an enclave in the central part of Aleppo that was nearly surrounded by territory held by the other side — a prescription for prolonged siege warfare. Social media also have played more of a role than in some earlier situations, with much attention to tweets that may or may not have come from a 7-year-old girl in Aleppo. And as is common in such situations, other political and policy axes are being ground.

Selective Outrage   

What has come to be a common form of public discussion in the West of this situation is exemplified by the New York Times giving its architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, space for a front-page piece that laments how pictures from elsewhere “of war and suffering have pricked the public conscience and provoked action before” but that with Aleppo, “all we do is watch.” Kimmelman’s own piece disproves his contention that conscience-pricking is not occurring with Aleppo as it has elsewhere. So do many other pieces.

The lead editorial and cover story of the current issue of The Economist charges that the West, with “particular blame” aimed at Barack Obama, has failed to carry out a “duty to constrain brute force” that it recognized it had after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Leon Wieseltier, writing in the Washington Post, begins with a reference to “the extermination [sic] of Aleppo and its people” and teachings of Eli Wiesel. The rest of the piece is in a comparably black-and-white and overwrought vein, with disparagement of President Obama mixed in with mentions of Auschwitz as well as Rwanda.

If one were to search for dispassionate and objective reasons to have more despair over Aleppo than over countless other instances of wartime suffering or of man’s inhumanity to man, such reasons would be hard to find. As important as possession of Aleppo is, it has still been only one piece of one front in one war out of the complex of wars that have constituted the violence in Syria over the past six years. There are many instances of brutality, at the hand of different perpetrators, to be found in the Syrian violence.

Outside Syria it is easy to find current or recent situations that are also heartstring-worthy. This is true even if limiting one’s purview to the Middle East and to instances of government forces assaulting populated areas and inflicting many civilian casualties and other civilian suffering.

Two instances that come readily to mind are the repeated armed assaults on the Gaza Strip and aerial bombardment in the current war in Yemen. The situation in Aleppo has in one respect been milder than those cases; rather than being an instance of “extermination,” in Aleppo even fighters, let alone civilians, have been given a chance to evacuate. There have been no convoys of green buses to take the people of Gaza or Yemen to safer places.

Policy Misdirection

The oversimplification and emotion that have come to characterize the dominant narrative about Aleppo are generating serious misunderstanding about that situation and about the wider war in Syria, and are laying groundwork for policy misdirection about other civil wars in the future.


There have been multiple parties in the fight at Aleppo, and brutality and infliction of wholesale suffering on civilians have not been limited to any one side. Rebel forces in eastern Aleppo, which have included the local Al Qaeda affiliate, have been guilty of execution-style killings of civilians in the area under their control as well as indiscriminate shelling of the portion of the city that had always been under government control.

Moreover, the agonies of siege warfare have not been in only one direction. The reported reason that one agreement, arranged by Russia and Turkey, for a cease-fire and evacuation was not immediately implemented was that Iran insisted that the same sort of arrangements be made for the residents of two Shia-inhabited villages besieged by rebels. And why shouldn’t such succor be extended to civilians of all faiths, rather than just to those on one side of a sectarian divide?

The simplistic, black-and-white treatment of a clash such as the battle for Aleppo brings about a loss of context and perspective, such as exhibited by the pro-intervention James Jeffrey, who accuses the Obama administration and anyone else not willing to dive into the Syrian civil war of over-reacting to the experience with Iraq. Intervening in the Syrian war, Jeffrey says, would be “containing a threat to the global system,” akin to Berlin, Korea, Kuwait, and the Cuban missile crisis. Iraq and “arguably Vietnam” were something different: efforts to “expand that system.”

But how can he say that when the Assad regime, under first the father and then the son, has been in power for 46 years, as well as having its alliances with Moscow and Tehran for most of that time? The war against Assad is all about regime change, just as much as in Iraq, and can hardly be called “containing” rather than ”expanding” anything global.

Also encouraged by the moralistic absolutism applied to Aleppo and the Syrian civil war as a whole is misconception about U.S. policy options available now and earlier, and what any such options could have or would have brought about.

The Washington Post editorial page, which has tirelessly beaten a drum about Syria, is an example. Its latest take on the subject is as moralistically vituperative as anyone else’s, speaking of “a meltdown of the West’s moral and political will — and in particular, a collapse of U.S. leadership.” As usual, there is an absence not only of attention to costs and risks to the United States but also of any convincing analysis that further escalation of the war by outside players would bring Syria any closer to a semblance of peace and stability, rather than moving it farther away. The editorial writers seem to be saying that this is all a matter of whether the Assad regime is up or down, and pushing it down is the only way to go.

What the Post editorialists and many others argue is that if only more had been done earlier, the options and the results would have been better. This is a cheap and easy argument to make for anyone beating the drum for intervention (and perhaps also wanting to beat President Obama with a stick), without having to come up with a workable alternative.

There is little or nothing in the history of this war, the state of Syrian political culture, or previous efforts to recruit and train opposition forces to suggest that the mirage of a “moderate” element strong and cohesive enough to topple Assad and form the basis of a stable follow-on regime was ever anything but a mirage. Although it is true that some movement toward radical groups has been partly a matter of those groups being where guns and salaries were, the much bigger radicalizing element, in Syria as in other places with internal warfare, has been the war itself, engagement in which is an inherently immoderate act.

Debt to Obama

We owe President Obama a debt of gratitude for bearing the burden of formulating and implementing policies that do reflect adequate attention to costs and risks to the United States and to what realistically would make things no worse for Syria. The rest of us get to moralize and express anguish over the suffering people of Aleppo; the President has to go beyond moralizing, and in so doing he has to put up with being mentioned in the same paragraphs as Auschwitz.

Looking beyond Mr. Obama, the prevailing treatment of the Aleppo episode threatens to inculcate damaging “lessons” to be applied to future civil wars. It is interesting that several of the critics of current policy mention Rwanda as such a lesson, because Rwanda was cited (including by the self-described “genocide chick” who is the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) as a reason to intervene in Libya sufficiently to topple the incumbent regime there in 2011.

We now have five years of results. Those results include a still-chaotic situation and continuing civil war in which the human suffering, including deaths well into the thousands, is far more than the genocide-in-the-making that supposedly was going to occur in Benghazi.

By all means sympathize with the people of Aleppo. We should feel anguish over their suffering.  But don’t confuse anguish with policy analysis.

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


A Spy Coup in America?

Exclusive: As the Electoral College assembles, U.S. intelligence agencies are stepping up a campaign to delegitimize Donald Trump as a Russian stooge, raising concerns about a spy coup in America, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As Official Washington’s latest “group think” solidifies into certainty – that Russia used hacked Democratic emails to help elect Donald Trump – something entirely different may be afoot: a months-long effort by elements of the U.S. intelligence community to determine who becomes the next president.

I was told by a well-placed intelligence source some months ago that senior leaders of the Obama administration’s intelligence agencies – from the CIA to the FBI – were deeply concerned about either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump ascending to the presidency. And, it’s true that intelligence officials often come to see themselves as the stewards of America’s fundamental interests, sometimes needing to protect the country from dangerous passions of the public or from inept or corrupt political leaders.

It was, after all, a senior FBI official, Mark Felt, who – as “Deep Throat” – guided The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their Watergate investigation into the criminality of President Richard Nixon. And, I was told by former U.S. intelligence officers that they wanted to block President Jimmy Carter’s reelection in 1980 because they viewed him as ineffectual and thus not protecting American global interests.

It’s also true that intelligence community sources frequently plant stories in major mainstream publications that serve propaganda or political goals, including stories that can be misleading or entirely false.

What’s Going On?

So, what to make of what we have seen over the past several months when there have been a series of leaks and investigations that have damaged both Clinton and Trump — with some major disclosures coming, overtly and covertly, from the U.S. intelligence community led by CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey?

Some sources of damaging disclosures remain mysterious. Clinton’s campaign was hobbled by leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee – showing it undercutting Clinton’s chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders – and from her campaign chairman John Podesta – exposing the content of her speeches to Wall Street banks that she had tried to hide from the voters and revealing the Clinton Foundation’s questionable contacts with foreign governments.

Clinton – already burdened with a reputation for secrecy and dishonesty – suffered from the drip, drip, drip of releases from WikiLeaks of the DNC and Podesta emails although it remains unclear who gave the emails to WikiLeaks. Still, the combination of the two email batches added to public suspicions about Clinton and reminded people why they didn’t trust her.

But the most crippling blow to Clinton came from FBI Director Comey in the last week of the campaign when he reopened and then re-closed the investigation into whether she broke the law with her sloppy handling of classified material in her State Department emails funneled through a home server.

Following Comey’s last-minute revival of the Clinton email controversy, her poll numbers fell far enough to enable Trump to grab three normally Democratic states – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – enough to give him a victory in the Electoral College.

Taking Down Trump

However, over the past few weeks, the U.S. intelligence community, led by CIA Director Brennan and seconded by FBI Director Comey, has tried to delegitimize Trump by using leaks to the mainstream U.S. news media to pin the release of the DNC and Podesta emails on Russia and claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally trying to put Trump into the White House.

This remarkable series of assessments from the CIA – now endorsed by the leadership of the FBI – come on the eve of the Electoral College members assembling to cast their formal votes to determine who becomes the new U.S. president. Although the Electoral College process is usually simply a formality, the Russian-hacking claims made by the U.S. intelligence community have raised the possibility that enough electors might withhold their votes from Trump to deny him the presidency.

If on Monday enough Trump electors decide to cast their votes for someone else – possibly another Republican – the presidential selection could go to the House of Representatives where, conceivably, the Republican-controlled chamber could choose someone other than Trump.

In other words, there is an arguable scenario in which the U.S. intelligence community first undercut Clinton and, secondly, Trump, seeking — however unlikely — to get someone installed in the White House considered more suitable to the CIA’s and the FBI’s views of what’s good for the country.

Who Did the Leaking?

At the center of this controversy is the question of who leaked or hacked the DNC and Podesta emails. The CIA has planted the story in The Washington Post, The New York Times and other mainstream outlets that it was Russia that hacked both the DNC and Podesta emails and slipped the material to WikiLeaks with the goal of assisting the Trump campaign. The suggestion is that Trump is Putin’s “puppet,” just as Hillary Clinton alleged during the third presidential debate.

But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has publicly denied that Russia was the source of the leaks and one of his associates, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, has suggested that the DNC leak came from a “disgruntled” Democrat upset with the DNC’s sandbagging of the Sanders campaign and that the Podesta leak came from the U.S. intelligence community.

Although Assange recently has sought to muzzle Murray’s public comments – out of apparent concern for protecting the identity of sources – Murray offered possibly his most expansive account of the sourcing during a podcast interview with Scott Horton on Dec. 13.

Murray, who became a whistleblower himself when he protested Britain’s tolerance of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, explained that he consults with Assange and cooperates with WikiLeaks “without being a formal member of the structure.”

But he appears to have undertaken a mission for WikiLeaks to contact one of the sources (or a representative) during a Sept. 25 visit to Washington where he says he met with a person in a wooded area of American University. At the time, Murray was at American University participating in an awards ceremony for former CIA officer John Kiriakou who was being honored by a group of former Western intelligence officials, the Sam Adams Associates, named for the late Vietnam War-era CIA analyst and whistleblower Sam Adams.

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, a founder of the Sam Adams group, told me that Murray was “m-c-ing” the event but then slipped away, skipping a reception that followed the award ceremony.

Reading Between LInes

Though Murray has declined to say exactly what the meeting in the woods was about, he may have been passing along messages about ways to protect the source from possible retaliation, maybe even an extraction plan if the source was in some legal or physical danger.

Murray has disputed a report in London’s Daily Mail that he was receiving a batch of the leaked Democratic emails. “The material, I think, was already safely with WikiLeaks before I got there in September,” Murray said in the interview with Scott Horton. “I had a small role to play.”

Murray also suggested that the DNC leak and the Podesta leak came from two different sources, neither of them the Russian government.

“The Podesta emails and the DNC emails are, of course, two separate things and we shouldn’t conclude that they both have the same source,” Murray said. “In both cases we’re talking of a leak, not a hack, in that the person who was responsible for getting that information out had legal access to that information.”

Reading between the lines of the interview, one could interpret Murray’s comments as suggesting that the DNC leak came from a Democratic source and that the Podesta leak came from someone inside the U.S. intelligence community, which may have been monitoring John Podesta’s emails because the Podesta Group, which he founded with his brother Tony, served as a registered “foreign agent” for Saudi Arabia.

“John Podesta was a paid lobbyist for the Saudi government,” Murray noted. “If the American security services were not watching the communications of the Saudi government’s paid lobbyist in Washington, then the American security services would not be doing their job. … His communications are going to be of interest to a great number of other security services as well.”

Leak by Americans

Scott Horton then asked, “Is it fair to say that you’re saying that the Podesta leak came from inside the intelligence services, NSA [the electronic spying National Security Agency] or another agency?”

“I think what I said was certainly compatible with that kind of interpretation, yeah,” Murray responded. “In both cases they are leaks by Americans.”

In reference to the leak of the DNC emails, Murray noted that “Julian Assange took very close interest in the death of Seth Rich, the Democratic staff member” who had worked for the DNC on voter databases and was shot and killed on July 10 near his Washington, D.C., home.

Murray continued, “WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture of his killers. So, obviously there are suspicions there about what’s happening and things are somewhat murky. I’m not saying – don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that he was the source of the [DNC] leaks. What I’m saying is that it’s probably not an unfair indication to draw that WikiLeaks believes that he may have been killed by someone who thought he was the source of the leaks … whether correctly or incorrectly.”

Though acknowledging that such killings can become grist for conspiracy buffs, Murray added: “But people do die over this sort of stuff. There were billions of dollars – literally billions of dollars – behind Hillary Clinton’s election campaign and those people have lost their money.

“You have also to remember that there’s a big financial interest – particularly in the armaments industry – in a bad American relationship with Russia and the worse the relationship with Russia is the larger contracts the armaments industry can expect especially in the most high-tech high-profit side of fighter jets and missiles and that kind of thing.

“And Trump has actually already indicated he’s looking to make savings on the defense budget particularly in things like fighter [jet] projects. So, there are people standing to lose billions of dollars and anybody who thinks in that situation bad things don’t happen to people is very naïve.”

An Intelligence Coup?

There’s another possibility in play here: that the U.S. intelligence community is felling a number of birds with one stone. If indeed U.S. intelligence bigwigs deemed both Clinton and Trump unfit to serve as President – albeit for different reasons – they could have become involved in leaking at least the Podesta emails to weaken Clinton’s campaign, setting the candidate up for the more severe blow from FBI Director Comey in the last week of the campaign.

Then, by blaming the leaks on Russian President Putin, the U.S. intelligence leadership could set the stage for Trump’s defeat in the Electoral College, opening the door to the elevation of a more traditional Republican. However, even if that unlikely event – defeating Trump in the Electoral College – proves impossible, Trump would at least be weakened as he enters the White House and thus might not be able to move very aggressively toward a détente with Russia.

Further, the Russia-bashing that is all the rage in the mainstream U.S. media will surely encourage the Congress to escalate the New Cold War, regardless of Trump’s desires, and thus ensure plenty more money for both the intelligence agencies and the military contractors.

Official Washington’s “group think” holding Russia responsible for the Clinton leaks does draw some logical support from the near certainty that Russian intelligence has sought to penetrate information sources around both Clinton and Trump. But the gap between the likely Russian hacking efforts and the question of who gave the email information to WikiLeaks is where mainstream assumptions may fall down.

As ex-Ambassador Murray has said, U.S. intelligence was almost surely keeping tabs on Podesta’s communications because of his ties to Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments. So, the U.S. intelligence community represents another suspect in the case of who leaked those emails to WikiLeaks. It would be a smart play, reminiscent of the convoluted spy tales of John LeCarré, if U.S. intelligence officials sought to cover their own tracks by shifting suspicions onto the Russians.

But just the suspicion of the CIA joining the FBI and possibly other U.S. intelligence agencies to intervene in the American people’s choice of a president would cause President Harry Truman, who launched the CIA with prohibitions against it engaging in domestic activities, and Sen. Frank Church, who investigated the CIA’s abuses, to spin in their graves.

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

Politicized Intelligence Kneecapping Trump

The back story behind the CIA’s leaked claim of Russia helping Donald Trump is an attempt to hobble Trump’s less-hawkish foreign policy before he even gets into the White House, says ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

It is not difficult to understand the dynamics of the recent U.S. presidential election. These same dynamics played a part in Brexit, and continue to unfold throughout Europe: there has been little or no real “growth” since 2005 – for many Americans and Europeans. Good quality jobs for native-born Americans and Europeans are rare, and those employment increases that have occurred, are mostly in the minimum wage sector – and have been filled by recent immigrants.

Many native-born Americans and Europeans are feeling the economic pips squeezed to the limit, at the same time that zero or negative interest rates has eviscerated savings income, and is threatening their pensions.

This is the economic malaise. And on top of this has been the political malaise and widespread reaction against the center-leftist “values-based,” identity politics that stressed the rights and interests of a growing spectrum of “victims” in society: specifically defined in polar opposition to the mainstream American and European way-of-life.

The aggressiveness behind this polar oppositional positioning, intentionally demonizes and weakens the cultural mainstream:  in effect, ordinary people who worked, had loving wives or husbands and children, and attended church, became the “deplorables,” bigots or racists. It was against this supposed cultural “tyranny” that identity victims needed to be supported.

Gender relations were twisted as new genders proliferated, the propaganda of gender diversity exploded, and parent-children relations eroded. Indeed, “white,” “male” and “Christian” are the only identities you may freely and gratuitously abuse in the U.S. and Europe today. Many ordinary Americans and Europeans find this intolerable. They are pushing-back.

Nothing About Russia

None of these dynamics have anything at all to do with Russia or President Vladimir Putin – except that many Russians express bewilderment that Europe has become so embroiled in this gender politics, and in a war against traditional cultural and moral values.

But today, certain Western intelligence services – the CIA and MI6 – want to suggest that Putin had his “thumb on the scales” of the U.S. election, and “may manipulate a series of key elections [to be held] in Europe next year” too.  The narrative has evolved from one of Russian influence in U.S. elections, to that of a decisive influence.

As one former CIA officer and U.S. national intelligence co-ordinator, Graham Fuller puts it: “And now, in perhaps the most volatile delegitimization gambit ever, Trump is now whispered to be ‘Putin’s candidate,’ a Russian pawn who has infiltrated the White House itself …

“This is all very ugly stuff. Worse, it looks like questioning the electoral process and the legitimacy of the election itself may become a permanent feature of our domestic politics, inciting further divisiveness and bitterness on both sides of the political divide, rendering the country (even more) ungovernable.”

Indeed, it is ugly stuff. The politicization of intelligence has reached new heights. Russia is not responsible for the widespread opposition to globalization in the U.S. and Europe: simply, the original theory behind globalization (David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory) no longer retains validity or meaning in the changed reality of today’s world (see here, for an explanation).

And economic growth is proving elusive for a number of reasons, which reflect deep-seated changes under way in the world today (aging demography, China’s stall, and more generally, the failure of debt-led growth policies to work any more, inter alia). For sure, the leadership of the CIA understands these longer-term dynamics at work in recent U.S. and European elections.

A recent Pew survey, for example, shows: “The Republican Party made deep inroads into America’s middle-class communities in 2016. Although many middle-class areas voted for Barack Obama in 2008, they overwhelmingly favored Donald Trump in 2016, a shift that was a key to his victory … In 2016, Trump successfully defended all 27 middle-class areas won by Republicans in 2008. In a dramatic shift, however, Hillary Clinton lost in 18 of the 30 middle-class areas won by Democrats in 2008 … Overall, Democrats experienced widespread erosion in support from 2008 to 2016. Their share of the vote fell in 196 of the 221 metropolitan areas examined. The loss in support was sufficiently large to move 37 areas from the Democratic column to the Republican column …”.

A Charge Lacking Evidence

And, so far, the American officials have stated explicitly that there is no evidence to sustain their claim of Russian involvement – and National Security Agency, which, alone, might have such evidence – were it to exist – has not come forward to confirm the CIA “assessment.” Other American intelligence agencies have directly contested the leaked CIA “finding.”

In short, we are told that the CIA claims are based on “inference”: which is to say that the CIA officials are “confident,” based on their psychological profile of President Putin, that the latter would prefer Mr. Trump as President; that since it was the Democrats who experienced leaks – and not the Republicans – it may be inferred that a hostile power was behind the leaks; and since Putin lies at the apex of Russian power, it may “confidently” be inferred that he personally would have authorized and directed such leaks.

Of course, this is not intelligence. This is simply a given conceptual framework (or group think), which may be right or may be wrong, being played out. It is blatantly political – unless sustained by hard intelligence.

And it is pernicious. Regardless of what may be said officially, in due course, in respect to the CIA claims, a cloud of illegitimacy will hang over the Trump Administration, and, as Graham Fuller rightly observes, this supposed illegitimacy, derived from the decisive influence of Russia on the election, may not be ephemeral, but rather continue to haunt the President throughout his incumbency. (It is hard to lay to rest CIA inferences once made, beyond repeating that there is no definite evidence to support them.) Such a finding would hardly dissipate the smoldering antipathies.

The allegation of Russian malfeasance may also derail the confirmation of Rex Tillerson, official “friend of Russia,” as Secretary of State. It may thus hobble Trump’s ability to reach détente with Russia – and may taint any détente that subsequently may be reached with Russia.

It is likely too, to make President Putin more wary of reaching any accord with Tillerson – suspecting that any new détente with the U.S. will unleash a further torrent of abuse of Russia from a polarized America. Even were Putin personally to welcome a Trump political initiative, further abuse of Russia in America and Europe might not be judged by President Putin to be worth the candle. No people, and not least the Russian people, like to see their country traduced publicly, and at length, in the world press. The onslaught is already having its impact: Russians will be asking themselves can Trump command such a divided and soured country.

Delegitimizing a President

Can one conclude that this outcome (a delegitimized Presidency) was somehow other than that which the CIA intended? Pat Buchanan (himself a thrice-time U.S. Presidential candidate) has no doubts: “The [New York] Times editorial spoke of a ‘darkening cloud’ already over the Trump presidency, and warned that a failure to investigate and discover the full truth of Russia’s hacking could only ‘feed suspicion among millions of Americans that … (t)he election was indeed rigged.’

“Behind the effort to smear Tillerson and delegitimize Trump lies a larger motive. Trump has antagonists in both parties who are alarmed at his triumph, because it imperils the foreign policy agenda that is their raison d’être, their reason ‘for being.’

These people do not want to lift sanctions on Moscow. They do not want an end to the confrontation with Russia. As is seen by their bringing in tiny Montenegro, they want to enlarge NATO to encompass Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

They have in mind the permanent U.S. encirclement of Russia … Their goal is to bring down Putin and bring about ‘regime change’ in Moscow.”

In short, the Russia “hype” is about blocking Trump from making his foreshadowed shift away from the new Cold War, pursued by the present U.S. establishment, and towards initiating détente instead, and perhaps the playing up of the Russian “threat” extends even to hoping to frighten enough presidential electors to change their vote on Dec. 19 (though that prospect seems improbable).

If there are indeed foreign intelligence services with their “thumb” in the American election, arguably it is those European services that are feeding the “profound” propaganda threat from Russia meme – and thereby helping in the delegitimization of the U.S. President-elect, and to keeping the new Cold War alive. (There are European states deeply opposed to any rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia).

But this politicization of intelligence is pernicious in another way – to which Graham Fuller also alludes. The allegations that Trump is a knowing or unknowing pawn of Russia is explosive emotional material thrown into an already enflamed, splintered and embittered American national psyche.  The “not my President” meme may make it impossible for Trump to operationalize his policies – as polarized government departments turn upon each other (as is already occurring amongst the intelligence agencies). In short, it can paralyze the very operationality of government.

Buchanan states the obvious conclusion, when he writes: “early in his presidency, if not before, Trump is going to have to impose his foreign policy upon his own party and, indeed, upon his own government. Or his presidency will be broken, as was Lyndon Johnson’s.”

Profound Polarization

But let us be clear: de-legitimation can be a two-edged sword. Were, by some pretty unimaginable event, Hillary Clinton to be enacted as President vice Trump, she would find her ability to command the authority of the state as hobbled by the bitterness and anger – as would a delegitimized Trump.

Politicization of intelligence services is not new, nor are “black” (i.e. false-flagged) information operations conducted by Western services, but the scale of the present assault on a U.S. President-elect marks, perhaps, a different order of potential consequences.

How can this have happened? The war in Syria has had, it seems, a hugely corrosive effect on services such as CIA and MI6. Firstly, there was the tension of contradiction: the deceit to be maintained of ostensibly fighting terrorism, while secretly supporting such bloody forces (in order to weaken President Bashar al-Assad and subsequently Russia).

Secondly, that of pretending to be pursuing a “principled” policy of off-shored “identity politics” (Sunnis as victims), while quietly accepting – and becoming dependent on – the “off-balance sheet” subventions flowing from the very patrons of such forces (shades of Clinton Foundation pay-to-play ethos).

And thirdly, by becoming the echo chamber of claims, however improbable, however false, thrown up by sundry armed movements and their paymasters – with the intent to force the hand of Western military intervention. In short, these services cease to be observers; they became investors. They become lost in a maze of contorted realities, false propaganda, and of acquired hubris. Like Prometheus, they think to secretly steal from Zeus, the god of war: they aspire to dictate war and peace.

Into this heady world of “strategic communication” warfare, has intruded Mr. Trump, spoiling their Syria gambit – and promising détente with Russia. It must indeed seem intolerable.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.

Making Russia ‘The Enemy’

Exclusive: Despite conflicting accounts about who leaked the Democratic emails, the frenzy over an alleged Russian role is driving the U.S. deeper into a costly and dangerous New Cold War, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The rising hysteria about Russia is best understood as fulfilling two needs for Official Washington: the Military Industrial Complex’s transitioning from the “war on terror” to a more lucrative “new cold war” – and blunting the threat that a President Trump poses to the neoconservative/liberal-interventionist foreign-policy establishment.

By hyping the Russian “threat,” the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks, who include much of the mainstream U.S. news media, can guarantee bigger military budgets from Congress. The hype also sets in motion a blocking maneuver to impinge on any significant change in direction for U.S. foreign policy under Trump.

Some Democrats even hope to stop Trump from ascending to the White House by having the Central Intelligence Agency, in effect, lobby the electors in the Electoral College with scary tales about Russia trying to fix the election for Trump.

The electors meet on Dec. 19 when they will formally cast their votes, supposedly reflecting the judgments of each state’s voters, but conceivably individual electors could switch their ballots from Trump to Hillary Clinton or someone else.

On Thursday, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. joined the call for electors to flip, writing: “The question is whether Trump, Vladimir Putin and, perhaps, Clinton’s popular-vote advantage give you sufficient reason to blow up the system.”

That Democrats would want the CIA, which is forbidden to operate domestically in part because of its historic role in influencing elections in other countries, to play a similar role in the United States shows how desperate the Democratic Party has become.

And, even though The New York Times and other big news outlets are reporting as flat fact that Russia hacked the Democratic email accounts and gave the information to WikiLeaks, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, a close associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, told the London Daily Mail that he personally received the email data from a “disgusted” Democrat.

Murray said he flew from London to Washington for a clandestine handoff from one of the email sources in September, receiving the package in a wooded area near American University.

“Neither of [the leaks, from the Democratic National Committee or Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta] came from the Russians,” Murray said, adding: “the source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

Murray said the insider felt “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.” Murray added that his meeting was with an intermediary for the Democratic leaker, not the leaker directly.

[Update: Murray subsequently said his contact with the intermediary at American University was not for the purpose of obtaining a batch of the purloined emails, as the Daily Mail reported, since WikiLeaks already had them. He said the Mail simply added that detail to the story, but Murray declined to explain why he had the meeting at A.U. with the whistleblower or an associate.]

If Murray’s story is true, it raises several alternative scenarios: that the U.S. intelligence community’s claims about a Russian hack are false; that Russians hacked the Democrats’ emails for their own intelligence gathering without giving the material to WikiLeaks; or that Murray was deceived about the identity of the original leaker.

But the uncertainty creates the possibility that the Democrats are using a dubious CIA assessment to reverse the outcome of an American presidential election, in effect, making the CIA party to a preemptive domestic “regime change.”

Delayed Autopsy

All of this maneuvering also is delaying the Democratic Party’s self-examination into why it lost so many white working-class voters in normally Democratic strongholds, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Rather than national party leaders taking the blame for pre-selecting a very flawed candidate and ignoring all the warning signs about the public’s resistance to this establishment choice, Democrats have pointed fingers at almost everyone else – from FBI Director James Comey for briefly reviving Clinton’s email investigation, to third-party candidates who siphoned off votes, to the archaic Electoral College which negates the fact that Clinton did win the national popular vote – and now to the Russians.

While there may be some validity to these various complaints, the excessive frenzy that has surrounded the still-unproven claims that the Russian government surreptitiously tilted the election in Trump’s favor creates an especially dangerous dynamic.

On one level, it has led Democrats to support Orwellian/ McCarthyistic concepts, such as establishing “black lists” for Internet sites that question Official Washington’s “conventional wisdom” and thus are deemed purveyors of “Russian propaganda” or “fake news.”

On another level, it cements the Democratic Party as America’s preeminent “war party,” favoring an escalating New Cold War with Russia by ratcheting up economic sanctions against Moscow, and even seeking military challenges to Russia in conflict zones such as Syria and Ukraine.

One of the most dangerous aspects of a prospective Hillary Clinton presidency was that she would have appointed neocons, such as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and her husband, Project for the New American Century co-founder Robert Kagan, to high-level foreign policy positions.

Though that risk may have passed assuming Clinton’s Electoral College defeat on Monday, Democrats now are excitedly joining the bash-Russia movement, making it harder to envision how the party can transition back into its more recent role as the “peace party” (at least relative to the extremely hawkish Republicans).

Trading Places

The potential trading places of the two parties in that regard – with Trump favoring geopolitical détente and the Democrats beating the drums for more military confrontations – augurs poorly for the Democrats regaining their political footing anytime soon.

If Democratic leaders press ahead, in alliance with neoconservative Republicans, on demands for escalating the New Cold War with Russia, they could precipitate a party split between Democratic hawks and doves, a schism that likely would have occurred if Clinton had been elected but now may happen anyway, albeit without the benefit of the party holding the White House.

The first test of this emerging Democratic-neocon alliance may come over Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Exxon-Mobil’s chief executive Rex Tillerson, who doesn’t exhibit the visceral hatred of Russian President Vladimir Putin that Democrats are encouraging.

As an international business executive, Tillerson appears to share Trump’s real-politik take on the world, the idea that doing business with rivals makes more sense than conspiring to force “regime change” after “regime change.”

Over the past several decades, the “regime change” approach has been embraced by both neocons and liberal interventionists and has been implemented by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sometimes, it’s done through war and other times through “color revolutions” – always under the idealistic guise of “democracy promotion” or “protecting human rights.”

But the problem with this neo-imperialist strategy has been that it has failed miserably to improve the lives of the people living in the “regime-changed” countries. Instead, it has spread chaos across wide swaths of the globe and has now even destabilized Europe.

Yet, the solution, as envisioned by the neocons and their liberal-hawk understudies, is simply to force more “regime change” medicine down the throats of the world’s population. The new “great” idea is to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia by making its economy scream and by funding as many anti-Putin elements as possible to create the nucleus for a “color revolution” in Moscow.

To justify that risky scheme, there has been a broad expansion of anti-Russian propaganda now being funded with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money as well as being pushed by government officials giving off-the-record briefings to mainstream media outlets.

However, as with earlier “regime change” plans, the neocons and liberal hawks never think through the scenario to the end. They always assume that everything is going to work out fine and some well-dressed “opposition leader” who has been to their think-tank conferences will simply ascend to the top job.

Remember, in Iraq, it was going to be Ahmed Chalabi who was beloved in Official Washington but broadly rejected by the Iraqi people. In Libya, there has been a parade of U.S.-approved “unity” leaders who have failed to pull that country together.

In Ukraine, Nuland’s choice – Arseniy “Yats is the guy” Yatsenyuk – resigned amid broad public disapproval  earlier this year after pushing through harsh cuts in social programs, even as the U.S.-backed regime officials in Kiev continued to plunder Ukraine’s treasury and misappropriate Western economic aid.

Nuclear-Armed Destabilization

But the notion of destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia is even more hare-brained than those other fiascos. The neocon/liberal-hawk assumption is that Russians – pushed to the brink of starvation by crippling Western sanctions – will overthrow Putin and install a new version of Boris Yeltsin who would then let U.S. financial advisers return with their neoliberal “shock therapy” of the 1990s and again exploit Russia’s vast resources.

Indeed, it was the Yeltsin era and its Western-beloved “shock therapy” that created the desperate conditions before the rise of Putin with his autocratic nationalism, which, for all its faults, has dramatically improved the lives of most Russians.

So, the more likely result from the neocon/liberal-hawk “regime change” plans for Moscow would be the emergence of someone even more nationalistic – and likely far less stable – than Putin, who is regarded even by his critics as cold and calculating.

The prospect of an extreme Russian nationalist getting his or her hands on the Kremlin’s nuclear codes should send chills up and down the spines of every American, indeed every human being on the planet. But it is the course that key national Democrats appear to be on with their increasingly hysterical comments about Russia.

The Democratic National Committee issued a statement on Wednesday accusing Trump of giving Russia “an early holiday gift that smells like a payoff. … It’s rather easy to connect the dots. Russia meddled in the U.S. election in order to benefit Trump and now he’s repaying Vladimir Putin by nominating Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.”

Besides delaying a desperately needed autopsy on why Democrats did so badly in an election against the also-widely-disliked Donald Trump, the new blame-Russia gambit threatens to hurt the Democrats and their preferred policies in another way.

If Democrats vote in bloc against Tillerson or other Trump foreign-policy nominees – demanding that he appoint people acceptable to the neocons and the liberal hawks – Trump might well be pushed deeper into the arms of right-wing Republicans, giving them more on domestic issues to solidify their support on his foreign-policy goals.

That could end up redounding against the Democrats as they watch important social programs gutted in exchange for their own dubious Democratic alliance with the neocons.

Since the presidency of Bill Clinton, the Democrats have courted factions of the neocons, apparently thinking they are influential because they dominate many mainstream op-ed pages and Washington think tanks. In 1993, as a thank-you gift to the neocon editors of The New Republic for endorsing him, Clinton appointed neocon ideologue James Woolsey as head of the CIA, one of Clinton’s more disastrous personnel decisions.

But the truth appears to be that the neocons have much less influence across the U.S. electoral map than the Clintons think. Arguably, their pandering to a clique of Washington insiders who are viewed as warmongers by many peace-oriented Democrats may even represent a net negative when it comes to winning votes.

I’ve communicated with a number of traditional Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because they feared she would pursue a dangerous neocon foreign policy. Obviously, that’s not a scientific survey, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that Clinton’s neocon connections could have been another drag on her campaign.

Assessing Russia

I also undertook a limited personal test regarding whether Russia is the police state that U.S. propaganda depicts, a country yearning to break free from the harsh grip of Vladimir Putin (although he registers 80 or so percent approval in polls).

During my trip last week to Europe, which included stops in Brussels and Copenhagen, I decided to take a side trip to Moscow, which I had never visited before. What I encountered was an impressive, surprisingly (to me at least) Westernized city with plenty of American and European franchises, including the ubiquitous McDonald’s and Starbucks. (Russians serve the Starbucks gingerbread latte with a small ginger cookie.)

Though senior Russian officials proved unwilling to meet with me, an American reporter, at this time of tensions, Russia had little appearance of a harshly repressive society. In my years covering U.S. policies in El Salvador in the 1980s and Haiti in the 1990s, I have experienced what police states look and feel like, where death squads dump bodies in the streets. That was not what I sensed in Moscow, just a modern city with people bustling about their business under early December snowfalls.

The police presence in Red Square near the Kremlin was not even as heavy-handed as it is near the government buildings of Washington. Instead, there was a pre-Christmas festive air to the brightly lit Red Square, featuring a large skating rink surrounded by small stands selling hot chocolate, toys, warm clothing and other goods.

Granted, my time and contact with Russians were limited – since I don’t speak Russian and most of them don’t speak English – but I was struck by the contrast between the grim images created by Western media and the Russia that I saw.

It reminded me of how President Ronald Reagan depicted Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua as a “totalitarian dungeon” with a militarized state ready to march on Texas, but what I found when I traveled to Managua was a third-world country still recovering from an earthquake and with a weak security structure despite the Contra war that Reagan had unleashed against Nicaragua.

In other words, “perception management” remains the guiding principle of how the U.S. government deals with the American people, scaring us with exaggerated tales of foreign threats and then manipulating our fears and our misperceptions.

As dangerous as that can be when we’re talking about Nicaragua or Iraq or Libya, the risks are exponentially higher regarding Russia. If the American people are stampeded into a New Cold War based more on myths than reality, the minimal cost could be the trillions of dollars diverted from domestic needs into the Military Industrial Complex. The far-greater cost could be some miscalculation by either side that could end life on the planet.

So, as the Democrats chart their future, they need to decide if they want to leapfrog the Republicans as America’s “war party” or whether they want to pull back from the escalation of tensions with Russia and start addressing the pressing needs of the American people.

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

Hypocrisy Behind the Russian-Election Frenzy

Exclusive: The madness sweeping Official Washington and the mainstream media about alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election is pervaded by breathtaking hypocrisy, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As Democrats, the Obama administration and some neocon Republicans slide deeper into conspiracy theories about how Russia somehow handed the presidency to Donald Trump, they are behaving as they accused Trump of planning to behave if he had lost, questioning the legitimacy of the electoral process and sowing doubts about American democracy.

The thinking then was that if Trump had lost, he would have cited suspicions of voter fraud – possibly claiming that illegal Mexican immigrants had snuck into the polls to tip the election to Hillary Clinton – and Trump was widely condemned for even discussing the possibility of challenging the election’s outcome.

His refusal to commit to accepting the results was front-page news for days with leading editorialists declaring that his failure to announce that he would abide by the outcome disqualified him from the presidency.

But now the defeated Democrats and some anti-Trump neoconservatives in the Republican Party are jumping up and down about how Russia supposedly tainted the election by revealing information about the Democrats and the Clinton campaign.

Though there appears to be no hard evidence that the Russians did any such thing, the Obama administration’s CIA has thrown its weight behind the suspicions, basing its conclusions on “circumstantial evidence,” according to a report in The New York Times.

The Times reported: “The C.I.A.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday. Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

In other words, the CIA apparently lacks direct reporting from a source inside the Kremlin or an electronic intercept in which Russian President Vladimir Putin or another senior official orders Russian operatives to tilt the U.S. election in favor of Trump.

More ‘Group Thinking’?

The absence of such hard evidence opens the door to what is called “confirmation bias” or analytical “group think” in which the CIA’s institutional animosity toward Russia and Trump could influence how analysts read otherwise innocent developments.

For instance, Russian news agencies RT or Sputnik reported critically at times about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a complaint that has been raised repeatedly in U.S. press accounts arguing that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. But that charge assumes two things: that Clinton did not deserve critical coverage and that Americans – in any significant numbers – watch Russian networks.

Similarly, the yet-unproven charge that Russia organized the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the private email account of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta assumes that the Russian government was responsible and that it then selectively leaked the material to WikiLeaks while withholding damaging information from hacked Republican accounts.

Here the suspicions also seem to extend far beyond what the CIA actually knows. First, the Republican National Committee denies that its email accounts were hacked, and even if they were hacked, there’s no evidence that they contained any information that was particularly newsworthy. Nor is there any evidence that – if the GOP accounts were hacked – they were hacked by the same group that hacked the Democratic Party emails, i.e., that the two hacks were part of the same operation.

That suspicion assumes a tightly controlled operation at the highest levels of the Russian government, but the CIA – with its intensive electronic surveillance of the Russian government and human sources inside the Kremlin – appears to lack any evidence of such a top-down operation.

Second, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange directly denies that he received the Democratic leaked emails from the Russian government and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, told the U.K. Guardian that he knows who “leaked” the Democratic emails and that there never was a “hack,” i.e. an outside electronic penetration of an email account.

Murray said, “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.”

‘Real News’

But even if Assange did get the data from the Russians, it’s important to remember that nothing in the material has been identified as false. It all appears to be truthful and none of it represented an egregious violation of privacy with some salacious or sensational angle.

The only reason the emails were newsworthy at all was that the documents revealed information that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were trying to keep secret from the American voters.

For instance, some emails confirmed Sen. Bernie Sanders’s suspicions that the DNC was improperly tilting the nomination race in favor of Clinton. The DNC was lying when it denied having an institutional thumb on the scales for Clinton. Thus, even if the Russians did uncover this evidence and did leak it to WikiLeaks, they would only have been informing the American people about the DNC’s abuse of the democratic process, something Democratic voters in particular had a right to know.

And, regarding Podesta’s emails, their most important revelation related to the partial transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks, the contents of which Clinton had chosen to hide from the American people. So, again, if the Russians were involved in the leak, they would only have been giving to the voters information that Clinton should have released on her own. In other words, these disclosures are clearly not “fake news” – the other hysteria now sweeping Official Washington.

In the mainstream news media, there has been a clumsy effort to conflate these parallel frenzies, the leak of “real news” and the invention of “fake news.” But investigations of so-called “fake news” have revealed that these operations were run mostly by young entrepreneurs in places like Macedonia or Georgia who realized they could make advertising dollars by creating outlandish “click bait” stories that Trump partisans were particularly eager to read.

According to a New York Times investigation into one of the “fake news” sites, a college student in Tbilisi, Georgia, first tried to create a pro-Clinton “click bait” Web site but found that a pro-Trump operation was vastly more lucrative. This and other investigations did not trace the “fake news” sites back to Russia or any other government.

So, what’s perhaps most telling about the information that the CIA has accused Russia of sharing with the American people is that it was all “real news” about newsworthy topics.

What Threat to Democracy?

So, how does giving the American people truthful and relevant information undermine American democracy, which is the claim that is reverberating throughout the mainstream media and across Official Washington?

Presumably, the thinking is that it would have been better for the American people to have been kept in the dark about these secret maneuverings by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and, by keeping the public ignorant, that would have ensured Clinton’s election, the preferred outcome of the major U.S. news media.

There’s another double standard here. For instance, when a hack of — or a leak from — a Panamanian law firm exposed the personal finances of thousands of clients, including political figures in Iceland, Ukraine, Russia and other nations, there was widespread applause across the Western media for this example of journalism at its best.

The applause was deafening despite the fact that at least one of the principal “news agencies” involved was partly funded by the U.S. government. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a USAID-backed non-governmental organization, also was earlier involved in efforts to destabilize and delegitimize the elected Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

“Corruption” allegations against Yanukovych – pushed by OCCRP – were integral to the U.S.-supported effort to organize a violent putsch that drove Yanukovych from office on Feb. 22, 2014, touching off the Ukrainian civil war and – on a global scale – the New Cold War with Russia.

Yet, in the case of the “Panama Papers” or other leaks about “corruption” in governments targeted by U.S. officials for “regime change,” there are no frenzied investigations into where the information originated. Regarding the “Panama Papers,” there was simply back-slapping for the organizations that invested time and money in analyzing the volumes of material. And there were cheers when implicated officials were punished or forced to step down.

So, why are some leaks “good” and others “bad”? Why do we hail the “Panama Papers” or OCCRP’s “corruption evidence” that damaged Yanukovych – and ask no questions about where the material came from and how it was selectively used – yet we condemn the Democratic email leaks and undertake investigations into the source of the information?

In both the “Panama Papers” case and the “Democratic Party leaks,” the material appeared to be real. There was no evidence of disinformation or “black propaganda.” But, apparently, it’s okay to disrupt the politics of Iceland, Ukraine, Russia and other countries, but it is called a potential “act of war” – by neocon Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona – to reveal evidence of wrongdoing or excessive secrecy on the part of the Democratic Party in the United States.

Shoe on the Other Foot

Russian President Putin, while denying any Russian government attempt to tilt the election to Trump, recently commented on the American hypocrisy about interfering in other nations’ elections while complaining about alleged interference in its own or those of its allies. He described a conversation with an unnamed Western “colleague.”

Putin said, “I recently had a conversation with one of my colleagues. We touched upon our [Russian] alleged influence on some political processes abroad. I told him: ‘And what are you doing? You have been constantly interfering in our political life.’ And he replied: ‘It’s not us, it’s the NGOs’. I said: ‘Oh? But you pay them and write instructions for them.’ He said: ‘What kind of instructions?’ I said: ‘I have been reading them.’”

Whatever one thinks of Putin, he is not wrong in describing how various U.S.-funded NGOs, in the name of “democracy promotion,” seek to undermine governments that have ended up on Official Washington’s target list.

And another aspect of the hypocrisy permeating Official Washington’s belligerent rhetoric directed toward Russia: Aren’t the Democrats doing exactly what they accused Trump of planning to do if he had lost the Nov. 8 election, i.e., question the legitimacy of the results and thus undermine the faith of the American people in their democratic system?

For days, Trump’s unwillingness to accept, presumptively, the results of the election earned him front-page denunciations from many of the same mainstream newspapers and TV networks that are now trumpeting the unproven claims by the CIA that the Russians somehow influenced the election’s outcome by presenting some Democratic hidden facts to the American people.

Yet, this anti-Russian accusation not only undermines the American people’s faith in the election’s outcome but also represents a reckless last-ditch gamble to block Trump’s inauguration – or at least discredit him before he takes office – while using belligerent rhetoric that could push Russia and the United States closer to nuclear war.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea for the CIA to at least have hard evidence before the spy agency precipitated such a crisis?

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

The Syrian-Sarin ‘False Flag’ Lesson

Exclusive: Amid Official Washington’s desire to censor non-official news on the Internet, it’s worth remembering how the lack of mainstream skepticism almost led the U.S. into a war on Syria, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

A review of events leading to the very edge of full-blown U.S. shock-and-awe on Syria three years ago provides a case study with important lessons for new policymakers as they begin to arrive in Washington.

It is high time to expose the whys and wherefores of the almost-successful attempt to mousetrap President Barack Obama into an open attack on Syria three years ago. Little-known and still less appreciated is the last-minute intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin as deus ex machina rescuing Obama from the corner into which he had let himself be painted.

Accumulating evidence offers persuasive proof that Syrian rebels supported by Turkish intelligence – not Syrian Army troops – bear responsibility for the infamous sarin nerve-gas attack killing hundreds of people on Aug. 21, 2013 in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. The incident bears all the earmarks of a false-flag attack.

But U.S. and other “rebel-friendly” media outlets wasted no time in offering “compelling” evidence from “social media” – which Secretary of State John Kerry described as an “extraordinary tool” – to place the onus on the Syrian government.

However, as the war juggernaut started rolling toward war, enter Putin from stage right with an offer difficult for Obama to refuse – guaranteed destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons on a U.S. ship outfitted for such purpose. This cheated Washington’s neocon mousetrap-setters out of their war on Syria. They would get back at Putin six months later by orchestrating an anti-Russian coup in Kiev.

But the play-by-play in U.S.-Russian relations in summer 2013 arguably surpasses in importance even the avoidance of an overt U.S. assault on Syria. Thus, it is important to appreciate the lessons drawn by Russian leaders from the entire experience.

Putting Cheese in the Mousetrap

So, let us recall that on Dec. 10, 2015, just over one year ago, Turkish Member of Parliament Eren Erdem testified about how Turkey’s intelligence service helped deliver sarin precursors to rebels in Syria.

The Official Story blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was already collapsing – largely discredited by reports in independent media and by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh – though it remained widely accepted in the U.S. mainstream media which repeatedly cited the case as the moment when Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons and Obama had failed to back up his threat.

But Erdem took the debunking of the “official” tale to a public and official level. Based on government documents from a Turkish court, which he waved before his MP colleagues, Erdem poured ice water on the West’s long-running excited belief that Assad had “gassed his own people.”

But, alas, if you do not understand Turkish, or if you missed this story in the Belfast Telegraph of Dec. 14 or if you don’t read some independent Web sites or if you believe that RT publishes only Russian “propaganda,” this development may still come as a huge surprise, for Erdem’s revelations appeared in no other English-language newspaper.

So, those malnourished by “mainstream media” may be clueless about the scary reality that Obama came within inches of letting himself be mousetrapped into ordering U.S. armed forces to mount a shock-and-awe-type attack on Syria in late summer 2013.

Turkish MP Testimony

Addressing fellow members of the Turkish Parliament, Turkish MP Erdem from the opposition Republican People’s Party directly confronted his government on this key issue. Waving a copy of “Criminal Case Number 2013/120,” Erdem described official Turkish reports and electronic evidence documenting a smuggling operation with Turkish government complicity.

In an interview with RT four days later, Erdem said Turkish authorities had evidence of sarin gas-related shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them.

The General Prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana opened a criminal case and an indictment stated “chemical weapons components” from Europe “were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.”

Erdem cited evidence implicating the Turkish Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin. Small wonder that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately accused Erdem of “treason.”

Erdem testified that the 13 suspects, who had been arrested in police raids on the plotters, were released just a week after they were indicted. The case was shut down abruptly by higher authority.

Erdem told RT that the sarin attack at Ghouta took place shortly after the criminal case was closed and that the attack probably was carried out by jihadists with sarin gas smuggled through Turkey.

Erdem’s disclosures were not entirely new. More than two years before Erdem’s brave actions, in a Memorandum for the President by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity of Sept. 6, 2013, we had reported that coordination meetings had taken place just weeks before the sarin attack at a Turkish military garrison in Antakya, some 15 miles from the border with Syria.

In Antakya, senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials were said to be coordinating plans with Western-sponsored rebels who were told to expect an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development.” This, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria, and rebel commanders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Assad government.

A year earlier, The New York Times reported that the Antakya area had become a “magnet for foreign jihadis, who are flocking into Turkey to fight holy war in Syria.” The Times quoted a Syrian opposition member based in Antakya, saying the Turkish police were patrolling this border area “with their eyes closed.”

Kerry Dancing

It is a safe bet that Secretary of State John Kerry’s aides briefed him in timely fashion on Erdem’s revelations. This may account for why, on a visit to Moscow on Dec. 15, 2015 (four days after Erdem’s testimony), Kerry chose to repeat the meme that Assad “gassed his people; I mean, gas hasn’t been used in warfare formally for years and gas is outlawed, but Assad used it.”

Three days later, The Washington Post dutifully echoed Kerry, charging that Assad had killed “his own people with chemical weapons.” And this charge remains a staple in U.S. corporate media, where Erdem’s testimony is still nowhere to be found.

Kerry also didn’t want to admit that he had grossly misled the American people on an issue of war and peace. Just days after the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack at Ghouta, Kerry and his neocon allies displayed their acumen in following George W. Bush’s dictum: “You got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

On Aug. 30, Kerry solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “We know” the Assad government was responsible for the sarin deaths, finally giving Kerry and the neocons their casus belli.

But on Aug. 31, with U.S. intelligence analysts expressing their own doubts that Assad’s forces were responsible, Obama put the brakes on the juggernaut toward war, saying he would first seek approval from Congress. Kerry, undaunted, wasted no time in lobbying Congress for war.

On Sept. 1, Kerry told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that briefings in Congress had already begun and that “we are not going to lose this vote.” On Sept. 3, Kerry was back at it with a bravura performance before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, whose leaders showed in their own remarks the degree to which they were lusting for an attack on Syria.

The following offers a taste for Kerry’s “protest-too-much” testimony: “the Assad regime, and only, undeniably, the Assad regime, unleashed an outrageous chemical attack against its own citizens. … In their lust to hold on to power, [they] were willing to infect the air of Damascus with a poison that killed innocent mothers and fathers and hundreds of their children, their lives all snuffed out by gas in the early morning of August 21st.

“Now, some people here and there, amazingly, have questioned the evidence of this assault on conscience. I repeat here again today that only the most willful desire to avoid reality can assert that this did not occur as described or that the regime did not do it. It did happen, and the Assad regime did it.

“Within minutes of the attack, the social media exploded with horrific images of men and women, the elderly, and children sprawled on a hospital floor with no wounds, no blood, but all dead. Those scenes of human chaos and desperation were not contrived. They were real. No one could contrive such a scene. …

“And as we debate, the world wonders, not whether Assad’s regime executed the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century — that fact I think is now beyond question — the world wonders whether the United States of America will consent through silence to standing aside while this kind of brutality is allowed to happen without consequence.”

Kerry’s added a credulity-stretching attempt to play down the role and effectiveness of Al Qaeda in Syria, and exaggerated the strength of the “moderate” rebels there. This drew unusually prompt and personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin: “Kerry Lies”

Rarely does it happen that a president of a major country calls the head diplomat of a rival state a “liar,” but that is the label Russian President Putin chose for Kerry on the day after his congressional testimony. Referring to Kerry during a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin addressed the sarin issue in these words:

“It is simply absurd to imagine that Assad used chemical weapons, given that he is gaining ground. After all, this is a weapon of last resort.” Putin claimed, correctly, that Assad had “encircled his adversaries in some places and was finishing them off.”

Putin continued: “I watched the congressional debates. A congressman asked Mr. Kerry, ‘Is Al Qaeda present there? I’ve heard they have gained momentum.’ He replied, ‘No. I can tell you earnestly, they are not.’”

Putin continued, “The main combat unit, the so-called Al-Nusra, is an Al-Qaeda subdivision. They [the Americans] know about this. This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. After all … we talk with them, and we assume they are decent people. But he is lying, and he knows he is lying. That is sad. …

“We are currently focused on the fact that the U.S. Congress and Senate are discussing authorization for use of force. … As you know, Syria is not attacking the U.S., so there is no question of self-defense; and anything else, lacking U.N. authorization, is an act of aggression. … we are all glued to our televisions, waiting to see if they will get the approval of Congress.”

On the following day, Sept. 5, Obama arrived in St. Petersburg for a G-20 summit, with ample reason to suspect that Putin was right about Kerry lying about the sarin attack – the President having been warned the previous week by National Intelligence Director James Clapper that there was no “slam-dunk” evidence against the Assad regime. So, Obama agreed to Putin’s offer to get Syria to surrender its chemical weapons for destruction, and the war fever began to abate.

Curiously, Kerry himself was kept in the dark about the Putin-Obama agreement and was still making the case for war on Sept. 9. At the very end of a press conference that day in London, Kerry was asked whether there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack. Kerry answered that Assad could give up every one of his chemical weapons, but “he isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.”

Still later on Sept. 9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart announced that Syria had agreed to allow all its chemical weapons to be removed and destroyed. As soon as Kerry arrived back in Washington, he was sent off to Geneva to sign the deal that Obama had cut directly with Putin. (All Syria’s chemical weapons have now been destroyed.)

Yet, two weeks later, Obama was still reading from the neocon teleprompter. In his formal address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, he declared, “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the [Syrian] regime carried out this [sarin] attack.”

More Candor With Goldberg

Earlier this year, though, Obama was bragging to his informal biographer, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, about having thwarted planning for open war on Syria, even though that required disregarding the advice of virtually all his foreign-policy advisers.

One gem fished out by Goldberg was Obama’s admission that DNI Clapper had warned him in late August (a week before he went to St. Petersburg and a month before his U.N. speech) that the evidence pinning blame on Damascus for the sarin attack was hardly airtight.

Goldberg wrote that Clapper interrupted the President’s morning intelligence briefing “to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a ‘slam dunk.’” Clapper chose his words carefully, echoing the language that CIA Director George Tenet used to falsely assure President George W. Bush that the case could be made to convince the American people that Iraq was hiding WMDs.

Even though Obama continued to dissemble and the mainstream U.S. news media has continued to treat Syria’s “guilt” in the sarin attack as “flat fact,” the neocons did not get their war on Syria. I describe an unusually up-front-and-personal experience of their chagrin under the subtitle “Morose at CNN” in “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”

Nor did neocon disappointment subside in subsequent years. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has remained among the most outspoken critics of Obama’s decision to cancel the attack on Syria in 2013.

On Dec. 3, 2014, Corker complained that, while the U.S. military was poised to launch a “very targeted, very brief” operation against the Syrian government for using chemical weapons, Obama called off the attack at the last minute.

Corker’s criticism was scathing: “I think the worst moment in U.S. foreign policy since I’ve been here, as far as signaling to the world where we were as a nation, was August a year ago when we had a 10-hour operation that was getting ready to take place in Syria but it didn’t happen. … In essence and – I’m sorry to be slightly rhetorical — we jumped in Putin’s lap.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington. A CIA analyst for 27 years, he has experience recognizing false-flag attacks when he sees them. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which he co-founded, has published several memoranda on the sarin attack.