Obama’s Last Stand Against War on Syria

Exclusive: For five years, President Obama has resisted neocon/liberal-interventionist pressure to go to war against Syria, but – as his departure grows near – the hawks see more “regime change” wars coming into view, says Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

Through five years of war in Syria, President Obama has been in a constant internal struggle with hawks in his administration who want the U.S. to directly intervene militarily to overthrow the Syrian government.

On at least four occasions Obama has stood up to them, although at other times he has compromised and gone half way toward the hawkish position. Now, with less than three months to go in office, Obama appears to be leaving his Syria policy to those aligned with the lead hawk who might soon take Obama’s place.

As Secretary of State until early 2013, Hillary Clinton failed to convince Obama to consistently take a tough line on Syria. She wanted him to realize her two main policies, which she still clings to: a “safe zone” on the ground and a “no-fly zone” in the air – meaning that Syrian government forces and their allies, including the Russians, would be barred from operating in those areas.

Protected by U.S. air power and other military means, rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would, in effect, have an untouchable staging area to launch attacks on the government without its ability to hit back. Clinton has called removing Assad a top foreign policy priority.

Clinton followed a similar model in 2011 when she convinced a reluctant Obama to adopt a plan in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi under the pretext of “protecting civilians” when Gaddafi launched an offensive against rebels in eastern Libya whom he identified as terrorists. After the U.S. and European military intervention, Gaddafi was ousted, tortured and murdered – prompting Clinton to quip “we came, we saw, he died” – but the “regime change” turned Libya into a failed state.

Indeed, the Libyan chaos – now with three rival governments and terrorist enclaves – has become emblematic of the disarray following “regime change” that has marked nearly two decades of neoconservative influence in Washington, a strategy of dividing and weakening defiant states while U.S. contractors profit from the chaos that bleeds the locals to death.

Lost Lessons

Obama learned from Libya, which he deemed his biggest regret for having no plan for the aftermath. The fiasco left him deeply skeptical about intervention in Syria, although – given his prescient opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq – he should have already understood what happens after the U.S. overthrows regimes these days.

In the early years of the CIA — in Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, and Guatemala in 1954, as illegal and as unjustified as those coups were — the agency had viable leaders groomed to take over. But all that changed after the Cold War ended. Then careless wishful thinking — or intended chaos — replaced any careful planning for the future of the countries that were at the receiving end of “regime change.”

“We can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us,” arch-neocon Paul Wolfowitz boasted before the Iraq invasion.

Today neoconservatives and liberal interventionists (such as Clinton) act like gamblers who can’t leave the table. Disasters for Iraqis, Libyans and others haven’t dissuaded these American war advocates from pushing more chips onto the table over Syria. Indeed, their failures – and the lack of any personal accountability for their catastrophes – seem to have only emboldened them to keep gambling.

These “regime change” schemes – in the guise of “spreading democracy” in the Middle East – have only spread chaos and terrorism, but those conditions give the hawks more reasons and excuses to intervene, thus creating more chaos and making more money, while weakening nations defying Washington.

Clinton began laying a bet on “regime change” in Damascus by pushing to arm rebels in the summer of 2012. One of her leaked emails explains her motive: to break up the Teheran to Damascus to southern Lebanon supply line to Hezbollah — a longstanding Israeli objective.

At that point, Obama refused to arm the rebels, but the President apparently didn’t have full control over his national security bureaucracy, which seemed to have found ways to aid the Syrian rebels despite Obama’s reluctance, possibly by encouraging U.S. regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel.

An August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document, which was made public last year, showed that U.S. intelligence agencies were well aware of where these operations were headed, with or without Obama’s approval.

Ret. Gen. Mike Flynn, who ran the DIA at the time, has said it was a “willful decision” in Washington to support a “Salafist principality” — a safe area for jihadist rebels — in eastern Syria to put pressure on Assad’s government in Damascus. Flynn didn’t say who in Washington ultimately decided on this risky scheme, but the DIA document warned that the Salafists could join with jihadists from Iraq to form an “Islamic State.” And indeed two years later, that was exactly what happened.

While this “Salafist principality” was gestating in summer 2013, Obama again showed some independence on Syria after assessing the disastrous consequences of the Clinton-led “regime change” in Libya, i.e., a failed state radiating arms and jihadis to Syria and the Sahel.

However, at this point – battered by think-tank and media commentaries decrying him as “soft” and “weak”  – Obama compromised with the hawks and eventually agreed to arm and train some of the rebels, supposedly the “moderate” kind. But he resisted pressure to launch cruise missiles against Syrian government targets after his “red line” was supposedly crossed by a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

As we now know, the CIA did not think it was a “slam dunk” that the Syrian government did it, though the mainstream U.S. media imposed a “group think” blaming the sarin attack on Assad. But significant evidence pointed to the rebels trying to create an incident that would draw the U.S. military into the war directly on the jihadist side.

Sensing that a trap was being laid to entice the U.S. into another Mideast war, Obama instead took Russia’s offer to have Syria give up its chemical weapons stocks, which in time it did, infuriating the neocons.

An Even Bolder Putin Offer

Russian President Vladimir Putin followed with another offer to the United States in September 2015, delivered from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly. He proposed joint U.S.-Russian airstrikes against the now fully formed Islamic State and associated jihadists.

More than three years earlier, I reported that Russia’s motive to support Assad was to stop the spread of jihadism that threatened the West and Russia. Before the U.N., Putin put it on the record, invoking the World War II alliance between the Soviet Union and the West to confront a greater threat, Nazism.

“Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind,” Putin said.

By then, the jihadists had clearly become the greater evil in Syria with their practice of decapitating Western hostages as well as locals deemed religious “apostates.” In time Islamic State also would plan or inspire terror attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, Egypt and the United States. By contrast, Assad was an undemocratic leader governing a police state but he posed no threat to the West.

However, by 2015, the demonization of Vladimir Putin was well underway and his offer was spurned by Western leaders. Obama, who faced mainstream ridicule for “failing to enforce his red line” in Syria and for not being tough enough on Russia, joined in rejecting Putin’s offer.

We now know why. In a leaked audio conversation with Syrian opposition figures in September, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S., rather than seriously fight Islamic State in Syria, was ready to use the growing strength of the jihadists to pressure Assad to resign, just as outlined in the DIA document.

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

Russia began its military intervention in late September 2015 without the United States, with the Kremlin’s motives made abundantly clear by Putin and other Russian officials.

For instance, last month, Putin told French TV channel TF1: “Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organizations were destroyed as states by our Western partners’ forces? … These states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”

Such clear explanations are rarely reported clearly by Western corporate media, which instead peddles the line from officials and think tanks that Russia is trying to recover lost imperial glory in the Middle East.

Worries about Damascus 

But Kerry knew why Russia intervened. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL [another acronym for Islamic State] was getting stronger, Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad,” he said in the leaked discussion. Kerry’s comment suggests that the U.S. was willing to risk Islamic State and its jihadist allies gaining power in order to oust Assad.

Kerry’s comments echoed those of senior Israeli officials who have pronounced the “Shiite crescent” from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah’s territory in Lebanon as Israel’s greatest strategic threat and have expressed a preference for an Al Qaeda or even an Islamic State victory in Syria to shatter that centerpiece of the “Shiite crescent.”

In September 2013, in one of the most explicit expressions of Israel’s views, its Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

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

In June 2014, Oren reiterated his position at an Aspen Institute conference. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by Islamic State, which was then massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.

“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

Israel’s preference extended into a tacit alliance with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria, with which the Israelis developed essentially a non-aggression pact, even caring for Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and mounting lethal air attacks inside Syria against Lebanese and Iranian advisers to the Syrian military.

In hoping that the jihadists could spearhead the overthrow of Assad while somehow not achieving a full-scale victory, U.S. officials may have thought they could somehow eat their cake and have it, too.

Yet, that represents a major risk, essentially assuming that Assad would step down in some orderly transition of power rather than be ousted in a chaotic fight to the finish. But U.S. officials were apparently willing to take the chance of an Al Qaeda/Islamic State victory in Damascus.

Putin warned the General Assembly about such a gamble with terrorism: “The Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere. It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes.” He added that it was irresponsible “to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.”

Stopping the Jihadists

Russia’s intervention seriously reversed the jihadists’ advances, alarming Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In February, they demanded that the U.S. support their invasion of Syria. It was a momentous moment for Obama: Would he risk war with Russia to save another “regime change” project?

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a committed neocon, “welcomed” the Saudi-Turk plan to launch an invasion by air from Turkey’s Incirlik NATO air base and by land through the wastelands of Jordan or western Iraq. The Saudis staged a 30,000-man invasion war game in the desert. But Obama again stood up for reason and stopped it, at least for a time.

In July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his backers crushed an attempted coup. Erdogan seized the opportunity to eliminate almost all opposition to his near-total one-man rule. By late August, Erdogan was ready to make his next move with no one left in Turkey to oppose him.

On Aug. 24, with U.S. air cover, Turkey invaded Syria. This time Obama did not stop him. Washington clearly approved as its planes protected Turkish tanks and infantry rolling across the border. Vice President Joe Biden was in Ankara a day before the invasion.

The pretext was to fight Islamic State, but it became clear immediately that Turkey’s main target was to block advances by the Syrian Kurds, one of Islamic State’s toughest foes on the ground. The U.S. protested those attacks, but Washington surely knew what Turkey’s intentions were.

The date – Aug. 24 – was significant because it was the 500th anniversary of the start of the Ottoman empire when the Ottomans left Turkey and invaded their first country — Syria.

It was hardly a coincidence when one considers Erdogan’s history. He spurred a violent police crackdown in Istanbul’s Ghezi Park in 2013 against demonstrators protesting his plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks in the park. In April, Erdogan named a new bridge over the Bosphorus after Osman, founder of the Ottoman Empire.

An initial target of the invasion also was significant. On Oct. 16, Turkish-backed rebels captured the Syrian town of Dabiq from Islamic State, the site of a victory in 1516 that established the Ottoman Empire.

Listening to Russia

Still, Obama continued to drag his heels regarding a deeper U.S. role in Syria. Obama resisted the hawks again this summer by allowing Kerry to negotiate with Russia on Putin’s offer at the U.N.: to form a military alliance against Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Syria. Russia’s 2015 entry had turned the tide of the war in Syria’s favor but the war against the insurgency has stalled in Aleppo, where a third of the city remains largely under Al Qaeda control.

While Obama publicly slammed the Russians, projecting that they were on an imperial adventure that would wind up in a quagmire (exactly what has afflicted U.S. imperial adventures in various theaters), he kept plans for a safe zone and no-fly zone on hold.

Nearly a year after Putin’s U.N. offer and after months of intermittent talks, Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 9 finally reached a deal to jointly fight terrorists in Syria. It was clear the agreement would ground the Syrian air force, resume humanitarian aid and agree on the identity of rebels to be jointly attacked, but U.S. officials insisted the terms remain secret.

But Defense Secretary Ash Carter made no secret of his objection. On Sept. 8, he said: “In the current circumstance, it is not possible for the United States to associate itself with — let alone to cooperate in — a venture that is only fueling violence and civil war.”

It was an extraordinary act of insubordination for which Carter was not punished. Once again Obama chose not to completely stand up to the hawks while authorizing a policy that they opposed.

But then Carter’s objection to the deal went beyond words. Two days before it was to go into effect, warplanes from the U.S. military coalition killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers near Deir ez Zor in an air strike the Pentagon later said was an “accident.” U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power was hardly repentant as she condemned Russia’s attempt to discuss the incident at the Security Council as a “stunt.”

Four days later, a U.N. aid convoy was attacked near Aleppo, killing more than 20 aid workers. The U.S. immediately blamed Russian air strikes without presenting any evidence. Russia says rebels were responsible. The U.S.-Russia deal was dead.

Moscow eventually revealed the deal’s terms. At its heart was the separation of U.S.-backed rebels from Al Qaeda, which dominates a third of Aleppo. But once again, despite repeated pledges to do so, the U.S. government failed to separate them. Indeed, some “moderate” groups double-downed on their alliance with Al Qaeda.

Syria and Russia had enough and declared all rebels fighting with Al Qaeda to be fair game. They commenced a furious bombardment of east Aleppo to crush the insurgency there once and for all.  Putting all of Aleppo back into government hands would be a major turning point in the war but it has not proven easy. Instead the fierce aerial assaults have claimed numerous civilian lives, handing Russia’s opponents a public relations coup.

Complaints of War Crimes

Washington, London and Paris are leading the chorus of war crimes accusations against Russia (though the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq without Security Council authorization in an act of aggression that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and can reasonably be seen as the supreme war crime.)

Russia’s actions in Aleppo have been compared to Israel’s in Gaza. Two U.N. reports have said Israel may have been guilty of war crimes in 2012 and 2014 attacks on Gaza, but Israel has not been prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

The differences between Gaza and Aleppo are stark, however. Gazans are an indigenous people attacked by an Occupying Power. Syria and Russia are attacking the occupiers of east Aleppo – many of them foreign-backed mercenaries.

People in Gaza cannot escape the city because of their attackers, while people in east Aleppo can’t escape because civilians who attempt to leave come under sniper fire. Also, rebel rockets fired from east Aleppo into west Aleppo kill large numbers of civilians, unlike Hamas’ rockets fired into Israel.

But the most significant difference between the two cases of terrible human suffering is that the West defends Israel and deflects charges of war crimes while it accuses Russia and Syria of war crimes.

Isolated from the context of the entire Syrian war against a foreign-backed rebellion, the battle for east Aleppo (usually reported as the whole city) has been framed by Western liberal media in the same way Sarajevo was in the 1990s.

Then a highly complex war was boiled down to one battle, where Bosnian Serbs fired into civilian areas as part of a larger war aim (although the attacks were portrayed as simply a lust to kill civilians). Today it is Russia that Is accused of acting out of the pure intent to kill civilians with no other motive.

The media’s reaction to the bombardment of east Aleppo has led to a sharp increase in rabid calls for Western military intervention against the Syrian government and possibly against Russia. The British parliament held a Russia-bashing session in October, including calls for war against Moscow. Neocon newspapers, such as The Washington Post, are itching for battle. A British general said the U.K. would be ready to fight Russia in two years — enough time for a Clinton administration to prepare.

Already, U.S. neocons and liberal hawks are dreaming about “regime change” in Moscow with Putin replaced by a Wall Street-friendly leader like Boris Yeltsin who let Western interests plunder Russia’s resources during the 1990s. Yet, that may be just another example of the U.S. failure to anticipate the likely consequences of interventions.

Even if Russia could be destabilized sufficiently to unseat Putin, the more likely result would be the rise of a fierce Russian nationalist, not a pro-Western “liberal” in the mold of Yeltsin. That might increase the risks of nuclear war, rather than give the West another compliant Russia.

Plus, Putin would not be easily ousted, especially given his strong popular support, according to opinion polls. Indeed, some internal criticism of Putin has been that he has tried too hard to accommodate the West.

But Washington’s modus operandi has been to continually provoke and blame a country until it becomes an adversary and stands up for itself, as Putin’s Russia has done. Then, the West accuses the country of “aggression” and justifies attacks against it as “self-defense.”

We see these winds of war blowing in Ukraine, the Baltics, Poland and the Balkans — with NATO’s military posturing to counter “Russian aggression” — and in Syria, where neocon calls are increasing for the U.S. to strike the Syrian government.

One More Stand

Obama, apparently for the fourth time, kept the hawks at bay after a White House meeting last month in which military action was turned down in the face of Russia’s warning that it would target attacking U.S. aircraft.

Over the past five years, Obama has been almost the only brake on keeping the Syrian conflict — and relations with Russia — from spiraling completely out of control. But his voice is fading as he prepares to leave office on Jan. 20, 2017.

Into this fevered environment steps Hillary Clinton who may win the White House within the week. She continues to call for a safe zone and a no-fly zone, despite the warning last month from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs, that that would mean war with Russia.

Still, Hillary Clinton has continued pushing for a military intervention as recently as the last presidential debate.

“I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria … not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians,” Clinton declared.

She said this after admitting in one of her paid speeches, released by Wikileaks, that a no-fly zone will “kill a lot of Syrians.”

The “safe zone” is supposed to shelter internally displaced Syrians to prevent them from becoming refugees. But it could also be used as a staging ground to train and equip jihadists intent on regime change, as was done in Libya. A safe area would need ground troops to protect it, although Clinton says there will be no U.S. ground troops in Syria.

But Turkey also has been clamoring for a safe area on the ground for the past few years. Erdogan called for one (as well as a no-fly zone in northern Syria) as recently as last September in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Russia’s reaction has been defiant, setting up an ominous game of chicken that could go nuclear. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russia would shoot down any American plane attacking the Syrian government. Russia has also deployed sophisticated air defenses in the country. This has given U.S. brass deep pause about confronting Russia in Syria. So far Russia has come out on top there, lessening the risks of confrontation that could escalate to the most dangerous levels.

But would Hillary Clinton back down from her harsh rhetoric if she’s elected? Or would she appoint more hawkish military leaders? Obama’s half-way measures in Syria have left the door open to a Clinton administration that appears determined to ratchet up the regime change operation by calling Putin’s bluff.

She also seems poised to arm the Ukrainian government and perhaps give Putin an ultimatum: give back Crimea or else. But what if Putin calls Clinton’s bluff and refuses, given the fact that the people of Crimea voted by 96 percent in a referendum to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia? It’s a roll of the dice the hawks might be ready to toss.

Washington’s hawks appear to have bested Obama this last time, since he has not stood in the way of Clinton’s allies inside his administration letting Erdogan pursue his neo-Ottoman fantasy (even to the point of fighting U.S.-backed Kurds) in exchange for Turkish NATO forces establishing a safe area without U.S. ground troops. Turkey and its rebel forces already control about 490 square miles in northern Syria.

With less than three months left in office, Obama appears to have finally surrendered on Syrian policy, ceding it to the next president.

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 atjoelauria@gmail.com  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.

US Hypocrisy Over Russian ‘War Crimes’

Amid the sludge of propaganda, it’s hard to know what’s really happening in Syria, but the West’s outrage over Russian-inflicted civilian casualties is clearly hypocritical given the U.S.-Israeli slaughters elsewhere in the region, notes Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The Russian-Syrian bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo, which has ended at least for the time being, has been described in press reports and op-eds as though it were unique in modern military history in its indiscriminateness. In an unusual move for a senior U.S. official, Secretary of State John Kerry called for an investigation of war crimes in Aleppo.

The discussion has been lacking in historical context, however. Certainly the civilian death toll from the bombing and shelling in Aleppo has been high, but many of the strikes may not be all that dissimilar from the major U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003, nor as indiscriminate as Israel’s recent campaigns in densely populated cities.

The impression that the bombing in Aleppo was uniquely indiscriminate was a result of news reporting and commentary suggesting, by implication, that there are no real military targets in east Aleppo.

But in fact, al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) turned Aleppo into the central hub of a massive system of conventional warfare in Aleppo province in late January 2016 when it sent an enormous convoy of at least 200 vehicles with troops and weaponry into eastern Aleppo. A dramatic three-minute al-Nusra video shows what appears to be hundreds of vehicles full of troops and trucks with weapons mounted on them.

The Russian command in Syria has drones observing the routes in and out of Aleppo, so it certainly knew where many of those military sites were located. Syrian opposition sources also revealed that Nusra began immediately to put the military assets at its disposal underground, digging deep bunkers to protect troops, military equipment and tunnels through which troops and weapons could be moved unseen.

The move underground explains the Russian use of bunker-buster bombs for the first time in the war. As the Guardian reported, Justin Bronk of the British defense think tank Royal United Service Institute concluded that the Russians “have high-grade intelligence of the whereabouts of Syrian opposition positions,” mainly because bunker buster bombs are too expensive to use simply to destroy buildings at random.

But like Hamas fighters in Gaza in 2014, the Nusra Front-led command in Aleppo has moved its troops, weapons and command centers around in the tunnels that they have built. So many of the Russian and Syrian air strikes are almost certainly hitting targets that have already been abandoned. And in other cases, the wrong target has undoubtedly been hit.

The Aleppo Health Directorate, a local monitoring group, estimated that 400 civilians had been killed in the first three weeks of bombing in east Aleppo. The United Nations put the death toll at 360.

Drop the Superiority Act

As terrible as that toll of civilian lives is, the United States should drop the stance of moral superiority. When the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003, it made no effort to keep track of how many civilians were killed in its bombing and artillery fire, claiming it had no way to tell who was civilian and who was not.

And the best estimates of civilians killed in U.S. and Israeli urban wars don’t provide any basis for moral superiority. A survey of Baghdad’s hospitals by the Los Angeles Times in May 2003 produced an estimate of at least 1,700 civilians killed in the first five weeks of American war. The estimate included those who had died in ground fighting and from unexploded ordnance, but even with those contributing factors subtracted from the total, it would still be far greater than those killed in the assault on east Aleppo on a weekly basis.

The three-week Israeli war on Gaza City in 2009 and the seven-week war on Gaza in 2014 were also far deadlier than Aleppo. The former killed 773 civilians, according to an investigation by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. The latter killed 1,473 Palestinian civilians, according to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The one feature of the Russian-Syrian air offensive on east Aleppo that seems most clearly to violate the laws of war is the targeting of hospitals. Media accounts have referred to air strikes with barrel bombs that have hit two major hospitals in the rebel-held part of the city.

The Syrian government has been acting as though it regards the hospitals in eastern Aleppo as serving the Nusra Front command, and the hospitals, which are under intense pressure from the militants who run that part of Aleppo, have fed the government’s suspicions.

As a detailed report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on the air strikes that hit the Al Quds hospital on April 27 explains, the local organization that created a new system of hospitals in 2011 decided not to declare the hospitals openly but to keep them “underground” – meaning secret from the government.

In fact, of course, the government knows perfectly well where all 10 hospitals in east Aleppo are located. The April 27 air strike that damaged the Al Quds hospital shows how the government has responded. It began with an air strike that destroyed a building across the street from the hospital. The building was a school, but former residents of east Aleppo who have gotten out have confirmed that organizations associated with the al-Qaeda-dominated command have located their offices in schools to try to hide their staff.

Within a few minutes of the initial strike, according to the MSF account, Al Quds hospital staff were pulling survivors out of the rubble and taking them across the street to the emergency room, whereupon the Syrian air force dropped a barrel bomb at the entrance to the emergency room, killing several of the hospital staff, including one doctor. Then it dropped one close enough to the side of the hospital to hit the emergency room and, minutes later, hit a building down the block where hospital staff were staying.

Such attacks on those who try to save the lives of survivors of bombing attacks – sometimes called “double tap” attacks” – are rightly condemned as violations of humanitarian law. And the belief that the staff at the hospital are operating in effect as medics for the adversary’s military does not justify attacking it and the wounded sheltered there.

But such violations of the laws of war are hardly unique to Aleppo or Syria.

Hardly Unique

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have hit rescuers or mourners after hitting their initial targets in numerous documented cases. In the 2009 Gaza attacks, the Israeli military argued that Hamas fighters were using hospitals to hide from Israeli bombing, but offered no valid evidence to support it, as the Goldstone Report showed.

In 2014, the Israelis completely destroyed the Al-Wafa hospital in an air strike recorded for public release after claiming falsely that it had been fired on by Palestinian gunmen.

In its wars in Gaza and in Lebanon, the IDF has gone well beyond the Russian and Syrian Aleppo campaign in refusing to recognize any distinction between civilian targets. It not only targeted civilian offices in both Gaza wars, but treated entire areas of the city as a legitimate target, on the premise that all civilians had been ordered to leave.

And in both Gaza and in Beirut suburb of Dahiya, the IDF levelled several high-rise buildings where they believed Hezbollah had offices. The IDF called it the “Dahiya doctrine”, and threatened “great damage and destruction” on any adversary in any future war in the region.

Heavy bombing in a city is inherently fraught with moral risk, and attacks on genuine civilian targets can never be excused. But such practices have been carried out and legitimized in the past by the very government that is now claiming the role of moral and legal arbiter. That hypocrisy needs to be recognized and curbed as well.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye.]

Taking a Page from Joe McCarthy

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton and her supporters have turned to ugly McCarthyism in attacking Donald Trump to divert attention from their email scandals, a dangerous use of Russia-bashing, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

One trick of the original McCarthyism from the Old Cold War was to take some innocuous or accurate comment from a leader in Moscow — saying something like “poverty is a cruel side of capitalism” or “racism persists in the U.S.” — and to claim that some American reformer who says much the same thing must be a Kremlin tool.

Now, in the New Cold War, we are seeing a similar trend in the way some Democrats and the mainstream U.S. media are citing accurate assessments from Russian President Vladimir Putin and claiming that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is somehow in league with Putin for observing the same realities.

A case in point is Tuesday’s editorial in The Washington Post, entitled “The Putin-Trump worldview” (in print) and “Trump and Putin share a frightening worldview” (online). The editorial quotes Putin as “observing that Mr. Trump ‘represents the interests of the sizable part of American society that is tired of the elites that have been in power for decades now … and does not like to see power handed down by inheritance.’”

The Post’s editorial writers then snidely note that “Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump have an uncanny way of echoing each other’s words.”

But that is a classic example of McCarthyistic sophistry. Just because some demonized figure like Putin says something that is undeniably true and an American sees the same facts doesn’t make that American a “Putin puppet” or a “Moscow stooge” or any of the other ugly names now being hurled at people who won’t join in today’s trendy Russia bashing and guilt by association.

Putin is not wrong that many of Trump’s supporters – along with many Americans who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders – are “tired of the elites” that have behaved arrogantly and stupidly for decades. Many Americans also don’t believe that a family’s name should decide who becomes the leader of the United States, whether that be the Bushes or the Clintons.

Indeed, what Putin is saying amounts to almost a truism, yet here is The Washington Post not only suggesting that because Putin is saying something that it must be false but then smearing Trump (or anyone else) who detects the same reality.

Double Standards

The same Post editorial also goes to great lengths to reject any comparisons between the Russian and Syrian government airstrikes on the Syrian neighborhoods of east Aleppo — to root out Al Qaeda-connected jihadists and their supposedly “moderate” rebel allies — and U.S. and Iraqi government airstrikes on the Iraqi city of Mosul under the control of Al Qaeda’s spinoff group, the Islamic State.

Insisting that the two similar operations are nothing alike, the Post’s editors white-out the central role of Al Qaeda in commanding the rebel forces in east Aleppo. While ignoring Al Qaeda’s dominance of those neighborhoods and its terror rocket attacks on civilian areas of west Aleppo, the Post only says, “the rebel forces in Aleppo include Western-backed secular groups who seek only to overturn the blood-drenched Assad regime.”

Note the Post’s characterization that rebel forces “include Western-backed secular groups” rather than an honest admission that those supposedly “secular groups” have served mostly as cut-outs in diverting sophisticated U.S. military weapons, such as TOW missiles, to the jihadist cause, a reality recognized by U.S. military advisers on the ground. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How the US Armed-up Syrian Jihadists.“]

Many of these supposedly “secular groups” have openly allied themselves with Al Qaeda’s recently rebranded Nusra Front (now called the Syria Conquest Front). This so-called “marbling” of the “moderates” in with the jihadists was one of the sticking points in the failed limited cease-fire in which the Post’s beloved “secular groups” rebuffed Secretary of State John Kerry’s plea that they separate themselves from Al Qaeda.

An intellectually honest newspaper would have at least admitted some of these inconvenient truths, but that is not the modern-day Washington Post with its own “blood-drenched” editors who played a crucial role in rallying support behind President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq under false pretenses.

The Post and its editors have on their hands the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a result of that illegal aggressive war, but those editors have not suffered a whit for their participation in war crimes. Instead, exactly the same senior editorial-page editors – Fred Hiatt and Jackson Diehl – are still there, touted on the newspaper’s masthead, still misleading the Post’s readers.

By contrast, The Wall Street Journal (of all places) did some serious reporting on the key question of “moderate” rebels allied with Al Qaeda. The Journal reported on Sept. 29: “Some of Syria’s largest rebel factions are doubling down on their alliance with an al Qaeda-linked group, despite a U.S. warning to split from the extremists or risk being targeted in airstrikes. The rebel gambit is complicating American counterterrorism efforts in the country at a time the U.S. is contemplating cooperation with Russia to fight extremist groups.”

If even Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal can acknowledge this important context, why can’t The Washington Post?

Dangerous Terrain

But the whipping up of a New Cold War with Russia and the demonizing of Vladimir Putin extend beyond The Washington Post to virtually the entire U.S. political/media establishment which has plunged into this dangerous terrain without any more serious thought and analysis than preceded the Iraq invasion, except now the target for “regime change” is nuclear-armed Russia and this adventurism risks the extermination of life on the planet.

Despite these grave dangers, the Democrats and the Clinton campaign have settled on a strategy of exploiting the New McCarthyism of the New Cold War to discredit Trump through “guilt by association” to Putin even though the two men have apparently never met.

Mostly this New McCarthyism has been used to divert attention from developments threatening to Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances, such as the release of embarrassing emails among Democratic insiders hacked from the personal account of Clinton adviser John Podesta and, since last Friday, the statement by FBI Director James Comey that he has reopened the investigation into Clinton’s use of an unsecured email server because of emails found on a computer in the home of Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner.

In the first instance, the Clinton campaign sought to redirect attention from the content of the emails, including the text of speeches that Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs and other financial interests, to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was probably behind the hack.

‘A Witch Hunt’

In the Comey situation, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has sought to counter Comey’s stunning announcement last Friday by calling on the FBI director to also disclose whatever the FBI may have discovered about links between Trump’s aides and the Kremlin.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Democrats have raised suspicions about Carter Page, an early-on Trump adviser and former Merrill Lynch banker who gave a speech last summer criticizing the United States and other Western nations for a “hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change” in Russia and other parts of the old Soviet Union.

Page termed Reid’s efforts to transform a political disagreement into a criminal case “a witch hunt,” a phrase familiar from Sen. Joe McCarthy’s Red-scare investigations of the late 1940s and early 1950s into the loyalty of Americans.

Another Trump adviser caught up in the Democrats’ attempts to smear the Trump campaign over alleged ties to Moscow is Roger Stone. The Times reported that Democrats have accused Stone “of being a conduit between the Russian hackers and WikiLeaks,” which published Podesta’s hacked emails, because Stone has said he had contacts with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and seemed to anticipate the damaging disclosures, though Stone has denied any prior knowledge.

An irony from this case of “trading places” – with the Democrats now darkly suggesting Republican ties to Moscow rather than the opposite during the McCarthy era – is that Roger Stone was a longtime associate of the late Roy Cohn, who was the controversial counsel on Sen. McCarthy’s Red-hunting investigations.

Stone derided the Democratic attempts to discredit Trump and himself with claims of ties to Moscow as “the new McCarthyism.”

Despite the irony, Stone is not wrong in his assessment. Rarely in American politics since the dark days of Joe McCarthy have so many unsubstantiated accusations of disloyalty been directed at any major political figure as the Democrats have done to Donald Trump.

In the third debate, Clinton even accused Trump of being a Putin “puppet.” If such a remark were made by Joe McCarthy or his Red-baiting ally Richard Nixon, there would have been understandable outrage. But Clinton’s ugly charge passed without controversy.

Though there are plenty of legitimate reasons to oppose the eminently unqualified Donald Trump for President, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats risk setting in motion dangerous international forces with their promiscuous Russia-bashing. Recognizing the terrifying potential of nuclear war, a more responsible course would be to tone down the rhetoric and address the legitimate questions raised by the email issues.

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

Justifying the Saudi Slaughter in Yemen

Exclusive: Official Washington insists Iran is the main Mideast troublemaker when clearly that isn’t true, but the “group think” explains why a few intercepted arms shipments to Somalia where linked to Iran and Yemen, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The Obama administration has carried out a deliberately deceptive campaign accusing Iran of covertly sending arms to the Houthis by sea, a claim that Washington cites to help justify the Saudi massive air attack against the Houthis that began last year.

By repeating the accusation over and over, the administration has been largely successful in turning a dubious allegation into accepted fact, even though it is contradicted by evidence that is well-documented on the public record.

Secretary of State John Kerry introduced the new variant of the Obama administration’s familiar theme about Iran’s “nefarious activities” in the region two weeks after Saudi Arabia began its bombing in Yemen on March 26, 2015. Kerry told the PBS NewsHour, “There are obviously supplies that have been coming from Iran,” citing “a number of flights every single week that have been flying in.” Kerry vowed that the United States was “not going to stand by while the region is destabilized.”

Later, the administration began accusing Iran of using fishing boats to smuggle arms to the Houthis. The campaign unfolded in a series of four interceptions of small fishing boats or dhows in or near the Arabian Sea from September 2015 through March 2016. The four interceptions had two things in common: the boats did have illicit weapons alright, but the crews always said the ship was bound for Somalia – not Yemen and the Houthis.

But instead of acknowledging the obvious fact that the weapons were not related to the Iran-Houthi relationship, a U.S. military spokesman put out a statement in all four cases citing a U.S. “assessment” that the ultimate destination of the arms was Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen.

The choice of wording was significant. The intelligence community says that it “assesses” that something is true only when it does not have clear-cut proof on the matter. In the case of the alleged Iranian use of fishing dhows to smuggle arms to the Houthis, the U.S. spokesmen did not cite a single piece of evidence for that “assessment” in any of the four cases. In fact, when asked for some justification for it, the military spokesman refused.

The first fishing dhow was intercepted in the Arabian Sea on Sept. 25, 2015, by a member of a 31-nation coalition called the Combined Maritime Forces patrolling the Arabian Sea and nearby waters for piracy. The coalition ship found the dhow to be carrying 18 Konkurs anti-tank missiles, 71 other anti-tank shells and 54 missile-launchers.

Blaming Iran

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet later issued a statement that said, “Based on statements from the dhow’s crew the port of origin of the dhow and its illicit weapons cache is believed to be Iran.” It also said the anti-tank missiles were thought to be of Iranian and Russian origin, and that the papers on the ship had indicated that it had been checked by ports and customs officials in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.

But the crew of the vessel had said that it was bound not for Yemen but for Somalia, as the spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet acknowledged to The Associated Press. A Saudi military spokesman suggested that Iran intended to reroute the arms later from Somalia to Yemen, but offered no evidence.

On Feb. 27, 2016, an Australian ship intercepted a second fishing dhow off the coast of Oman. The Australians found 1,989 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenades and 40 PKM machine guns on board. The Australian Defense Force issued an official statement on the seizure that did not mention Iranian involvement. It said the boat appeared to be “stateless” and that its cache of weapons was “destined for Somalia.” The Australian Defense Force spokesman explained to CNN that the conclusion was based on interviews with crew members.

But a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces, Central Command, Lt. Ian McConnaughey gave an entirely different political slant to the interception. In an e-mail to NBC News, McConnaughey said. “Based on the dhow’s course, Iran is believed to be its port of origin and the source of the illicit weapon,” he said. McConnaughey said the crew was “assessed” to be Iranian – implying that the crew itself had not indicated that.

McConnaughey acknowledged to NBC and The Telegraph, “According to coalition forces it is believed that the vessel’s destination was in the vicinity of Somalia.” But the CENTCOM spokesman indicated that it didn’t matter; the U.S. was insisting on its narrative about covert Iranian arms to the Houthis.

“[T]he initial U.S. assessment is the weapons’ final destination was likely to be the Houthis in Yemen,” McConnaaughey told NBC and The Telegraph.

When this writer asked McConnaughey by e-mail why the U.S. “assessed” that the weapons were intended for Yemen, despite the evidence to the contrary, he responded, “We are not going to discuss the intelligence and other information that led us to our assessment.”

A Third Shipment

On March 20, a French navy destroyer intercepted a third fishing dhow off the Island of Socotra in the northern Indian Ocean and found several hundred AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns and antitank weapons. The official statement on the seizure from the Combined Maritime Forces stated categorically, “The dhow was spotted heading toward Somalia.” map-yemen

And because the weapons were “deemed to be destined for Somalia,” it explained, they “were seized under the United Nations Security Council mandated arms embargo in accordance with UNSCR 2244(2015).” That Security Council resolution mandates an embargo on Eritrea.

Australia and other states participating in the Combined Maritime Forces were thus challenging the U.S. propaganda line. But again the U.S. military used the news media to reinforce the line about Iran smuggling arms to the Houthis. Commander Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for the Fifth Fleet, told CNN that “according to a U.S. assessment,” Yemen was the “likely destination” of the arms.

A fourth interception – the third in three weeks – occurred on March 28 by a U.S. Navy ship that was not operating as part of Combined Maritime Forces but directly under U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. That allowed the Naval Forces Central Command to issue its own news story on April 4.

In its lead paragraph, the report said the United States “assessed” that the shipment of illicit arms on board the dhow “originated in Iran and was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen.”

An Earlier Ruse

The Obama administration also had sought to promote the charge that Iranian was covertly sending weapons to the Houthis by sea more than two years earlier. In January 2013, the Yemen client government backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia had claimed that its forces had intercepted a ship with a large cargo of weaponry that came from Iran and was on its way to Yemen to deliver them to the Houthis.

The Obama administration supported that charge in briefings to journalists. After the Saudi air war against Yemen began in 2015, the U.S. pushed for a report by an experts group on sanctions against Iran that would give the charge credibility.

But the 2013 claim was soon exposed as a ruse. A Security Council Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea revealed in a June 2013 report that the crewmembers had told diplomats who interviewed them that ship’s cargo of diesel fuel was bound for Somalia, not Yemen. And, since the weapons were hidden under the diesel fuel tanks, the weapons could be accessed only after those tanks had been emptied, in other words after the ship docked in Somalia.

The monitoring group learned from authorities in the Puntland region of Somalia, where most of the smuggled weapons have entered the country, that this was a widely used method of smuggling arms into the country.

Furthermore, the monitoring group determined that the wide range of types of weapons on board the ship, which was intercepted in January 2013, as well as of their original sources indicated that the weapons cache had been assembled by arms merchants. Authorities in Puntland provided data to the monitoring group showing that most of the shipments of weapons into Puntland in the months before January 2013 had come from politically well-connected arms merchants in Yemen.

Some of the fishing boats that were intercepted with illicit arms on board in 2015-16 had Iranian owners. But the monitoring group report reveals that the real reason is the role of such Iranian fishing vessels in illegal fishing in Somali waters. The vast majority of the hundreds of fishing vessels involved in such illegal fishing networks were either Iranian or Yemeni. As many as 300 were believed to be Yemeni-owned, while Iranian-owned 180 of them.

The monitoring group said it was investigating unconfirmed reports that some of those illegal fishing vessels were also being used to carry out arms smuggling and that it had established “other connections between the illegal fishing networks and networks involved in the arms trade and connected to al-Shabaab in northeastern Somalia.”

But the Obama administration has no interest in the considerable evidence gathered by the monitoring group that provides a more credible explanation for the arms found on those four fishing dhows.

Such an explanation isn’t political useful, whereas the accusations of Iranian smuggling of arms to the Houthis fulfilled multiple political and bureaucratic interests, justifying Saudi Arabia’s bloody U.S.-backed air campaign over Yemen and endless Washington alarms about “Iranian aggression.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

How the West Provoked the New Cold War

The mainstream U.S. media portrays the New Cold War as “white-hatted” Americans standing up to “black-hatted” Russians to stop aggression against NATO and to save children in Syria, but the reality is much more gray, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

How did the “growing trust” that Russian President Vladimir Putin once said marked his “working and personal relationship with President Obama” change into today’s deep distrust and saber-rattling?

Their relationship reached its zenith after Mr. Putin persuaded Syria to give up its chemical weapons for verified destruction, enabling Mr. Obama at the last minute to call off, with some grace, plans to attack Syria in late summer 2013.

But at an international conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi last week, Mr. Putin spoke of the “feverish” state of international relations and lamented: “My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results.” He complained about “people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice” and, referring to Syria, decried the lack of a “common front against terrorism after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort, and difficult compromises.”

A month earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who chooses his words carefully, told Russian TV viewers, “My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the U.S. military machine. Despite [Mr. Kerry’s] assurances that the U.S. commander in chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin) apparently the military does not really listen to the commander in chief.”

Do not chalk this up to paranoia. The U.S.-led coalition air strikes on known Syrian army positions killing scores of troops just five days into the September cease-fire — not to mention statements at the time by the most senior U.S. generals — were evidence enough to convince the Russians that the Pentagon was intent on scuttling meaningful cooperation with Russia.

A New Nadir

Relations between the U.S. and Russian presidents have now reached a nadir, and Mr. Putin has ordered his own defense ministry to throw down the gauntlet.

On Oct. 6, ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russia is prepared to shoot down unidentified aircraft — including any stealth aircraft — over Syria, and warned ominously that Russian air defense will not have time to identify the origin of the aircraft.

It seems possible that the U.S. air force will challenge that claim in due course — perhaps even without seeking prior permission from the White House. Last week, National Intelligence Director and former Air Force General James Clapper commented offhandedly, “I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft … if they felt it was threatening their forces on the ground.”

Injecting additional volatility into the equation, major news outlets are playing down or ignoring Russia’s warnings. Thus, Americans who depend on the corporate media can be expected to be suitably shocked by what that same media will no doubt cast as naked aggression out of the blue if Russian air defenses down a U.S. or coalition aircraft.

Meanwhile in Europe, as NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters the U.S. is contributing “a persistent rotational armored brigade combat team” as a “major sign of the U.S. commitment to strengthening deterrence here.”

“This was a decision made by the alliance leaders in Warsaw,” he explained, referring to NATO’s July summit meeting in the Polish capital. “The United States will lead a battalion in Poland and deploy an entire battle-ready battalion task force of approximately 900 soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which is based in Germany.”

On Thursday, at the Valdai Conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, President Putin accused the West of promoting the “myth” of a “Russian military threat,” calling this a “profitable business that can be used to pump new money into defense budgets … expand NATO and bring its infrastructure, military units, and arms closer to our borders.”

Myth or not, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was correct to point out last spring that military posturing on Russia’s borders will bring less regional security. Mr. Steinmeier warned against “saber-rattling,” adding that, “We are well advised not to create pretexts to renew an old confrontation.”

Speaking of such pretexts, it is high time to acknowledge that the marked increase in East-West tensions over the past two-and-a-half years originally stemmed from the Western-sponsored coup d’état in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, and Russia’s reaction in annexing Crimea. Americans malnourished on the diet served up by “mainstream” media are blissfully unaware that two weeks before the coup, YouTube published a recording of an intercepted conversation between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, during which “Yats” (for Arseniy Yatsenyuk) was identified as Washington’s choice to become the new prime minister of the coup government in Kiev.

This unique set of circumstances prompted George Friedman, president of the think-tank STRATFOR, to label the putsch in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, “really the most blatant coup in history.”

It’s time for Western politicians and media to learn their lesson and pay attention to the statements coming out of Russia. Ask yourselves: Why all this hype now?

Ray McGovern (rrmcgovern@gmail.com) was an Army officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, during which he was chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and later a presidential briefer during President Reagan’s first term. [This article was originally published in The Baltimore Sun and is reposted here with the permission of the author.]

Who Will Weed Out the Warmongers?

Exclusive: Progressive Democrats are gearing up to fight Wall Street appointees to a Hillary Clinton administration, but there is no similar campaign to weed out neocon/liberal-hawk warmongers, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

If Hillary Clinton hangs on to win the presidency, liberal Democrats have vowed to block her appointment of Wall Street-friendly officials to key Cabinet and sub-Cabinet jobs. But there has been little organized resistance to her choosing hawkish foreign policy advisers.

Indeed, Washington’s foreign policy establishment has purged almost anyone who isn’t part of the neoconservative/liberal-interventionist “group think.” That’s why pretty much everyone who “matters” agrees about the need to push around Russia, China, Syria, Iran, etc.

Reflecting that attitude, Sunday’s lead editorial in the neocon Washington Post hailed the broad consensus within the Establishment for more warlike actions once President Obama is gone, taking with him what the Post calls Obama’s “self-defeating passivity.”

The Post praised a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress which calls for bombing the Syrian military and getting tough to “counter Iran’s negative influence” in line with what all the neocons — as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia — want the next President to do.

The absence of any significant counter to this neocon/liberal-hawk “group think” represents one of the greatest dangers to the future of the human species, since this new hubris comes with a cavalier assumption that nuclear-armed Russia and China will simply accept humiliation dished out by the “indispensable nation.”

If they don’t, we can expect Official Washington to ratchet up tensions in a game of nuclear chicken with the expectation that the leaders in Moscow and Beijing will bow down to U.S. “exceptionalism’ and slink away with their tails between their legs.

Surely, that is what the armchair warriors at The Washington Post will demand and they have, of course, a spotless record of infallibility, such as their certainty that Iraq was hiding stockpiles of WMD in 2003. Editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt was so sure of that he wrote it as flat fact.

Given the Iraq War catastrophe and the failure to find the WMD, you might have assumed that Hiatt was summarily fired and has never worked in journalism again. But, of course, you’d be wrong. He is still the editorial-page editor of The Washington Post continuing to ladle out his extraordinary wisdom and brilliant insights.

The New McCarthyism

And, if you dare question those new certainties or note the risks of stumbling into a nuclear conflagration, the Post’s editorial pages label you a Moscow stooge repeating Russian propaganda.

That is what Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump when he warned about the risks of World War III if a President Hillary Clinton starts shooting down Russian planes over Syria.

Rather than acknowledge the genuine risk of getting into a shooting war with Russia, neocon Applebaum declares such concerns unacceptable and offers a whiff of McCarthyism toward anyone who thinks such a thing.

“Why is Russian state media using such extreme language?” she asks darkly. “And why is Trump repeating it?”

Then, with the typical perceptiveness of a neocon ideologue, Applebaum determines that the Kremlin is warning its citizens about the growing risks of nuclear war to scare them into line amid a recession that the U.S. helped create as part of its “regime change” strategy to destabilize Russia by making its economy scream.

A thoughtful person might stop here and wonder if the use of economic sanctions and other means to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia is such a good idea, but no mainstream person is allowed to raise such questions inside Official Washington. That would just make you a Russian puppet, in Applebaum’s view.

Applebaum then rants on with some wild conspiracy theories about Russian plans to exploit the U.S. presidential transition:

“Whatever the outcome on Nov. 8, political uncertainty will follow: the months of transition, a change of White House staff, perhaps even the violent backlash that Trump may incite. This could be an excellent moment for a major Russian offensive: a land grab in Ukraine, a foray into the Baltic states, a much bigger intervention in the Middle East — anything to ‘test’ the new president.

“If that’s coming, Putin needs to prepare his public to fight much bigger wars and to persuade the rest of the world not to stop him. He needs to get his generals into the right mind-set, and his soldiers ready to go. A little nuclear war rhetoric never fails to focus attention, and I’m sure it has.”

Reckless Drivel

Perhaps the more immediate question here is why a major American newspaper runs such crazy and reckless drivel from one of its regular columnists. But the fact that the Post does so indicates how dangerous the moment is for humanity. For those of us who read the Post regularly, such insane rhetoric barely registers since we see similar nuttiness on a daily basis.

But the “group think” that the Post and other mainstream publications create and then enforce explains why there is such unity among the Establishment as it presses ahead with these dangerous policies in much the same manner that almost the same cast of insiders “group thought” their way into the disastrous Iraq War.

So, the wannabe insiders at the Center for American Progress and the more established pooh-bahs at the Brookings Institution and other preeminent think tanks know they have to promote “regime change” strategies and other forms of warmongering to appease Hiatt and his fellow neocon editorialists and columnists.

In Washington, this “group think” has moved beyond the usual careerist and conformist “conventional wisdom” into something more akin to totalitarianism, at least on foreign policy issues.

That is why it is hard to even come up with a list of sensible people who could survive the onslaught of character assassinations if they were to be proposed as senior advisers to a President Hillary Clinton.

That is also why the attention of progressives, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, only on vetting domestic officials in a prospective Hillary Clinton administration is so insufficient.

If a hawkish President Clinton surrounds herself with like-minded neocons and liberal hawks, the costs of their warmongering would surely swallow up the tax dollars necessary for domestic priorities – on infrastructure, education, health care, the environment and other pressing concerns.

And, if the McCarthyistic intolerance of The Washington Post influences or infects her administration, the genuine risks of World War III will dwarf any other worries.

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

The De Facto US/Al Qaeda Alliance

Exclusive: Buried deep inside Saturday’s New York Times was a grudging acknowledgement that the U.S.-armed “moderate” rebels in Syria are using their U.S. firepower to back an Al Qaeda offensive, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A curious aspect of the Syrian conflict – a rebellion sponsored largely by the United States and its Gulf state allies – is the disappearance in much of the American mainstream news media of references to the prominent role played by Al Qaeda in seeking to overthrow the secular Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

There’s much said in the U.S. press about ISIS, the former “Al Qaeda in Iraq” which splintered off several years ago, but Al Qaeda’s central role in commanding Syria’s “moderate” rebels in Aleppo and elsewhere is the almost unspoken reality of the Syrian war. Even in the U.S. presidential debates, the arguing between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has been almost exclusively about ISIS, not Al Qaeda.

Though Al Qaeda got the ball rolling on America’s revenge wars in the Middle East 15 years ago by killing several thousand Americans and others in the 9/11 attacks, the terrorist group has faded into the background of U.S. attention, most likely because it messes up the preferred “good guy/bad guy” narrative regarding the Syrian war.

For instance, the conflict in Aleppo between Syrian government forces and rebels operating primarily under Al Qaeda’s command is treated in the Western media as simply a case of the barbaric Assad and his evil Russian ally Vladimir Putin mercilessly bombing what is portrayed as the east Aleppo equivalent of Disney World, a place where innocent children and their families peacefully congregate until they are targeted for death by the Assad-Putin war-crime family.

The photos sent out to the world by skillful rebel propagandists are almost always of wounded children being cared for by the “White Helmet” rebel civil defense corps, which has come under growing criticism for serving as a public-relations arm of Al Qaeda and other insurgents. (There also are allegations that some of the most notable images have been staged, like a fake war scene from the 1997 dark comedy, “Wag the Dog.”)

Rare Glimpse of Truth

Yet, occasionally, the reality of Al Qaeda’s importance in the rebellion breaks through, even in the mainstream U.S. media, although usually downplayed and deep inside the news pages, such as the A9 article in Saturday’s New York Times by Hwaida Saad and Anne Barnard describing a rebel offensive in Aleppo. It acknowledges:

“The new offensive was a strong sign that rebel groups vetted by the United States were continuing their tactical alliances with groups linked to Al Qaeda, rather than distancing themselves as Russia has demanded and the Americans have urged. … The rebels argue that they cannot afford to shun any potential allies while they are under fire, including well-armed and motivated jihadists, without more robust aid from their international backers.” (You might note how the article subtly blames the rebel dependence on Al Qaeda on the lack of “robust aid” from the Obama administration and other outside countries – even though such arms shipments violate international law.)

What the article also makes clear in a hazy kind of way is that Al Qaeda’s affiliate, the recently renamed Nusra Front, and its jihadist allies, such as Ahrar al-Sham, are waging the brunt of the fighting while the CIA-vetted “moderates” are serving in mostly support roles. The Times reported:

“The insurgents have a diverse range of objectives and backers, but they issued statements of unity on Friday. Those taking part in the offensive include the Levant Conquest Front, a militant group formerly known as the Nusra Front that grew out of Al Qaeda; another hard-line Islamist faction, Ahrar al-Sham; and other rebel factions fighting Mr. Assad that have been vetted by the United States and its allies.”

The article cites Charles Lister, a senior fellow and Syria specialist at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and other analysts noting that “the vast majority of the American-vetted rebel factions in Aleppo were fighting inside the city itself and conducting significant bombardments against Syrian government troops in support of the Qaeda-affiliated fighters carrying out the brunt of front-line fighting.”

Lister noted that 11 of the 20 or so rebel groups conducting the Aleppo “offensive have been vetted by the C.I.A. and have received arms from the agency, including anti-tank missiles. …

“In addition to arms provided by the United States, much of the rebels’ weaponry comes from regional states, like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Lister said, including truck-borne multiple-rocket launcher systems and Czech-made Grad rockets with extended ranges.”

The U.S./Al Qaeda Alliance

In other words, the U.S. government and its allies have smuggled sophisticated weapons into Syria to arm rebels who are operating in support of Al Qaeda’s new military offensive against Syrian government forces in Aleppo. By any logical analysis, that makes the United States an ally of Al Qaeda.

The Times article also includes a quote from Genevieve Casagrande, a Syria research analyst from the Institute for the Study of War, a neoconservative “think tank” that has supported more aggressive U.S. military involvement in Syria and the Middle East.

“The unfortunate truth, however, is that these U.S.-backed groups remain somewhat dependent upon the Al Qaeda linked groups for organization and firepower in these operations,” Casagrande said.

The other unfortunate truth is that the U.S.-supplied rebels have served, either directly or indirectly, as conduits to funnel U.S. military equipment and ordnance to Al Qaeda.

One might think that the editors of The New York Times – if they were operating with old-fashioned news judgment rather than with propagandistic blinders on – would have recast the article to highlight the tacit U.S. alliance with Al Qaeda and put that at the top of the front page.

Still, the admissions are significant, confirming what we have reported at Consortiumnews.com for many months, including Gareth Porter’s article last February saying: “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces [of Idlib and Aleppo] is engaged in a military structure controlled by [Al Qaeda’s] Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it. …

“At least since 2014 the Obama administration has armed a number of Syrian rebel groups even though it knew the groups were coordinating closely with the Nusra Front, which was simultaneously getting arms from Turkey and Qatar.”

Double Standards

The Times article on page A9 also deviated from the normal propaganda themes by allowing a statement by Syrian officials and the Russians regarding their suspension of airstrikes over the past week to permit the evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo and the rebels’ refusal to let people leave, even to the point of firing on the humanitarian corridors:

“The [Syrian] government and its [Russian] allies accused the rebels of forcing Aleppo residents to stay, and of using them as human shields.”

The “human shields” argument is one that is common when the United States or its allies are pummeling some city controlled by “enemy” forces whether Israel’s bombardment of Gaza or the U.S. Marines’ leveling of Fallujah in Iraq or the current campaign against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Mosul. In those cases, the horrific civilian bloodshed, including the killing of children by U.S. or allied forces, is blamed on Hamas or Sunni insurgents or ISIS but never on the people dropping the bombs.

An entirely opposite narrative is applied when U.S. adversaries, such as Syria or Russia, are trying to drive terrorists and insurgents out of an urban area. Then, there is usually no reference to “human shields” and all the carnage is blamed on “war crimes” by the U.S. adversaries. That propaganda imperative helps explain why Al Qaeda and its jihadist comrades have been largely whited out of the conflict in Aleppo.

Over the past few years, U.S. regional allies, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, also have shifted their public attitudes toward Al Qaeda, seeing it as a blunt instrument to smash the so-called “Shiite crescent” reaching from Iran through Syria to Lebanon. For instance, in September 2013, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored Syria’s Sunni extremists over President Assad.

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

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

Warming to Al Qaeda

As Israeli officials shifted toward viewing Al Qaeda and even ISIS as the lesser evils and built a behind-the-scenes alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states, American neoconservatives also began softening their tone regarding the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

Across the U.S. foreign policy establishment, pressure built for “regime change” in Damascus even if that risked handing Syria to Sunni jihadists. That strategy hit a road bump in 2014 when ISIS began chopping off the heads of Western hostages in Syria and capturing swathes of territory in Iraq, including Mosul.

That bloody development forced President Barack Obama to begin targeting ISIS militants in both Iraq and Syria, but the neocon-dominated Washington establishment still favored the Israeli-Saudi objective of “regime change” in Syria regardless of how that might help Al Qaeda.

Thus, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its jihadist ally, Ahrar al-Sham, faded into the background under the fiction that the anti-Assad forces were primarily noble “moderates” trying to save the children from the bloodthirsty fiends, Assad and Putin.

Grudgingly, The New York Times, deep inside Saturday’s newspaper, acknowledged at least part of the troubling reality, that the U.S. government has, in effect, allied itself with Al Qaeda terrorists.

[For more background on this issue, see Consortiumnews.com’s “New Group Think for War with Syria/Russia.”]

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

Only Making Matters Worse in Syria

Exclusive: Washington’s foreign policy establishment is determined to escalate U.S. military attacks in Syria even though that won’t resolve the conflict and will only get more people killed, a dilemma addressed by Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Middle East policy has reached an inflexion point, a moment when Official Washington seems to be caught in the middle between escalation and retreat.

On one hand, the rhetoric has not been more militant since Hillary Clinton’s famous “we came, we saw, he died” moment in October 2011. With Barack Obama halfway out the door and Clinton all but crowned, Washington’s laptop bombardiers are rejoicing that the half-measures are over and judgment day nearly at hand.

Thus, The New York Times assures us that that the Middle East is “desperate for American leadership” while the Washington Post reports that “the Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the ground work for a more assertive American foreign policy.”

Leading think tanks are publishing “a flurry of reports” urging stepped-up intervention, including U.S.-backed “safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces” and even “limited” cruise-missile strikes. But while differing on the details, all agree something must be done. The time to act is now.

As Vox puts it: “The hot new policy idea in Washington is the hottest old idea: direct US military intervention in Syria’s civil war.”

But reading between the lines, a very different picture emerges, a realization that the U.S. has painted itself into a corner and that there is little it can do after all.  Thus, the Times observes that while the Middle East is clamoring for U.S. leadership, it is not clamoring for Bush-style intervention but for some mythical “middle ground” in between him and Obama.

While reporting that pro-escalation sentiment is unanimous in Washington’s vast foreign-policy establishment – sometimes known as “the blob” – the Washington Post notes that “even pinprick cruise-missile strikes designed to hobble the Syrian air force or punish [President Bashar al-]Assad would risk a direct confrontation with Russian forces” and wonders whether a war-weary public will support any intervention at all.

“My concern is that we may be talking to each other and agreeing with each other,” it quotes one expert as saying, “but that these discussions are isolated from where the public may be right now.”

Official Washington in a Bubble

Thus, even the Establishment worries that it lives in a bubble. Washington wants war, it needs war, and yet it admits in practically the same breath that it can’t have it. So what will it do?

Then there are the mild liberals over at Vox, the hip and successful Washington website founded by journalistic wunderkind Ezra Klein. Voxers pride themselves on being sharp and practical yet in the end they are sealed off as well. The poster boy for this tendency is Zack Beauchamp, a young writer who stars in a recent Vox video entitled, “The crisis in Aleppo, explained in 4 minutes.”

As Beauchamp lectures away amid fancy graphics and cool background music, the video faithfully toes the Washington line, both the stirring gung-ho part and the downbeat refrain that inevitably follows. Thus, he describes the Syrian civil war as a “story of flip-flops,” with Assad seemingly on the ropes until Iran and Russia put him back on his feet, at which point the Saudis and Qataris put the rebels back on their feet so the game can continue.

But the real turning point, he says, occurred in September 2015 when Russia stepped in with airstrikes that allowed the government to besiege the Salafists in eastern Aleppo.

“A siege,” Beauchamp then explains, “involves trapping a group of people, civilians and fighters both, inside a certain territory and denying them supplies until they can no longer fight. Assad’s strategy has a vicious logic to it. When you deprive people of food and you bomb them over and over again, they’re likely to give in just to make the fighting stop.”

The upshot, he says, is “a humanitarian crisis … roughly 250,000 people trapped in the city … running dangerously low on supplies, access to clean water and medicine.” So what should the U.S. do in response? The video’s tone at this point turns pessimistic and then pitch black:

“The United States has the military power to break the siege of Aleppo,” Beauchamp says, “but doing so would be extremely dangerous. For one thing, it would need to coordinate with rebels on the ground, some of whom are extremists. For another, it means that the US would be operating in hostile air space with Russian planes.If the US were to engage with Russian planes, that could theoretically mean direct fire between two nuclear-armed superpowers, a risk that very few people in the United States are willing to take. And three, even if the US did temporarily break the siege, it would have to maintain a commitment to insure that things didn’t get worse. That could mean an open-ended war. And there’s no guarantee that this would make anything better, but, rather, it might just get more people killed over the long run.”

So U.S. options are zero: “Every diplomatic solution tried so far has failed, and failed miserably, and there’s simply no economic tool that can be used to end the fighting or ease the suffering of the people inside besieged territories. There’s no good answer. There’s nothing that anyone has that could simply solve the crisis. It’s a disaster and a disaster without any end in sight.”

Falsehoods and Obfuscations 

Beauchamp’s explanation – which is really not an explanation at all, merely an assertion – is studded with falsehoods and obfuscations. By describing Assad’s strategy as uniquely “vicious,” he ignores obvious parallels between the Russian air campaign in Aleppo and U.S. air assaults on Fallujah, Tikrit, and Ramadi, all in central Iraq and all largely destroyed in the course of “liberating” them from ISIS.

By referring to the events in Syria as a civil war, he fails to acknowledge the degree to which it is actually a foreign invasion by the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf states. By repeatedly referring to the Salafists as “rebels” – which suggests that they are Syrians rising up from within – he ignores the fact that large numbers – 36,500, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper – are foreign-born.

While asserting that 250,000 people are trapped inside east Aleppo, he ignores reports that the real figure is far lower. The Guardian’s Martin Chulov, for example, estimated in March 2015 that only 40,000 people remained in rebel-held areas while Vice News reported last July that “most of Aleppo’s residents have fled the city. There are just a handful of civilians and rebel fighters holding on in the shattered ruins.”

Beauchamp also implies that it is the government that has “trapped” people in east Aleppo when reports in the London Independent and elsewhere indicate that Salafists are firing on anyone trying to take the government up on its offer of safe passage. While acknowledging that “some” fighters are “extremists,” he ignores the fact that the U.S. military has admitted that Al Nusra, the local branch of Al Qaeda, is firmly in charge.

When Salafists launched a short-lived offensive in east Aleppo last summer, for instance, The New York Times reported that they named it in honor of Ibrahim al-Yousef, a Muslim Brotherhood member who led a horrendous massacre of Alawite military cadets in 1979. It was indicative of how anti-Alawite sectarianism of the most bloodthirsty sort is the common denominator underlying all anti-government factions.

One could go on, but the point is clear. The foreign-policy establishment has not only cut itself off from the public but, with the help of sympathetic media outlets like Vox, has cut itself off from its own intellectual history. Incapable of examining the U.S. role in the Syrian debacle in an honest and straightforward way, it can only blunder about in the dark, staggering backward or forward as circumstances dictate. Now seems to be the moment when it is poised between the two.

So how will the United States respond now that Washington is preparing for a transition between Obama-style abstention and Hillary-style neo-conservatism? Here’s is one reporter’s modest attempt at reading the tea leaves:

Washington will continue to fume as the catastrophe deepens in both Syria and Iraq. As the drive to push ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh) out of Mosul in northern Iraq degenerates into ethno-sectarian warfare among Turks, Sunni Arabs, Shi‘ites, and Kurds, the drive to take back Raqqa, ISIS’s capital in north-central Syria will similarly falter as fighting breaks out between pro-Turkish forces and Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

The fall of east Aleppo, which now seems to be a foregone conclusion, will drive the foreign-policy establishment to a fury. Obama may be able to hold the hawks off.  But by the time he leaves office, “the blob” will be in an uproar and demanding that something be done.

With that, Zack Beauchamp will star in another Vox video entitled, “U.S. military intervention in Syria, explained in 4 minutes.” In it, he’ll tell how Russian atrocities in Aleppo, plus backhanded Syrian government support for ISIS, leave the U.S. no choice but to launch a swarm of cruise missiles at Syrian military facilities.

When Russian soldiers are killed, he’ll try to shift blame to Vladimir Putin for stirring up trouble in the eastern Ukraine or the Baltics. He’ll note that dissent is limited to a few cranky websites and far-left groups, all of which can be safely ignored since they’re not part of the mainstream. Russia will then counter-attack, leading to … no one knows.

While anything can go wrong with this scenario, one thing is clear. The mood in Official Washington is the opposite of 2003 when all the “experts” agreed that an invasion of Iraq would be a walk in the park. Now they’re filled with trepidation. But they’re still trying to talk themselves into an escalation and may succeed. If the election goes as expected, the Clinton II presidency will be an interesting one.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

Selling ‘Regime Change’ Wars to the Masses

Propaganda is now such a pervasive part of Western governance that any foreign leader who resists the prevailing power structure can be turned into a demon and made a target of a “regime change” war, explains John Pilger.

By John Pilger

American journalist Edward Bernays is often described as the man who invented modern propaganda. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, it was Bernays who coined the term “public relations” as a euphemism for spin and its deceptions.

In 1929, as a publicist for the cigarette industry, Bernays persuaded feminists to promote cigarettes for women by smoking in the New York Easter Parade – behavior then considered outlandish. One feminist, Ruth Booth, declared, “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!”

Bernays’s influence extended far beyond advertising. His greatest success was his role in convincing the American public to join the slaughter of the First World War. The secret, he said, was “engineering the consent” of people in order to “control and regiment [them] according to our will without their knowing about it.”

He described this as “the true ruling power in our society” and called it an “invisible government.”

Today, the invisible government has never been more powerful and less understood. In my career as a journalist and filmmaker, I have never known propaganda to insinuate our lives and as it does now and to go unchallenged.

Tale of Two Cities

Imagine two cities. Both are under siege by the forces of the government of that country. Both cities are occupied by fanatics, who commit terrible atrocities, such as beheading people. But there is a vital difference. In one siege, the government soldiers are described as liberators by Western reporters embedded with them, who enthusiastically report their battles and air strikes. There are front-page pictures of these heroic soldiers giving a V-sign for victory. There is scant mention of civilian casualties.

In the second city – in another country nearby – almost exactly the same is happening. Government forces are laying siege to a city controlled by the same breed of fanatics.

The difference is that these fanatics are supported, supplied and armed by “us” – by the United States and Britain. They even have a media center that is funded by Britain and America.

Another difference is that the government soldiers laying siege to this city are the “bad guys,” condemned for assaulting and bombing the city – which is exactly what the good soldiers do in the first city.

Confusing? Not really. Such is the basic double standard that is the essence of propaganda. I am referring, of course, to the current siege of the city of Mosul by the government forces of Iraq, who are backed by the United States and Britain, and to the siege of Aleppo by the government forces of Syria, backed by Russia. One is good; the other is bad.

Behind the Fanatics

What is seldom reported is that both cities would not be occupied by fanatics and ravaged by war if Britain and the United States had not invaded Iraq in 2003. That criminal enterprise was launched on lies strikingly similar to the propaganda that now distorts our understanding of the civil war in Syria.

Without this drumbeat of propaganda dressed up as news, the monstrous ISIS and Al Qaeda and the Nusra Front and the rest of the jihadist gang might not exist, and the people of Syria might not be fighting for their lives today.

Some may remember in 2003 a succession of BBC reporters turning to the camera and telling us that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was “vindicated” for what turned out to be the crime of the century, the invasion of Iraq. The U.S. television networks produced the same validation for George W. Bush. Fox News brought on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to effuse over then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s fabrications.

The same year, soon after the invasion, I filmed an interview in Washington with Charles Lewis, the renowned American investigative journalist. I asked him, “What would have happened if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged what turned out to be crude propaganda?”

He replied that if journalists had done their job, “there is a very, very good chance we would not have gone to war in Iraq.”

It was a shocking statement, and one supported by other famous journalists to whom I put the same question — Dan Rather of CBS, David Rose of the Observer, and journalists and producers in the BBC, who wished to remain anonymous.

In other words, had journalists done their job, had they challenged and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children would be alive today, and there would be no ISIS and no siege of Aleppo or Mosul.

There would have been no atrocity on the London Underground on July 7, 2005. There would have been no flight of millions of refugees; there would be no miserable camps.

When the terrorist atrocity happened in Paris last November, President Francoise Hollande immediately sent planes to bomb Syria – and more terrorism followed, predictably, the product of Hollande’s bombast about France being “at war” and “showing no mercy.” That state violence and jihadist violence feed off each other is the truth that no national leader has the courage to speak.

“When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”

Punishing Independence

The attack on Iraq, the attack on Libya, the attack on Syria happened because the leader in each of these countries was not a puppet of the West. The human rights record of a Saddam or a Gaddafi was irrelevant. They did not obey orders and surrender control of their country.

The same fate awaited Slobodan Milosevic once he had refused to sign an “agreement” that demanded the occupation of Serbia and its conversion to a market economy. His people were bombed, and he was prosecuted in The Hague. Independence of this kind is intolerable.

As WikLeaks has revealed, it was only when the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2009 rejected an oil pipeline, running through his country from Qatar to Europe, that he was attacked. From that moment, the CIA planned to destroy the government of Syria with jihadist fanatics – the same fanatics currently holding the people of Mosul and eastern Aleppo hostage.

Why is this not news? The former British Foreign Office official Carne Ross, who was responsible for operating sanctions against Iraq, told me: “We would feed journalists factoids of sanitized intelligence, or we would freeze them out. That is how it worked.”

The West’s medieval client, Saudi Arabia – to which the U.S. and Britain sell billions of dollars’ worth of arms – is at present destroying Yemen, a country so poor that in the best of times, half the children are malnourished.

Look on YouTube and you will see the kind of massive bombs – “our” bombs – that the Saudis use against dirt-poor villages, and against weddings, and funerals. The explosions look like small atomic bombs. The bomb aimers in Saudi Arabia work side-by-side with British officers. This fact is not on the evening news.

Refined Messengers

Propaganda is most effective when our consent is engineered by those with a fine education – Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Columbia – and with careers on the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post.

These organizations are known as the “liberal media.” They present themselves as enlightened, progressive tribunes of the moral zeitgeist. They are anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT. And they love war. While they speak up for feminism, they support rapacious wars that deny the rights of countless women, including the right to life.

In 2011, Libya, then a modern state, was destroyed on the pretext that Muammar Gaddafi was about to commit genocide on his own people. That was the incessant news; and there was no evidence. It was a lie.

In fact, Britain, Europe and the United States wanted what they like to call “regime change” in Libya, the biggest oil producer in Africa. Gaddafi’s influence in the continent and, above all, his independence were intolerable.

So Gaddafi was murdered with a knife in his rear by fanatics, backed by America, Britain and France. Hillary Clinton cheered his gruesome death for the camera, declaring, “We came, we saw, he died!”

The destruction of Libya was a media triumph. As the war drums were beaten, Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian: “Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong.”

Intervention – what a polite, benign, Guardian word, whose real meaning, for Libya, was death and destruction.

According to its own records, NATO launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. They included missiles with uranium warheads. Look at the photographs of the rubble of Misurata and Sirte, and the mass graves identified by the Red Cross. The Unicef report on the children killed says, “most [of them] under the age of ten.”

As a direct consequence, Sirte became a capital of ISIS.

Ukraine is another media triumph. Respectable liberal newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian, and mainstream broadcasters such as the BBC, NBC, CBS, CNN have played a critical role in conditioning their viewers to accept a new and

dangerous Cold War. All have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia when, in fact, the coup in Ukraine in 2014 was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and NATO.

Inversion of Reality

This inversion of reality is so pervasive that Washington’s military intimidation of Russia is not news; it is suppressed behind a smear-and-scare campaign of the kind I grew up with during the first Cold War. Once again, the Russkies are coming to get us, led by another Stalin, whom The Economist depicts as the devil.

The suppression of the truth about Ukraine is one of the most complete news blackouts I can remember. The fascists who engineered the coup in Kiev are the same breed that backed the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Of all the scares about the rise of fascist anti-Semitism in Europe, no leader ever mentions the fascists in Ukraine – except Vladimir Putin, but he does not count.

Many in the Western media have worked hard to present the ethnic Russian-speaking population of Ukraine as outsiders in their own country, as agents of Moscow, almost never as Ukrainians seeking a federation within Ukraine and as Ukrainian citizens resisting a foreign-orchestrated coup against their elected government.

There is almost the joie d’esprit of a class reunion of warmongers. The drum-beaters of the Washington Post inciting war with Russia are the very same editorial writers who published the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

A Freak Show 

To most of us, the American presidential campaign is a media freak show, in which Donald Trump is the arch villain. But Trump is loathed by those with power in the United States for reasons that have little to do with his obnoxious behavior and opinions.

To the invisible government in Washington, the unpredictable Trump is an obstacle to America’s design for the Twenty-first Century. This is to maintain the dominance of the United States and to subjugate Russia, and, if possible, China.

To the militarists in Washington, the real problem with Trump is that, in his lucid moments, he seems not to want a war with Russia; he wants to talk with the Russian president, not fight him; he says he wants to talk with the president of China.

In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump promised not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict. He said, “I would certainly not do first strike. Once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over.” That was not news.

Did he really mean it? Who knows? He often contradicts himself. But what is clear is that Trump is considered a serious threat to the status quo maintained by the vast national security machine that runs the United States, regardless of who is in the White House.

The CIA wants him beaten. The Pentagon wants him beaten. The media wants him beaten. Even his own party wants him beaten. He is a threat to the rulers of the world – unlike Hillary Clinton who has left no doubt she is prepared to go to war with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

The Clinton Danger   

Clinton has the form, as she often boasts. Indeed, her record is proven. As a senator, she backed the bloodbath in Iraq. When she ran against Obama in 2008, she threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran. As Secretary of State, she colluded in the destruction of governments in Libya and Honduras and set in train the baiting of China.

She has now pledged to support a “no-fly zone” in Syria – a direct provocation for war with Russia. Clinton may well become the most dangerous president of the United States in my lifetime – a distinction for which the competition is fierce.

Without a shred of public evidence, Clinton has accused Russia of supporting Trump and hacking her emails. Released by WikiLeaks, these emails tell us that what Clinton says in private, in speeches to the rich and powerful, is the opposite of what she says in public.

That is why silencing and threatening Julian Assange is so important. As the editor of WikiLeaks, Assange knows the truth. And let me assure those who are concerned, he is well, and WikiLeaks is operating on all cylinders.

Today, the greatest build-up of American-led forces since World War Two is under way – in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, on the border with Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, where China is the target.

Keep that in mind when the presidential election circus reaches its finale on Nov. 8. If the winner is Clinton, a Greek chorus of witless commentators will celebrate her coronation as a great step forward for women. None will mention Clinton’s victims: the women of Syria, the women of Iraq, the women of Libya. None will mention the civil defense drills being conducted in Russia. None will recall Edward Bernays’s “torches of freedom.”

Scott McClellan, who had been George W. Bush’s press spokesman, once called the media “complicit enablers.” Coming from a senior official in an administration whose lies, enabled by the media, caused such suffering, that description is a warning from history.

In 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal prosecutor said of the German media: “Before every major aggression, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically for the attack. In the propaganda system, it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”

This is adapted from an address to the Sheffield Festival of Words, Sheffield, England. JohnPilger.com – the films and journalism of John Pilger.

The Modern History of ‘Rigged’ US Elections

Special Report: Donald Trump claims the U.S. presidential election is “rigged,” drawing condemnation from the political/media establishment which accuses him of undermining faith in American democracy. But neither side understands the real problem, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The United States is so committed to the notion that its electoral process is the world’s “gold standard” that there has been a bipartisan determination to maintain the fiction even when evidence is overwhelming that a U.S. presidential election has been manipulated or stolen. The “wise men” of the system simply insist otherwise.

We have seen this behavior when there are serious questions of vote tampering (as in Election 1960) or when a challenger apparently exploits a foreign crisis to create an advantage over the incumbent (as in Elections 1968 and 1980) or when the citizens’ judgment is overturned by judges (as in Election 2000).

Strangely, in such cases, it is not only the party that benefited which refuses to accept the evidence of wrongdoing, but the losing party and the establishment news media as well. Protecting the perceived integrity of the U.S. democratic process is paramount. Americans must continue to believe in the integrity of the system even when that integrity has been violated.

The harsh truth is that pursuit of power often trumps the principle of an informed electorate choosing the nation’s leaders, but that truth simply cannot be recognized.

Of course, historically, American democracy was far from perfect, excluding millions of people, including African-American slaves and women. The compromises needed to enact the Constitution in 1787 also led to distasteful distortions, such as counting slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation (although obviously slaves couldn’t vote).

That unsavory deal enabled Thomas Jefferson to defeat John Adams in the pivotal national election of 1800. In effect, the votes of Southern slave owners like Jefferson counted substantially more than the votes of Northern non-slave owners.

Even after the Civil War when the Constitution was amended to give black men voting rights, the reality for black voting, especially in the South, was quite different from the new constitutional mandate. Whites in former Confederate states concocted subterfuges to keep blacks away from the polls to ensure continued white supremacy for almost a century.

Women did not gain suffrage until 1920 with the passage of another constitutional amendment, and it took federal legislation in 1965 to clear away legal obstacles that Southern states had created to deny the franchise to blacks.

Indeed, the alleged voter fraud in Election 1960, concentrated largely in Texas, a former Confederate state and home to John Kennedy’s vice presidential running mate, Lyndon Johnson, could be viewed as an outgrowth of the South’s heritage of rigging elections in favor of Democrats, the post-Civil War party of white Southerners.

However, by pushing through civil rights for blacks in the 1960s, Kennedy and Johnson earned the enmity of many white Southerners who switched their allegiance to the Republican Party via Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy of coded racial messaging. Nixon also harbored resentments over what he viewed as his unjust defeat in the election of 1960.

Nixon’s ‘Treason’

So, by 1968, the Democrats’ once solid South was splintering, but Nixon, who was again the Republican presidential nominee, didn’t want to leave his chances of winning what looked to be another close election to chance. Nixon feared that — with the Vietnam War raging and the Democratic Party deeply divided — President Johnson could give the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a decisive boost by reaching a last-minute peace deal with North Vietnam.

The documentary and testimonial evidence is now clear that to avert a peace deal, Nixon’s campaign went behind Johnson’s back to persuade South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to torpedo Johnson’s Paris peace talks by refusing to attend. Nixon’s emissaries assured Thieu that a President Nixon would continue the war and guarantee a better outcome for South Vietnam.

Though Johnson had strong evidence of what he privately called Nixon’s “treason” — from FBI wiretaps in the days before the 1968 election — he and his top advisers chose to stay silent. In a Nov. 4, 1968 conference call, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Advisor Walt Rostow and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford – three pillars of the Establishment – expressed that consensus, with Clifford explaining the thinking:

“Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected,” Clifford said. “It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”

Clifford’s words expressed the recurring thinking whenever evidence emerged casting the integrity of America’s electoral system in doubt, especially at the presidential level. The American people were not to know what kind of dirty deeds could affect that process.

To this day, the major U.S. news media will not directly address the issue of Nixon’s treachery in 1968, despite the wealth of evidence proving this historical reality now available from declassified records at the Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas. In a puckish recognition of this ignored history, the library’s archivists call the file on Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks their “X-file.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “LBJ’s ‘X-File’ on Nixon’s ‘Treason.’”]

The evidence also strongly suggests that Nixon’s paranoia about a missing White House file detailing his “treason” – top secret documents that Johnson had entrusted to Rostow at the end of LBJ’s presidency – led to Nixon’s creation of the “plumbers,” a team of burglars whose first assignment was to locate those purloined papers. The existence of the “plumbers” became public in June 1972 when they were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate in Washington.

Although the Watergate scandal remains the archetypal case of election-year dirty tricks, the major U.S. news media never acknowledge the link between Watergate and Nixon’s far more egregious dirty trick four years earlier, sinking Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks while 500,000 American soldiers were in the war zone. In part because of Nixon’s sabotage — and his promise to Thieu of a more favorable outcome — the war continued for four more bloody years before being settled along the lines that were available to Johnson in 1968. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Heinous Crime Behind Watergate.”]

In effect, Watergate gets walled off as some anomaly that is explained by Nixon’s strange personality. However, even though Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974, he and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who also had a hand in the Paris peace talk caper, reappear as secondary players in the next well-documented case of obstructing a sitting president’s foreign policy to get an edge in the 1980 campaign.

Reagan’s ‘October Surprise’ Caper

In that case, President Jimmy Carter was seeking reelection and trying to negotiate release of 52 American hostages then held in revolutionary Iran. Ronald Reagan’s campaign feared that Carter might pull off an “October Surprise” by bringing home the hostages just before the election. So, this historical mystery has been: Did Reagan’s team take action to block Carter’s October Surprise?

The testimonial and documentary evidence that Reagan’s team did engage in a secret operation to prevent Carter’s October Surprise is now almost as overwhelming as the proof of the 1968 affair regarding Nixon’s Paris peace talk maneuver.

That evidence indicates that Reagan’s campaign director William Casey organized a clandestine effort to prevent the hostages’ release before Election Day, after apparently consulting with Nixon and Kissinger and aided by former CIA Director George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice presidential running mate.

By early November 1980, the public’s obsession with Iran’s humiliation of the United States and Carter’s inability to free the hostages helped turn a narrow race into a Reagan landslide. When the hostages were finally let go immediately after Reagan’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981, his supporters cited the timing to claim that the Iranians had finally relented out of fear of Reagan.

Bolstered by his image as a tough guy, Reagan enacted much of his right-wing agenda, including passing massive tax cuts benefiting the wealthy, weakening unions and creating the circumstances for the rapid erosion of the Great American Middle Class.

Behind the scenes, the Reagan administration signed off on secret arms shipments to Iran, mostly through Israel, what a variety of witnesses described as the payoff for Iran’s cooperation in getting Reagan elected and then giving him the extra benefit of timing the hostage release to immediately follow his inauguration.

In summer 1981, when Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East Nicholas Veliotes learned about the arms shipments to Iran, he checked on their origins and said, later in a PBS interview:

“It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment. … [This operation] seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration. And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”

Those early covert arms shipments to Iran evolved into a later secret set of arms deals that surfaced in fall 1986 as the Iran-Contra Affair, with some of the profits getting recycled back to Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels fighting to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist government.

While many facts of the Iran-Contra scandal were revealed by congressional and special-prosecutor investigations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the origins of the Reagan-Iran relationship was always kept hazy. The Republicans were determined to stop any revelations about the 1980 contacts, but the Democrats were almost as reluctant to go there.

A half-hearted congressional inquiry was launched in 1991 and depended heavily on then-President George H.W. Bush to collect the evidence and arrange interviews for the investigation. In other words, Bush, who was then seeking reelection and who was a chief suspect in the secret dealings with Iran, was entrusted with proving his own guilt.

Tired of the Story

By the early 1990s, the mainstream U.S. news media was also tired of the complex Iran-Contra scandal and wanted to move on. As a correspondent at Newsweek, I had battled senior editors over their disinterest in getting to the bottom of the scandal before I left the magazine in 1990. I then received an assignment from PBS Frontline to look into the 1980 “October Surprise” question, which led to a documentary on the subject in April 1991.

However, by fall 1991, just as Congress was agreeing to open an investigation, my ex-bosses at Newsweek, along with The New Republic, then an elite neoconservative publication interested in protecting Israel’s exposure on those early arms deals, went on the attack. They published matching cover stories deeming the 1980 “October Surprise” case a hoax, but their articles were both based on a misreading of documents recording Casey’s attendance at a conference in London in July 1980, which he seemed to have used as a cover for a side trip to Madrid to meet with senior Iranians regarding the hostages.

Although the bogus Newsweek/New Republic “London alibi” would eventually be debunked, it created a hostile climate for the investigation. With Bush angrily denying everything and the congressional Republicans determined to protect the President’s flanks, the Democrats mostly just went through the motions of an investigation.

Meanwhile, Bush’s State Department and White House counsel’s office saw their jobs as discrediting the investigation, deep-sixing incriminating documents, and helping a key witness dodge a congressional subpoena.

Years later, I discovered a document at the Bush presidential library in College Station, Texas, confirming that Casey had taken a mysterious trip to Madrid in 1980. The U.S. Embassy’s confirmation of Casey’s trip was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson to Associate White House Counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. in early November 1991, just as the congressional inquiry was taking shape.

Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted in a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.

Two days later, on Nov. 6, Beach’s boss, White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, convened an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

At the meeting, Gray laid out how to thwart the October Surprise inquiry, which was seen as a dangerous expansion of the Iran-Contra investigation. The prospect that the two sets of allegations would merge into a single narrative represented a grave threat to George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign. As assistant White House counsel Ronald vonLembke, put it, the White House goal in 1991 was to “kill/spike this story.”

Gray explained the stakes at the White House strategy session. “Whatever form they ultimately take, the House and Senate ‘October Surprise’ investigations, like Iran-Contra, will involve interagency concerns and be of special interest to the President,” Gray declared, according to minutes. [Emphasis in original.]

Among “touchstones” cited by Gray were “No Surprises to the White House, and Maintain Ability to Respond to Leaks in Real Time. This is Partisan.” White House “talking points” on the October Surprise investigation urged restricting the inquiry to 1979-80 and imposing strict time limits for issuing any findings.

Timid Democrats

But Bush’s White House really had little to fear because whatever evidence that the congressional investigation received – and a great deal arrived in December 1992 and January 1993 – there was no stomach for actually proving that the 1980 Reagan campaign had conspired with Iranian radicals to extend the captivity of 52 Americans in order to ensure Reagan’s election victory.

That would have undermined the faith of the American people in their democratic process – and that, as Clark Clifford said in the 1968 context, would not be “good for the country.”

In 2014 when I sent a copy of Beach’s memo regarding Casey’s trip to Madrid to former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, who had chaired the October Surprise inquiry in 1991-93, he told me that it had shaken his confidence in the task force’s dismissive conclusions about the October Surprise issue.

“The [Bush-41] White House did not notify us that he [Casey] did make the trip” to Madrid, Hamilton told me. “Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the task force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

“If the White House knew that Casey was there, they certainly should have shared it with us,” Hamilton said, adding that “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests. But that trust was at the heart of the inquiry’s failure. With the money and power of the American presidency at stake, the idea that George H.W. Bush and his team would help an investigation that might implicate him in an act close to treason was naïve in the extreme.

Arguably, Hamilton’s timid investigation was worse than no investigation at all because it gave Bush’s team the opportunity to search out incriminating documents and make them disappear. Then, Hamilton’s investigative conclusion reinforced the “group think” dismissing this serious manipulation of democracy as a “conspiracy theory” when it was anything but. In the years since, Hamilton hasn’t done anything to change the public impression that the Reagan campaign was innocent.

Still, among the few people who have followed this case, the October Surprise cover-up would slowly crumble with admissions by officials involved in the investigation that its exculpatory conclusions were rushed, that crucial evidence had been hidden or ignored, and that some alibis for key Republicans didn’t make any sense.

But the dismissive “group think” remains undisturbed as far as the major U.S. media and mainstream historians are concerned. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative or Trick or Treason: The 1980 October Surprise Mystery or Consortiumnews.com’s “Second Thoughts on October Surprise.”]

Past as Prologue

Lee Hamilton’s decision to “clear” Reagan and Bush of the 1980 October Surprise suspicions in 1992 was not simply a case of miswriting history. The findings had clear implications for the future as well, since the public impression about George H.W. Bush’s rectitude was an important factor in the support given to his oldest son, George W. Bush, in 2000.

Indeed, if the full truth had been told about the father’s role in the October Surprise and Iran-Contra cases, it’s hard to imagine that his son would have received the Republican nomination, let alone made a serious run for the White House. And, if that history were known, there might have been a stronger determination on the part of Democrats to resist another Bush “stolen election” in 2000.

Regarding Election 2000, the evidence is now clear that Vice President Al Gore not only won the national popular vote but received more votes that were legal under Florida law than did George W. Bush. But Bush relied first on the help of officials working for his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, and then on five Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court to thwart a full recount and to award him Florida’s electoral votes and thus the presidency.

The reality of Gore’s rightful victory should have finally become clear in November 2001 when a group of news organizations finished their own examination of Florida’s disputed ballots and released their tabulations showing that Gore would have won if all ballots considered legal under Florida law were counted.

However, between the disputed election and the release of those numbers, the 9/11 attacks had occurred, so The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other leading outlets did not want the American people to know that the wrong person was in the White House. Surely, telling the American people that fact amid the 9/11 crisis would not be “good for the country.”

So, senior editors at all the top new organizations decided to mislead the public by framing their stories in a deceptive way to obscure the most newsworthy discovery – that the so-called “over-votes” in which voters both checked and wrote in their choices’ names broke heavily for Gore and would have put him over the top regardless of which kinds of chads were considered for the “under-votes” that hadn’t registered on antiquated voting machines. “Over-votes” would be counted under Florida law which bases its standards on “clear intent of the voter.”

However, instead of leading with Gore’s rightful victory, the news organizations concocted hypotheticals around partial recounts that still would have given Florida narrowly to Bush. They either left out or buried the obvious lede that a historic injustice had occurred.

On Nov. 12, 2001, the day that the news organizations ran those stories, I examined the actual data and quickly detected the evidence of Gore’s victory. In a story that day, I suggested that senior news executives were exercising a misguided sense of patriotism. They had hid the reality for “the good of the country,” much as Johnson’s team had done in 1968 regarding Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris peace talks and Hamilton’s inquiry had done regarding the 1980 “October Surprise” case.

Within a couple of hours of my posting the article at Consortiumnews.com, I received an irate phone call from The New York Times media writer Felicity Barringer, who accused me of impugning the journalistic integrity of then-Times executive editor Howell Raines. I got the impression that Barringer had been on the look-out for some deviant story that didn’t accept the Bush-won conventional wisdom.

However, this violation of objective and professional journalism – bending the slant of a story to achieve a preferred outcome rather than simply giving the readers the most interesting angle – was not simply about some historical event that had occurred a year earlier. It was about the future.

By misleading Americans into thinking that Bush was the rightful winner of Election 2000 – even if the media’s motivation was to maintain national unity following the 9/11 attacks – the major news outlets gave Bush greater latitude to respond to the crisis, including the diversionary invasion of Iraq under false pretenses. The Bush-won headlines of November 2001 also enhanced the chances of his reelection in 2004. [For the details of how a full Florida recount would have given Gore the White House, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Gore’s Victory,” “So Bush Did Steal the White House,” and “Bush v. Gore’s Dark American Decade.”]

A Phalanx of Misguided Consensus

Looking back on these examples of candidates manipulating democracy, there appears to be one common element: after the “stolen” elections, the media and political establishments quickly line up, shoulder to shoulder, to assure the American people that nothing improper has happened. Graceful “losers” are patted on the back for not complaining that the voters’ will had been ignored or twisted.

Al Gore is praised for graciously accepting the extraordinary ruling by Republican partisans on the Supreme Court, who stopped the counting of ballots in Florida on the grounds, as Justice Antonin Scalia said, that a count that showed Gore winning (when the Court’s majority was already planning to award the White House to Bush) would undermine Bush’s “legitimacy.”

Similarly, Rep. Hamilton is regarded as a modern “wise man,” in part, because he conducted investigations that never pushed very hard for the truth but rather reached conclusions that were acceptable to the powers-that-be, that didn’t ruffle too many feathers.

But the cumulative effect of all these half-truths, cover-ups and lies – uttered for “the good of the country” – is to corrode the faith of many well-informed Americans about the legitimacy of the entire process. It is the classic parable of the boy who cried wolf too many times, or in this case, assured the townspeople that there never was a wolf and that they should ignore the fact that the livestock had mysteriously disappeared leaving behind only a trail of blood into the forest.

So, when Donald Trump shows up in 2016 insisting that the electoral system is rigged against him, many Americans choose to believe his demagogy. But Trump isn’t pressing for the full truth about the elections of 1968 or 1980 or 2000. He actually praises Republicans implicated in those cases and vows to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia.

Trump’s complaints about “rigged” elections are more in line with the white Southerners during Jim Crow, suggesting that black and brown people are cheating at the polls and need to have white poll monitors to make sure they don’t succeed at “stealing” the election from white people.

There is a racist undertone to Trump’s version of a “rigged” democracy but he is not entirely wrong about the flaws in the process. He’s just not honest about what those flaws are.

The hard truth is that the U.S. political process is not democracy’s “gold standard”; it is and has been a severely flawed system that is not made better by a failure to honestly address the unpleasant realities and to impose accountability on politicians who cheat the voters.

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