How ‘Operation Merlin’ Poisoned U.S. Intelligence on Iran

Exclusive: The CIA’s “Operation Merlin,” which involved providing Iran with a flawed design for a nuclear weapon and resulted in an alleged whistleblower going to prison, was the perfect example of creating intelligence in order to justify operations, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

Jeffrey Sterling, the case officer for the CIA’s covert “Operation Merlin,” who was convicted in May 2015 for allegedly revealing details of that operation to James Risen of the New York Times, was released from prison in January after serving more than two years of a 42-month sentence. He had been tried and convicted on the premise that the revelation of the operation had harmed U.S. security.

The entire case against him assumed a solid intelligence case that Iran had indeed been working on a nuclear weapon that justified that covert operation.

But the accumulated evidence shows that the intelligence not only did not support the need for Operation Merlin, but that the existence of the CIA’s planned covert operation itself had a profound distorting impact on intelligence assessment of the issue. The very first U.S. national intelligence estimate on the subject in 2001 that Iran had a nuclear weapons program was the result of a heavy-handed intervention by Deputy Director for Operations James L. Pavitt that was arguably more serious than the efforts by Vice-President Dick Cheney to influence the CIA’s 2002 estimate on WMD in Iraq.

The full story of the interaction between the CIA operation and intelligence analysis, shows, moreover, that Pavitt had previously fabricated an alarmist intelligence analysis for the Clinton White House on Iran’s nuclear program in late 1999 in order to get Clinton’s approval for Operation Merlin.

Pavitt Plans Operation Merlin

The story of Operation Merlin and the suppression of crucial intelligence on Iran’s nuclear intentions cannot be understood apart from the close friendship between Pavitt and CIA Director George Tenet. Pavitt’s rise in the Operations Directorate had been so closely linked to his friendship with Tenet that the day after Tenet announced his retirement from the CIA on June 3, 2004, Pavitt announced his own retirement.

Soon after he was assigned to the CIA’s Non-Proliferation Center (NPC) in 1993, Pavitt got the idea of creating a new component within the Directorate of Operations to work solely on proliferation, as former CIA officials recounted for Valerie Plame Wilson’s memoir, Fair Game. Pavitt proposed that the new proliferation division would have the authority not only to collect intelligence but also to carry out covert operations related to proliferation, using its own clandestine case officers working under non-official cover.

Immediately after Tenet was named Deputy Director of the CIA in 1995, Pavitt got the new organization within the operations directorate called the Counter-Proliferation Division, or CPD. Pavitt immediately began the planning for a major operation targeting Iran. According to a CIA cable declassified for the Sterling trial, as early as March 1996, CPD’s “Office of Special Projects” had already devised a scheme to convey to the Iranians a copy of the Russian TBA-486 “fireset” – a system for multiple simultaneous high explosive detonations to set off a nuclear explosion. The trick was that it had built-in flaws that would make it unworkable.

A January 1997 declassified cable described a plan for using a Russian émigré, former Soviet nuclear weapons engineer recruited in 1996 to gain “operational access” to an Iranian “target.”  The cable suggested that it would be for the purpose of intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program, in light of the fact that the agency had not issued a finding that Iran was working on nuclear weapons.

But in mid-March 1997 the language used by CPD to describe its proposed covert operation suddenly changed.  Another declassified CPD cable from May 1997 said the ultimate goal was “to plant this substantial piece of deception information on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”  That shift in language apparently reflected Tenet’s realization that the CIA would need to justify the proposed covert operation to the White House, as required by legislation.

With his ambitious plan for a covert operation against Iran in his pocket, Pavitt was promoted to Associate Deputy Director of Operations in July 1997.  On February 2, 1998, CPD announced to other CIA offices, according to the declassified cable, that a technical team from one of the national laboratories had finished building the detonation device that would include “multiple nested flaws,” including a “final fatal flaw” ensuring “that it will not detonate a nuclear weapon.”

An official statement from the national lab certifying that fact was a legal requirement for the CIA to obtain the official Presidential “finding” for any covert operation required by legislation passed in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair.

Pavitt obtained the letter from the national laboratory in mid-1999, a few weeks after it was announced he would be named Deputy Director of the CIA for Operations.

But that left a final political obstacle to a presidential finding: the official position of the CIA’ s Intelligence Directorate remained that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program.  The language of the CIA’s report to Congress for the first half of 1999, which was delivered to Congress in early 2000, contained formulations that showed signs of having been negotiated between those who believed Iran must have a nuclear weapons program and those who did not.

The report referred to nuclear-related projects that “will help Iran augment its nuclear technology infrastructure, which in turn would be useful in supporting nuclear weapons research and development.” The shift from “will” to “would” clearly suggested that nuclear weapons work was not yet an established fact.

A second sentence said, “expertise and technology gained, along with the commercial channels and contacts established-even from cooperation that appears strictly civilian in nature-could be used to advance Iran’s nuclear weapons research and developmental program.” That seemed to hint that maybe Iran already had such a nuclear weapons program.

That was not sufficient for Tenet and Pavitt to justify a covert nuclear weapons program involving handing over a fake nuclear detonation device.  So the dynamic duo came up with another way around that obstacle. A new intelligence assessment, reported in a front page article by James Risen and Judith Miller in the New York Times on January 17, 2000, said the CIA could no longer rule out the possibility that Iran now had the capability to build a bomb – or even that it may have actually succeeded in building one.

Risen and Miller reported that Tenet had begun briefings for Clinton administration officials on the new CIA assessment in December 1999 shortly after the document was completed, citing “several U.S. officials” familiar with it.  The Tenet briefings made no mention of any evidence of a bomb-making program, according to the sources cited by the Times.  It was based instead on the alleged inability of U.S. intelligence to track adequately Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology and materials from the black market.

But the new assessment had evidently not come from the Intelligence Directorate. John McLaughlin, then Deputy Director for Intelligence, said in an e-mail response to a query that he did not recall the assessment.  And when this writer asked him whether it was possible that he would not remember or would not have known about an intelligence assessment on such a high profile issue, McLaughlin did not respond. Pavitt and Tenet had obviously gone outside the normal procedure for an intelligence assessment in order to get around the problem of lack of support for their thesis from the analysts.

A declassified CIA cable dated November 18, 1999 instructed the Russian émigré to prepare for a possible trip to Vienna in early 2000, indicating that Tenet hoped to get the finding within a few weeks. Clinton apparently did give the necessary finding in early 2000; in the first days of March 2000 the Russian émigré dropped the falsified fireset plans into the mail chute of the Iranian mission to the United Nations in Vienna.

Pavitt Suppresses Unwelcome Iran Nuclear Intelligence

Pavitt’s CPD was also managing a group of covert operatives who recruited spies to provide information on weapons of mass destruction in Iran and Iraq.  CPD not only controlled the targeting of the operatives working on those accounts but the distribution of their reports.  CPD’s dual role thus represented a serious conflict of interest, because the CPD had a vested interest in an intelligence estimate that showed Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and it could prevent intelligence analysts from getting information that conflicted with that interest.

That is exactly what happened in 2001. One especially valuable CPD operative, who was fluent in both Farsi and Arabic, had begun recruiting agents to provide intelligence on both Iran and Iraq since 1995. His talents had been recognized by the CPD and by higher levels of the Operations Directorate:  by 2001 he had been promised an intelligence medal and a promotion to GS-14 – the second highest pay grade level in the civil service.

But that same year the operative reported very important intelligence on the Iran nuclear issue that would have caused serious problems for Pavitt and CPD and led ultimately to his being taken out of the field and being fired.

In a November 2005 court filing in a lawsuit against Pavitt, the unnamed head of CPD and then CIA Director Porter Goss, the operative, identified only as “Doe” in court records, said that one of his most highly valued “human assets” – the CIA term for recruited spies – had given him very important intelligence in 2001. That information was the subject of three crucial lines of the key paragraph in the operative’s complaint that were redacted at the demand of the CIA. For years “Doe” sought to declassify the language that had been redacted, but the CIA had fought it.

It was assumed in press accounts at the time that the redacted lines were related to Iraq.  But the lawyer who handled the lawsuit for “Doe,” Roy Krieger, revealed to this writer in interviews that the redacted lines revealed that the CIA “human asset” in question was an Iranian, and that he had told “Doe” that the Iranian government had no intention of “weaponizing” the uranium that it was planning to enrich.

It was the first intelligence from a “highly-valued” U.S. spy – one who was known to be in a position to know what he claimed to know – on Iran’s intentions regarding nuclear weapons to become available to the U.S. intelligence community. “Doe” reported what the spy had said to his supervisor at CPD, according to the court filing, and the supervisor immediately met with Pavitt and the head of CPD. After that meeting the CPD supervisor ordered “Doe” not to prepare any written report on the matter and assured him that Pavitt and the head of the CPD would personally brief President Bush on the intelligence.

But “Doe” soon learned from his own contacts at CIA headquarters that no such briefing ever took place. And “Doe” was soon instructed to terminate his relationship with the asset.  After another incident involving intelligence he had reported on WMD in Iraq that had also conflicted with the line desired by the Bush administration, CIA management took “Doe” out of the field, put him in a headquarters job and denied him the intelligence medal and promotion to GS-14 that he had been promised, according to his court filing. The CIA fired “Doe” without specifying a reason in 2005.

Pavitt did not respond to requests for an interview for this story both at the Scowcroft Group and, after he retired, at his home in McLean, Virginia.

The intervention by Pavitt to prevent the intelligence from Doe’s Iranian asset from circulating within the U.S. government came as the intelligence community was working on the 2001 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program. That NIE concluded that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon, but the finding was far from being clear-cut. Paul Pillar, the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and North Africa, who was involved in the 2001 NIE, recalled that the intelligence community had no direct evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. “We’re talking about things that are a matter of inference, not direct evidence,” Pillar said in an interview with this writer.

Furthermore he recalls that there was a deep divide in the intelligence community between the technical analysts, who tended to believe that evidence of uranium enrichment was evidence of a weapons program, and the Iran specialists, including Pillar himself, who believed Iran had adopted a “hedging strategy” and had made no decision in favor or a nuclear weapon. The technical analysts at the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC), were given the advantage of writing the first draft not only on Iranian technical capabilities but on Iranian intentions – a subject on which it had no real expertise – as well, according to Pillar.

The introduction of the intelligence from a highly credible Iranian intelligence asset indicating no intention to convert its enriched uranium into nuclear weapons would arguably have changed the dynamic of the estimate dramatically.  It would have meant that one side could cite hard intelligence from a valued source in support of its position, while the other side could cite only their own predisposition.

Pillar confirmed that no such intelligence report was made available to the analysts for the 2001 NIE. He noted just how rarely the kind of intelligence that had been obtained by “Doe” was available for an intelligence estimate. “Analysts deal with a range of stuff,” he said, “from a tidbit from technical intelligence to the goldmine well-placed source with an absolutely credible account,“ but the latter kind of intelligence “almost never comes up.”

After reading this account of the intelligence obtained by the CPD operative, Pillar said he is not in a position to judge the value of the intelligence from the Iranian asset, but that the information from the CPD Iranian asset “should have been considered by the NIE team in conjunction with other sources of information.”

That led to a series of estimates that assumed Iran had a nuclear weapons program.

In 2004, a large cache of purported Iranian documents showing alleged Iranian research related to nuclear weapons was turned over to German intelligence, which the Bush administration claimed came from the laptop of an Iranian scientist or engineer. But former senior German Foreign Official Karsten Voigt later revealed to this writer that the whole story was a fabrication, because the documents had been given by the Mujahedin-E Khalq, the Iranian opposition group that was known to have publicized anti-Iran information fed to it by Israel’s Mossad.

Those documents led directly to another CIA estimate in 2005 asserting the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, which in turn paved the way for all the subsequent estimates – all of which were adopted despite the absence of new evidence of such a program.  The CIA swallowed the ruse repeatedly, because it had already been manipulated by Pavitt.

Operation Merlin is the perfect example of powerful bureaucratic interests running amok and creating the intelligence necessary to justify their operations. The net result is that Jeffrey Sterling was unjustly imprisoned and that the United States has gone down a path of Iran policy that poses serious – and unnecessary – threats to American security.

Gareth Porter is an independent journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of numerous books, including Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books, 2014). 

All Fire and Fury in Ukraine

Exclusive: The still decidedly volatile situation in Ukraine – resulting from another in a long line of U.S.-inspired regime changes that have destabilized the geopolitical landscape over the past few decades – is worth revisiting for a number of reasons. With the fourth anniversary of the coup just passed, the sudden, shock passing of veteran investigative journalist Robert Parry and Consortium News founder/editor also affords even greater impetus for doing so. This is especially given his incisive body of reportage on the crisis since 2014; the larger issue of America’s worsening relationship with Russia; and the geopolitical implications going forward of these developments. Australian blogger Greg Maybury reports.

By Greg Maybury

A Shabby Deck of Political Cards

For those who haven’t seen Ukraine on Fire (UOF), the Oliver Stone-produced documentary on the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, it is not overstating the case to say it’s an essential historical document and one of the most important, insightful political documentaries of recent times. It may also be one of the most portentous.

Quite apart from the illuminating history lesson the film delivers as a backdrop to the current situation in one of Europe’s most pivotal of battlegrounds, there are many takeaways from the film. To begin, it stands as a vital corrective of the disinformation, misinformation, evangelistic doublespeak, ersatz analysis, unadulterated agitprop, and plain old garden-variety groupthink that attended the public discourse on the events and developments in the country, and which ultimately framed most people’s views of the situation. Needless to say, the messages and impressions conveyed by this ongoing, relentless ‘psy-op’ cum fake news onslaught still ‘rules the roost’ in most people’s minds.

Further, the film’s narrative is highly revealing in the manner in which the Western mainstream media (MSM) reported on the events surrounding the turmoil and conflict. In the process it showcases how much the perfidious thought contagion spread by the ever-nefarious neoconservatives and their fellow travelers the liberal interventionists infects U.S. foreign policy, along with the foreign policies of America’s assorted vassal states.

It underscores moreover Russia’s seemingly inexhaustible forbearance with the U.S., which, sans any rational, coherent geopolitical basis for doing so, has been tested beyond reasonable endurance or expectation. This point is rendered especially palpable during the interviews Stone conducts with Russian president Vladimir Putin for UOF. (This is not to mention the actual The Putin Interviews).

At the same time UOF reveals again for those looking America’s recidivistic predisposition for interfering in the affairs of other countries; this is an observation that’s always been evident save for the most preternaturally ignorant, ideologically myopic, or imperially inclined. Given the present zeitgeist as reflected by the headline-hogging “soap-saga” of “Russia-gate” – buttressed by former CIA chief James Woolsey’s whimsically smug concession recently that America interferes in other countries’ affairs “only for a very good cause [and] in the interests of democracy” – this is a reality that cannot be overstated. This is especially so when there are all too few examples where anyone might point to America’s interference actually serving the democratic interests (by any way that might be objectively measured) of any given country one might care to name.

The narrative encompassed by UOF is by extension a serious indictment on President Barack Obama’s handling of the Ukraine situation and his role in the creation of this singularly unholy mess — a prime exemplar of just how chaotic, dysfunctional, indeed war-like, were in large part the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s foreign policies. Ukraine on Fire attests unequivocally just how far removed the reality of Obama’s tenure was from his campaign rhetoric.

More broadly, the disaster in Ukraine – as we’ll see still a work in progress even now under his successor, someone who pledged to curtail this direction in U.S. policy making, a promise which in no small measure propelled him into the Oval Office — is one of many that will forever inform people’s views of Number 44’s shop-soiled legacy. As Eric Zuesse noted a year after the coup, Obama employed a tactic of,

“…attacking Russia by using fundamentalist and other conservative extremists in a given Russia-allied nation, so as to turn that…nation away from Russia, and toward America, and then of trying to crush these same right-wing extremists who’ve been so effective in defeating (or at least weakening) the pro-Russian leader in that Russia-allied country. This tactic leaves civil war and enormous bloodshed in the given formerly (or still) Russia-allied nation.”

Three years after Zuesse made this comment, and over one year after Obama left office, that situation to all intents prevails, with few harboring any optimism things are going to get better anytime soon. In fact ominously, quite the opposite scenario is unfolding.

Earlier this year, Gilbert Doctorow reported that a new draft law adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament and awaiting president Petro Poroshenko’s signature, threatens to escalate the Ukrainian conflict into a full-blown war, pitting nuclear-armed Russia against the United States and NATO. “Due to dire economic conditions,” Doctorow says, “Poroshenko and other government officials in Kiev have become deeply unpopular, and with diminished chances for electoral success may see war as politically advantageous.”

As history indelibly reminds us, this is an all too frequently recurring scenario in the conduct of international affairs. In a statement that undercuts much of the furor over the Russia-gate imbroglio, Doctorow observes that in contrast to the image of Trump administration policies being dictated by Moscow as portrayed by proponents of Russia-gate conspiracy theories, “the United States is moving towards deeper confrontation with the Kremlin in the geopolitical hotspot of Ukraine. For its part, the Kremlin has very little to gain and a great deal to lose economically and diplomatically from a campaign now against Kiev. If successful, as likely would be the case given the vast disparity in military potential of the two sides, it could easily become a Pyrrhic victory.” [My emphasis]

Just as ominous is the following. As noted in an Oriental Review op-ed earlier this year, a new neo-Nazi revival is clearly in the offing. This is in a country where fascist/Nazi/extreme right sentiment, especially in the western regions, has a long, storied, and ugly history, one that rarely bubbles far from the surface.

Again, this “ugly history” was laid bare in Ukraine on Fire. After concluding that the current situation in Ukraine is ‘painfully reminiscent’ of Germany in the 1920s, the OR op-ed attributes,

“… poor governance on the heels of a lost war, which – added to the sense of betrayed hopes and the sharp decline in average incomes coupled with rising prices – is all driving a critical mass of the Ukrainian population toward an overwhelming feeling of desperation.” [My emphasis]

In an observation attended by a profound sense of déjà vu for even casual students of history, the op-ed goes on to say that “[A] demand from the public for a ‘strong hand’ – a new, authoritarian ruler – is rapidly coalescing, due to their dissatisfaction with President Poroshenko and all the other jokers they’ve been dealt from that shabby deck of political cards.” According to the op-ed, a man like that already exists in this ‘destitute and disintegrating’ country. Known as the “White Führer” to his comrades-in-arms, this man is Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov Battalion who is making an ever-bigger name for himself in the Ukrainian parliament and across the broader political arena.

Open Season on Russia

Of course all this only serves to highlight the pressures being brought to bear within the country itself; it is also those from without (not entirely unrelated to be sure) that are – or should be — of equal concern. Herein Doctorow again provides an alarming reveal. Although there are indications Washington is ‘fed up’ with the Kiev regime (and as Ukraine on Fire demonstrates conclusively, one it was responsible for installing in the first instance in 2014), he says,

“…the United States has doubled down in its support for a military solution to the conflict. With military trainers now on the ground (does this development itself not have an ominously familiar ring to it?), and the U.S. budgeting $350m for security assistance to Ukraine, Washington has also recently started delivering lethal weapons, including the Javelin anti-tank missile system, free of charge to Kiev.’ [My emphasis].

In a Strategic Culture report, Robert Bridge recently offered an additional reality check on those external pressures. Instead of opting for a more balanced and cooperative foreign policy in its conduct of affairs in Eastern Europe, and specifically in its bilateral relationship with Russia, in his view, it was via the furphy of “Russia[n] aggression” – an allegation he says was “peddled to the unsuspecting masses based on fake news of a Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine and Crimea” – [that] the U.S. and NATO “dropped all pretensions [to cooperation] and declared open season on Russia.” [My emphasis]

This was, he notes, further compounded by assertions Russia manipulated the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and along with Donald Trump’s “empty threat” to pull the pin on NATO if member states did not pony up on additional defense spending, “Eastern Europe has [now] become a veritable hothouse of paranoia-driven militarization.”

We’ll return to this point later, but some backstory is essential here. Whether one has already seen Ukraine on Fire or not, it now comes complete with a hitherto unexpected layer of revelation and significance, given that the late Consortium News founder and editor Robert Parry is interviewed at length therein. Parry’s appearance in the film, poignantly as it turns out, underscores the man’s trailblazing achievements and his unimpeachable stature within the alternative, independent media cosmos.

For those folks constantly on the lookout for exemplars of journalism’s fundamental values, his input into the film’s narrative is a reminder to us all just how much his political insight and measured analysis will be missed. It goes without saying that those values have themselves been missing in action for some time in our mainstream media, as Parry himself – to his eternal chagrin – was all too aware. This is a state of affairs to which he spent the last two decades of his life exposing via the Consortium News masthead. So much so it seems, there was even some hint (by the man himself as it turns out) that the stress and pressure of being a media outlier had taken its toll and may have been the catalyst for the strokes he had in the weeks before his untimely death.

Yet Parry’s voluminous, in-depth commentary on Ukraine – including his many pieces on the controversy surrounding the still unresolved mystery of the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 in eastern Ukraine in June 2014 (with 38 of my fellow Aussies on board) – was arguably second to none. His fierce, fearless criticism of those engaging in the aforementioned ‘groupthink’ – not just those in and around the Beltway but in the West in general (with as we’ll see my own country being a noteworthy example) – was insightful, along with his own reporting on events and developments as they unfolded over the months and years that followed 2014’s color revolution which culminated in the coup d’état.

Many of Parry’s observations in the film are reflective of, and derived from, that commentary, as those who followed his reporting closely on the Ukraine situation over the years will appreciate. He was acutely aware that one could not have a discussion of the key geopolitical events and developments of our time without some serious examination of the manner in which the corporate media manages (read: “massages”) the narratives that frame the Big Issues therein.

As noted, in this Parry was unremitting in his disdain for those of his fellow “investigative journalists” who had sold their souls for the filthy lucre, the celebrity status, and/or the comfortable, secure tenure at one of the “premium” corporate media marques. To him, at best, they were perception managers; at worst glorified stenographers. (For others perhaps less tactful or more scornful than Parry, they were/are simply “presstitutes”!)

Yet for all that disdain, Parry possibly reserved even greater contempt for the “marques” that employed the “presstitutes”, with the New York Times and the Washington Post being singled out for frequently justified, laser-like reproach. To be sure, that was just with the print media. In this the reporting on the Ukraine crisis provides an exemplar – albeit by no means the only one – of just how self-serving, venal, hypocritical, supercilious, irresponsible, and manifestly dishonest the corporate media were.

And of course they still are, each day sliding further and further into irrelevance as they blithely betray both the hallowed U.S. Constitution and the citizens of the country whose individual and collective interests they are increasingly at pains to validly claim to represent, and whose democratic institutions – along with the rights that are purportedly underwritten by said “institutions” – they are supposed to protect.

‘Shirt-fronting’ the Mainstream Fakery

Such a damning indictment of Western media was brought home in spades in the aftermath of the MH-17 disaster. It was a 60 Minutes Australia report on the tragedy that really got his gander up, and in this writer’s view, rightly so. At the time I was preparing my own take on MH-17, when the 60 Minutes segment aired.

I immediately alerted Bob to the report, knowing full well that given his earlier commentary on the tragedy and his views on MSM reporting in general, he’d be less than impressed with the conclusions they arrived at from their “investigation.” Much of this commentary by 60 Minutes was based on the dubious findings of Bellingcat (aka Eliot Higgins), a self-styled open source ‘citizen journalist’ who claimed to have the ‘skinny’ on who was responsible for the disaster.

Now space prohibits herein a full account of the circumstances surrounding the shoot-down, nor does it lend itself to a ‘blow by blow’ of the ‘argy-bargy’ between the 60 Minutes crew and their much touted source Higgins, and Parry himself. Suffice to say there seemed to be few limits to the indignation the former all managed to muster when the intrepid Consortium Newsman had the temerity to meticulously and relentlessly challenge their account of the tragedy.

(Those unfamiliar with this dust-up – one that perfectly case studies the vast gulf that exists between MSM reportage on MH-17 and that of a respected alternative news outlet – can see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for some of the commentary the ‘stoush’ incited and examples of the tit-for-tat exchanges between the respective antagonists.)

It needs be noted that there was much political capital to be gained by those in Washington and most of America’s allies in the West by blaming Russia for the MH-17 tragedy. The U.S. and said allies had already blamed the crisis in Ukraine that derived from the February 2014 coup on Russian “aggression” and Putin’s purported ambitions to resurrect the Soviet Union. So in one sense it was to be expected they’d seek to capitalize on this disaster by blaming the Russians.

Western leaders to this end began tripping over themselves in singling out ‘Vlad the Derailer’ as the bad guy du jour, all the while doing so unencumbered by anything approximating solid evidence to support this stance. As we might expect with the Russia-gate saga, to this day, no definitive proof of the hard-core forensic kind has been presented to identify exactly how the plane was shot down (was the missile launched from the air or from the ground?), much less who actually perpetrated the act (was it the anti-Russian Ukrainian military, the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, or the Russians themselves?) Again, to this day, the questions as to whether the plane was deliberately targeted (was it a false-flag attack?, or did it just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time), also remain unanswered.

As noted, the downing of MH-17 cost the lives of 38 Aussies, and the fallout from the tragedy – to say nothing of the way the disaster was politicized in order to serve the broader geopolitical objectives of the Beltway Bedlamites and their apparatchiks at home along with their counterparts in other Western nations – was especially pronounced Down Under. Our then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who took to sculling the Washington Kool-Aid by asserting it was Putin himself who was “personally responsible” for the disaster, was especially bolshie in his reaction.

Ahead of Putin’s visit to this country in November 2014 for the G20 meeting in Brisbane that year, Abbott threatened to “shirt-front” the Russian president over the issue when they officially met up. Whilst this made for great headlines here and abroad, it did nothing to arrest his slide in the opinion polls, which one can reasonably surmise was at the time in the back of his mind. All in all, coming from a national leader on the world stage, this unprecedented, petulant outburst was something to behold.

But such was the fervor of the times regarding MH-17, and more broadly, the anti-Russian sentiment that prevailed earlier in the year over Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine in the aftermath of America’s bespoke coup d’état. Clearly Abbott’s desire to leverage the public outrage here in Australia that accompanied the tragedy and to ingratiate himself with the Bedlamites far outweighed any obligation that might’ve routinely accompanied a more measured diplomatic response. (It was after all to no avail; Abbott’s hold on the Aussie “premiership” was itself ‘shirt-fronted’ about a year after making this comment, being successfully challenged for the leadership by the present PM Malcolm Turnbull.)

It should further be noted that many folks – mostly after the fact – justified the removal of the then Ukrainian government because it was irredeemably corrupt. This of course is a specious and convenient argument – a ‘justification’ that makes frequent cameos in the annals of regime change – partly so in this case because there’s little evidence the replacement regime has been any less corrupt.

But this raises an altogether different, arguably more important consideration: If Uncle Sam had removed every last one of the countless client tyrants he’s had on his imperial dance card over the decades on the sole basis of their ethical, moral and/or legal standards of governance, adherence to democratic principles, and/or general political probity, it’s fair to surmise the geopolitical terrain might look as different today as the lunar landscape does to an as yet still pristine portion of the Amazonian rainforest. And the U.S. might still retain – and be able to credibly lay claim to – some of the moral capital it had accrued by war’s end in 1945, which few would argue it has now all but frittered away.

Of course if we really want to push the envelope herein invoking moral relativism, we only need consider that – notwithstanding what it says on the box – America itself is hardly a bastion of “ethical, moral and/or legal standards of governance, [adherence to] democratic principles, and/or general political propriety.” Its ‘unblemished’ track record of thuggery and skullduggery implementing regime change on every continent except the Great White Patch on the “backside” of the Big Blue Ball is ample evidence of that. This is without even referencing its performance closer to home drawing on such benchmarks! It’s a “practice what you preach” thing!

Further, there was and remains no smoking gun evidence linking Russia or the Eastern Ukrainian, pro-Russian separatists to the MH-17 shoot-down, and therefore no sound rationale for Washington accusing either of complicity in this crime without ponying up with said evidence. If anything, the longer the dog-not-barking question of why the U.S. refused to release all of the forensic evidence and ‘intel’ related to the shoot-down remains unanswered, the more we should rightfully suspect any findings by the MH-17 investigation team (if they ever see the light of day) – one it has to be emphasized, suspiciously included representatives from the at least equally suspect Kiev regime.

Moreover, for the U.S. to have imposed a further regimen of economic sanctions as a consequence without at least awaiting the outcome of the official investigation spoke further volumes about Washington’s deeper game-plan vis-à-vis Ukraine and ultimately, Russia itself. And it would appear we are now seeing that “game-plan” come to a fruition of sorts. Again, to underscore all of this, in one of Parry’s last substantive analyses of the Ukraine situation back in June last year, he summed a decidedly more coherent reality for us all.

“As the New York Times instructed us’ he observed in 2015, ‘there was no coup in Ukraine….no U.S. interference…and there weren’t even that many neo-Nazis. And the ensuing conflict wasn’t a resistance [movement] among Yanukovych’s supporters to his illegal ouster; no, it was ‘Russian aggression’ or a ‘Russian invasion.’” Parry didn’t spare the horses:

“If you deviate from this groupthink – if you point out how U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland talked about the U.S. spending $5 billion on Ukraine; mention her pre-coup intercepted phone call with [Ukrainian] U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who the new leaders would be and how ‘to glue’ or [how to] ‘midwife this thing’; note how Nuland and Senator John McCain urged on the violent anti-Yanukovych protesters; recognize that snipers firing from far-right-controlled buildings killed both police and protesters to provoke the climactic ouster of Yanukovych; [and if] you think all that indeed looks like a coup – you obviously are the victim of ‘Russian propaganda and disinformation.’”

But as Parry glumly observed, thanks to the mainstream U.S. media, most Americans didn’t get to hear about any of that as, “[I]t has essentially banned those deviant facts from the public discourse. If they are mentioned at all, they’re lumped together with ‘fake news’ amid the reassuring hope that soon there’ll be algorithms to purge such troublesome information from the Internet.”

And for anyone whose “blowback antennae” are attuned to such matters, we cannot escape one abiding reality regarding the MH-17 disaster: If the putsch-meisters of the Potomac had minded their own business from the off and left well enough alone in Ukraine, irrespective of the cause of the shoot-down and who was responsible, we do know around three hundred innocent people would still be going about their business, and we wouldn’t be having this ‘conversation’. Four years later this is a reality I’ve yet to hear voiced by anyone in the MSM or in the upper echelons of Western governments. [My emphasis].

From Nobel Peace Prize to Imperial Warmonger

Last but not least, consider the following. For this writer, it remains incomprehensible that a U.S. State Department official – in this case the aforementioned Ms Nuland (aka The Maidan Cookie Monster) – would seemingly act in such a brazenly undiplomatic manner in bringing about this coup, a reality that as we’ve seen independent media folks like Robert Parry were at pains to bring to wider attention. It is in this instance particularly that the “he who lies first, lies best” maxim really comes to the fore.

Yet there can be no doubt that Nuland initiated this action with Obama’s full knowledge, with it being as much, if not more so, Obama’s mess as it is Nuland’s and her neocon cronies. Well might we say, “cue Harry Truman’s “the buck stops here!”

Of equal or greater concern herein is this. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noted with considerable bewilderment and dismay, the Kiev regime’s deployment – again with the full knowledge, approval indeed encouragement of the regime renovators in Washington – of extreme neo-Nazi forces in facilitating its rise to power from the off, and enforcing since the coup its brutal, illegitimate rule. As noted earlier, they are again getting their second wind.

Given the neoconservatives well-documented vise-grip on U.S. foreign policy in general, and their role in engineering said coup in particular – especially that of the Nuland/Kagan/ex-PNAC factions and their fellow travelers in the U.S. Congress such as McCain, who number amongst them some of the most prominent, so-called “American friends of Israel” – I’m at something of a loss as to how best to explain the glaring disconnect herein.

Of course America’s foreign policy “initiatives” over the decades have always embraced an “end justifies the means” precept; only the most naïve or ill-informed would deny this. But for most objective observers – even those of us all too familiar with the CIA’s notorious Operation Paperclip, or its equally infamous Operation Gladio, wherein the U.S. actively recruited under-the-radar not-so-rehabbed former Nazis and extreme right wing elements to fight on any number of fronts the Cold War against the Soviets – this is breaking new ground in its embrace of the precept. Prima facie, this has to represent another glaring WTF ‘mo’ in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Geopolitics makes strange bedfellows, one might reasonably conclude! And transforms Nobel Peace Prize winners into imperial warmongers!

Or is it possible I’m just missing something obvious here? How are all these “American friends of Israel,” either inside or outside of the Capitol ‘tent’, able to reconcile their on-going support of a regime utilizing such forces – whose pernicious ideology being synonymous with rabid anti-Semitism would one imagines be totally abhorrent to Jewish folks and non-Jews alike – under any circumstances?

As it turns out, the so-called “friends” have been bending butt over backwards since the coup denying, playing down, or completely ignoring this “disconnect”. It is only begrudgingly and belatedly they – along with their hacks, flacks and lackeys in the MSM – were able to bring themselves to concede there has been and remains any such neo-Nazi involvement in Ukraine, much less acknowledge any such “disconnect”.

Another key question here is this. How does the all powerful AIPAC and various Jewish/Israel lobby groups and affiliated bodies feel about their “American friends” precipitating and engaging in regime change missions that involve the use and on-going embrace of neo-Nazi forces? Is this just some fuzzy ‘post-modern’ perversion of realpolitik at work here, and I’m simply too naive to understand what the hell is going on and what the end-game might be? And now that the neo-Nazi ‘natives’ are becoming increasingly restless as noted — their frustration with their nominal patrons within the present regime’s hierarchy reaching boiling points — it’ll doubtless make for interesting times ahead.

All this of course without considering the added reality of these extreme right-wing factions possibly combining forces and cozying up in a Nazi/fascist/white supremacist group hug cum love-fest with radical jihadist/Islamic militant groups in what could likely shape up to be an exceedingly bloody counter-coup, along with the equally likely prospects of the Ukrainian economy imploding in the interim, or at least in the wake of the turmoil induced by any such coup!

On these matters alone, I’m prepped nonetheless to be enlightened as to how/when anything good is likely to come out of America’s color revolution and regime renovation experiment in this part of the geopolitical landscape. And when it comes to the situation in Ukraine, one that has emanated directly from America’s interference in its political affairs in 2014, well might we ask of the aforementioned, former CIA chief spook Woolsey: How’s that ‘[we] only [do it] for a very good cause [and] in the interests of democracy’ thing workin’ out for ya Jimbo?’

Yet whilst these are just some of the reality checks needed in order to assemble a measure of veracity and insight regarding all things Ukraine, such “checks” one imagines are, and will remain for sometime, asynchronous with the narratives disseminated via Washington’s anti-Putin, anti-Russian “brochure.”

And one final point if I may. If Putin and his Kremlin gremlins did indeed do some kind of a dodgy deal with Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election in order to get him across the line ahead of Hillary Clinton – the only story that seems to capture the attention of the MSM mavens these days – it would be fair to say that the otherwise estimable Russian president and his beloved Motherland are getting well and truly shafted. Maybe Putin isn’t as clever as we give him credit for? To be so artfully duped by a dope like The Trumpster? Oh, the ignominy of it all!

Yet, all that aside, wouldn’t many of us just love to hear what the estimable and dutifully righteous Mr Parry might’ve had to say about more recent and possible developments in the country that interestingly – according to Dutch historian Kees Boterbloem — was affectionately known back in the day as “Little Russia”?

But of course that’s not going to happen. I can only hope this missive in some small – if not (ahem) short – measure, passes for the next best thing!

Honduras Nearing Ten Years of Stolen Elections, Neo-Colonial Rule

Despite an organized and active grassroots movement, Honduran politics have been repeatedly steamrolled by the self-interests of international ruling elites, as journalist and filmmaker Jesse Freeston explained to Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

For weeks following its stolen election, the corrupt right-wing, neo-fascist government of Juan Orlando Hernández’s in Honduras has been terrorizing its people. Street protests and spontaneous blockades have been met by extreme violence. Dozens have already died on the frontlines and many more have been arrested and brutalized in detention, while often being held incommunicado.

I spoke to Jesse Freeston, who has been based in Honduras for the last eight years working as a video-journalist and documentary filmmaker, ever since the US supported/Hillary Clinton sustained 2009 coup d’état that purged the duly elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Freeston, who has reported for the Real News Network and Democracy Now en Espanol, is the producer of the feature documentary “Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley.”

Freeston reports that, among other crimes against the people, “this regime has: stolen an election; ignored calls from the Organization of American States to hold a new election; passed a law prohibiting the prosecution of all former and current members of Congress in the midst of a series of massive corruption scandals [and has] appointed a new national police chief who has clear evidence against him of drug trafficking…”

I spoke to Freeston on February 7.

Dennis Bernstein: We continue our drumbeat coverage of Honduras and the recent stolen election there, an attempt to suppress the will of the people who, by all accounts, want to have a more progressive government.  It has been a very violent situation since the election.  We are hearing that dozens of people have been killed and that the atrocities being perpetrated by the government have resulted in a nightmare. Could you put this in the context of the last two recent election cycles in Honduras?

Jesse Freeston: On June 28, 2009, there was a vote on a non-binding resolution put forward by President Manuel Zelaya, who had taken up the call of various indigenous groups in the country to rewrite the constitution.  When people went out to vote on that day, the military staged a coup d’etat and Zelaya wound up in Costa Rica.

This led to the most organized national resistance movement Honduras has ever seen.  Assemblies were held, which brought together all these people who stood to gain from a new constitution.  Just about every sector of the society were represented, except perhaps the oligarchy.

This led to the formation of the Libre Party, which participated in the 2013 elections [with Manuel Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, running as the party’s presidential candidate].  The election was officially won by Juan Orlando Hernandez but there was massive fraud.  The November, 2017 elections were even more of a farce.

Despite all that, when the electoral tribunal released its first results, the Oppositional Alliance were up by 5% with 60% of the votes counted.  One of the magistrates on the tribunal described it at the time as an “irreversible trend.”  Then, counting stopped for over a day when the computer system supposedly crashed.  When it was back up again, the tendency had completely flipped and Hernandez ended up winning by one percentage point.

This led to another massive uprising.  On one day of action there were 48 blockades of highways and major boulevards in the country.  During the last two months, this has been happening a couple times a week.

Even international observers such as the European Union Commission and the Organization of American States–who have been discredited here after turning their back many times in the last eight years to the crimes of this regime–even they have said that they have to redo the election or there has to be a recount.

Nevertheless, the members of those organizations, like Canada, like the United States and the countries of the European Union, went ahead and validated the election.

DB: We have heard that activists and members of the resistance have been arrested.

JF: Yes, there are dozens of political prisoners behind bars right now.  One of the most worrying cases is that of Edwin Espinal.  He is someone who has consistently paid a price for his resistance against the ongoing coup d’etat.

In September of 2009, Edwin Espinal’s wife died from tear gas inhalation after taking part in several protests.  A week later, Edwin was at a small neighborhood protest after which he was arrested for kidnapping because he took a child with him on his motorcycle when he was fleeing the tear gas.  The mother of the child went over and over to the police station to explain that she had pleaded with Edwin to take her kid with him.  Another time he was jailed for car theft for driving a friend’s car.

The first thing that the newly-formed military-trained urban police force did was raid Espinal’s house, claiming they had proof that he was a drug trafficker. The police falsely accused him of being involved in the Marriot Hotel fire and right now he is in a maximum security prison on that charge. Journalists and human rights workers are not allowed in to talk to him, his family have not been allowed to see him.  This is the first time since the 1980’s that a civilian will be tried inside a military base.

DB: How would you describe the US role in this situation?  We know that Hillary Clinton played a key role in sustaining the coup in 2009.

JF: I think that informed people in Honduras realize that changes in political leadership in the US don’t make much difference in how Honduras is treated.  Decisions are made here at the US Embassy and ambassadors act as de-facto rulers here, as shadow presidents.

The one constant here is the massive military funding from the US.  Since the coup, the Honduran military has received more direct funding from the US than any other country in the Americas, despite the fact that they have not been involved in a single military conflict or been threatened with one.

The military is purely used against people inside the country.  Although the United States is by far the largest funder of the Honduran military, other countries are also involved because humanitarian and other aid is typically diverted to the military.

DB: You said that there is a continuity between the last administration’s policy toward Honduras and the Trump administration’s policy.  In terms of so-called US interests, the real problem is that we push a program of “free trade” and we insist on having our military bases there.  So we have every reason to sustain the government as long as it provides us with an opportunity to police the region.  Could you talk about the geopolitical part of this?

JF: I think the more a country depends on its natural resources, the more everything comes down to who controls the land.  In 1961, [John F.] Kennedy launched a program called The Alliance for Progress, which was billed as a kind of Marshall Plan for Latin America.  It was a response to the Cuban revolution and an attempt to ward off similar revolutions across Latin America.

We were going to give billions of dollars to countries in Latin America if they promised to undertake land reform, if the oligarchy agreed to give up a portion of their land.  When Johnson replaced Kennedy there was much less priority assigned to this program.  Nonetheless, the Honduran government had to pass a number of land reform laws to receive the money, but none of those laws were ever implemented.

If the US intends to keep its business interests here alive–the sweatshop sector as well as bananas and palm oil–and for Canada, gold mining primarily–they need to maintain their alliance with this land-holding oligarchy.   It is this alliance that the resistance is asking the countries of the North and the West to break.

With eight and a half years of organizing experience, the people of Honduras could put together a government so fast it would make your head spin.  This movement is very organized.  They know who to trust, they know who can provide intellectual support, they know who can run the economy.  They are just waiting for the international community to change its alliances.

DB: So will the resistance to the Hernandez regime go on?

JF: The Oppositional Alliance has decided to wage a “peaceful insurrection,” something they are entitled to do under the Honduran constitution, which states that no one owes obedience to a government which takes power by force.  The numbers now at the protests have been considerably less than in the past two months, particularly since the inauguration on January 27.

It is hard to predict what will happen but the vast majority of the population do not want this regime.  There is a massive corruption scandal developing and we will see what happens with that.  Students are planning a strike for next month. But we will have to wait to see what kinds of ideas are going to be put forward in Honduras.

People are looking at Honduras as a laboratory for the ultra-right of the world.  Fortunately, there is a well-organized movement here that will be rising up again and again.  It is up to those of us in the international community to put pressure on those who claim to represent us to change their allegiances.

DB: Would you say that this is a movement inspired by young people in the country?

JF: Yes, and that is the key to understanding this new law that the National Party is trying to pass which would regulate social media.  It has to do with this young generation that has grown up in this period following the coup.  Someone like Zelaya doesn’t necessarily reach them.  This new law the government is trying to pass would give them the right to criminalize anyone posting anything they deem “hateful” on social media.  And this is a government that labels “racist” people who are defending rivers from dams being built.

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

Ten Commonsense Suggestions for Making Peace, Not War

President Trump’s first year in office brought an escalation of military aggression abroad as he built on the interventions of previous administrations, but there are steps America can take to move towards a more peaceful future, writes retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel William J. Astore at TomDispatch.

By William J. Astore

Whether the rationale is the need to wage a war on terror involving 76 countries or renewed preparations for a struggle against peer competitors Russia and China (as Defense Secretary James Mattis suggested recently while introducing America’s new National Defense Strategy), the U.S. military is engaged globally.  A network of 800 military bases spread across 172 countries helps enable its wars and interventions.  By the count of the Pentagon, at the end of the last fiscal year about 291,000 personnel (including reserves and Department of Defense civilians) were deployed in 183 countries worldwide, which is the functional definition of a military uncontained.  Lady Liberty may temporarily close when the U.S. government grinds to a halt, but the country’s foreign military commitments, especially its wars, just keep humming along.

As a student of history, I was warned to avoid the notion of inevitability.  Still, given such data points and others like them, is there anything more predictable in this country’s future than incessant warfare without a true victory in sight?  Indeed, the last clear-cut American victory, the last true “mission accomplished” moment in a war of any significance, came in 1945 with the end of World War II.

Yet the lack of clear victories since then seems to faze no one in Washington.  In this century, presidents have regularly boasted that the U.S. military is the finest fighting force in human history, while no less regularly demanding that the most powerful military in today’s world be “rebuilt” and funded at ever more staggering levels.  Indeed, while on the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised he’d invest so much in the military that it would become “so big and so strong and so great, and it will be so powerful that I don’t think we’re ever going to have to use it.”

As soon as he took office, however, he promptly appointed a set of generals to key positions in his government, stored the mothballs, and went back to war.  Here, then, is a brief rundown of the first year of his presidency in war terms.

Trump’s First Year of War-Making

In 2017, Afghanistan saw a mini-surge of roughly 4,000 additional U.S. troops (with more to come), a major spike in air strikes, and an onslaught of munitions of all sorts, including MOAB (the mother of all bombs), the never-before-used largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, as well as precision weapons fired by B-52s against suspected Taliban drug laboratories.  By the Air Force’s own count, 4,361 weapons were “released” in Afghanistan in 2017 compared to 1,337 in 2016.  Despite this commitment of warriors and weapons, the Afghan war remains — according to American commanders putting the best possible light on the situation — “stalemated,” with that country’s capital Kabul currently under siege.

How about Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State?  U.S.-led coalition forces have launched more than 10,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since Donald Trump became president, unleashing 39,577 weapons in 2017. (The figure for 2016 was 30,743.)  The “caliphate” is now gone and ISIS deflated but not defeated, since you can’t extinguish an ideology solely with bombs.  Meanwhile, along the Syrian-Turkish border a new conflict seems to be heating up between American-backed Kurdish forces and NATO ally Turkey.

Yet another strife-riven country, Yemen, witnessed a sixfold increase in U.S. airstrikes against al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (from 21 in 2016 to more than 131 in 2017).  In Somalia, which has also seen a rise in such strikes against al-Shabaab militants, U.S. forces on the ground have reached numbers not seen since the Black Hawk Down incident of 1993.  In each of these countries, there are yet more ruins, yet more civilian casualties, and yet more displaced people.

Finally, we come to North Korea.  Though no real shots have yet been fired, rhetorical shots by two less-than-stable leaders, “Little Rocket Man” Kim Jong-un and “dotard” Donald Trump, raise the possibility of a regional bloodbath.  Trump, seemingly favoring military solutions to North Korea’s nuclear program even as his administration touts a new generation of more usable nuclear warheads, has been remarkably successful in moving the world’s doomsday clock ever closer to midnight.

Clearly, his “great” and “powerful” military has hardly been standing idly on the sidelines looking “big” and “strong.”  More than ever, in fact, it seems to be lashing out across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks began the Global War on Terror, all of this represents an eerily familiar attempt by the U.S. military to kill its way to victory, whether against the Taliban, ISIS, or other terrorist organizations.

This kinetic reality should surprise no one.  Once you invest so much in your military — not just financially but also culturally (by continually celebrating it in a fashion which has come to seem like a quasi-faith) — it’s natural to want to put it to use.  This has been true of all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, as reflected in the infamous question Madeleine Albright posed to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell in 1992: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

With the very word “peace” rarely in Washington’s political vocabulary, America’s never-ending version of war seems as inevitable as anything is likely to be in history.  Significant contingents of U.S. troops and contractors remain an enduring presence in Iraq and there are now 2,000 U.S. Special Operations forces and other personnel in Syria for the long haul.  They are ostensibly engaged in training and stability operations.  In Washington, however, the urge for regime change in both Syria and Iran remains strong — in the case of Iran implacably so.  If past is prologue, then considering previous regime-change operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the future looks grim indeed.

Despite the dismal record of the last decade and a half, our civilian leaders continue to insist that this country must have a military not only second to none but globally dominant.  And few here wonder what such a quest for total dominance, the desire for absolute power, could do to this country.  Two centuries ago, however, writing to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams couldn’t have been clearer on the subject.  Power, he said, “must never be trusted without a check.”

The question today for the American people: How is the dominant military power of which U.S. leaders so casually boast to be checked? How is the country’s almost total reliance on the military in foreign affairs to be reined in? How can the plans of the profiteers and arms makers to keep the good times rolling be brought under control?

As a start, consider one of Donald Trump’s favorite generals, Douglas MacArthur, speaking to the Sperry Rand Corporation in 1957:

“Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”

No peacenik MacArthur.  Other famed generals like Smedley Butler and Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke out with far more vigor against the corruptions of war and the perils to a democracy of an ever more powerful military, though such sentiments are seldom heard in this country today.  Instead, America’s leaders insist that other people judge us by our words, our stated good intentions, not our murderous deeds and their results.

Perpetual Warfare Whistles Through Washington

Whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere in the war on terror, the U.S. is now engaged in generational conflicts that are costing us trillions of dollars, driving up the national debt while weakening the underpinnings of our democracy.  They have led to foreign casualties by the hundreds of thousands and created refugees in the millions, while turning cities like Iraq’s Mosul into wastelands.

In today’s climate of budget-busting “defense” appropriations, isn’t it finally time for Americans to apply a little commonsense to our disastrous pattern of war-making?  To prime the pump for such a conversation, here are 10 suggestions for ways to focus on, limit, or possibly change Washington’s now eternal war-making and profligate war spending:

  1. Abandon the notion of perfect security.  You can’t have it.   It doesn’t exist.  And abandon as well the idea that a huge military establishment translates into national safety.  James Madison didn’t think so and neither did Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  2. Who could have anything against calling the Pentagon a “defense” department, if defense were truly its focus?  But let’s face it: the Pentagon is actually a war department.  So let’s label it what it really is.  After all, how can you deal with a problem if you can’t even name it accurately?
  3. Isn’t it about time to start following the Constitution when it comes to our “wars”?  Isn’t it time for Congress to finally step up to its constitutional duties?  Whatever the Pentagon is called, this country should no longer be able to pursue its many conflicts without a formal congressional declaration of war.  If we had followed that rule, the U.S. wouldn’t have fought any of its wars since the end of World War II.
  4. Generational wars — ones, that is, that never end — should not be considered a measure of American resolve, but of American stupidity.  If you wage war long, you wage it wrong, especially if you want to protect democratic institutions in this country.
  5. Generals generally like to wage war.  Don’t blame them.  It’s their profession.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t put them in charge of the Department of “Defense” (James Mattis) or the National Security Council (H.R. McMaster) either — and above all, don’t let one of them (John Kelly) become the gatekeeper for a volatile, vain president.  In our country, civilians should be in charge of the war makers, end of story.
  6. You can’t win wars you never should have begun in the first place.  America’s leaders failed to learn that lesson from Vietnam.  Since then they have continued to wage wars for less-than-vital interests with predictably dismal results. Following the Vietnam example, America will only truly win its Afghan War when it chooses to rein in its pride and vanity — and leave.
  7. The serious people in Washington snickered when, as a presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008, Congressman Dennis Kucinich called for a Department of Peace. Remind me, though, 17 years into our latest set of wars, what was so funny about that suggestion? Isn’t it better to wage peace than war? If you don’t believe me, ask a wounded veteran or a Gold Star family.
  8. Want to invest in American jobs? Good idea! But stop making the military-industrial complex the preferred path to job creation. That’s a loser of a way to go. It’s proven that investments in “butter” create double or triple the number of jobs as those in “guns.” In other words, invest in education, health care, and civilian infrastructure, not more weaponry.
  9. Get rid of the very idea behind the infamous Pottery Barn rule — the warning Secretary of State Colin Powell offered George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq that if the U.S. military “breaks” a country, somehow we’ve “bought” it and so have to take ownership of the resulting mess. Whether stated or not, it’s continued to be the basis for this century’s unending wars. Honestly, if somebody broke something valuable you owned, would you trust that person to put it back together? Folly doesn’t decrease by persisting in it.
  10. I was an officer in the Air Force. When I entered that service, the ideal of the citizen-soldier still held sway. But during my career I witnessed a slow, insidious change. A citizen-soldier military morphed into a professional ethos of “warriors” and “warfighters,” a military that saw itself as better than the rest of us. It’s time to think about how to return to that citizen-soldier tradition, which made it harder to fight those generational wars.

Consider retired General John Kelly, who, while defending the president in a controversy over the president’s words to the mother of a dead Green Beret, refused to take questions from reporters unless they had a personal connection to fallen troops or to a Gold Star family. Consider as well the way that U.S. politicians like Vice President Mike Pence are always so keen to exalt those in uniform, to speak of them as above the citizenry. (“You are the best of us.”)

Isn’t it time to stop praising our troops to the rooftops and thanking them endlessly for what they’ve done for us — for fighting those wars without end — and to start listening to them instead?  Isn’t it time to try to understand them not as “heroes” in another universe, but as people like us in all their frailty and complexity? We’re never encouraged to see them as our neighbors, or as teenagers who struggled through high school, or as harried moms and dads.

Our troops are, of course, human and vulnerable and imperfect.  We don’t help them when we put them on pedestals, give them flags to hold in the breeze, and salute them as icons of a feel-good brand of patriotism.  Talk of warrior-heroes is worse than cheap: it enables our state of permanent war, elevates the Pentagon, ennobles the national security state, and silences dissent.  That’s why it’s both dangerous and universally supported in rare bipartisan fashion by politicians in Washington.

So here’s my final point.  Think of it as a bonus 11th suggestion: don’t make our troops into heroes, even when they’re in harm’s way.  It would be so much better to make ourselves into heroes by getting them out of harm’s way.

Be exceptional, America.  Make peace, not war.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, is a TomDispatch regular. He blogs at Bracing Views. [This article originally appeared at and is republished with permission.]

Do We Really Want Nuclear War with Russia?

From the Archive: With Moscow saying that U.S. proposals in its new Nuclear Posture Review to develop “tactical” nukes are “confrontational” and “anti-Russian,” we republish a 2016 article by Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry (first published on Oct. 3, 2016)

Through an endless barrage of ugly propaganda, the U.S. government and the mainstream American press have put the world on course for a potential nuclear showdown with Russia, an existential risk that has been undertaken cavalierly amid bizarre expressions of self-righteousness from Western institutions.

This extraordinarily dangerous moment reflects the insistence of the Establishment in Washington that it should continue to rule the world and that it will not broach the possibility of other nations asserting their own national interests even in their own neighborhoods.

Rather than adjust to a new multi-polar world, the powers-that-be in Washington have deployed a vast array of propaganda assets that are financed or otherwise encouraged to escalate an information war so aggressively that Russia is reading this onslaught of insults as the conditioning of the Western populations for a world war.

While that may not be the intention of President Obama, who in his recent United Nations address acknowledged the risks from imposing uni-polar order on the world, a powerful bureaucratic machinery is in place to advance U.S. propaganda goals. It is operating on a crazed auto-pilot hurtling toward destruction but beyond anyone’s ability to turn it off.

This machinery consists not just of outlets and activists funded by U.S. tax dollars via the National Endowment for Democracy or the U.S. Agency for International Development or NATO’s Strategic Communications Command, but like-minded “human rights” entities paid for by billionaire currency speculator George Soros or controlled by neoconservative ideologues who now run major U.S. newspapers, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times.

This propaganda apparatus now has so many specialized features that you get supposedly “progressive” and “anti-war” organizations promoting a major U.S. invasion of Syria under the guise of sweet-sounding policies like “no-fly zones” and “safe zones,” the same euphemisms that were used as the gateway to bloody “regime change” wars in Iraq and Libya.

There exists what intelligence veterans call a Mighty Wurlitzer, an organ with so many keys and pedals that it’s hard to know where all the sounds come from that make up the powerful harmony, all building to the same crescendo. But that crescendo may now be war with nuclear-armed Russia, which finds in all this demonizing the prelude to either a destabilization campaign aimed at “regime change” in Moscow or outright war.

Yet, the West can’t seem to muster the sanity or the honesty to begin toning down or even showing skepticism toward the escalating charges aimed at Russia. We saw similar patterns in the run-up to war in Iraq in 2002-2003 and in justifying the ouster, torture and murder of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Western propaganda also has enveloped the conflict in Syria to such an extent that the American people don’t understand that the U.S. government and its regional “allies” have been supporting and arming jihadist groups fighting under the command of Al Qaeda and even the Islamic State. The propaganda has focused on demonizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while downplaying or ignoring the real nature of the “moderate” opposition.

Taking Aim at Putin

In many ways, the Western insistence on “regime change” in Syria ties in directly to the extraordinary escalation of that strategy to seek “regime change” in Russia. In August-September 2013, America’s neocons and liberal war hawks were salivating over the prospect of a U.S. military bombing campaign to devastate Assad’s army as punishment for his alleged role in a sarin gas attack outside Damascus.

Although the intelligence was weak regarding Assad’s “guilt” – and subsequent evidence has pointed to a likely provocation by radical jihadists using home-made sarin and a jerry-rigged rocket – Official Washington was rubbing its hands at the prospect of a retaliatory bombing operation that would punish Assad and advance the cause of “regime change.”

At the last minute, however, President Obama listened to the doubts from his intelligence advisers and rejected what he later called the Washington “playbook” of a military response to a complex problem. To the annoyance of Washington insiders, Obama then collaborated with President Putin in a diplomatic settlement in which Syria surrendered all its chemical weapons while still denying any role in the sarin attack. Obama was accused of weakness for not “enforcing his red line” against chemical weapons use.

The despair over Obama’s failure to bomb the Syrian government and open the path for a long-desired “regime change” in Damascus led to a search for other villains, the most obvious one being Putin, who then became the focus of neocon determination to make him share their pain and disappointment.

National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman took to the op-ed page of The Washington Post in late September 2013 to declare that Ukraine was now “the biggest prize” and represented an important interim step toward eventually toppling Putin in Russia.

Gershman, who is essentially a neocon paymaster dispensing $100 million a year in U.S. taxpayers’ money to activists, journalists and various other operatives, wrote: “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

Within weeks, U.S. neocons – including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain – were encouraging right-wing Ukrainian nationalists to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, a coup accomplished on Feb. 22, 2014, touching off a civil war between Ukraine’s west and east.

As part of that Western propaganda barrage, the Ukraine coup ousting the elected president was hailed as a victory for “democracy” and Yanukovych’s supporters in the south and east who resisted this imposition of illegitimate authority in Kiev became the target of a U.S.-backed “Anti-Terrorism Operation” or ATO.

Led by The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Western media fell in line behind the preferred narrative that there was “no coup,” that there were “no neo-Nazis” spearheading the non-coup (or maybe just a few), that the “Heavenly Hundred” who died in the putsch against Yanukovych had given their lives for Ukraine’s “freedom” even though some of the “heavenly” inconveniently were neo-Nazi street fighters, part of a paramilitary force that had killed some 16 police officers.

Killing ‘Terrorists’

Given the West’s pro-coup propaganda themes, it became necessary to justify the thousands of eastern Ukrainians slaughtered in the ATO as the killing of “terrorists” or Russian “stooges,” getting what they deserved. The 96 percent vote in Crimea’s referendum to reunify with Russia had to be a “sham” since the West’s narrative held that the Ukrainian people were thrilled with the putsch, so the Crimeans must have voted that way at Russian gunpoint.

The explanation of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was that Russia “invaded” and “annexed” Crimea although there were no images of an invasion (no tanks crossing Crimea’s borders, no amphibious landings, no paratroopers descending from the sky – because Russian troops were already in Crimea as part of a basing agreement and helped protect Crimea’s inhabitants so they could hold their vote which did represent their desires).

Because the Western propaganda insisted that the new authorities in Kiev were wearing white hats, the Russians had to be fitted with black hats. Every bad thing that happened was automatically Putin’s fault. So, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, the West’s propaganda machinery whirred into action, blaming Russia for supposedly giving the ethnic Russian rebels powerful Buk anti-aircraft missiles.

The propaganda momentum was so strong by then that there was no Western support for Russia’s request for a United Nations investigation. Instead the inquiry was largely turned over to the torture-implicated Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU, upon which the Dutch and Australians, the other two principal members, became increasingly dependent (by their own admissions). Belgium and Malaysia played lesser roles.

The Joint Investigation Committee (JIT) considered no serious alternatives to the Russians and the rebels being responsible. For instance, when the JIT released its “report” on Sept. 28, 2016, there was no explanation offered for why Dutch intelligence (i.e. NATO intelligence) had concluded that the only missile systems in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, capable of shooting down MH-17 were controlled by the Ukrainian military. The JIT “report” was silent about where those Ukrainian Buk missile systems were at the time of the shoot-down.

It’s also a bit of a misnomer to describe the JIT’s findings as a “report” since they were really expressed in a series of videos featuring computer-generated graphics supposedly showing a Russian Buk crew driving around Ukraine, mixed in with a few photos from social media of a Buk convoy.

Key to the JIT’s findings were phone intercepts provided by the SBU and assembled to reinforce the impression of Russian guilt. The problem, however, was that except for one intercept in which someone said he’d like to have Buks, the word “Buk” is not mentioned; nor the word “missiles”; nor the word “aircraft”; nor any discussion about shooting down a plane. That was all supposition with an authoritative narrator filling in the gaps.

Ignoring Contrary Evidence

The JIT also ignored evidence that contradicted its conclusions, such as other intercepts reporting that a Ukrainian convoy had penetrated close to the eastern city of Luhansk. The significance of that revelation is that it confirms a point that has been largely ignored, that the Ukrainian military could move almost at will across “rebel-controlled territory.” The notion that the Ukrainian civil war was like World War I with fixed trench lines was simply a fallacy.

The JIT also had to impose a bizarre route for the Russian Buk battery to follow on its way to the supposed firing location south of the remote eastern town of Snizhne. Because the “social media” photos show the Buk convoy heading east toward Russia, not west from Russia, the JIT had to map out a journey that ignored a simple, direct and discreet route from the Russian border to Snizhhe in favor of a trip more than twice as long roaming around eastern Ukraine all the way to Donetsk before turning eastward past a number of heavily populated areas where the Buk convoy, supposedly on a highly secret mission, could be photographed.

The alleged firing location also conflicts with the alleged reason for the Russians taking the extraordinary risk of introducing a Buk system – that it was needed to defend rebel soldiers then fighting mostly in the north against Ukrainian troops and aircraft. For that purpose, the positioning of a Buk battery far to the southeast makes little sense, nor does the decision for a Russian Buk crew to shoot down a commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet.

JIT’s account of the post-crash exfiltration of the Buk convoy back to Russia also is curious, since again the shortest, easiest and least populated route was ignored in favor of one that went far to the north past Luhansk, the alleged site of the supposed “getaway” video (although the supposed location of the “getaway” video was misplaced by Western media groups trying to pin the blame on Russia).

The confirmed parts of the Buk convoy’s route, i.e., along highways east of Donetsk, would fit better with a scenario that, I’m told, received serious consideration from U.S. intelligence analysts, that a Ukrainian Buk system under the control of a rogue military unit loyal to a fiercely anti-Putin oligarch traveled east into what was considered “rebel-controlled territory” to fire on what was hoped to be Putin’s official plane returning from a state visit to South America, i.e. to kill Putin.

A source briefed by these analysts said the missile was fired despite the unit’s doubt that the plane was Putin’s. Although it’s unclear to me exactly what the U.S. intelligence consensus ultimately turned out to be on MH-17 (since I have been refused official updates), there would be logic in a Ukrainian hardliner staging such an audacious missile attack deep inside “rebel territory,” since any assassination of Putin would have to be explained as an accidental attack by his own allies, i.e., the ultimate case of Putin being hoisted on his own petard.

To evaluate which scenario makes more sense – that the Russians dispatched a Buk missile battery on a wild ride across eastern Ukraine or that a Ukrainian Buk battery penetrated into supposedly rebel-controlled territory with the intent of attacking a civilian plane (although not MH-17) – it would be crucial to have an explanation of where the Ukrainian Buk batteries were located on July 17, 2014.

Silence on Dutch Intelligence

Some of the Russia-did-it crowd have dismissed claims that Ukrainian Buk systems were in the area as Russian disinformation, but their presence was confirmed by a report from the Dutch intelligence service, MIVD, relying on NATO information to explain why commercial airliners were still being allowed over the war zone.

The MIVD’s explanation was that the only anti-aircraft missiles that could hit a plane at 33,000 feet were controlled by Ukraine, which was presumed to have no interest in attacking commercial aircraft, and that the rebels lacked any missile system that could reach that high. Clearly, there was an intelligence failure because either some Ukrainian Buk operators did have an intent to strike a civilian plane or the rebels did have a Buk system in the area.

If the JIT were operating objectively, it would have included something about this intelligence failure, either by showing that it had investigated the possibility that Ukrainian Buk missiles were used by a rogue unit or explaining how Western intelligence could have missed Russia’s introduction of a Buk system into eastern Ukraine.

Instead, there was just this video that includes cryptic phone intercepts, assertions about unnamed witnesses and computer-generated graphics “showing” the movement of a Russian Buk convoy along darkened roads in Ukraine.

Despite the unusual nature of this “indictment,” it was widely accepted in Western media as the final proof of Russian perfidy. The evidence was called “overwhelming” and “conclusive.”

Rather than treating the video report as a prosecutor’s brief – a set of allegations yet to be proved – Western journalists accepted it as flat fact, much as they did Secretary of State Colin Powell’s similar presentation on Feb. 5, 2003, “proving” that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. (Powell also used computer-generated images — of Iraq’s “mobile chemical weapons labs” that, in reality, didn’t exist.)

The day after the JIT video report was issued, The New York Times’ lead editorial was headlined, “Mr. Putin’s Outlaw State.” It read:

“President Vladimir Putin is fast turning Russia into an outlaw nation. As one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, his country shares a special responsibility to uphold international law. Yet, his behavior in Ukraine and Syria violates not only the rules intended to promote peace instead of conflict, but also common human decency.

“This bitter truth was driven home twice on Wednesday [Sept. 28]. An investigative team led by the Netherlands concluded that the surface-to-air missile system that shot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine in July 2014, killing 298 on board, was sent from Russia to Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night. …

“Russia has tried hard to pin the blame for the airline crash on Ukraine. But the new report, produced by prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, confirms earlier findings. It uses strict standards of evidence and meticulously documents not only the deployment of the Russian missile system that caused the disaster but also Moscow’s continuing cover-up. …

“President Obama has long refused to approve direct military intervention in Syria. And Mr. Putin may be assuming that Mr. Obama is unlikely to confront Russia in his final months and with an American election season in full swing. But with the rebel stronghold in Aleppo under threat of falling to the government, administration officials said that such a response is again under consideration.

“Mr. Putin fancies himself a man on a mission to restore Russia to greatness. Russia could indeed be a great force for good. Yet his unconscionable behavior — butchering civilians in Syria and Ukraine, annexing Crimea, computer-hacking American government agencies, crushing dissent at home — suggests that the furthest thing from his mind is becoming a constructive partner in the search for peace.”

Rich Irony

Granted, there is some rich irony in a major U.S. newspaper, which helped justify illegal aggression against Iraq with false reporting about Iraq buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges, pontificating about international law.

Indeed, the very idea that any serious person in the United States would lecture other countries about international law would be laughable if the hypocrisy were not delivered in such a serious set of circumstances. For decades now, the United States has been a law onto itself, deciding which countries should be bombed and who should be assassinated.

President Obama himself has acknowledged authorizing military strikes in seven countries during his presidency and many of those attacks were done outside international law. Indeed, the Times editorial appears to urge Obama to launch illegal military strikes against the Syrian government and, not surprisingly, doesn’t mention the U.S. airstrike that killed some 62 Syrian government soldiers just last month, delivering a death blow to the partial ceasefire.

Instead, you get a medley of the Times’ greatest anti-Russian propaganda hits while ignoring the U.S. role in destabilizing and overthrowing Ukraine’s elected government in favor of a harshly anti-Russian nationalist regime that then began slaughtering thousands of ethnic Russians who resisted the coup.

Nor does the Times mention that Russia is operating inside Syria by invitation of the sovereign government, while the U.S. has no such authority. And the Times leaves out how the U.S. government and its allies have covertly armed and funded jihadist rebels who have inflicted many of the hundreds of thousands of dead in Syria. Not everyone, including Syrian soldiers, was killed by Assad and the Russians, although that’s the impression the Times leaves.

A more nuanced account would reflect this murky reality in which sophisticated U.S. weapons, such as TOW missiles, have ended up in the possession of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and its jihadist allies. It would acknowledge that many sides are at fault for these tragedies in Syria and Ukraine – not to mention all the bloodshed that has followed the U.S.-led and U.S.-enabled wars that have torn apart the Middle East over the past decade and a half.

The Times might also admit that Putin was helpful in resolving the 2013 sarin crisis in Syria and achieving a breakthrough on the Iran nuclear talks in 2014. But that would not fit the propaganda need to demonize Putin and ready the American people for another, even more terrifying “regime change,” this time in Moscow.

What we can now expect are a series of legal actions brought against Russia in connection with the MH-17 case and other controversies. The goal will be to further demonize Putin and to destabilize Russia, a process already underway with economic sanctions that have helped throw Russia’s economy into recession.

The neocon plan is to ratchet up tensions and pain so Putin’s elected government will somehow collapse with the neocons hoping that some U.S. lackey will take over and allow another round of “shock therapy,” i.e. the plunder of Russia’s resources to the benefit of a few favored oligarchs and their American consultants.

However, given the dreadful experience that the average Russian faced from the earlier round of “shock therapy” in the 1990s – including a stunning decline in life expectancy – the more likely outcome from even a successful neocon scheme of “regime change” would be the emergence of a much more hard-line Russian nationalist than Putin.

Whereas Putin is a calculating and rational leader, the guy who follows him might well be an ideologue ready to use nuclear weapons to protect Mother Russia’s honor. After all, it’s not as if one of these neocon “regime change” calculations has ever gone wrong before.

Yet, whichever way things go, Official Washington – and its complicit mainstream media – now appear determined to push Russia into a corner with military encroachments from NATO on Russia’s borders and with criminal accusations before biased international “investigations.” Any misstep in this dangerous game could quickly end life as we know it.

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

Forced Migration vs. ‘Chain Migration’

Neoliberal economic policies have created a system of forced migration for many people but the Trump team is planning to ramp-up its assault on immigrants and those who advocate for migrants rights, activist Nativo Lopez explained to Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

On January 17, Kevin De Leon, California’s Senate President Pro Tempore stated “Immigration and Customs Enforcement is reportedly amassing agents from across the United States as it prepares to launch the most aggressive deportation raids under the Trump Administration in northern California in the coming weeks.”

According to Senator De Leon, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “is exploring pressing criminal charges against state and local officials who implement ‘sanctuary’ policies. “The Department of Homeland Security has even admitted they are considering a move to arrest political leaders such as myself,” De Leon continued, “ who have led the charge in California to prevent the feds from commandeering state and local resources to tear hard working families apart. These extraordinary threats against the President’s political opponents are meant to intimidate us, designed to silence and subjugate us. But they will do the opposite.”

Indeed, an army of immigrants right supporters, in the form of lawyers, human rights and local community activist, and concerned politicians are now mobilizing from one end of the state to the other to fight back.

I spoke about the significance of the ICE threats and the grassroots uprising in response, with Nativo Lopez. Lopez is a longtime advocate for the undocumented Spanish-speaking communities in Southern California, and a spokesperson for Hermandad Mexicana, a social, cultural and political organization based in Los Angeles. I spoke to Lopez in Los Angeles on January 30.

Dennis Bernstein: In terms of deportations, Obama still holds the record as Deporter and Chief, but Trump seems to be pulling out all the stops now.

Nativo Lopez: Well, it is almost like “back to the future” with this administration.  We saw the most devastating deportation numbers under the Obama administration and now we are seeing much of the same.  Actually the numbers are lower compared to the first two years of the Obama administration.  But Trump is continuing the work of terrorizing immigrants and the communities they are a part of. Immigrants are the target but working class communities are really feeling the effects of the repressive measures initiated by this administration.

It has targeted California because it has declared itself a sanctuary state.  The government of California, including the attorney general, will now be tested as to what their interpretation is of the term “sanctuary.”

DB: Of course, Obama earned the title “Deporter in Chief,” but Trump now takes it to the next level because he is not afraid to talk in terms of ethnic cleansing.

NL: When he makes references to El Salvador, Haiti, and the continent of Africa, these are the same communities who now live within the US.  The proposal that he is now making on immigration, supposedly to save the day for the Dreamers, is to legalize the status of 1.8 million but at the same time eliminate the ability to legally bring family members to the United States.

Despite all this talk about “illegal immigration” over the years, the underlying motive of these xenophobes has always been to reduce legal immigration to the United States from Latin American and Asian Pacific countries.  They are intent on preserving their idea of a white America by reducing the ability of nationalized immigrants to bring family members to the United States.

DB: What is your understanding of the right-wing term “chain immigration”?

NL: They are talking from both sides of their mouths.  They say people should wait in line and do it legally, and yet we see they are really trying to reduce legal immigration to the country.

Under current law, legal immigrants to this country have the right to immigrate their parents, their siblings, their spouse and any children they have who were born outside the United States.  What they are trying to do is eliminate in Congress the ability of a legal immigrant to immigrate his or her parents or siblings.  This would reduce by half the number of immigrants who legally come to the United States.

This has happened under both Republican and Democratic administrations.  The majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States today are undocumented because of a migration law that was passed in 1978 during the Carter administration which eliminated the right of US citizens to immediately immigrate their parents until the US citizen reached the age of twenty-one.

I myself fought against that legislation because I knew that it would immediately create a balloon of undocumented parents in the United States.  After massive resistance and lobbying, we were able to get legislation in 1986, during the time of the Reagan administration, that allowed parents to legalize their status because they had been in the country so long.  They were able to obtain legal permanent status.

DB: Instead of chain migration, maybe we should be talking about forced migration.

NL: When we talk about defending immigrants against deportation, we should talk about the right to not immigrate to the United States.  What forces so many to immigrate here?  Extreme poverty, the inability to obtain employment at a decent wage, social violence, drug cartel violence.  This is what is forcing migration to the United States.

Certainly the free trade agreements in Mexico and Central America contributed to the mass emigration from those countries.  In Mexico alone, over the course of the NAFTA years from 1994 to the present day, four to five million small farm owners have been thrown off their lands and forced to migrate to America because agribusiness, both in Mexico and the United States, gobbled up those lands and forced production to meet the agricultural needs of the United States.  Prior to 1994, Mexico was self-sufficient in its domestic corn production.  Today it imports from the United States between 40 and 60 percent of its corn.  So those are the push factors that bring migrants to the United States.

I laugh when I hear the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, criticize the Trump administration.  When Fox was president, he did absolutely nothing to defend those Mexicans who were forced to come to the United States, and he was actually a purveyor of privatization of the petroleum industry to serve the interests of US multinational corporations.

DB: I am looking at a press release from Kevin de Leon’s office, where he writes that “The Department of Homeland Security has even admitted that they are considering a move to arrest political leaders such as myself who have led the charge in California to prevent the feds from commandeering state and local resources to tear hard-working families apart.”

NL: There is such a thing as state sovereignty and a state’s ability to pass laws to protect its residents.  At the end of the day, the governor, the president pro tempore, the Latino caucus and other progressive caucuses, the California attorney general–all of them will be tested in the next several days if, in fact, Homeland Security launches the kind of massive detention and deportation that they are threatening against California.

DB: We know that every day about 122 Dreamers are losing their DACA status and are faced with uncertainty about their future.  We have seen the Democrats collapse on this issue.  Do you expect anything at the federal level?

NL: I really don’t.  It is possible that the Democrats cave in and give Trump the $20 billion he wants to build the wall.  It looks like he is going to use the Dreamers as hostages to make good on his campaign promise.  Our recommendation to the legislators is to not cave in but to fight back.

We want a clean bill, meaning that all DACA recipients should be allowed to obtain permanent resident status without having to concede anything related to the border wall and certainly anything related to the ability of legal residents to immigrate their family members.

There needs to be massive resistance.  I know that in Northern California they are talking about organizing a 100,000 person march in February.  We need to do that throughout California.  We need to resist in the courts, we need to resist in the streets.

Actually, a DACA permit holder stands a better chance of fighting deportation than a person who has nothing.  Some argue that if we don’t accept what Trump is offering, we will be putting in jeopardy 800,000 young people with DACA status.  The fact of the matter is that there is an injunction in place in the federal courts against the cancellation of the DACA program which is going to take months to work its way through the courts.

My personal and political recommendation is to fight for a clean bill and to throw these people out of Congress and out of the White House.  If the complexion of Congress changes in November, that will make it extremely difficult for the administration to move forward with its plans for massive deportation.

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

The Enduring Shame of Guantanamo

From the Archive: In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Trump announced that he had signed an executive order to keep the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay open. On this occasion, we republish an article from 2012 by Nat Parry marking Guantanamo’s ten-year anniversary.

By Nat Parry (First published on Jan. 12, 2012)

When the Guantanamo prison camp, originally dubbed by the U.S. military Camp X-Ray, opened in January 2002, the United States came under international criticism that was nearly unprecedented in its intensity.

Some of the loudest complaints came from the staunchest U.S. ally, the United Kingdom, where three cabinet ministers Robin Cook, Patricia Hewitt and Jack Straw expressed concern that international agreements about the treatment of prisoners of war were being breached. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, also objected to the camp and called on President George W. Bush’s administration to follow the Geneva Conventions.

In a Jan. 19, 2002, column in the British Independent, Robinson argued that because the Afghanistan conflict was of an international nature, “the law of international armed conflict applies.” She took issue with the administration’s assertion that the prisoners were “unlawful combatants” and thus outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said that despite the Sept. 11 atrocities, ”changing our values and our way of life would be terrorism’s first victory.”

Amnesty International expressed concern about the tactics being used and the secrecy surrounding the camp. “Keeping prisoners incommunicado, sensory deprivation, the use of unnecessary restraint and the humiliation of people through tactics such as shaving them, are all classic techniques employed to ‘break’ the spirit of individuals ahead of interrogation,” the human rights group said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross — in an unusual deviation from its practice of not publicly criticizing detaining governments — said the United States might have violated Geneva Convention rules against making a spectacle of prisoners by distributing pictures of the detainees being subjected to sensory deprivation, which were published worldwide.

British human rights attorney Stephen Solley said the treatment of the suspects was “so far removed from human rights norms that it [was] difficult to comprehend.”

Seven years later, just two days into his administration, President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would close the Guantanamo camp was greeted with international praise equally intense. An Executive Order Obama signed on Jan. 22, 2009, seemed to unambiguously mandate the closure of Guantanamo within a year:

“The detention facilities at Guantanamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order. If any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantanamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Michele Cercone, spokesperson for the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, said at the time that the commission “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also praised Obama’s Executive Order, saying that it was a good day for the rule of law. “The fact that President Obama has placed such a high priority on closing Guantanamo and set in motion a system to safeguard the fundamental rights of the detainees there is extremely encouraging,” she stated.

“The United States has in the past been a staunch supporter of international human rights law, and this is one of the reasons that the regime that was established in Guantanamo has been viewed as so damaging,” the High Commissioner added.

Now at Guantanamo’s ten-year anniversary and nearly three years after President Obama’s Executive Order there is a palpable sense of disappointment and betrayal from the human rights community. The United States is finding itself on the receiving end of now-familiar criticism of its indefinite detention policies, with human rights organizations and intergovernmental bodies renewing their complaints that for the past ten years, the U.S. has flouted international human rights standards in its practices at the notorious prison camp.

“Human Rights Watch opposes the prolonged indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere,” said HRW in a statement on Jan. 6. The group reminded the U.S. of its obligations to prosecute terrorist suspects and to compensate detainees who have been wrongly imprisoned and mistreated over the past decade:

“The practice [of indefinite detention] violates U.S. obligations under international law. Human Rights Watch has strongly urged the U.S. government to either promptly prosecute the remaining Guantanamo detainees according to international fair trial standards, or safely repatriate them to home or third countries.

“We have also called for investigations of U.S. officials implicated in torture of terrorism suspects and for adequate compensation for detainees who were mistreated. Human Rights Watch will continue to press for compliance with these obligations. Failure to do so does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad.”

On the eve of Guantanamo’s tenth anniversary, Amnesty International said, “Guantanamo has politicized justice internationally by portraying detainees as having no human rights.” Amnesty has described the legacy of the Guantanamo Bay prison as a “decade of damage to human rights” not only in the United States, but across the world.

In a report released on Dec. 16, 2011, Amnesty stated:

“The USA speaks the language of human rights fluently on the global stage, but stumbles when it comes to applying human rights standards to itself. The Bush administration promised to put human rights at the centre of its counter-terrorism strategy, but singularly failed to do so. The Obama administration has promised the same thing, but the USA continues to fall short of this commitment, despite what were undoubtedly positive initial steps in the right direction.”

“From day one,” said Amnesty, “the USA failed to recognize the applicability of human rights law to the Guantanamo detentions.”

Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), also expressed dismay over the failure to close the Guantanamo facility.

“Universal human rights standards require that the detention of terrorist suspects shall be accompanied by concrete charges and the persons detained under these charges shall be immediately informed of them and brought before a competent judicial authority,” Lenarcic said.

In a press release, ODIHR reminded the United States of its OSCE obligations:

“As a participating State of the OSCE, the United States has committed itself to respect human rights in the fight against terrorism and to ensure the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time before an independent and impartial tribunal. In the OSCE Bucharest Document of 2001, participating States expressed their determination to protect their citizens from security challenges such as terrorism ‘while safeguarding the rule of law, individual liberties, and the right to equal justice under law.’”

Lenarcic regretted that the practice of indefinite detention without trial has been codified into U.S. law with the recent adoption of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). He called for a swift closure of the Guantanamo detention center and urged the authorities to prosecute promptly the remaining Guantanamo detainees in accordance with international fair trial standards, or release them.

Moazzam Begg, a 43-year-old British Muslim who was wrongly detained at Guantanamo for three years until British authorities negotiated his release in January 2005, is more despondent about the prospects of closing the prison camp.

“Gitmo will never close. That is a fantasy,” Begg recently told CNN. “I’ve stopped wishing for it. Even if it closes its doors, it will be only symbolic. The detainees who are still there will go somewhere else to be held and be treated possibly worse, and still not get their time in court. And Gitmo, in a way, will always be open. It will be in my memory, in my head, just like everyone else who experienced that hell.”

Colonel Morris Davis, a chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay during the Bush administration, concurs with Moazzam Begg, saying that Obama “doesn’t have the balls” to close Guantanamo.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush

The War That Never Ends (for the U.S. Military High Command)

A preoccupation with the “win-ability” of the Vietnam War has persisted among U.S. military commanders who doggedly pursue the War on Terror, despite all indications of the disastrous reality of both conflicts, writes U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen for TomDispatch. 

By Danny Sjursen

Vietnam: it’s always there. Looming in the past, informing American futures.

A 50-year-old war, once labeled the longest in our history, is still alive and well and still being refought by one group of Americans: the military high command.  And almost half a century later, they’re still losing it and blaming others for doing so.

Of course, the U.S. military and Washington policymakers lost the war in Vietnam in the previous century and perhaps it’s well that they did.  The United States really had no business intervening in that anti-colonial civil war in the first place, supporting a South Vietnamese government of questionable legitimacy, and stifling promised nationwide elections on both sides of that country’s artificial border.  In doing so, Washington presented an easy villain for a North Vietnamese-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) insurgency, a group known to Americans in those years as the Vietcong.

More than two decades of involvement and, at the war’s peak, half a million American troops never altered the basic weakness of the U.S.-backed regime in Saigon.  Despite millions of Asian deaths and 58,000 American ones, South Vietnam’s military could not, in the end, hold the line without American support and finally collapsed under the weight of a conventional North Vietnamese invasion in April 1975.

There’s just one thing.  Though a majority of historians (known in academia as the “orthodox” school) subscribe to the basic contours of the above narrative, the vast majority of senior American military officers do not.  Instead, they’re still refighting the Vietnam War to a far cheerier outcome through the books they read, the scholarship they publish, and (most disturbingly) the policies they continue to pursue in the Greater Middle East.

The Big Re-Write

In 1986, future general, Iraq-Afghan War commander, and CIA director David Petraeus penned an article for the military journal Parameters that summarized his Princeton doctoral dissertation on the Vietnam War.  It was a piece commensurate with then-Major Petraeus’s impressive intellect, except for its disastrous conclusions on the lessons of that war.  Though he did observe that Vietnam had “cost the military dearly” and that “the frustrations of Vietnam are deeply etched in the minds of those who lead the services,” his real fear was that the war had left the military unprepared to wage what were then called “low-intensity conflicts” and are now known as counterinsurgencies.  His takeaway: what the country needed wasn’t less Vietnams but better-fought ones.  The next time, he concluded fatefully, the military should do a far better job of implementing counterinsurgency forces, equipment, tactics, and doctrine to win such wars.

Two decades later, when the next Vietnam-like quagmire did indeed present itself in Iraq, he and a whole generation of COINdinistas (like-minded officers devoted to his favored counterinsurgency approach to modern warfare) embraced those very conclusions to win the war on terror.  The names of some of them — H.R. McMaster and James Mattis, for instance — should ring a bell or two these days. In Iraq and later in Afghanistan, Petraeus and his acolytes would get their chance to translate theory into practice.  Americans — and much of the rest of the planet — still live with the results.

Like Petraeus, an entire generation of senior military leaders, commissioned in the years after the Vietnam War and now atop the defense behemoth, remain fixated on that ancient conflict.  After all these decades, such “thinking” generals and “soldier-scholars” continue to draw all the wrong lessons from what, thanks in part to them, has now become America’s second longest war.

Rival Schools

Historian Gary Hess identifies two main schools of revisionist thinking.  There are the “Clausewitzians” (named after the nineteenth century Prussian military theorist) who insist that Washington never sufficiently attacked the enemy’s true center of gravity in North Vietnam.  Beneath the academic language, they essentially agree on one key thing: the U.S. military should have bombed the North into a parking lot.

The second school, including Petraeus, Hess labeled the “hearts-and-minders.”  As COINdinistas, they felt the war effort never focused clearly enough on isolating the Vietcong, protecting local villages in the South, building schools, and handing out candy — everything, in short, that might have won (in the phrase of that era) Vietnamese hearts and minds.

Both schools, however, agreed on something basic: that the U.S. military should have won in Vietnam.

The danger presented by either school is clear enough in the twenty-first century.  Senior commanders, some now serving in key national security positions, fixated on Vietnam, have translated that conflict’s supposed lessons into what now passes for military strategy in Washington.  The result has been an ever-expanding war on terror campaign waged ceaselessly from South Asia to West Africa, which has essentially turned out to be perpetual war based on the can-do belief that counterinsurgency and advise-and-assist missions should have worked in Vietnam and can work now.

The Go-Big Option

The leading voice of the Clausewitzian school was U.S. Army Colonel and Korean War/Vietnam War vet Harry Summers, whose 1982 book, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, became an instant classic within the military.  It’s easy enough to understand why.  Summers argued that civilian policymakers — not the military rank-and-file — had lost the war by focusing hopelessly on the insurgency in South Vietnam rather than on the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.  More troops, more aggressiveness, even full-scale invasions of communist safe havens in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam, would have led to victory.

Summers had a deep emotional investment in his topic. Later, he would argue that the source of post-war pessimistic analyses of the conflict lay in “draft dodgers and war evaders still [struggling] with their consciences.”  In his own work, Summers marginalized all Vietnamese actors (as would so many later military historians), failed to adequately deal with the potential consequences, nuclear or otherwise, of the sorts of escalation he advocated, and didn’t even bother to ask whether Vietnam was a core national security interest of the United States.

Perhaps he would have done well to reconsider a famous post-war encounter he had with a North Vietnamese officer, a Colonel Tu, whom he assured that “you know you never beat us on the battlefield.”

“That may be so,” replied his former enemy, “but it is also irrelevant.”

Whatever its limitations, his work remains influential in military circles to this day. (I was assigned the book as a West Point cadet!)

A more sophisticated Clausewitzian analysis came from current National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in a highly acclaimed 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty.  He argued that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were derelict in failing to give President Lyndon Johnson an honest appraisal of what it would take to win, which meant that “the nation went to war without the benefit of effective military advice.”  He concluded that the war was lost not in the field or by the media or even on antiwar college campuses, but in Washington, D.C., through a failure of nerve by the Pentagon’s generals, which led civilian officials to opt for a deficient strategy.

McMaster is a genuine scholar and a gifted writer, but he still suggested that the Joint Chiefs should have advocated for a more aggressive offensive strategy — a full ground invasion of the North or unrelenting carpet-bombing of that country.  In this sense, he was just another “go-big” Clausewitzian who, as historian Ronald Spector pointed out recently, ignored Vietnamese views and failed to acknowledge — an observation of historian Edward Miller — that “the Vietnam War was a Vietnamese war.”

COIN: A Small (Forever) War

Another Vietnam veteran, retired Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Krepinevich, fired the opening salvo for the hearts-and-minders.  In The Army and Vietnam, published in 1986, he argued that the NLF, not the North Vietnamese Army, was the enemy’s chief center of gravity and that the American military’s failure to emphasize counterinsurgency principles over conventional concepts of war sealed its fate.  While such arguments were, in reality, no more impressive than those of the Clausewitzians, they have remained popular with military audiences, as historian Dale Andrade points out, because they offer a “simple explanation for the defeat in Vietnam.”

Krepinevich would write an influential 2005 Foreign Affairs piece, “How to Win in Iraq,” in which he applied his Vietnam conclusions to a new strategy of prolonged counterinsurgency in the Middle East, quickly winning over the New York Times’s resident conservative columnist, David Brooks, and generating “discussion in the Pentagon, CIA, American Embassy in Baghdad, and the office of the vice president.”

In 1999, retired army officer and Vietnam veteran Lewis Sorley penned the definitive hearts-and-minds tract, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam.  Sorley boldly asserted that, by the spring of 1970, “the fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won.”  According to his comforting tale, the real explanation for failure lay with the “big-war” strategy of U.S. commander General William Westmoreland. The counterinsurgency strategy of his successor, General Creighton Abrams — Sorley’s knight in shining armor — was (or at least should have been) a war winner.

Critics noted that Sorley overemphasized the marginal differences between the two generals’ strategies and produced a remarkably counterfactual work.  It didn’t matter, however.  By 2005, just as the situation in Iraq, a country then locked in a sectarian civil war amid an American occupation, went from bad to worse, Sorley’s book found its way into the hands of the head of U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, and State Department counselor Philip Zelikow.

By then, according to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, it could also “be found on the bookshelves of senior military officers in Baghdad.”

Another influential hearts-and-minds devotee was Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl.  (He even made it onto The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.) His Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam followed Krepinevich in claiming that “if [Creighton] Abrams had gotten the call to lead the American effort at the start of the war, America might very well have won it.”  In 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported that Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker “so liked [Nagl’s] book that he made it required reading for all four-star generals,” while the Iraq War commander of that moment, General George Casey, gave Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a copy during a visit to Baghdad.

David Petraeus and current Secretary of Defense James Mattis, co-authors in 2006 of FM 3-24, the first (New York Times-reviewed) military field manual for counterinsurgency since Vietnam, must also be considered among the pantheon of hearts-and-minders.  Nagl wrote a foreword for their manual, while Krepinevich provided a glowing back-cover endorsement.

Such revisionist interpretations would prove tragic in Iraq and Afghanistan, once they had filtered down to the entire officer corps.

Reading All the Wrong Books

In 2009, when former West Point history professor Colonel Gregory Daddis was deployed to Iraq as the command historian for the Multinational Corps — the military’s primary tactical headquarters — he noted that corps commander Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby had assigned a professional reading list to his principal subordinates.  To his disappointment, Daddis also discovered that the only Vietnam War book included was Sorley’s A Better War.  This should have surprised no one, since his argument — that American soldiers in Vietnam were denied an impending victory by civilian policymakers, a liberal media, and antiwar protestors — was still resonant among the officer corps in year six of the Iraq quagmire.  It wasn’t the military’s fault!

Officers have long distributed professional reading lists for subordinates, intellectual guideposts to the complex challenges ahead.  Indeed, there’s much to be admired in the concept, but also potential dangers in such lists as they inevitably influence the thinking of an entire generation of future leaders.  In the case of Vietnam, the perils are obvious.  The generals have been assigning and reading problematic books for years, works that were essentially meant to reinforce professional pride in the midst of a series of unsuccessful and unending wars.

Just after 9/11, for instance, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers — who spoke at my West Point graduation — included Summers’s On Strategy on his list.  A few years later, then-Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker added McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty.  The trend continues today.  Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller has kept McMaster and added Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger (he of the illegal bombing of both Laos and Cambodia and war criminal fame).  Current Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley kept Kissinger and added good old Lewis Sorley.  To top it all off, Secretary of Defense Mattis has included yet another Kissinger book and, in a different list, Krepinevich’s The Army and Vietnam.

Just as important as which books made the lists is what’s missing from them: none of these senior commanders include newer scholarship, novels, or journalistic accounts which might raise thorny, uncomfortable questions about whether the Vietnam War was winnable, necessary, or advisable, or incorporate local voices that might highlight the limits of American influence and power.

Serving in the Shadow of Vietnam

Most of the generals leading the war on terror just missed service in the Vietnam War.  They graduated from various colleges or West Point in the years immediately following the withdrawal of most U.S. ground troops or thereafter: Petraeus in 1974, future Afghan War commander Stanley McChrystal in 1976, and present National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in 1984.  Secretary of Defense Mattis finished ROTC and graduated from Central Washington University in 1971, while Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly enlisted at the tail end of the Vietnam War, receiving his commission in 1976.

In other words, the generation of officers now overseeing the still-spreading war on terror entered military service at the end of or after the tragic war in Southeast Asia.  That meant they narrowly escaped combat duty in the bloodiest American conflict since World War II and so the professional credibility that went with it.  They were mentored and taught by academy tactical officers, ROTC instructors, and commanders who had cut their teeth on that conflict.  Vietnam literally dominated the discourse of their era — and it’s never ended.

Petraeus, Mattis, McMaster, and the others entered service when military prestige had reached a nadir or was just rebounding.  And those reading lists taught the young officers where to lay the blame for that — on civilians in Washington (or in the nation’s streets) or on a military high command too weak to assert its authority effectively. They would serve in Vietnam’s shadow, the shadow of defeat, and the conclusions they would draw from it would only lead to twenty-first-century disasters.   

From Vietnam to the War on Terror to Generational War

All of this misremembering, all of those Vietnam “lessons” inform the U.S. military’s ongoing “surges” and “advise-and-assist” approaches to its wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Representatives of both Vietnam revisionist schools now guide the development of the Trump administration’s version of global strategy. President Trump’s in-house Clausewitzians clamor for — and receive — ever more delegated authority to do their damnedest and what retired General (and Vietnam vet) Edward Meyer called for back in 1983: “a freer hand in waging war than they had in Vietnam.” In other words, more bombs, more troops, and carte blanche to escalate such conflicts to their hearts’ content.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s hearts-and-minds faction consists of officers who have spent three administrations expanding COIN-influenced missions to approximately 70% of the world’s nations.  Furthermore, they’ve recently fought for and been granted a new “mini-surge” in Afghanistan intended to — in disturbingly Vietnam-esque language — “break the deadlock,” “reverse the decline,” and “end the stalemate” there.  Never mind that neither 100,000 U.S. troops (when I was there in 2011) nor 16 full years of combat could, in the term of the trade, “stabilize” Afghanistan.  The can-do, revisionist believers atop the national security state have convinced Trump that — despite his original instincts — 4,000 or 5,000 (or 6,000 or 7,000) more troops (and yet more drones, planes, and other equipment) will do the trick.  This represents tragedy bordering on farce.

The hearts and minders and Clausewitzians atop the military establishment since 9/11 are never likely to stop citing their versions of the Vietnam War as the key to victory today; that is, they will never stop focusing on a war that was always unwinnable and never worth fighting.  None of today’s acclaimed military personalities seems willing to consider that Washington couldn’t have won in Vietnam because, as former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak (who flew 269 combat missions over that country) noted in the recent Ken Burns documentary series, “we were fighting on the wrong side.”

Today’s leaders don’t even pretend that the post-9/11 wars will ever end.  In an interview last June, Petraeus — still considered a sagacious guru of the Defense establishment — disturbingly described the Afghan conflict as “generational.”  Eerily enough, to cite a Vietnam-era precedent, General Creighton Abrams predicted something similar. speaking to the White House as the war in Southeast Asia was winding down.  Even as President Richard Nixon slowly withdrew U.S. forces, handing over their duties to the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) — a process known then as “Vietnamization” — the general warned that, despite ARVN improvements, continued U.S. support “would be required indefinitely to maintain an effective force.”  Vietnam, too, had its “generational” side (until, of course, it didn’t).

That war and its ill-fated lessons will undoubtedly continue to influence U.S. commanders until a new set of myths, explaining away a new set of failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, take over, possibly thanks to books by veterans of these conflicts about how Washington could have won the war on terror.

It’s not that our generals don’t read. They do. They just doggedly continue to read the wrong books.

In 1986, General Petraeus ended his influential Parameters article with a quote from historian George Herring: “Each historical situation is unique and the use of analogy is at best misleading, at worst, dangerous.”  When it comes to Vietnam and a cohort of officers shaped in its shadow (and even now convinced it could have been won), “dangerous” hardly describes the results. They’ve helped bring us generational war and, for today’s young soldiers, ceaseless tragedy.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]

Major Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kansas.  Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast Fortress on a Hill. [Article originally published at TomDispatch.]

Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews

Robert Parry, editor and publisher of, died peacefully Saturday evening. In this tribute, his son Nat Parry describes Robert’s unwavering commitment to independent journalism.

By Nat Parry

It is with a heavy heart that we inform Consortiumnews readers that Editor Robert Parry has passed away. As regular readers know, Robert (or Bob, as he was known to friends and family) suffered a stroke in December, which – despite his own speculation that it may have been brought on by the stress of covering Washington politics – was the result of undiagnosed pancreatic cancer that he had been unknowingly living with for the past 4-5 years.

He unfortunately suffered two more debilitating strokes in recent weeks and after the last one, was moved to hospice care on Tuesday. He passed away peacefully Saturday evening. He was 68.

Those of us close to him wish to sincerely thank readers for the kind comments and words of support posted on recent articles regarding Bob’s health issues. We read aloud many of these comments to him during his final days to let him know how much his work has meant to so many people and how much concern there was for his well-being.

I am sure that these kindnesses meant a lot to him. They also mean a lot to us as family members, as we all know how devoted he was to the mission of independent journalism and this website which has been publishing articles since the earliest days of the internet, launching all the way back in 1995.

With my dad, professional work has always been deeply personal, and his career as a journalist was thoroughly intertwined with his family life. I can recall kitchen table conversations in my early childhood that focused on the U.S.-backed wars in Central America and complaints about how his editors at The Associated Press were too timid to run articles of his that – no matter how well-documented – cast the Reagan administration in a bad light.

One of my earliest memories in fact was of my dad about to leave on assignment in the early 1980s to the war zones of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, and the heartfelt good-bye that he wished to me and my siblings. He warned us that he was going to a very dangerous place and that there was a possibility that he might not come back.

I remember asking him why he had to go, why he couldn’t just stay at home with us. He replied that it was important to go to these places and tell the truth about what was happening there. He mentioned that children my age were being killed in these wars and that somebody had to tell their stories. I remember asking, “Kids like me?” He replied, “Yes, kids just like you.”

Bob was deeply impacted by the dirty wars of Central America in the 1980s and in many ways these conflicts – and the U.S. involvement in them – came to define the rest of his life and career. With grisly stories emerging from Nicaragua (thanks partly to journalists like him), Congress passed the Boland Amendments from 1982 to 1984, which placed limits on U.S. military assistance to the contras who were attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government through a variety of terrorist tactics.

The Reagan administration immediately began exploring ways to circumvent those legal restrictions, which led to a scheme to send secret arms shipments to the revolutionary and vehemently anti-American government of Iran and divert the profits to the contras. In 1985, Bob wrote the first stories describing this operation, which later became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

Contra-Cocaine and October Surprise

Parallel to the illegal arms shipments to Iran during those days was a cocaine trafficking operation by the Nicaraguan contras and a willingness by the Reagan administration and the CIA to turn a blind eye to these activities. This, despite the fact that cocaine was flooding into the United States while Ronald Reagan was proclaiming a “war on drugs,” and a crack cocaine epidemic was devastating communities across the country.

Bob and his colleague Brian Barger were the first journalists to report on this story in late 1985, which became known as the contra-cocaine scandal, and became the subject of a congressional investigation led by then-Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 1986.

Continuing to pursue leads relating to Iran-Contra during a period in the late 80s when most of Washington was moving on from the scandal, Bob discovered that there was more to the story than commonly understood. He learned that the roots of the illegal arm shipments to Iran stretched back further than previously known – all the way back to the 1980 presidential campaign.

That electoral contest between incumbent Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan had come to be largely dominated by the hostage crisis in Iran, with 52 Americans being held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Iranian hostage crisis, along with the ailing economy, came to define a perception of an America in decline, with former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan promising a new start for the country, a restoration of its status as a “shining city on a hill.”

The hostages were released in Tehran moments after Reagan was sworn in as president in Washington on January 20, 1981. Despite suspicions for years that there had been some sort of quid pro quo between the Reagan campaign and the Iranians, it wasn’t until Bob uncovered a trove of documents in a House office building basement in 1994 that the evidence became overwhelming that the Reagan campaign had interfered with the Carter administration’s efforts to free the hostages prior to the 1980 election. Their release sooner – what Carter hoped would be his “October Surprise” – could have given him the boost needed to win.

Examining these documents and being already well-versed on this story – having previously travelled three continents pursuing the investigation for a PBS Frontline documentary – Bob became increasingly convinced that the Reagan campaign had in fact sabotaged Carter’s hostage negotiations, possibly committing an act of treason in an effort to make sure that 52 American citizens continued to be held in a harrowing hostage situation until after Reagan secured the election.

Needless to say, this was an inconvenient story at a time – in the mid-1990s – when the national media had long since moved on from the Reagan scandals and were obsessing over new scandals, mostly related to President Bill Clinton’s sex life and failed real estate deals. Washington also wasn’t particularly interested in challenging the Reagan legacy, which at that time was beginning to solidify into a kind of mythology, with campaigns underway to name buildings and airports after the former president.

At times, Bob had doubts about his career decisions and the stories he was pursuing. As he wrote in Trick or Treason, a book outlining his investigation into the October Surprise Mystery, this search for historical truth can be painful and seemingly thankless.

“Many times,” he wrote, “I had regretted accepting Frontline’s assignment in 1990. I faulted myself for risking my future in mainstream journalism. After all, that is where the decent-paying jobs are. I had jeopardized my ability to support my four children out of an old-fashioned sense of duty, a regard for an unwritten code that expects reporters to take almost any assignment.”

Nevertheless, Bob continued his efforts to tell the full story behind both the Iran-Contra scandal and the origins of the Reagan-Bush era, ultimately leading to two things: him being pushed out of the mainstream media, and the launching of

I remember when he started the website, together with my older brother Sam, back in 1995. At the time, in spite of talk we were all hearing about something called “the information superhighway” and “electronic mail,” I had never visited a website and didn’t even know how to get “on line.” My dad called me in Richmond, where I was a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University, and told me I should check out this new “Internet site” he and Sam had just launched.

He explained over the phone how to open a browser and instructed me how to type in the URL, starting, he said, with “http,” then a colon and two forward slashes, then “www,” then “dot,” then this long address with one or two more forward slashes if I recall. (It wasn’t until years later that the website got its own domain and a simpler address.)

I went to the computer lab at the university and asked for some assistance on how to get online, dutifully typed in the URL, and opened this website – the first one I had ever visited. It was interesting, but a bit hard to read on the computer screen, so I printed out some articles to read back in my dorm room.

I quickly became a fan of “The Consortium,” as it was called back then, and continued reading articles on the October Surprise Mystery as Bob and Sam posted them on this new and exciting tool called “the Internet.” Sam had to learn HTML coding from scratch to launch this online news service, billed as “the Internet’s First Investigative ‘Zine.” For his efforts, Sam was honored with the Consortium for Independent Journalism’s first Gary Webb Freedom of the Press Award in 2015.

X-Files and Contra-Crack

At some point along the way, Bob decided that in addition to the website, where he was not only posting original articles but also providing the source documents that he had uncovered in the House office building basement, he would also take a stab at traditional publishing. He compiled the “October Surprise X-Files” into a booklet and self-published it in January 1996.

He was also publishing a newsletter to complement the website, knowing that at that time, there were still plenty of people who didn’t know how to turn a computer on, much less navigate the World Wide Web. I transferred from Virginia Commonwealth University to George Mason University in the DC suburbs and started working part-time with my dad and Sam on the newsletter and website.

We worked together on the content, editing and laying it out with graphics often culled from books at our local library. We built a subscriber base through networking and purchasing mailing lists from progressive magazines. Every two weeks we would get a thousand copies printed from Sir Speedy and would spend Friday evening collating these newsletters and sending them out to our subscribers.

The launching of the website and newsletter, and later an even-more ambitious project called I.F. Magazine, happened to coincide with the publication in 1996 of Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series at the San Jose Mercury-News. Webb’s series reopened the contra-cocaine controversy with a detailed examination of the drug trafficking networks in Nicaragua and Los Angeles that had helped to spread highly addictive crack cocaine across the United States.

The African-American community, in particular, was rightly outraged over this story, which offered confirmation of many long-standing suspicions that the government was complicit in the drug trade devastating their communities. African Americans had been deeply and disproportionately affected by the crack epidemic, both in terms of the direct impact of the drug and the draconian drug laws and mandatory minimum sentences that came to define the government’s approach to “the war on drugs.”

For a moment in the summer of 1996, it appeared that the renewed interest in the contra-cocaine story might offer an opportunity to revisit the crimes and misdeeds of the Reagan-Bush era, but those hopes were dashed when the “the Big Media” decided to double down on its earlier failures to cover this story properly.

Big Papers Pile On

The Los Angeles Times launched the attack on Gary Webb and his reporting at the San Jose Mercury-News, followed by equally dismissive stories at the Washington Post and New York Times. The piling on from these newspapers eventually led Mercury-News editor Jerry Ceppos to denounce Webb’s reporting and offer a mea culpa for publishing the articles.

The onslaught of hostile reporting from the big papers failed to address the basic premises of Webb’s series and did not debunk the underlying allegations of contra-cocaine smuggling or the fact that much of this cocaine ended up on American streets in the form of crack. Instead, it raised doubts by poking holes in certain details and casting the story as a “conspiracy theory.” Some of the reporting attempted to debunk claims that Webb never actually made – such as the idea that the contra-cocaine trafficking was part of a government plot to intentionally decimate the African-American community.

Gary Webb and Bob were in close contact during those days. Bob offered him professional and personal support, having spent his time also on the receiving end of attacks by journalistic colleagues and editors who rejected certain stories – no matter how factual – as fanciful conspiracy theories. Articles at The Consortium website and newsletter, as well as I.F. Magazine, offered details on the historical context for the “Dark Alliance” series and pushed back against the mainstream media’s onslaught of hostile and disingenuous reporting.

Bob also published the book Lost History which provided extensive details on the background for the “Dark Alliance” series, explaining that far from a baseless “conspiracy theory,” the facts and evidence strongly supported the conclusion that the Reagan-Bush administrations had colluded with drug traffickers to fund their illegal war against Nicaragua.

But sadly, the damage to Gary Webb was done.  With his professional and personal life in tatters because of his courageous reporting on the contra-cocaine story, he committed suicide in 2004 at the age of 49. Speaking about this suicide later on Democracy Now, Bob noted how painful it is to be ridiculed and unfairly criticized by colleagues, as his friend had experienced.

“There’s a special pain when your colleagues in your profession turn on you, especially when you’ve done something that they should admire and should understand,” he said. “To do all that work and then have the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times attack you and try to destroy your life, there’s a special pain in that.”

In consultation with his family, Bob and the Board of Directors for the Consortium for Independent Journalism launched the Gary Webb Freedom of the Press Award in 2015.

The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush

The presidency of George W. Bush was surreal for many of us, and no one more so than my dad.

In covering Washington politics for decades, Bob had traced many stories to “Dubya’s” father, George H.W. Bush, who had been implicated in a variety of questionable activities, including the October Surprise Mystery and Iran-Contra. He had also launched a war against Iraq in 1991 that seemed to be motivated, at least in part, to help kick “the Vietnam Syndrome,” i.e. the reluctance that the American people had felt since the Vietnam War to support military action abroad.

As Bob noted in his 1992 book Fooling America, after U.S. forces routed the Iraqi military in 1991, President Bush’s first public comment about the victory expressed his delight that it would finally put to rest the American reflex against committing troops to far-off conflicts. “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all,” he exulted.

The fact that Bush-41’s son could run for president largely on name recognition confirmed to Bob the failure of the mainstream media to cover important stories properly and the need to continue building an independent media infrastructure. This conviction solidified through Campaign 2000 and the election’s ultimate outcome, when Bush assumed the White House as the first popular-vote loser in more than a century.

Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had halted the counting of votes in Florida, thus preventing an accurate determination of the rightful winner, most of the national media moved on from the story after Bush was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2001. continued to examine the documentary record, however, and ultimately concluded that Al Gore would have been declared the winner of that election if all the legally cast ballots were counted.

At Consortiumnews, there was an unwritten editorial policy that the title “President” should never precede George W. Bush’s name, based on our view that he was not legitimately elected. But beyond those editorial decisions, we also understood the gravity of the fact that had Election 2000 been allowed to play out with all votes counted, many of the disasters of the Bush years – notably the 9/11 tragedy and the Iraq War, as well as decisions to withdraw from international agreements on arms control and climate change – might have been averted.

As all of us who lived through the post-9/11 era will recall, it was a challenging time all around, especially if you were someone critical of George W. Bush. The atmosphere in that period did not allow for much dissent. Those who stood up against the juggernaut for war – such as Phil Donahue at MSNBC, Chris Hedges at the New York Times, or even the Dixie Chicks – had their careers damaged and found themselves on the receiving end of death threats and hate mail.

While Bob’s magazine and newsletter projects had been discontinued, the website was still publishing articles, providing a home for dissenting voices that questioned the case for invading Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003. Around this time, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and some of his colleagues founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and a long-running relationship with Consortiumnews was established. Several former intelligence veterans began contributing to the website, motivated by the same independent spirit of truth-telling that compelled Bob to invest so much in this project.

At a time when almost the entire mainstream media was going along with the Bush administration’s dubious case for war, this and a few other like-minded websites pushed back with well-researched articles calling into question the rationale. Although at times it might have felt as though we were just voices in the wilderness, a major groundswell of opposition to war emerged in the country, with historic marches of hundreds of thousands taking place to reject Bush’s push for war.

Of course, these antiwar voices were ultimately vindicated by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the fact that the war and occupation proved to be a far costlier and deadlier enterprise than we had been told that it would be. Earlier assurances that it would be a “cakewalk” proved as false as the WMD claims, but as had been so often the case in Washington, there was little to no accountability from the mainstream media, the think tanks or government officials for being so spectacularly wrong.

In an effort to document the true history of that era, Bob, Sam and I co-wrote the book Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, which was published in late 2007. The book traced the work of Consortiumnews, juxtaposing it against the backdrop of mainstream media coverage during the Bush era, in an effort to not only correct the record, but also demonstrate that not all of us got things so wrong.

We felt it was important to remind readers – as well as future historians – that some of us knew and reported in real time the mistakes that were being made on everything from withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol to invading Iraq to implementing a policy of torture to bungling the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Obama Era

By the Obama presidency, had become a home to a growing number of writers who brought new perspectives to the website’s content. While for years, the writing staff had been limited primarily to Bob, Sam and me, suddenly, Consortiumnews was receiving contributions from journalists, activists and former intelligence analysts who offered a wide range of expertise – on international law, economics, human rights, foreign policy, national security, and even religion and philosophy.

One recurring theme of articles at the website during the Obama era was the enduring effect of unchallenged narratives, how they shaped national politics and dictated government policy. Bob observed that even a supposedly left-of-center president like Obama seemed beholden to the false narratives and national mythologies dating back to the Reagan era. He pointed out that this could be at least partially attributed to the failure to establish a strong foundation for independent journalism.

In a 2010 piece called “Obama’s Fear of the Reagan Narrative,” Bob noted that Obama had defended his deal with Republicans on tax cuts for the rich because there was such a strong lingering effect of Reagan’s messaging from 30 years earlier. “He felt handcuffed by the Right’s ability to rally Americans on behalf of Reagan’s ‘government-is-the-problem’ message,” Bob wrote.

He traced Obama’s complaints about his powerlessness in the face of this dynamic to the reluctance of American progressives to invest sufficiently in media and think tanks, as conservatives had been doing for decades in waging their “the war of ideas.” As he had been arguing since the early 1990s, Robert insisted that the limits that had been placed on Obama – whether real or perceived – continued to demonstrate the power of propaganda and the need for greater investment in alternative media.

He also observed that much of the nuttiness surrounding the so-called Tea Party movement resulted from fundamental misunderstandings of American history and constitutional principles. “Democrats and progressives should be under no illusion about the new flood of know-nothingism that is about to inundate the United States in the guise of a return to ‘first principles’ and a deep respect for the U.S. Constitution,” Bob warned.

He pointed out that despite the Tea Partiers’ claimed reverence for the Constitution, they actually had very little understanding of the document, as revealed by their ahistorical claims that federal taxes are unconstitutional. In fact, as Bob observed, the Constitution represented “a major power grab by the federal government, when compared to the loosely drawn Articles of Confederation, which lacked federal taxing authority and other national powers.”

Motivated by a desire to correct falsified historical narratives spanning more than two centuries, Bob published his sixth and final book, America’s Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Obama, in 2012.

Along with revenues from book sales, growing donations from readers enabled Bob to not only pay writers but also to hire an assistant, Chelsea Gilmour, who began working for Consortiumnews in 2014. In addition to providing invaluable administrative support, Chelsea also performed duties including research, writing and fact-checking.

Political Realignment and the New McCarthyism

Although at the beginning of the Obama era – and indeed since the 1980s – the name Robert Parry had been closely associated with exposing wrongdoing by Republicans, and hence had a strong following among Democratic Party loyalists, by the end of Obama’s presidency there seemed to be a realignment taking place among some of’s readership, which reflected more generally the shifting politics of the country.

In particular, the U.S. media’s approach to Russia and related issues, such as the violent ouster in 2014 of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, became “virtually 100 percent propaganda,” Bob said.

He noted that the full story was never told when it came to issues such as the Sergei Magnitsky case, which led to the first round of U.S. sanctions against Russia, nor the inconvenient facts related to the Euromaidan protests that led to Yanukovych’s ouster – including the reality of strong neo-Nazi influence in those protests – nor the subsequent conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

Bob’s stories on Ukraine were widely cited and disseminated, and he became an important voice in presenting a fuller picture of the conflict than was possible by reading and watching only mainstream news outlets. Bob was featured prominently in Oliver Stone’s 2016 documentary “Ukraine on Fire,” where he explained how U.S.-funded political NGOs and media companies have worked with the CIA and foreign policy establishment since the 1980s to promote the U.S. geopolitical agenda.

Bob regretted that, increasingly, “the American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’” Indeed, he said that to even suggest that there might be another side to the story is enough to get someone branded as an apologist for Vladimir Putin or a “Kremlin stooge.”

This culminated in late 2016 in the blacklisting of on a dubious website called “PropOrNot,” which was claiming to serve as a watchdog against undue “Russian influence” in the United States. The PropOrNot blacklist, including Consortiumnews and about 200 other websites deemed “Russian propaganda,” was elevated by the Washington Post as a credible source, despite the fact that the neo-McCarthyites who published the list hid behind a cloak of anonymity.

“The Post’s article by Craig Timberg,” Bob wrote on Nov. 27, 2016, “described PropOrNot simply as ‘a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds [who] planned to release its own findings Friday showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.’”

As Bob explained in an article called “Washington Post’s Fake News Guilt,” the paper granted PropOrNot anonymity “to smear journalists who don’t march in lockstep with official pronouncements from the State Department or some other impeccable fount of never-to-be-questioned truth.”

The Post even provided an unattributed quote from the head of the shadowy website. “The way that this propaganda apparatus supported [Donald] Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy,” the anonymous smear merchant said. The Post claimed that the PropOrNot “executive director” had spoken on the condition of anonymity “to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

To be clear, neither Consortiumnews nor Robert Parry ever “supported Trump,” as the above anonymous quote claims. Something interesting, however, did seem to be happening in terms of Consortiumnews’ readership in the early days of the Trump presidency, as could be gleaned from some of the comments left on articles and social media activity.

It did appear for some time at least that a good number of Trump supporters were reading Consortiumnews, which could probably attributed to the fact that the website was one of the few outlets pushing back against both the “New Cold War” with Russia and the related story of “Russiagate,” which Bob didn’t even like referring to as a “scandal.” (As an editor, he preferred to use the word “controversy” on the website, because as far as he was concerned, the allegations against Trump and his supposed “collusion” with Russia did not rise to the level of actual scandals such as Watergate or Iran-Contra.)

In his view, the perhaps understandable hatred of Trump felt by many Americans – both inside and outside the Beltway – had led to an abandonment of old-fashioned rules of journalism and standards of fairness, which should be applied even to someone like Donald Trump.

“On a personal note, I faced harsh criticism even from friends of many years for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump ‘Resistance,’” Bob wrote in his final article for Consortiumnews.

“The argument was that Trump was such a unique threat to America and the world that I should join in finding any justification for his ouster,” he said. “Some people saw my insistence on the same journalistic standards that I had always employed somehow a betrayal.”

He marveled that even senior editors in the mainstream media treated the unproven Russiagate allegations as flat fact.

“No skepticism was tolerated and mentioning the obvious bias among the never-Trumpers inside the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community was decried as an attack on the integrity of the U.S. government’s institutions,” Bob wrote. “Anti-Trump ‘progressives’ were posturing as the true patriots because of their now unquestioning acceptance of the evidence-free proclamations of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

An Untimely End and the Future of Consortiumnews

My dad’s untimely passing has come as a shock to us all, especially since up until a month ago, there was no indication whatsoever that he was sick in any way. He took good care of himself, never smoked, got regular check-ups, exercised, and ate well. The unexpected health issues starting with a mild stroke Christmas Eve and culminating with his admission into hospice care several days ago offer a stark reminder that nothing should be taken for granted.

And as many Consortiumnews readers have eloquently pointed out in comments left on recent articles regarding Bob’s health, it also reminds us that his brand of journalism is needed today more than ever.

“We need free will thinkers like you who value the truth based on the evidence and look past the group think in Washington to report on the real reasons for our government’s and our media’s actions which attempt to deceive us all,” wrote, for example, “FreeThinker.”

“Common sense and integrity are the hallmarks of Robert Parry’s journalism. May you get better soon for you are needed more now then ever before,” wrote “T.J.”

“We need a new generation of reporters, journalists, writers, and someone always being tenacious to follow up on the story,” added “Tina.”

As someone who has been involved with this website since its inception – as a writer, an editor and a reader – I concur with these sentiments. Readers should rest assured that despite my dad’s death, every effort will be made to ensure that the website will continue going strong.

Indeed, I think that everyone involved with this project wants to uphold the same commitment to truth-telling without fear or favor that inspired Bob and his heroes like George Seldes, I.F. Stone, and Thomas Paine.

That commitment can be seen in my dad’s pursuit of stories such as those mentioned above, but also so many others – including his investigations into the financial relationship of the influential Washington Times with the Unification Church cult of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the truth behind the Nixon campaign’s alleged efforts to sabotage President Lyndon Johnson’s Paris peace talks with Vietnamese leaders in 1968, the reality of the chemical attack in Syria in 2013, and even detailed examinations of the evidence behind the so-called “Deflategate” controversy that he felt unfairly branded his favorite football team, the New England Patriots, as cheaters.

Reviewing these journalistic achievements, it becomes clear that there are few stories that have slipped under’s radar, and that the historical record is far more complete thanks to this website and Bob’s old-fashioned approach to journalism.

But besides this deeply held commitment to independent journalism, it should also be recalled that, ultimately, Bob was motivated by a concern over the future of life on Earth. As someone who grew up at the height of the Cold War, he understood the dangers of allowing tensions and hysteria to spiral out of control, especially in a world such as ours with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all life on the planet many times over.

As the United States continues down the path of a New Cold War, my dad would be pleased to know that he has such committed contributors who will enable the site to remain the indispensable home for independent journalism that it has become, and continue to push back on false narratives that threaten our very survival.

Thank you all for your support.

In lieu of flowers, Bob’s family asks you to please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Consortium for Independent Journalism.

Unpacking the Shadowy Outfit Behind 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story

In late 2016, about 200 websites – including – were identified as “Russian propaganda outlets” by the dubious website PropOrNot, hiding behind a cloak of anonymity. Now, journalist George Eliason peels back some of that anonymity in this article originally posted at Washington’s Blog.

Editor’s note: In November 2016, was listed with about 200 other websites at the shadowy “PropOrNot” website, which was claiming to serve as a watchdog against undue “Russian influence” in the United States. The PropOrNot blacklist was elevated by the Washington Post as a credible source, despite the fact that the neo-McCarthyites who compiled the list hid behind a cloak of anonymity. As an article at Consortiumnews explained at the time, the Post granted PropOrNot anonymity “to smear journalists who don’t march in lockstep with official pronouncements from the State Department or some other impeccable fount of never-to-be-questioned truth.”

Now, George Eliason, an American journalist living in Ukraine, has published an article at Washington’s Blog – one of the other 200 blacklisted websites – examining the cast of characters who may be behind the PropOrNot endeavor. As explained in a disclaimer at the original article at Washington’s Blog: “A leading cybersecurity expert has publicly said that Mr. Eliason’s research as presented in this article does not violate the law. Washington’s Blog does not express an opinion about whether or not the claims set forth in this article are accurate or not. Make up your own mind.”

By George Eliason

A little over a year ago, the deep state graced the world with PropOrNot. Thanks to them, 2017 became the year of fake news. Every news website and opinion column now had the potential to be linked to the Steele dossier and Trump collusion with Russia. Every journalist was either “with us or against us.” Anyone who challenged the Russiagate narrative became Russia’s trolls.

Fortunately for the free world, the anonymous group known as PropOrNot that tried to “out” every website as a potential Russian colluder, in the end only implicated themselves. Turnabout is fair play and that’s always the fun part, isn’t it? With that in mind, I know the dogs are going to howl this evening over this one.

The damage PropOrNot did to scores of news and opinions websites in late 2016-2017 provides the basis of a massive civil suit. I mean huge, as in the potential is there for a tobacco company-sized class-action sized lawsuit. I can say that because I know a lot about a number of entities that are involved and the enormous amount of money behind them.

How serious is this? In 2016, a $10,000 reward was put out for the identities of PropOrNot players. No one has claimed it yet, and now, I guess no one will. There are times in your life that taking a stand has a cost. To make sure the story gets out and is taken seriously, this is one of those times.

In this article, you’ll meet some of the people staffing PropOrNot. You’ll meet the people and publications that provide their expenses and cover the logistics. You’ll meet a few of the deep state players. We’ll deal with them very soon. They need to see this as the warning shot over the bow and start playing nice with regular people. After that, you’ll meet the NGOs that are funding and orchestrating all of it. How am I doing so far?

The image above is the clincher or game winner that supplies the necessary proof up front and the direct path to PropOrNot. This was a passive scan of showing the administrative dashboard belongs to the as shown on the left of the image. On the right, it shows that uploads to come from and is a product of that publication.

Now we have the first layer of PropOrNot and our first four contestants. We have a slew of new media organizations that are influenced by, or feeding PropOrNot. Remember, fake news got off the ground and got its wings because of the attention this website received from the Washington Post in Dec. 2016.

At the Interpreter Mag level, here are the people:

  • Michael Weiss is the Editor-in-Chief at the According to his Linkd profile, he is also a National Security Analyst for CNN since July 2017 as well as an Investigative Reporter for International Affairs for CNN since April 2017. He has been a contributor there since 2015. He has been a Senior Editor at The Daily Beast since June 2015.
  • Catherine A. Fitzpatrick is a Russian translator and analyst for the Interpreter. She has worked as an editor for and the former Cold War project funded by the CIA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
  • Pierre Vaux is an analyst and translator for the Interpreter. He’s also an intern. He is a contributor to the Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, RFE/RL and Left Foot Forward and works at Dataminr Inc.
  • James Miller’s bio at the includes Managing Editor of The Interpreter where he reports on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. James runs the “Under The Black Flag” column at RFE/RL which provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. He is a contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, and other publications. He is an expert on verifying citizen journalism and has been covering developments in the Middle East, specifically Syria and Iran, since 2009. Miller also works for the U.S. Embassy in Kiev “diplo-page” the Kiev Post.

The Interpreter is a product of the Atlantic Council. The Digital Forensics Research Lab has been carrying the weight in Ukrainian-Russian affairs for the Atlantic Council. Fellows working with the Atlantic Council in this area include:

The strand that ties this crew together is they all work for Ukrainian Intelligence. If you hit the links, the ties are documented very clearly. We’ll get to that point again shortly, but let’s go further:

PropOrNot -> Atlantic Council -> Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)

Who are the BBG? The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is an independent agency of the United States government. According to its website, its mission is to “inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” Its projects include Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio y Television Marti, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.

The BBG’s bipartisan board was eliminated and replaced with a single appointed chief executive officer as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, which was passed in December 2016.

On January 1, 2016, the Interpreter became a special project of RFE/RL and under the oversight of the BBG. The Secretary of State had a seat on the board of the BBG until December 2016. Why the change?

During the 2016 election, the BBG developed a major conflict of interest. At least two BBG board members worked actively for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. These government officials were working against the president-elect after the election. It looks like it didn’t go unnoticed. In the following linked article, it shows that they should be investigated for their part in an attempted coup.

From a Nov 7, 2016, article– “Karen Kornbluh is helping refine and to get Hillary Clinton’s message out.” All of them are names to watch if Clinton wins — and key jobs at the FCC and other federal agencies are up for grabs.”

According to her bio: Karen founded the New America Foundation’s Work and Family Program and is a senior fellow for Digital Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Karen has written extensively about technology policy, women, and family policy for The Atlantic, The New York Times and The Washington Post. New York Times columnist David Brooks cited her Democracy article “Families Valued,” focused on “juggler families” as one of the best magazine articles of 2006.

Michael Kempner is the founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of MWW Group, a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, and may get a greater role if she is elected. Kempner is a member of the Public Relations Hall of Fame. Michael Kempner hired Anthony Weiner after the sexting scandal broke in 2011.

Jeff Shell, chairman of the BBG and Universal Filmed Entertainment is supporting a secondary role by being an honor roll donor to the Atlantic Council. While the BBG is supposed to be neutral it has continuously helped increase tensions in Eastern Europe. While giving to the Atlantic Council may not be illegal while in his position, currently, the Atlantic Council’s main effort is to ignite a war with Russia. This may set up a major conflict of interest.

As journalist Robert Parry wrote in October 2016, the propaganda campaign in favor of military confrontation with Russia was driven by “a consensus among the major think tanks of Official Washington, where there is near universal support for Hillary Clinton, not because they all particularly like her, but because she has signaled a return to neocon/liberal-hawk strategies.”

The people who were lining up to take senior positions in a Clinton White House believed that President Obama had been too timid in stressing the dangers of overreach and the need for restraint, especially in the Middle East, and it was time for a more hawkish approach, as embodied by Clinton.

Parry goes on to say that at the forefront of this propaganda campaign was the Atlantic Council, a think tank associated with NATO. Their main goal was “a major confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia,” Parry warned.

So, to make sense of all this, most of the people listed would have held cabinet positions in a Hillary Clinton presidency. If the Interpreter is a project of RFE/RL then the decision to go ahead with PropOrNot would have to go across their desk. That would include, possibly, then Secretary of State, John Kerry.

The unasked question of why would a U.S. Government Agency do this needs to be addressed. All the people listed above were actively working for Clinton to get her elected and throw Donald Trump’s campaign off the rails.

After the election, they were going to take care of Clinton’s “deplorables” by dissecting alternative media. I wrote about this before the election and I warned several major new sites what they could expect. I was right on the money. After she lost, it was already in motion. The deplorable media didn’t fall into a particular political pattern other than they did not promote Hillary Clinton.

The purpose of PropOrNot has been to trick people into demanding that freedom of speech be rolled back. This was/is to be done by destroying fact-based media. If you read further, the entire plan is laid out starting from 2015 when it started coming together.

These people want reality shaped on what the perceived majority (louder) group believes to be true, regardless of what the facts are. Perception based reality is only a Facebook like away from killing one person or elevating another to hero status regardless of what they have done.

That little statement about the free speech rally says it all. It’s something that would hardly be noticed unless you were looking for it because it is part of the metadata.

Now you can say it’s only a sentence and who cares? Nobody communicates through metadata do they? Wasn’t that what PropOrNot was all about? Yes, they do communicate through metadata. That’s why I look at it.

Do you see it? No? Look again. There in the metadata, at the bottom of the image is an ad for a job. Go for it and remember to mention the header. It could just as easily be hacking instructions, or a do not disturb sign. That’s why it pays to really research carefully.

The Boston ‘Free Speech’ Rally was billed by the social networks and MSM as a fascist rally. It was actually a Free Speech Rally. What they learned is that with just a little nudge, they can make you demand nationalist repression. Nice going Boston!

Hey, is this starting to sound a little conspiratorial? If it is, we need Russkie hackers with Guy Fawkes masks to make this work. They have to admit to changing international politics through hacking in 2016, belong to a foreign country, code in Russian, and use spear phishing techniques to lure people in. Let’s not forget that they also have to work for some form of Intelligence.

Most importantly, they have to work with and influence all of the people above. They will definitely impact U.S. foreign policy toward Russia. Let’s raise the stakes even more. The hackers have to answer to whoever is funding a lot of the illegal and immoral activities.

They are not even savvy enough to stay clear of outing each other. This is the Pravy Sektor hacker RUH8.  The common thread for these hackers is clear if you read the linked material on the profiles that make up these organizations. They work for Bellingcat, Informnapalm, the Atlantic Council, Ukrainian Intel, and the Diaspora.

In a follow-up article, I have reason to ask if they were given access to United States Government Top-Secret Secure Servers. I’m not kidding.

In a Euromaidan Press article dated Nov. 2, 2016, the hackers state enthusiastically “Ukrainian hackers have a rather high level of work. So the help of the USA… I don’t know, why would we need it? We have all the talent and special means for this. And I don’t think that the USA or any NATO country would make such sharp movements in international politics.”

And we have a winner. In 2016 the sharp movement in international politics was caused by…survey says….hacking!!!!

According to Donna Brazille, the Democratic Party servers were hacked multiple times and the hacking didn’t stop until December 2016. At this juncture, we should be able to agree that Seth Rich leaked the information to Wikileaks. But, now we are talking about other hacks. In the above-linked article, these hacker specifically say their favorite route is spear phishing email accounts.

In the article, you’ll also see they work directly for Ukrainian Intel. Bellingcat works directly for Ukrainian Intel and works with them and the Atlantic Council. is a product of Irena Chalupa who works for RFE/RL, the Atlantic Council and the Ukrainian government. works directly with them and is a product of the Ukrainian government. Crowdstrike has an ongoing relationship with Ukrainian Intel and these particular hackers. Is it possible that Crowdstrike conjured up Fancy Bear, the “hacker(s)” responsible for divulging internal Democratic Party emails that supposedly tipped the 2016 election in Trump’s favor? (“Fancy Bear,” by the way, is technically a set of tools, not a person.)

If so, this would mean that approval was given at the highest levels – presumably former Secretary of State John Kerry – for Ukrainian intelligence hackers to have access to servers inside a U.S. Government Agency because of PropOrNot and the Atlantic Council’s reliance on the hackers.

How are the Ukrainian hackers tied into PropOrNot at any level? James Miller isn’t shy about using their work. PropOrNot relies on the work of the Atlantic Council, Aric Toler, Aaron Weisburd, Clint Watts, and Joel Harding. The Ukrainian hackers work directly with InformNapalm and are the go-to resource for most of the people involved and all of the people just named.

As James Miller wrote at the Interpreter, “Below we have assessed the details of the reports from InformNapalm, and have expanded on their investigation.

Who does the Atlantic Council work for? It’s the same people who staff RFE/RL and works closely with the Ukrainian World Congress, as explained here:

“On 29 January 2016 in Washington, U.S.A., Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) President Eugene Czolij and Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe officially signed a Memorandum of Agreement to renew the cooperation between the UWC and the Atlantic Council, which began in September 2014.

“In accordance with this Memorandum, the UWC will continue its cooperation with the Atlantic Council on implementing the “Ukraine in Europe Initiative”, which aims to galvanize international support for an independent, sovereign and territorially integral Ukraine, including Crimea. This initiative is also intended to support reforms in Ukraine and its EuroAtlantic integration, and to counter Russian disinformation.”

The Ukrainian World Congress is represented in the U.S. Congress by the Ukrainian Caucus headed up by ISIS supporter and Nazi cheerleader Marcy Kaptur. Her Ukrainian Caucus represents people with political positions that scared Adolf Hitler in WWII.

The obvious takeaway is that a lawsuit is a bare minimum that needs to happen. People need to be investigated for crimes against the state. When we take a closer look at who had potential access to top-secret servers, which will become painfully clear.

Through their efforts to quash free speech and paint anyone who questions government propaganda as Kremlin stooges, these people are trying to tear the fabric of society into pieces. At the very least, they have earned a good tarring and feathering. When you look at the financial end of this a lawsuit in the billions would barely touch it.

Just one company the Ukrainian Diaspora started for this is valued over 100 million dollars. This will need to be a class action suit with a cease and desist to the BBG.

In early 2015, almost two years before most people took the idea of censorship seriously, I documented its inception. As often happens with many of the biggest stories of our times, I stumbled onto it by accident.

In early March 2015, Ukrainian Information Policy designer Joel Harding laid out what to expect going forward in the following statements: “In military IIO [Inform and Influence Operations] center on the ability to influence foreign audiences, US, and global audiences, and adversely affect enemy decision making through an integrated approach. Even current event news is released in this fashion. Each portal is given messages that follow the same themes because it is an across the board mainstream effort that fills the information space entirely when it is working correctly.”

The purpose of “Inform and Influence Operations” is not to provide a perspective, opinion, or lay out a policy. It is defined as the ability to make audiences “think and act” in a manner favorable to the mission objectives. This is done through applying perception management techniques which target the audience’s emotions, motives, and reasoning.

These techniques are not geared for debate. It is to overwhelm and change the target psyche.

Using these techniques information sources can be manipulated and those that write, speak, or think counter to the objective are relegated as propaganda, ill-informed, or irrelevant.

While the above sounds gloriously overoptimistic, Harding, along with his little band of Kremlin Troll hunters personally started developing the idea of organizations capable of blackballing journalists and publications in a way that could not be construed as censorship.

From another March 2015 articleA “Disinformation Charter” for Media and Bloggers: “Top-down censorship should be avoided. But rival media, from Al-Jazeera to the BBC, Fox and beyond, need to get together to create a charter of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Vigorous debate and disagreement are, of course, to be encouraged – but media organizations that practice conscious deception should be excluded from the community. A similar code can be accepted by bloggers and other online influencers.”

This “Disinformation Charter” for responsible behavior (Ministry of Truth?) he describes is to fight “conscious deception” can only be weighed against how he describes Propaganda. “The word is frequently used to describe any news emerging one’s opponent,” according to Harding.

Journalists who need to be excluded are those “our side” label as propagandists or active measure agents.”

Harding’s connections in media are huge. Through his friend Matthew Armstrong, Harding had access to and the ear of the board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, staffed by a who’s who of network and radio broadcast, print media and shortwave CEOs and heavy hitters. They are the ones behind RFE/RL.

On the other end of this in 2015, Joel Harding was assembling a group of miscreants to attack the social networks of different journalist and publications. The crude logic behind a direct assault was that by developing, training, and overseeing vast troll networks they could speak over their opposition (people that their employers wanted to be silenced) and subdue dissident online conversation and control the information.

Where this wasn’t feasible, they set up hack and harass attacks at various publications to get them to stop publishing hard-hitting journalists. This still hasn’t been entirely effective because it caused publishers to dig in and harden their internet properties instead.

The softer more indirect approach Harding pushed in March 2015 quickly developed into the unified media strategy he wanted for the U.S. and Europe. Control the information and don’t allow contradicting information or news into the media stream. When it does get in, call it propaganda.

Enter PropOrNot.