Did Al Qaeda Dupe Trump on Syrian Attack?

Special Report: Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evidence that could exonerate the Syrian government in the April 4 sarin atrocity and make President Trump look like an Al Qaeda dupe, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A new United Nations-sponsored report on the April 4 sarin incident in an Al Qaeda-controlled town in Syria blames Bashar al-Assad’s government for the atrocity, but the report contains evidence deep inside its “Annex II” that would prove Assad’s innocence.

If you read that far, you would find that more than 100 victims of sarin exposure were taken to several area hospitals before the alleged Syrian warplane could have struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Still, the Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM], a joint project of the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW], brushed aside this startling evidence and delivered the Assad guilty verdict that the United States and its allies wanted.

The JIM consigned the evidence of a staged atrocity, in which Al Qaeda operatives would have used sarin to kill innocent civilians and pin the blame on Assad, to a spot 14 pages into the report’s Annex II. The sensitivity of this evidence of a staged “attack” is heightened by the fact that President Trump rushed to judgment and ordered a “retaliatory” strike with 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase on the night of April 6-7. That U.S. attack reportedly killed several soldiers at the base and nine civilians, including four children, in nearby neighborhoods.

So, if it becomes clear that Al Qaeda tricked President Trump not only would he be responsible for violating international law and killing innocent people, but he and virtually the entire Western political establishment along with the major news media would look like Al Qaeda’s “useful idiots.”

Currently, the West and its mainstream media are lambasting the Russians for not accepting the JIM’s “assessment,” which blames Assad for the sarin attack. Russia is also taking flak for questioning continuation of the JIM’s mandate. There has been virtually no mainstream skepticism about the JIM’s report and almost no mention in the mainstream of the hospital-timing discrepancy.

Timing Troubles

To establish when the supposed sarin attack occurred on April 4, the JIM report relied on witnesses in the Al Qaeda-controlled town and a curious video showing three plumes of smoke but no airplanes. Based on the video’s metadata, the JIM said the scene was recorded between 0642 and 0652 hours. The JIM thus puts the timing of the sarin release at between 0630 and 0700 hours.

But the first admissions of victims to area hospitals began as early as 0600 hours, the JIM found, meaning that these victims could not have been poisoned by the alleged aerial bombing (even if the airstrike really did occur).

According to the report’s Annex II, “The admission times of the records range between 0600 and 1600 hours.” And these early cases – arriving before the alleged airstrike – were not isolated ones.

“Analysis of the … medical records revealed that in 57 cases, patients were admitted in five hospitals before the incident in Khan Shaykhun,” Annex II said.

Plus, this timing discrepancy was not limited to a few hospitals in and around Khan Sheikhoun, but was recorded as well at hospitals that were scattered across the area and included one hospital that would have taken an hour or so to reach.

Annex II stated: “In 10 such cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours.”

In other words, more than 100 patients would appear to have been exposed to sarin before the alleged Syrian warplane could have dropped the alleged bomb and the victims could be evacuated, a finding that alone would have destroyed the JIM’s case against the Syrian government.

But the JIM seemed more interested in burying this evidence of Al Qaeda staging the incident — and killing some expendable civilians — than in following up this timing problem.

“The [JIM] did not investigate these discrepancies and cannot determine whether they are linked to any possible staging scenario, or to poor record-keeping in chaotic conditions,” the report said. But the proffered excuse about poor record-keeping would have to apply to multiple hospitals over a wide area all falsely recording the arrival time of more than 100 patients.

The video of the plumes of smoke also has come under skepticism from Theodore Postol, a weapons expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who noted that none of the three plumes matched up with damage to buildings (as viewed from satellite images) that would have resulted from aerial bombs of that power.

Postol’s finding suggests that the smoke could have been another part of a staging event rather than debris kicked up by aerial bombs.

The JIM also could find no conclusive evidence that a Syrian warplane was over Khan Sheikhoun at the time of the video although the report claims that a plane could have come within about 5 kilometers of the town.

A History of Deception

Perhaps even more significantly, the JIM report ignored the context of the April 4 case and the past history of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front staging chemical weapons attacks with the goal of foisting blame on the Syrian government and tricking the U.S. military into an intervention on the side of Nusra and its Islamic-militant allies.

On April 4, there was a strong motive for Al Qaeda and its regional allies to mount a staged event. Just days earlier, President Trump’s administration had shocked the Syrian rebels and their backers by declaring “regime change” was no longer the U.S. goal in Syria.

So, Al Qaeda and its regional enablers were frantic to reverse Trump’s decision, which was accomplished by his emotional reaction to videos on cable news showing children and other civilians suffering and dying in Khan Sheikhoun.

On the night of April 6-7, before any thorough investigation could be conducted, Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles fired at the Syrian air base that supposedly had launched the sarin attack.

At the time, I was told by an intelligence source that at least some CIA analysts believed that the sarin incident indeed had been staged with sarin possibly flown in by drone from a Saudi-Israeli special operations base in Jordan.

This source said the on-the-ground staging for the incident had been hasty because of the surprise announcement that the Trump administration was no longer seeking regime change in Damascus. The haste led to some sloppiness in tying down all the necessary details to pin the atrocity on Assad, the source said.

But the few slip-ups, such as the apparent failure to coordinate the timing of the hospital admissions to after the purported airstrike, didn’t deter the JIM investigators from backing the West’s desire to blame Assad and also create another attack line against the Russians.

Similarly, other U.N.-connected investigators downplayed earlier evidence that Al Qaeda’s Nusra was staging chemical weapons incidents after President Obama laid down his “red line” on chemical weapons. The militants apparently hoped that the U.S. military would take out the Syrian military and pave the way for an Al Qaeda victory.

For instance, U.N. investigators learned from a number of townspeople of Al-Tamanah about how the rebels and allied “activists” staged a chlorine gas attack on the night of April 29-30, 2014, and then sold the false story to a credulous Western media and, initially, to a U.N. investigative team.

“Seven witnesses stated that frequent alerts [about an imminent chlorine weapons attack by the government] had been issued, but in fact no incidents with chemicals took place,” the U.N. report said. “While people sought safety after the warnings, their homes were looted and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these witnesses] had come forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.”

Dubious Evidence

Other people, who did allege that there had been a government chemical attack on Al-Tamanah, provided suspect evidence, including data from questionable sources, according to the report.

The report said, “Three witnesses, who did not give any description of the incident on 29-30 April 2014, provided material of unknown source. One witness had second-hand knowledge of two of the five incidents in Al-Tamanah, but did not remember the exact dates. Later that witness provided a USB-stick with information of unknown origin, which was saved in separate folders according to the dates of all the five incidents mentioned by the FFM [the U.N.’s Fact-Finding Mission].

“Another witness provided the dates of all five incidents reading it from a piece of paper, but did not provide any testimony on the incident on 29-30 April 2014. The latter also provided a video titled ‘site where second barrel containing toxic chlorine gas was dropped tamanaa 30 April 14’”

Some other witnesses alleging a Syrian government attack offered curious claims about detecting the chlorine-infused “barrel bombs” based on how the device sounded in its descent.

The U.N. report said, “The eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information.”

However, the claim itself is absurd since it is inconceivable that anyone could detect a chlorine canister inside a “barrel bomb” by “a distinct whistling sound.”

The larger point, however, is that the jihadist rebels in Al-Tamanah and their propaganda teams, including relief workers and activists, appear to have organized a coordinated effort at deception complete with a fake video supplied to U.N. investigators and Western media outlets.

For instance, the Telegraph in London reported that “Videos allegedly taken in Al-Tamanah … purport to show the impact sites of two chemical bombs. Activists said that one person had been killed and another 70 injured.”

The Telegraph quoted supposed weapons expert Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat and a senior fellow at the fiercely anti-Russian Atlantic Council, as endorsing the Al-Tamanah claims.

“Witnesses have consistently reported the use of helicopters to drop the chemical barrel bombs used,” said Higgins. “As it stands, around a dozen chemical barrel bomb attacks have been alleged in that region in the last three weeks.”

The Al-Tamanah debunking in the U.N. report received no mainstream media attention when the U.N. findings were issued in September 2016 because the U.N. report relied on rebel information to blame two other alleged chlorine attacks on the government and that got all the coverage. But the case should have raised red flags given the extent of the apparent deception.

If the seven townspeople were telling the truth, that would mean that the rebels and their allies issued fake attack warnings, produced propaganda videos to fool the West, and prepped “witnesses” with “evidence” to deceive investigators. Yet, no alarms went off about other rebel claims.

The Ghouta Incident

A more famous attack – with sarin gas on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013, killing hundreds – was also eagerly blamed on the Assad regime, as The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, Higgins’s Bellingcat and many other Western outlets jumped to that conclusion despite the unlikely circumstances. Assad had just welcomed U.N. investigators to Damascus to examine chemical attacks that he was blaming on the rebels.

Assad also was facing the “red line” threat from President Obama warning him of possible U.S. military intervention if the Syrian government deployed chemical weapons. Why Assad and his military would choose such a moment to launch a deadly sarin attack outside Damascus, killing mostly civilians, made little sense.

But this became another rush to judgment in the West that brought the Obama administration to the verge of launching a devastating air attack on the Syrian military that might have helped Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and/or the Islamic State win the war.

Eventually, however, the case blaming Assad for the 2013 sarin attack collapsed.

An analysis by genuine weapons experts – such as Theodore Postol, an MIT professor of science, technology and national security policy, and Richard M. Lloyd, an analyst at the military contractor Tesla Laboratories – found that the missile that delivered the sarin had a very short range placing its likely firing position in rebel territory.

Later, reporting by journalist Seymour Hersh implicated Turkish intelligence working with jihadist rebels as the likely source of the sarin.

We also learned in 2016 that a message from the U.S. intelligence community had warned Obama how weak the evidence against Assad was. There was no “slam-dunk” proof, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. And Obama cited his rejection of the Washington militaristic “playbook” to bomb Syria as one of his proudest moments as President.

With this background, there should have been extreme skepticism when jihadists and their allies made new claims about the Syrian government engaging in chemical weapons attacks. But there wasn’t.

The broader context for these biased investigations is that U.N. and OPCW investigators have been under intense pressure to confirm accusations against Syria and other targeted states.

Right now, the West is blaming Russia for the collapsing consensus behind U.N. investigations, but the problem really comes from Washington’s longtime strategy of coercing U.N. organizations into becoming propaganda arms for U.S. geopolitical strategies.

The U.N.’s relative independence in its investigative efforts was decisively broken early this century when President George W. Bush’s administration purged U.N. agencies that were not onboard with U.S. hegemony, especially on interventions in the Middle East.

Through manipulation of funding and selection of key staff members, the Bush administration engineered the takeover or at least the neutralizing of one U.N.-affiliated organization after another.

For instance, in 2002, Bush’s Deputy Under-Secretary of State John Bolton spearheaded the takeover of the OPCW as Bush planned to cite chemical weapons as a principal excuse for invading Iraq.

OPCW Director General Jose Mauricio Bustani was viewed as an obstacle because he was pressing Iraq to accept OPCW’s conventions for eliminating chemical weapons, which could have undermined Bush’s WMD rationale for war.

Though Bustani was just reelected to a new term, the Brazilian diplomat was forced out, to be followed in that job by more pliable bureaucrats, including the current Director General Ahmet Uzumcu of Turkey, who not only comes from a NATO country but served as Turkey’s ambassador to NATO and to Israel. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “U.N. Enablers of ‘Aggressive War.’”]

Since those days of the Iraq invasion, the game hasn’t changed. U.S. and other Western officials expect the U.N. and related agencies to accept or at least not object to Washington’s geopolitical interventions.

The only difference now is that Russia, one of the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, is saying enough is enough – and Russia’s opposition to these biased inquiries is emerging as one more dangerous hot spot in the New Cold War.

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




Trump and Democrats Misread Mandates

Exclusive: Neither the Democrats nor President Trump learned the right lessons from the 2016 election, leaving the nation divided at home and bogged down in wars abroad, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

One year ago, the American electorate delivered a confused but shocking result, the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, a quirky outcome in the Electoral College that put Trump in the White House even though Clinton got three million more votes nationally. But neither party appears to have absorbed the right lessons from that surprise ending.

The Democrats might have taken away from their defeat the warning that they had forgotten how to speak to the white working class, which had suffered from job losses via “free trade” and felt willfully neglected as Democrats looked toward the “browning of America.”

The choice of Clinton had compounded this problem because she came across as elitist and uncaring toward this still important voting bloc with her memorable description of half of Trump’s voters as “deplorables,” an insult that stung many lower-income whites and helped deliver Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Trump.

For more than a decade, some Democratic strategists had promoted the notion that “demography is destiny,” i.e., that the relative growth of Latino, Asian and African-American populations in comparison to whites would ensure a future Democratic majority. That prediction seemed to have been validated by Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2008 and 2012, but it also had the predictable effect of alienating many whites who felt disrespected and resentful.

So, while the Democrats and Clinton looked to a multicultural future, Trump used his experience in reality TV to communicate with this overlooked demographic group. Trump sold himself as a populist and treated the white working class with respect. He spoke to their fears about economic decline and gave voice to their grievances. He vowed to put “America First” and pull back from foreign military adventures that often used working-class kids as cannon fodder.

But much of Trump’s message, like the real-estate mogul himself, was phony. He really didn’t have policies that would address the needs of working-class Americans. Still, his promises of a massive infrastructure plan, good health-care for all, and rejection of unfair trade deals rang the right bells with enough voters to flip some traditionally Democratic blue-collar states to Republican red.

Staying Blind

You might have thought that the Democrats would respond to Trump’s shocking victory, which also left Republicans in charge of Congress and most statehouses around the country, by launching an apologetic listening tour to reconnect with working-class whites.

There also might have been a clear-eyed evaluation of the weaknesses of the Democratic presidential nominee who came to personify the corrupt insider-culture of Official Washington, exploiting government service for financial gain by raking in millions of dollars for speeches to Wall Street and other special interests.

Clinton also offended many peace voters because of her support for aggressive war, both as a U.S. senator backing the disastrous invasion of Iraq and as Secretary of State pushing for U.S. military interventions in Libya and Syria. Her apology for voting for the Iraq War came across as opportunistic and insincere, and her undisguised delight over Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s grisly murder (“We came; we saw; he died!”) seemed ghoulish.

And, whether fairly or not, many Americans were turned off by the Democratic Party’s emphasis on “identity politics,” the assumption that people would vote based on their gender, race or sexual orientation, rather than on bread-and-butter policies and war-or-peace issues.

In other words, the Democratic Party could have looked in the mirror and seen what many Americans found unappealing about the modern version of a party that had done so much to build the country, from the New Deal during the Great Depression through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and taking a leading role in addressing environmental, health-care and other national challenges.

But today’s Democrats instead chose to blame their plight largely on Russia and its alleged “meddling” in U.S. politics, a strategy that not only made little sense – given the many other reasons why voters turned away from Clinton and her party – but delivered a message to white working-class voters who had gone over to Trump that they were “stupid” and had been “duped.”

Whatever one thinks about white working-class voters who favored Trump, calling people gullible is not an effective way to woo back a voting bloc that already feels insulted and alienated.

Missing a Chance

So, when Trump was sworn in last Jan. 20, the ball was largely in his court. He could have focused on rebuilding America’s infrastructure; or he could have proposed a serious plan for improving access to health care; or he could have moved pragmatically to resolve a host of international conflicts that President Obama had left behind.

Instead, President Trump squandered his first days in office by getting into absurd arguments about his inaugural crowd size compared to Obama’s and denying that Clinton had won the national popular vote. His “alternative facts” made him a laughingstock.

Last spring, when I spoke with a group of Trump voters in West Virginia, they were still faithful to their choice – and wanted Washington to give him a chance – but they already were complaining about Trump’s personal outbursts on Twitter; they wanted him to concentrate on their real needs, not his petty squabbles.

But Trump wasn’t listening. He couldn’t kick his Twitter habit. He kept putting his giant ego in the way.

As his presidency stumbled forward, Trump also brushed aside suggestions that he reverse his image as a person who had no regard for facts by declassifying information about the conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere – to reveal situations where Obama and his team played propaganda games, rather than tell the truth.

And, lacking sufficient knowledge about the world, Trump failed when presented with sophisticated plans for reshaping U.S. policies in the Middle East to become less dependent on Israel and Saudi Arabia. Instead, Trump jumped into the arms of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman.

Pandering to Israeli-Saudi desires – and trying to show how tough he was – Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria over a dubious chemical-weapons incident; threatened more Mideast strife against Iran; and escalated the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Plus, he blustered about war against North Korea and personally insulted the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as “little rocket man.” Rather than rein in neoconservative aggression, he continued to unleash it.

When Trump did address domestic policy, he defined himself as basically just another right-wing Republican, supporting a health-care scheme that would have made matters worse for millions of Americans and backing a tax-cut plan that would mostly benefit the rich while blowing an even bigger hole in the deficit. All that red ink, in turn, drowned any hopes for investments in a modern infrastructure.

In other words, Trump exposed himself as the narcissistic incompetent that his critics said he was. He proved incapable of even acting presidential, let alone showing that he could use his power to make life better for average Americans. He was left with little to boast about beyond the economy that was bequeathed to him by Obama.

Republicans also had little to brag about, explaining why Ed Gillespie, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in Virginia in 2017, opted for ugly socially divisive attack ads as the best hope for defeating Democrat Ralph Northam, a Gillespie strategy called “Trumpism without Trump.”

But Gillespie’s approach backfired with a surprisingly strong turnout of Virginia’s voters putting Northam into the governor’s mansion and almost erasing the solid Republican majority in the state legislature.

Trump was left to tweet about how the Virginia results, which were echoed in other states’ elections on Tuesday, weren’t a reflection on his own popularity, ignoring his unprecedentedly low approval ratings for a president nine months into his first term.

So, the new political question is whether Trump can belatedly learn from his failures and finally undertake some actions at home and abroad that actually serve the interests of the American people and the world. Or will he continue to bumble and stumble along?

A parallel question is whether the Democrats will misinterpret their strong showing on Tuesday as encouragement to continue ignoring their own political and institutional shortcomings – and to keep on using Russia to bash Trump. Neither side has shown much aptitude for learning.

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




The Politics of Sexual Harassment and War

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has forced the ugly practice of sexual harassment into the public square, where private companies have proven to be more responsive than the political world, reports David Marks.

By David Marks

The multiple sexual-harassment allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein have sent tremors around the world with newly expressed outrage toward the machismo atmosphere of the film industry and other work environments, including the news business and politics.

Clearly, the problem reaches far beyond Weinstein. Allegations and lawsuits filed against Donald Trump mirror the worst of Weinstein’s behavior. Trump’s hot-mic 2004 interview with “Access Hollywood” surfaced during last year’s campaign, with him bragging about his ability to get away with aggressively kissing women and grabbing their genitals: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

But even that wasn’t enough to keep 63 million Americans from voting for Trump and putting him in the White House, although that was in part because many voters saw no moral superiority in Hillary Clinton, who not only disparaged women who complained about sexual harassment by her husband but who enthusiastically embraced war as a ready option for U.S. foreign policy.

Yet, while the political careers of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton survived disclosures of their predatory behavior, Weinstein’s movie empire quickly crumbled after a number of women came forward with accounts of how he used his power to gain sexual favors. Several prominent news personalities, from Bill O’Reilly at Fox to Michael Oreskes at NPR, have lost their jobs, too, amid other sexual harassment complaints.

Oddly, it seems that private industry is now more sensitive to allegations of this kind of sexual misconduct than the American political process, possibly because of the potential legal liabilities for companies as well as the organized partisan defenses that are immediately raised around the highest-level national leaders even when there’s clear evidence of their predatory behavior. While it’s true that some members of Congress have lost seats because of sexual misconduct, the situation has been different at the presidential level.

After Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” boast became public, his Republican “base” rallied around him and prevented the expected collapse of his poll numbers. Similarly, in the 1990s, when Democratic presidential candidate (and later President) Bill Clinton was accused of predatory sexual activity with female subordinates and other vulnerable women, loyal Democrats sprang to his defense and challenged the veracity of the accusers. The Clinton team complained about “cash for trash.”

‘David Cop-a-Feel’

Even earlier, rumors about President George H.W. Bush’s extramarital activities and a fondness for groping unsuspecting women were brushed aside as yellow journalism that should not be taken seriously about so honorable a man. Only recently – in the wake of the Weinstein scandal and more women denouncing boorish male behavior – was Bush pushed into apologizing for inappropriately grabbing women as the punch line to a joke about who his favorite magician is: “David Cop-a-Feel!”

It seems that the most powerful leaders, both in industry and government, are often the most aggressive predators; both on a personal level and with how they affect the social fabric of the country through their professional actions. There are parallels between the pattern of sexual harassment, in which the historical tendency was for women to stay silent, and the U.S. government’s military assaults abroad, which most Americans tolerate as somehow necessary or inevitable.

President George W. Bush inflicted “shock and awe” on Iraq, touching off the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the destabilization of the entire region yet he is now treated as a respected elder statesman when he criticizes Trump’s behavior. President Barack Obama authorized military operations in seven countries, including interventions in Libya and Syria that contributed to other humanitarian disasters, but Obama faced little public outrage among the American people for these actions.

President Trump appears to have learned from his predecessors that he can boost his sagging poll numbers by threatening and launching military strikes. He’ll also win some grudging acceptance from the elites of Official Washington who never seem to see a potential war that they don’t want to send the U.S. military to fight. In April, Trump got some brief relief from the Russia-gate “scandal” after he ordered the firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria in a hasty reaction to a dubious chemical weapons incident that he blamed on the Syrian government.

Trump played the tough-guy again on Sept. 19 with a bellicose speech to the United Nations General Assembly, threatening hostilities against North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela and boasting about his plan to escalate the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. Despite America’s recent history of aggressive war – not to mention historical crimes of genocide, slavery and imperialism – many Americans still profess how morally superior we are to other people.

Any American who dares challenge this “American exceptionalism” can expect to face ostracism much as women who complained about unwanted sexual advances by male bosses in years past could expect to be categorized as troublesome and unfit for professional advancement. That could be especially true in a highly subjective profession like acting.

Yet, whether it’s Hollywood’s “casting couch” or Official Washington’s actions on the international “stage,” it remains difficult to stop predatory behavior. When a culture of male dominance looms in every direction, it is a rare individual who will defy convention – even a morally bereft convention – and do what’s right. That’s especially true when the almost certain result will be loss of friends and loss of income. We have seen plenty of cases in which even women will make excuses for male misconduct, whether involving sex or war, as Hillary Clinton has shown.

But a culture that tolerates various forms of abusive and predatory behavior, whether it’s silence amid a culture of sexual harassment or blind patriotism toward dubiously justified wars, has lost its moral compass. A democracy that in principle embraces the equality of all with everyone possessing unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would have no tolerance for predators of any kind, whether at home, in the workplace or in warfare across the globe.

David Marks is a veteran documentary filmmaker and investigative reporter. His work includes films for the BBC, including Nazi Gold, on the role of Switzerland in WWII and biographies of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra.




Trump and the NAFTA Effect

President Trump has blamed NAFTA for eliminating manufacturing jobs for U.S. workers but it also caused economic dislocation in Mexico, driving some desperate Mexicans northward to the U.S., as Dennis J Bernstein reports.

By Dennis J Bernstein

During his campaign and his presidency, Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement if Canada and Mexico refused to renegotiate a “much better deal.”

“A Trump administration will renegotiate NAFTA,” Candidate Trump declared at one campaign stop after another, “and if we don’t get the deal we want, we will terminate NAFTA and get a much better deal for our workers and our companies; 100 percent.”

But as with many issues, the reality of Trump often doesn’t measure up to the rhetoric. I spoke to noted labor journalist and photographer David Bacon about the prospects for NAFTA and free trade under Trump, and the devastating impacts that such policies have had and will continue to have on workers and undocumented workers in particular.

Bacon’s books include The Right to Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration. I spoke to him on Nov. 1, 2017 for Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio.

Dennis Bernstein: During the campaign, Trump talked about getting rid of NAFTA.  Where are we now in “free trade land”?

David Bacon: Trump promised that he would renegotiate NAFTA, but, after all, Obama made the same promise when he was running for office.  They were appealing for the votes of people who were hurt by the agreement here.  NAFTA did have an enormous impact on working people in this country.

The Economic Policy Institute says that NAFTA cost the jobs of about 680,000 people in the US.  The Department of Labor used to keep track of job losses because people who could show that they lost their job because it was moved to Mexico were entitled to get extended unemployment benefits.  By the time Bush became president, that number had already reached about half a million people and Bush told the Department of Labor to stop counting because it was becoming politically embarrassing for all the politicians who had voted for the treaty.

There is no question that NAFTA did have an impact on people here and in many ways it led to a kind of displacement here that was similar to what we saw during the Depression, with people coming from the Dustbowl, but also what we are seeing with people coming here from Mexico.

Although the rhetoric of Trump and the Republican Party pits workers in this country against workers in Mexico–because we lost jobs, Mexicans must have gained those jobs–the reality is that Mexico lost many more jobs than they gained.  But one of the things that did happen to people in this country is the migration of people internally in the United States.

When the Green Giant plant shut down here in Watsonville and moved operations to Mexico, a thousand immigrant Mexican women lost those jobs so that Green Giant could then pay women in Mexico one-tenth the wage to do the same work.  Many of the women who lost their jobs had to go somewhere else to find work, the same way that people had to who lost their jobs in auto plants.

We also saw the same thing happen with people coming here from Mexico.  About 3 million farmers in southern Mexico lost their jobs because of corn dumping by big US agricultural corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, and many of those people ended up coming here to the United States.  One thing that progressive unions are trying to do is point out to people the similarity of experiences on either side of the border and that the only way to deal with the impact of treaties like NAFTA is by reaching across the border in solidarity.  The idea that the Trump administration is going to force General Motors to bring jobs back to the United States is just ridiculous.

Dennis Bernstein: So Trump hasn’t brought back thousands of jobs yet?

David Bacon: No, and he’s not going to.

Dennis Bernstein: What has been the trend with NAFTA , where do you see this going?

David Bacon: Trade policies are very much bipartisan.  NAFTA was negotiated under the [George HW] Bush administration, the Clinton administration pushed it through Congress, then we saw the Bush II administration follow the same policies.  These are all trade policies designed to enhance the profits of corporations and that is not going to change.  So long as both parties are serving those interests, nothing is going to change.

The only person in the political establishment who has had anything different to say is Bernie Sanders.  He said that a corporation that was responsible for relocating jobs should not be entitled to bid on federal contracts.  That would obviously have an enormous impact on a company like General Motors.

Dennis Bernstein: How does forced migration happen?  In the corporate media it is portrayed as all these people wanting to get the good life in the United States.  But this is not really going on.

David Bacon: Let’s take the corn farmers in Mexico as an example. When NAFTA was passed it pulled down the barriers that had been in place to prevent US corporations from dumping produce in Mexico.  So Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and the Continental Grain Company took subsidies that Congress gave them in the Farm Bill and used them to subsidize their sale of corn in Mexico.  They were selling corn at 19% below their own cost of production.  They were trying to drive Mexican producers out of the market.

Remember that the cultivation of corn started in Oaxaca. The first domesticated corn was found in a cave outside Oaxaca City.  So we owe the fact that we are able to eat corn at all to these communities.

Under NAFTA, 3 million farmers had to leave home and look for work elsewhere.  They went to Mexico City, they became workers in maquiladoras [manufacturing operations], in the export farms in Baja, California, and here in the United States.  The number of farm workers in California rose from about 20,000 to about 165,000 during the period of NAFTA.  In fact, they have become an enormous part of the farm labor workforce all along the Pacific Coast.

In many ways, this is a very sad story.  These communities were the ones who started corn cultivation.  These are very stable communities going back many thousands of years.  People don’t get up and move for the fun of it.  It takes the forces of survival to get people to leave.

Not all the consequences for us in the United States have been bad.  For instance, workers coming from Oaxaca have been the source of a movement to organize farm workers.  We now have a union of farmworkers in Washington state that was formed by workers from Oaxaca.  Here in California at a blueberry farm near Delano about 500 workers organized themselves into a union.  The reason is that people are coming from communities with a very stable culture of mutual support.

A demographer named Rick Mines did a survey of indigenous farm workers in California and found that a third of workers he interviewed reported earning wages that were less than minimum way.  Clearly people are not happy about the situation and try to organize to change it.

So this massive movement of people as a result of NAFTA is also leading to a rebirth of union organizing among farm workers in California.  But while this has had a very positive impact on working class life here, it has come at a terrible cost.  The uprooting of communities of people forced people to make some terrible choices.

A friend of mine is a high school teacher in Oaxaca.  He says that it is very difficult to stand up in front of his class and urge his students to get an education in Oaxaca when the students themselves have family members and friends working in the United States making more in real wages than he is making as a teacher.

This process of forced migration is robbing people of a future in the communities where they live.  This has terrible consequences for these communities.  There are towns in Oaxaca now where most of the working age population is living in the United States and the people who remain are surviving on the remittances being sent home by their family members here in California.  That is not a very stable situation and doesn’t promise much for the future.

That is what The Right to Stay Home is about.  People in Oaxaca are saying that there is nothing wrong with migration but it should be a voluntary choice.  The choice of whether to leave home and come to the United States should be voluntary, not something that is forced on people by hunger.

What has to change in order for that to happen?  The trade agreements must be changed to eliminate the dumping that leads to forced migration.  We need political change in both countries to give people the freedom to migrate, equality and decent jobs.  But we also need to ensure that the towns that people are coming from are places that are able to offer a future to their young people as they are growing up.

Dennis Bernstein: Has the situation gotten appreciably worse under Trump?

David Bacon: Unquestionably, the Obama administration did do terrible things.  We saw the deportation of 300,000 to 400,000 people a year, the growth of these privatized detention centers.  But the rhetoric of the administration and the ability of people to pressure the government is different.

The whole reason we have DACA to begin with is because young undocumented people organized themselves against deportation and were able, through action, to get people out of detention, finally sitting in in Obama’s campaign office in Chicago in 2012 and getting them to issue an executive order that gave legal immigration status to about 800,000 young people.

Now we have people in power like Jeff Sessions and Jim Kelly who are saying they are going to undo the kinds of advances that people made in the last eight years.  A lot of what Trump is talking about is undoing what immigrant rights activists and unions and progressive people have fought for over the last eight years.

Another thing is reinstituting these cooperation programs between the police and the immigration authorities that we were able to get rid of in California and New York.  Now here comes Trump and Sessions saying that they are going to reinstitute it.

In fact, the rate of deportations in the first months of the Trump administration have been much higher than in the last part of the Obama administration, when popular pressure was able to force the administration to stop this kind of cooperation between the police and immigration authorities.

Dennis Bernstein: In the 45 seconds remaining, what is your version of humane immigration reform?

David Bacon: It means that everybody has a legal status here in the United States. We need to decriminalize migration and get rid of the detention centers. We need to demilitarize the border.  And we need to stop the process by which people are being forced to migrate in order to survive.  Changing the trade agreements, including NAFTA, is another crucial part of humane immigration reform.

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 www.flashpoints.net.




Learning to Love McCarthyism

Special Report: Many American liberals who once denounced McCarthyism as evil are now learning to love the ugly tactic when it can be used to advance the Russia-gate “scandal” and silence dissent, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The New York Times has finally detected some modern-day McCarthyism, but not in the anti-Russia hysteria that the newspaper has fueled for several years amid the smearing of American skeptics as “useful idiots” and the like. No, the Times editors are accusing a Long Island Republican of McCarthyism for linking his Democratic rival to “New York City special interest groups.” As the Times laments, “It’s the old guilt by association.”

Yet, the Times sees no McCarthyism in the frenzy of Russia-bashing and guilt by association for any American who can be linked even indirectly to any Russian who might have some ill-defined links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, in the same edition that expressed editorial outrage over that Long Island political ad’s McCarthyism, the Times ran two front-page articles under the headline: “A Complex Paper Trail: Blurring Kremlin’s Ties to Key U.S. Businesses.”

The two subheads read: “Shipping Firm Links Commerce Chief to Putin ‘Cronies’” and “Millions in Facebook Shares Rooted in Russian Cash.” The latter story, which meshes nicely with the current U.S. political pressure on Facebook and Twitter to get in line behind the New Cold War against Russia, cites investments by Russian Yuri Milner that date back to the start of the decade.

Buried in the story’s “jump” is the acknowledgement that Milner’s “companies sold those holdings several years ago.” But such is the anti-Russia madness gripping the Establishment of Washington and New York that any contact with any Russian constitutes a scandal worthy of front-page coverage. On Monday, The Washington Post published a page-one article entitled, “9 in Trump’s orbit had contacts with Russians.”

The anti-Russian madness has reached such extremes that even when you say something that’s obviously true – but that RT, the Russian television network, also reported – you are attacked for spreading “Russian propaganda.”

We saw that when former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile disclosed in her new book that she considered the possibility of replacing Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket after Clinton’s public fainting spell and worries about her health.

Though there was a video of Clinton’s collapse on Sept. 11, 2016, followed by her departure from the campaign trail to fight pneumonia – not to mention her earlier scare with blood clots – the response from a group of 100 Clinton supporters was to question Brazile’s patriotism: “It is particularly troubling and puzzling that she would seemingly buy into false Russian-fueled propaganda, spread by both the Russians and our opponents about our candidate’s health.”

In other words, the go-to excuse for everything these days is to blame the Russians and smear anyone who says anything – no matter how true – if it also was reported on RT.

Pressing the Tech Companies

Just as Sen. Joe McCarthy liked to haul suspected “communists” and “fellow-travelers” before his committee in the 1950s, the New McCarthyism has its own witch-hunt hearings, such as last week’s Senate grilling of executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google for supposedly allowing Russians to have input into the Internet’s social networks.

Trying to appease Congress and fend off threats of government regulation, the rich tech companies displayed their eagerness to eradicate any Russian taint.

Twitter’s general counsel Sean J. Edgett told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and terrorism that Twitter adopted an “expansive approach to defining what qualifies as a Russian-linked account.”

Edgett said the criteria included “whether the account was created in Russia, whether the user registered the account with a Russian phone carrier or a Russian email address, whether the user’s display name contains Cyrillic characters, whether the user frequently Tweets in Russian, and whether the user has logged in from any Russian IP address, even a single time. We considered an account to be Russian-linked if it had even one of the relevant criteria.”

The trouble with Twitter’s methodology was that none of those criteria would connect an account to the Russian government, let alone Russian intelligence or some Kremlin-controlled “troll farm.” But the criteria could capture individual Russians with no link to the Kremlin as well as people who weren’t Russian at all, including, say, American or European visitors to Russia who logged onto Twitter through a Moscow hotel.

Also left unsaid is that Russians are not the only national group that uses the Cyrillic alphabet. It is considered a standard script for writing in Belarus, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbo-Croatia and Ukraine. So, for instance, a Ukrainian using the Cyrillic alphabet could end up falling into the category of “Russian-linked” even if he or she hated Putin.

Twitter’s attorney also said the company conducted a separate analysis from information provided by unidentified “third party sources” who pointed toward accounts supposedly controlled by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), totaling 2,752 accounts. The IRA is typically described in the U.S. press as a “troll farm” which employs tech-savvy employees who combat news and opinions that are hostile to Russia and the Russian government. But exactly how those specific accounts were traced back to this organization was not made clear.

And, to put that number in some perspective, Twitter claims 330 million active monthly users, which makes the 2,752 accounts less than 0.001 percent of the total.

The Trouble with ‘Trolling’

While the Russia-gate investigation has sought to portray the IRA effort as exotic and somehow unique to Russia, the strategy is followed by any number of governments, political movements and corporations – sometimes using enthusiastic volunteers but often employing professionals skilled at challenging critical information or at least muddying the waters.

Those of us who operate on the Internet are familiar with harassment from “trolls” who may use access to “comment” sections to inject propaganda and disinformation to sow confusion, to cause disruption, or to discredit the site by promoting ugly opinions and nutty conspiracy theories.

As annoying as this “trolling” is, it’s just a modern version of more traditional strategies used by powerful entities for generations – hiring public-relations specialists, lobbyists, lawyers and supposedly impartial “activists” to burnish images, fend off negative news and intimidate nosy investigators. In this competition, modern Russia is both a late-comer and a piker.

The U.S. government fields legions of publicists, propagandists, paid journalists, psy-ops specialists, contractors and non-governmental organizations to promote Washington’s positions and undermine rivals through information warfare.

The CIA has an entire bureaucracy dedicated to propaganda and disinformation, with some of those efforts farmed out to newer entities such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) or paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). NATO has a special command in Latvia that undertakes “strategic communications.”

Israel is another skilled player in this field, tapping into its supporters around the world to harass people who criticize the Zionist project. Indeed, since the 1980s, Israel has pioneered many of the tactics of computer spying and sabotage that were adopted and expanded by America’s National Security Agency, explaining why the Obama administration teamed up with Israel in a scheme to plant malicious code into Iranian centrifuges to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

It’s also ironic that the U.S. government touted social media as a great benefit in advancing so-called “color revolutions” aimed at “regime change” in troublesome countries. For instance, when the “green revolution” was underway in Iran in 2009 after the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Obama administration asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance so the street protesters could continue using the platform to organize against Ahmadinejad and to distribute their side of the story to the outside world.

During the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, Facebook, Twitter and Skype won praise as a means of organizing mass demonstrations to destabilize governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Back then, the U.S. government denounced any attempts to throttle these social media platforms and the free flow of information that they permitted as proof of dictatorship.

Social media also was a favorite of the U.S. government in Ukraine in 2013-14 when the Maidan protests exploited these platforms to help destabilize and ultimately overthrow the elected government of Ukraine, the key event that launched the New Cold War with Russia.

Swinging the Social Media Club

The truth is that, in those instances, the U.S. governments and its agencies were eagerly exploiting the platforms to advance Washington’s geopolitical agenda by disseminating American propaganda and deploying U.S.-funded non-governmental organizations, which taught activists how to use social media to advance “regime change” scenarios.

While these uprisings were sold to Western audiences as genuine outpourings of public anger – and there surely was some of that – the protests also benefited from U.S. funding and expertise. In particular, NED and USAID provided money, equipment and training for anti-government operatives challenging regimes in U.S. disfavor.

One of the most successful of these propaganda operations occurred in Syria where anti-government rebels operating in areas controlled by Al Qaeda and its fellow Islamic militants used social media to get their messaging to Western mainstream journalists who couldn’t enter those sectors without fear of beheading.

Since the rebels’ goal of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad meshed with the objectives of the U.S. government and its allies in Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Western journalists uncritically accepted the words and images provided by Al Qaeda’s collaborators.

The success of this propaganda was so extraordinary that the White Helmets, a “civil defense” group that worked in Al Qaeda territory, became the go-to source for dramatic video and even was awarded the short-documentary Oscar for an info-mercial produced for Netflix – despite evidence that the White Helmets were staging some of the scenes for propaganda purposes.

Indeed, one argument for believing that Putin and the Kremlin might have “meddled” in last year’s U.S. election is that they could have felt it was time to give the United States a taste of its own medicine.

After all, the United States intervened in the 1996 Russian election to ensure the continued rule of the corrupt and pliable Boris Yeltsin. And there were the U.S.-backed street protests in Moscow against the 2011 and 2012 elections in which Putin strengthened his political mandate. Those protests earned the “color” designation the “snow revolution.”

However, whatever Russia may or may not have done before last year’s U.S. election, the Russia-gate investigations have always sought to exaggerate the impact of that alleged “meddling” and molded the narrative to whatever weak evidence was available.

The original storyline was that Putin authorized the “hacking” of Democratic emails as part of a “disinformation” operation to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and to help elect Donald Trump – although no hard evidence has been presented to establish that Putin gave such an order or that Russia “hacked” the emails. WikiLeaks has repeatedly denied getting the emails from Russia, which also denies any meddling.

Further, the emails were not “disinformation”; they were both real and, in many cases, newsworthy. The DNC emails provided evidence that the DNC unethically tilted the playing field in favor of Clinton and against Sen. Bernie Sanders, a point that Brazile also discovered in reviewing staffing and financing relationships that Clinton had with the DNC under the prior chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The purloined emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta revealed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street (information that she was trying to hide from voters) and pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

A Manchurian Candidate?

Still, the original narrative was that Putin wanted his Manchurian Candidate (Trump) in the White House and took the extraordinary risk of infuriating the odds-on favorite (Clinton) by releasing the emails even though they appeared unlikely to prevent Clinton’s victory. So, there was always that logical gap in the Russia-gate theory.

Since then, however, the U.S. mainstream narrative has shifted, in part, because the evidence of Russian election “meddling” was so shaky. Under intense congressional pressure to find something, Facebook reported $100,000 in allegedly “Russian-linked” ads purchased in 2015-17, but noted that only 44 percent were bought before the election. So, not only was the “Russian-linked” pebble tiny – compared to Facebook’s annual revenue of $27 billion – but more than half of the pebble was tossed into this very large lake after Clinton had already lost.

So, the storyline was transformed into some vague Russian scheme to exacerbate social tensions in the United States by taking different sides of hot-button issues, such as police brutality against blacks. The New York Times reported that one of these “Russian-linked” pages featured photos of cute puppies, which the Times speculated must have had some evil purpose although it was hard to fathom. (Oh, those devious Russians!).

The estimate of how many Americans may have seen one of these “Russian-linked” ads also keeps growing, now up to as many as 126 million or about one-third of the U.S. population. Of course, the way the Internet works – with any item possibly going viral – you might as well say the ads could have reached billions of people.

Whenever I write an article or send out a Tweet, I too could be reaching 126 million or even billions of people, but the reality is that I’d be lucky if the number were in the thousands. But amid the Russia-gate frenzy, no exaggeration is too outlandish or too extreme.

Another odd element of Russia-gate is that the intensity of this investigation is disproportionate to the lack of interest shown toward far better documented cases of actual foreign-government interference in American elections and policymaking.

For instance, the major U.S. media long ignored the extremely well-documented case of Richard Nixon colluding with South Vietnamese officials to sabotage President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War peace talks to gain an advantage for Nixon in the 1968 election. That important chapter of history only gained The New York Times’ seal of approval earlier this year after the Times had dismissed the earlier volumes of evidence as “rumors.”

In the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan’s team – especially his campaign director William Casey in collaboration with Israel and Iran – appeared to have gone behind President Jimmy Carter’s back to undercut Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran and essentially doom Carter’s reelection hopes.

There were a couple of dozen witnesses to that scheme who spoke with me and other investigative journalists – as well as documentary evidence showing that President Reagan did authorize secret arms shipments to Iran via Israel shortly after the hostages were freed during Reagan’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981.

However, since Vice President (later President) George H.W. Bush, who was implicated in the scheme, was well-liked on both sides of the aisle and because Reagan had become a Republican icon, the October Surprise case of 1980 was pooh-poohed by the major media and dismissed by a congressional investigation in the early 1990s. Despite the extraordinary number of witnesses and supporting documents, Wikipedia listed the scandal as a “conspiracy theory.”

Israeli Influence

And, if you’re really concerned about foreign interference in U.S. elections and policies, there’s the remarkable influence of Israel and its perceived ability to effect the defeat of almost any politician who deviates from what the Israeli government wants, going back at least to the 1980s when Sen. Chuck Percy and Rep. Paul Findley were among the political casualties after pursuing contacts with the Palestinians.

If anyone doubts how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to pull the strings of U.S. politicians, just watch one of his record-tying three addresses to joint sessions of Congress and count how often Republicans and Democrats jump to their feet in enthusiastic applause. (The only other foreign leader to get the joint-session honor three times was Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill.)

So, what makes Russia-gate different from the other cases? Did Putin conspire with Trump to extend a bloody war as Nixon did with the South Vietnamese leaders? Did Putin lengthen the captivity of U.S. hostages to give Trump a political edge? Did Putin manipulate U.S. policy in the Middle East to entice President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and set the region ablaze, as Israel’s Netanyahu did? Is Putin even now pushing for wider Mideast wars, as Netanyahu is?

Indeed, one point that’s never addressed in any serious way is why is the U.S. so angry with Russia while these other cases, in which U.S. interests were clearly damaged and American democracy compromised, were treated largely as non-stories.

Why is Russia-gate a big deal while the other cases weren’t? Why are opposite rules in play now – with Democrats, many Republicans and the major news media flogging fragile “links,” needling what little evidence there is, and assuming the worst rather than insisting that only perfect evidence and perfect witnesses be accepted as in the earlier cases?

The answer seems to be the widespread hatred for President Trump combined with vested interests in favor of whipping up the New Cold War. That is a goal valued by both the Military-Industrial Complex, which sees trillions of dollars in strategic weapons systems in the future, and the neoconservatives, who view Russia as a threat to their “regime change” agendas for Syria and Iran.

After all, if Russia and its independent-minded President Putin can be beaten back and beaten down, then a big obstacle to the neocon/Israeli goal of expanding the Mideast wars will be removed.

Right now, the neocons are openly lusting for a “regime change” in Moscow despite the obvious risks that such turmoil in a nuclear-armed country might create, including the possibility that Putin would be succeeded not by some compliant Western client like the late Boris Yeltsin but by an extreme nationalist who might consider launching a nuclear strike to protect the honor of Mother Russia.

The Democrats, the liberals and even many progressives justify their collusion with the neocons by the need to remove Trump by any means necessary and “stop fascism.” But their contempt for Trump and their exaggeration of the “Hitler” threat that this incompetent buffoon supposedly poses have blinded them to the extraordinary risks attendant to their course of action and how they are playing into the hands of the war-hungry neocons.

A Smokescreen for Repression

There also seems to be little or no concern that the Establishment is using Russia-gate as a smokescreen for clamping down on independent media sites on the Internet. Traditional supporters of civil liberties have looked the other way as the rights of people associated with the Trump campaign have been trampled and journalists who simply question the State Department’s narratives on, say, Syria and Ukraine are denounced as “Moscow stooges” and “useful idiots.”

The likely outcome from the anti-Russian show trials on Capitol Hill is that technology giants will bow to the bipartisan demand for new algorithms and other methods for stigmatizing, marginalizing and eliminating information that challenges the mainstream storylines in the cause of fighting “Russian propaganda.”

The warning from powerful senators was crystal clear. “I don’t think you get it,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, warned social media executives last week. “You bear this responsibility. You created these platforms, and now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it. Or we will.”

As this authoritarian if not totalitarian future looms and as the dangers of nuclear annihilation from an intentional or unintentional nuclear war with Russia grow, many people who should know better are caught up in the Russia-gate frenzy.

I used to think that liberals and progressives opposed McCarthyism because they regarded it as a grave threat to freedom of thought and to genuine democracy, but now it appears that they have learned to love McCarthyism except, of course, when it rears its ugly head in some Long Island political ad criticizing New York City.

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




How US Blunders Strengthened Iran

Exclusive: By echoing the Israeli-Saudi bellicosity toward Iran, President Trump is repeating the same mistakes of his predecessors and inviting wider Mideast wars that could enhance Iran’s position, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Behind only North Korea, Iran is the country the Trump administration vilifies most. The White House endorses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s injunction that “We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.”

Parroting Netanyahu’s claim that Iran is “busy gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East, CIA Director and conservative GOP stalwart Mike Pompeo warned in June that Iran — which he branded “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism” — now wields “enormous influence . . . that far outstrips where it was six or seven years ago.”

In an interview with MSNBC, Pompeo elaborated, “Whether it’s the influence they have over the government in Baghdad, whether it’s the increasing strength of Hezbollah and Lebanon, their work alongside the Houthis in Iran, (or) the Iraqi Shias that are fighting along now the border in Syria . . . Iran is everywhere throughout the Middle East.”

Few would deny that Iran’s influence in the region has grown over the past decade. What’s missing from such dire warnings of its imperial designs, however, is any reflection on how aggressive policies by the United States and its allies have consistently backfired, creating needless chaos that Iran has exploited as a matter of self-interest and self-defense.

Consider the case of Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based Shiite organization that Israeli leaders describe as a major threat and almost certainly the target of Israel’s next war. Although the Iranian-backed force intervened actively in Syria to back the Assad government, it disclaims any intent to start a war with Israel.

It does, however, declare with great bravado its intent to deter another Israeli invasion of its homeland. “Israel should think a million times before waging any war with Lebanon,” said its leader earlier this year.

Spurred by Israeli Invasions

In fact, Hezbollah owes its very existence to Israel’s repeated invasions of their country. In 1982, Israel broke a cease-fire with the Palestine Liberation Organization and invaded southern Lebanon with 60,000 troops. The Reagan administration took no steps to stop that invasion, which caused thousands of civilian casualties and turned much of the population against Israel.

With Iranian money and guidance, the Shiite resistance in Lebanon coalesced around the organization that became known as Hezbollah. “We are only exercising our legitimate right to defend our Islam and the dignity of our nation,” the group claimed in one of its ideological tracts. “We appealed to the world’s conscience, but heard nothing.”

Years later, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak conceded that “It was our presence [in Lebanon] that created Hezbollah.” Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin seconded that assessment, saying that Israel had let the “genie out of the bottle.”

In 2006, Israel again invaded Lebanon, this time to wipe out Hezbollah. Israel’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians drew condemnation from international human rights organizations. They also succeeded in strengthening the very enemy Israel sought to annihilate.

“Especially since the 2006 war with Israel, . . . an overwhelming majority of the Shi’a have embraced Hezbollah as the defender of their community,” writes Augustus Richard Norton in his study, Hezbollah: A Short History. “This suggests that outsiders . . . seeking to reduce Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon must redress the security narrative rather than take steps that validate it.”

Instead, of course, the United States and its Sunni Arab and Turkish allies promoted the violent overthrow of Syria’s government, drawing Hezbollah forces into the fight for the survival of their longtime ally. While Hezbollah has paid a political and human price for its military expedition, its soldiers have gained tremendous battle experience, making them all the more formidable a foe.

The Iraqi Gift

Washington’s greatest geostrategic gift to Iran was the unprovoked U.S. overthrow of Iran’s arch enemy, Saddam Hussein, in 2003. Iran had lost hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in an eight-year war with Iraq, triggered by Saddam’s invasion in 1980. The Bush administration not only killed Saddam, but handed political power to Iraq’s majority Shiite population, which looked to Iran for spiritual and political guidance.

That windfall may not have been entirely luck. The leading Iraqi lobbyist for war, the neoconservatives’ darling Ahmed Chalabi, was later identified by U.S. authorities as a key Iranian intelligence asset. U.S. counterintelligence agents concluded that Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles, who peddled false claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, had “been used as agents of a foreign intelligence service … to reach into and influence the highest levels of the U.S. government,” in the words of a Senate Intelligence Committee report.

But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office shut down the investigation, leaving Chalabi to direct the political purge of Iraq’s government and then become Iraq’s deputy prime minister and oil minister. The Chalabi-led purge targeted Iraq’s Sunni politicians, aggravating the country’s sectarian divide and fueling the insurgency that still plagues the country today. The violence strengthened Iran’s hand in the country, as Shiite militia sought Tehran’s help to defend their communities.

At the same time, popular opposition to the U.S. occupation led to the rise of radical Sunni terrorists. It was from their swelling ranks in Iraq’s prisons that ISIS was born. ISIS made lightning gains across much of western Iraq in June 2014, with the conquest of Fallujah, Tikrit, and Mosul, the country’s second most populous city. With its very existence in jeopardy, Iraq’s beleaguered government welcomed Iran’s immediate dispatch of 2,000 soldiers to help block the ISIS offensive. Syria’s air force also began striking ISIS bases in coordination with Baghdad.

Misguided Pressure

Washington, in contrast, rejected Iraq’s call for air strikes and suggested that its Shiite-led government should step down to placate aggrieved Sunnis. Only in August 2014 did President Obama authorize limited bombing of ISIS to protect minorities threatened by their military advance. Needless to say, many Iraqis were grateful to Iran for its military support at a critical time.

“The Iranians are playing a long game and a waiting game,” said Sajad Jiyad, the director of the Al Bayan Center for Planning and Studies in Baghdad. “They put their skins on the line. They lost three or four generals plus a dozen senior officers.”

So when a “hamfisted” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Saudi Arabia, recently demanded that Baghdad send home Iranian-backed paramilitary units that helped defeat ISIS, it didn’t go over well with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” his office stated. Abadi called the Popular Mobilization forces “Iraqi patriots,” not mere proxies of Iran, and insisted that they “should be encouraged because they will be the hope of country and the region.” Score another few points for Tehran.

ISIS might never have spread into Syria had not the United States publicly promoted the overthrow of the Assad government in 2011, following years of covert efforts by Washington and Israel to weaken the regime and promote sectarian divisions within Syria.

Contributing greatly to the rise of radical Islamist forces in Syria was the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which unleashed large stocks of arms and hundreds of hardened fighters to spread their revolution into Syria.

By late 2011, Sunni-led states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar began financing and arming militant Islamist rebels in Syria, including Al Qaeda and even ISIS. The resulting war killed hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians, uprooted millions of refugees, and laid waste to ancient cities.

The Obama administration proved itself just as deluded as the Bush administration about the efficacy of armed intervention. Describing hopes by the White House that Libya’s uprising would “ripple out to other nations in the region” and fuel anti-regime movements in Syria and Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Syria has served for 30 years as Iran’s closest strategic ally in the region. U.S. officials believe the growing challenge to Mr. Assad’s regime could motivate Iran’s democratic forces.”

Instead, of course, Syria’s conflict prompted Iran’s hardliners to send Revolutionary Guard units and Hezbollah forces to the defense of their ally. With the help of Russian air power, they turned the tide in Assad’s favor, leaving the Damascus regime intact and greatly in Tehran’s debt.

The Yemeni Mess

Echoing longstanding claims by Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration also insists that Iran is a major backer of Houthi tribal forces who swept down from northern Yemen to seize control of most of the country in early 2015. That March, with U.S. backing, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states launched a scorched–earth military campaign to oust the Houthis, in the name of resisting Iran.

The coalition’s indiscriminate bombing of industrial and other civilian targets, including schools and hospitals, has laid waste to much of the country and destroyed the economy. Its blockade of ports caused mass hunger and triggered the world’s worst cholera epidemic.

“Cynics can argue that the real strategy of the Saudi coalition is to rely on starvation and disease to wear down the Yemeni people,” observed former White House adviser and CIA analyst Bruce Riedel. “The United Nations has labeled the war the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world . . . (Yet) Iran is the only winner, as it provides aid and expertise to the Houthis at a tiny fraction of the cost of the Saudi war effort while the Islamic Republic’s Gulf enemies spend fortunes on a conflict they jumped into with no endgame or strategy.”

Experts point out that Washington picked the wrong ally in this fight. “The Houthis are one of the few groups in the Middle East that has little intention or ability to confront the United States or Israel,” writes Harvard lecturer Asher Orkaby. “And far from being aligned with extremists, the Houthi movement has repeatedly clashed with the Islamic State . . . and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It is Saudi Arabia that has long supported Sunni Islamist groups in Yemen.”

To compound the irony, the paranoid sheiks in Riyadh created the very threat they set out to crush with their invasion in 2015. Iranian ties to the Houthis were negligible before then. Remarking on years of attempts to smear them as pawns of Iran, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen reported in a classified cable in 2009, “The fact that . . .  there is still no compelling evidence of that link must force us to view this claim with some skepticism.”

Two former members of the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning have recently confirmed that “the vast majority of the Houthi arsenal . . . was seized from Yemeni army stockpiles,” not provided by Iran.

As the devastating war grinds on, however, Iran has provided the Houthis with modest training, advice, and ground munitions. “Iran has exploited, on the cheap, the Saudi-led campaign, and thus made the expansion of Iranian influence in Yemen a Saudi self-fulfilling prophecy,” they observe.

“By catering to the Saudis in Yemen,” they add, “the United States has . . . strengthened Iranian influence in Yemen, undermined Saudi security, brought Yemen closer to the brink of collapse, and visited more death, destruction, and displacement on the Yemeni population.”

Qatar and Beyond

In a moment of particular lunacy, President Trump this June tweeted his support for a Saudi-led political and economic blockade of Qatar, a tiny but gas-rich Gulf emirate. Riyadh is aggrieved in part by Qatar’s sponsorship of Al Jazeera, the politically nettlesome broadcaster. Trump’s action surprised and embarrassed the Pentagon, which operates a huge military base in Qatar.

Iran quickly took advantage of this latest Saudi blunder. It opened its airspace to Qatari flights that were barred from crossing the Arabian Peninsula. It shipped food to replace supplies lost by the closure of the Saudi-Qatari border. In gratitude, Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Tehran after recalling its ambassador two years ago.

“This dispute has pushed Qatar towards other players in the region who are critical: Iran, Turkey, Russia, China,” said Rob Richer, former Associate Deputy Director for Operations at the CIA. “These are players who now have a lot more influence as we diminish our influence in the region. In this way, the blockade has actually undermined everything that the Saudis and Emiratis wanted by pushing the Qataris into the arms of these other regional players.”

Time after time, in other words, the United States and its regional supporters have made a mess of matters with their overt and covert military interventions in the Middle East. It’s only natural that Iran, having long been targeted by Washington and its allies (sometimes for understandable reasons), tries to seize opportunities to defend its interests.

The lesson we should learn is that curbing Iran and promoting U.S. security interests will require less intervention from afar, not more self-defeating forays into the region.

As Chatham House research fellow Renad Mansour recently observed, until the United States overcomes its counterproductive reactions to obsessive fears of Iranian influence, “the Iranophobes will be right about one thing: Iran is the smarter player in the region.”

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books related to national security and international relations, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War, and the International Drug Trade (Stanford University Press, 2012).




How Afghans View the Endless US War

To understand why the 16-year-old U.S. war in Afghanistan continues to fail requires a look from the ground where Afghans live and suffer, a plight breeding strong opposition to the U.S. presence, explains Kathy Kelly.

By Kathy Kelly

On a recent Friday at the Afghan Peace Volunteers‘ (APV) Borderfree Center, here in Kabul, 30 mothers sat cross-legged along the walls of a large meeting room. Masoumah, who co-coordinates the Center’s “Street Kids School” project, had invited the mothers to a parents meeting. Burka-clad women who wore the veil over their faces looked identical to me, but Masoumah called each mother by name, inviting the mothers, one by one, to speak about difficulties they faced.

From inside the netted opening of a burka, we heard soft voices and, sometimes, sheer despair. Others who weren’t wearing burkas also spoke gravely. Their eyes expressed pain and misery, and some quietly wept. Often a woman’s voice would break, and she would have to pause before she could continue:

“I have debts that I cannot pay,” whispered the first woman.

“My children and I are always moving from place to place. I don’t know what will happen.”

“I am afraid we will die in an explosion.”

“My husband is paralyzed and cannot work. We have no money for food, for fuel.”

“My husband is old and sick. We have no medicine.”

“I cannot feed my children.”

“How will we live through the winter?”

“I have pains throughout my whole body.”

“I feel hopeless.”

“I feel depressed, and I am always worried.”

“I feel that I’m losing my mind.”

The mothers’ travails echo across Afghanistan, where, as one article noted, “one-third of the population lives below the poverty line (earning less than $2 a day) and a further 50 percent are barely above this.” Much of the suffering voiced was common: most of the women had to support their families as they moved from house to house, not being able to come up with the rent for a more permanent space, and many women experienced severe body pains, often a result of chronic stress.

Water Shortages

Last week, our friend Turpekai visited the Borderfree Center and spoke with dismay about her family’s well having gone dry. Later that morning, Inaam, one of the students in the “Street Kids School,” said that his family faces the same problem.

Formerly, wells dug to depths of 20 to 30 meters were sufficient to reach the water table. But now, with the water table dropping an average of one meter a year, new wells must be dug to depths of 80 meters or more. Inflowing refugees create increased demands on the water table in times of drought and so do the extravagant water needs of an occupying military, and the world’s largest fortified embassy, that can dig as deep for water as it wants.

Families living on less than $2 a day have little wherewithal to dig deep wells or begin paying for water. The water has been lost to war.

Sarah Ball, a nurse from Chicago, arrived in Kabul one week ago. Together we visited the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, feeling acutely grateful for an opportunity to donate blood and hear an update from one of their logistical coordinators about new circumstances they encounter in Kabul.

In past visits to Kabul, staff at the Emergency Hospital would point happily to their volleyball court, the place where they could find diversion and release from tensions inherent in their life saving work. Now, as an average of two “mass casualties” happen each week, often involving many dozens of patients severely injured by war, a triage unit has replaced the volleyball court. Kabul, formerly one of the safest places in Afghanistan, has now become one of the most dangerous.

The Taliban and other armed groups have vowed to continue fighting as long as the U.S. continues to occupy Afghan land, to wage attacks on Afghans and supply weapons to the various fighting factions. The United States maintains nine major bases in Afghanistan and many smaller forward operating bases.

Trump’s Continued War

Following President Trump’s announcement of an increase in U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported that “Direct U.S. spending on the war in Afghanistan will rise to approximately $840.7 billion if the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget is approved.”

What on earth have they accomplished?!

Masoumah asked each mother a second question: What are you thankful for? The atmosphere became a little less grim as many of the mothers said they were grateful for their children. Beholding the lively, bright and beautiful youngsters who fill the Borderfree Center each Friday, I could well understand their gratitude.

The following day, we joined two dozen young girls living in a squalid refugee camp. Crowded into a small makeshift classroom with a mud floor, our friend Nematullah taught a two-hour class focused on forming peace circles. The little girls were radiant, exuberant and eager for better futures. Nematullah later told us that all their families are internally displaced, many because of war.

I feel deeply moved by the commitment my young friends have made to reject wars and dominance, preferring instead to live simply, share resources, and help protect the environment.??Zarghuna works full-time to coordinate projects at the Border Free Center. She and Masoumah feel passionately committed to social change which they believe will be organized “from the ground up.”

I showed Zarghuna a Voices accounting sheet tallying donations entrusted to us for the Street Kids School and The Duvet Project. I wanted to assure her of grassroots support from people giving what they can.

“Big amounts of money coming from the U.S. military destroys us,” Zarghuna said. “But small amounts that are given to the people can help change lives and make them a little better.”

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). In Kabul, she is the guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)




Israel Set to Block Palestinian Unity

As the Palestinians seek unity between their two rival factions, Israel stands ready to obstruct the process and thus maintain its complaint that the Palestinians remain divided, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The latest attempt at reconciliation between the competing Palestinian parties Fatah and Hamas has produced a preliminary agreement that Egypt brokered and was announced earlier this month. The reasons for movement on this subject at this time involve motivations of the Egyptians, who want to use improved relations with authorities in the Gaza Strip to help defeat extremists who are active in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt, which has taken the side of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in their dispute with Qatar, also hopes to reduce Qatari and Turkish influence among the Palestinians.  The evolving motivations of Hamas also are pertinent. The group has come to realize how thankless a task is the governing of the Gaza Strip, which is beset by an Israeli semi-blockade and unrepaired damage from Israel’s military assaults.

The preliminary agreement is little more than a joint statement of aspirations and a timetable for resolving outstanding issues. The main substantive advance has been Hamas’s declared willingness to turn over administration of the Strip to the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (P.A.). Laborious negotiations lie ahead to resolve questions such as how to integrate two separate cadres of civil servants.

Historically based ill will and mistrust also must be overcome. Palestinians, just like other nations, have politics characterized by ideological and generational divides, some of which can be sharp. Anyone familiar with U.S. politics, with its considerable ill will and sharp divides, ought to find this easy to understand.

An additional complicating factor of late is the ambition of Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief in Gaza who has been leveraging his friendship with the UAE (where he has lived in exile) to re-insert himself in Palestinian politics and whom P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas considers a rival for power. Complete Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas would be uncertain even if the matter were left entirely to the Palestinians themselves.

Israel’s Obstruction

But reconciliation will not be left to the Palestinians themselves, just as it has not been left to them in the past. Israel has actively and repeatedly thwarted reconciliation. In addition to everything Israel has done to undermine the authority and credibility of the P.A. and to sustain dire extremism-breeding conditions in Gaza, it has taken more direct action to derail previous efforts at reconciliation whenever they showed any promise of success. Israel has employed one of its favorite ways of punishing the P.A., withholding taxes that it is supposed to pass on to the P.A., to pressure the P.A. into dropping previous efforts to reconcile with Hamas.

For the right-wing government of Israel, derailing intra-Palestinian reconciliation helps to sustain the theme that Israel “doesn’t have a negotiating partner for peace.” If that government really wanted such a partner, then it would be supporting rather than derailing steps toward developing a unified Palestinian leadership that could speak most credibly for all Palestinians and to negotiate on their behalf.

But the government of Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want such a partner. It instead wants rationales for indefinitely kicking the prospect of meaningful peace negotiations into the future, while Israel’s colonization project cements its hold on the West Bank. The “no negotiating partner” meme has become sufficiently entrenched in Israeli public perceptions to make the government’s strategy politically sustainable.

For now, Netanyahu’s government appears to have concluded that there are enough obstacles in the way of full Fatah-Hamas reconciliation that active derailment measures such as use of the tax weapon can be kept in reserve. Meanwhile, Israel is voicing old familiar demands (along with some new ones), which are highly unlikely to be met, as preconditions for negotiating with any unified Palestinian leadership that results from reconciliation.

One of those demands is an explicit Hamas recognition of Israel. This has always been an odd demand in that recognition of states is something that comes from other states, not from parties or movements. And if parties and movements were to be considered part of the recognition business, why shouldn’t recognition be reciprocal? Where is the Israeli declaration affirming a right to exist for Hamas?

In any event, the leadership of Hamas has long made it evident that it aspires to political power in a Palestinian state that would live side-by-side, and in an indefinite truce, with Israel. Earlier this year Hamas issued a new political statement making clear that it accepts a Palestinian state limited to the 1967 boundaries.

Repeating Old Arguments

The Israeli government likes to point to more extreme hortatory language in Hamas’s earlier charter, but this is really no different from charter-related matters that everyone went through a quarter century ago with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which had a similar-sounding charter. As the Oslo process in the 1990s demonstrated, such hortatory documents are no barrier when there is a will to negotiate on both sides. Besides, if we are to worry about charters, then there is at least as much of a problem with the charter of Netanyahu’s Likud party, which categorically rules out any right to exist for any Palestinian state, no matter who leads it.

Israel also demands that Hamas completely disarm. This is coming from a government that has used its far superior military might to inflict highly asymmetric damage in repeated assaults on the Gaza Strip. In the last such foray, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, two-thirds of whom were civilians, against 73 Israeli deaths, all but six of whom were soldiers.

Of course Hamas is not going to disarm unilaterally in response to Israeli demands, and certainly not in the absence of any reciprocal pledge by Israel to forswear violence against Palestinians. If it did, it would lose further support from citizens of Gaza, who see the rubble from Protective Edge still surrounding them. And it is not as if Hamas is now using what military means it has to inflict harm on Israel.

As David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes, “Israeli officials admit that Hamas has not fired a shot against their country since the 2014 war.”

The Trump administration’s two-faced posture toward all this is reflected in the headlines in the print editions of the New York Times and Washington Post, on the same day and reporting on the same Egyptian-mediated preliminary agreement between Fatah and Hamas. “Seeing Opening for Wider Peace, U.S. Aids Palestinian Talks” reads the Times. The Post’s headline is “U.S., Israel balk at Palestinian reconciliation, insisting Hamas must disarm”.

The U.S. policy that flummoxed the headline-writers is ostensibly one of working toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but in fact is one of signing on to the Netanyahu government’s postures, except for the mildest bit of tut-tutting over that government’s accelerated construction of Israeli settlements in occupied territory. As with Israel’s policy, the U.S. policy supposedly bemoans weakness and division on the Palestinian side but in practice sustains it. And also as with Israel’s policy, the longer-term outcome is not the deal of the century but instead an indefinite kicking of the peace can down the road.

Makovsky aptly observes that “the United States will not be putting forward any peace plans or engaging in high-stakes Middle East diplomacy until the Gaza situation is clarified.” And as long as Israel stands ready to throw sand in the gears of Palestinian reconciliation, the Gaza situation will never be clarified. Makovsky further accurately observes that “no publicly discernable progress has emerged” from the talks Trump’s envoys have had this year in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and that Trump made no mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his speech last month at the United Nations General Assembly.

Expect Israel to start throwing sand if the reconciliation gears acquire some momentum. Expect also that the Trump administration will acquiesce in Israel’s actions.

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




Trump Follows Well-Worn Mideast Trail

Despite the chaotic appearance of President Trump’s Mideast policies, they actually represent a troubling consistency in U.S. subservience to Israel and Saudi Arabia, as ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller explains.

By Graham E. Fuller

Washington media, think tanks, various commentators and now Sen. John McCain continue hammering on an old theme — that the U.S. has “no policy towards the Middle East.” This is fake analysis. In fact the U.S. very much does have a long-standing policy towards the Middle East. It’s just the wrong one.

What, then, is U.S. policy in the Middle East — under Trump, Obama, Bush and Clinton (and even earlier)? When all the rhetoric has been stripped away, we can identity quite clear, precise, and fairly consistent major strategic policy positions.

–First, Washington accedes to almost anything that Israel wants. This is an untouchable posture, a third rail, beyond any debate or discussion lest we anger the powerful Zionist lobby of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and end up being labeled “anti-Semitic.”

The New York Times does not even allow us to know that In Israel itself these issues are indeed seriously debated — but never in the U.S. Small tactical issues aside, there is zero American discussion about whether the far-right government of Israel should be the lode-star of U.S. policy-making in the Middle East.

–Second, we oppose all Iranian actions and seek to weaken that state. Not surprisingly this reflects a key Israeli position on the Middle East as well. Admittedly the U.S. has its own grudges against Iran going back a long way, while the Iranians bear grudges against the U.S. going back well before that.

–Oppose almost anything that Russia does in the Middle East and routinely seek to weaken the Russian position in the region.

–Destroy armed radical jihadi groups anywhere — unilaterally or via proxy.

–Support Saudi Arabia on nearly all issues. Never mind that the Saudi state is responsible for the export of the most radical, dangerous and ugly interpretations of Islam anywhere and is the prime promoter of extremist Islamist ideas across the Muslim world.

-=Maintain a U.S. military presence (and as many U.S. military bases as possible) across the Middle East and Eurasia.

–Maximize U.S. arms sales across the region for profit and influence. (There is of course a lot of competition here from the U.K., Russia, France, China, and Israel.)

–Support any regime in the Middle East — regardless of how authoritarian or reactionary it may be — as long as it supports these U.S. goals and policies in the region.

–“Protect the free flow of oil.” Yet that free flow of Middle East oil has almost never been threatened and its chief consumers — China, Japan, Korea — should bear whatever burden that might be. But the U.S. wants to bear that “burden” to justify permanent U.S. military forces in the Gulf.

But what about “American values” that are often invoked as goals — such as support for democracy and human rights? Yes, these values are worthy, but they receive support in practice only as long as they do not conflict with the paramount hierarchy of the main goals stated above. And they usually do conflict with those goals.

Far from a “lack of Middle East policy,” all this sounds to me like a very clear set of U.S. policy positions. Washington has consistently followed them for long decades. They largely represent a solid “Washington consensus” that varies only slightly as the think-tankers of one party or the other rotate in and out of government.

Trump in Line

Donald Trump has typically upset the apple cart somewhat on all of this — mostly in matters of style in his spontaneous policy lurchings of the moment. But Official Washington is pretty good in keeping the range of foreign policy choices fairly narrowly focused within these parameters. Indeed, some might say that this policy mix is just about right. Yet these U.S. aspirations have fairly consistently failed.

The most prominent U.S. policy failures are familiar and proceed from the goals.

–If unquestioning support to Israel is the top priority, Washington has not failed here. But Israel remains about as truculent as ever in maintaining its own priority of extending territorial control and creeping takeover of all Palestinian lands and people. Washington has not been able to protect Israel from itself; Israel has never been more of an international pariah than now in the eyes of most of the world, including large numbers of Jews.

Actually it would serve American interests to officially abandon the absurd theater of the  “peace process” which has always served as Israeli cover for ever greater annexation of Palestinian land. Instead the U.S. should let the international community assume the major voice, yes, including the United Nations, in holding Israel to international norms.

By now the “two-state solution” is unreachable; the issue is how to manage the very difficult and painful transition to an inevitable “one-state solution” for Palestinians and Israelis — in a democratic and binational secular state.

–Russia is today stronger and more important in the Middle East than since Soviet days. Moscow has been outplaying the U.S. in nearly every respect of the policy game since 9/11. U.S. influence meanwhile has declined in both relative and absolute terms. Yet Washington’s determination to maintain its own absolute primacy across the world firmly excludes any significant Russian role in global issues.

However, if Washington can bring itself to abandon the zero-sum game mindset and work towards a win-win approach with Moscow, it will find much to cooperate with Russia about. As it stands, persistent confrontational policies guarantee unending rivalry, a never-ending self-fulfilling prophesy.

–Contrary to stated U.S. policy goals, Iran has emerged the massive winner from nearly all U.S. policies in the region over two decades. Yet Turkey and Iran represent the only two serious, developed, advanced, stable states in the region, with broadly developed economies, serious “soft power,” and a flexible policies that have gained the respect of most Middle Eastern peoples, even if not of their governments.

Yes, Erdogan’s Turkey is at the moment a loose cannon; but Turkish political institutions will certainly survive him even as the clock is ticking on his power grip. Iran’s elections are more real than virtually any other Muslim state in the area. It may be convenient for some to lay virtually all U.S. troubles in the region at Iran’s door, but such analysis upon serious examination is quite deliberately skewed.

–U.S. policies and actions against radical and violent Islamist movements in the Muslim world represent a serious task. Sadly, it is the ongoing U.S. military actions themselves that help explain much of the continued existence and growth of radical movements, starting with major U.S. military support to Islamist mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Later the U.S. destruction of state and societal structures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, to some extent even in Syria and Yemen, have further stirred up anger and radical jihadism.

Another Way?

What can be done? Withdrawal of U.S. boots on the ground and the chain of military bases across the region and into Asia would represent a start, but only a start, in allowing the region to calm down. The region must work out its own problems and not be the object of incessant self-serving U.S. helicopter interventions.

Yes, ISIS is a target deserving of destruction, and U.S. policies have been a bit wiser in at least allowing many international forces to play a role in that campaign. But radicalism invariably emerges from radical conditions. There are few military solutions to radical social, political, economic and identity problems. And autocratic rulers will always greet a U.S. presence that helps maintain them in power.

Saudi policies that view Iran as the source of all Middle Eastern problems are erroneous and self-serving, and ignore the real roots of the region’s problems: unceasing war (primarily launched by the U.S.), vast human and economic dislocations, self-serving monarchs and presidents for life, and the absence of any voice by the people over the way they are ruled.

The militarization of U.S. foreign policy everywhere is ill-designed to solve regional problems that call for diplomacy and close cooperation with all regional powers — not their exclusion. Yet these U.S. policies increasingly resemble the late days of the Roman Empire as it found itself up to its neck in barbarians.

Most of the world would welcome shifts in U.S. policies away from the heavy focus on the military option. One reason the U.S. has been losing respect, clout and influence in the region is due to this failing military focus.

The rest of the world is now simply trying to work around U.S. fixations. Donald Trump is exacerbating the problem but he is in many ways the logical culmination of decades of failed American policies. Even a kinder gentler Trump cannot solve systemic U.S. foreign policy failures that are now deeply institutionalized.

So repeating the mantra that the U.S. lacks a Middle East policy serves only to conceal the problem. The U.S. very much does have a clear policy. It’s just been dead wrong.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com  [This article originally appeared at http://grahamefuller.com/washington-does-have-a-clear-me-policy-its-just-the-wrong-one/ ]




Blaming the Afghan War Failure on — Russia

Exclusive: Another part of the U.S. mainstream media’s rash of Russia-bashing is to claim that Moscow is arming Afghanistan’s Taliban, but again the evidence doesn’t match the accusations, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

News flash: The United States is supplying spiffy new Humvees and Ford Ranger pickup trucks to the Taliban, who brazenly parade their troops in those vehicles “without fear of being targeted by Afghan or Coalition forces,” according to a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

As Bill Poggio observed in the foundation’s Long War Journal, “The Taliban displayed their military power in the contested district of Bakwa in a newly released video titled From the Fronts of Farah. The video which was released on the Taliban’s propaganda website, Voice of Jihad, ‘is dedicated to . . . showcasing the strength, control and advances of the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate,’ according to an accompanying statement.”

Poggio concluded, more reasonably than I suggest in my opening sentence, that the trucks displayed in the Taliban video were “captured from Afghan Army and police units,” not ordered directly by the Afghan insurgents out of a Pentagon catalog.

But U.S. officials have not shown the same good sense in their continued, but unsupported, denunciations of Russia for supplying the Taliban with assault rifles and other small arms.

I demolished that canard in a May 29 article. I pointed out that, contrary to a raft of news stories based on Pentagon leaks about Russian backstabbing, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency admitted in a Senate hearing, “I have not seen real physical evidence of weapons or money being transferred” by Russia to the Taliban.

The chairman of NATO’s military committee restated that conclusion in almost the same words just a few days ago. He told reporters in Washington, “I don’t have and I haven’t seen any hard evidence on the delivery of weapons from the Russians to the Taliban.”

Despite such authoritative denials, leading U.S. national security reporters — and government officials — have been keeping the story alive, as it fits the larger Washington narrative about Russia’s threat to U.S. security and Western values.

In late August, following President Trump’s address to the nation committing to a long-term battle in Afghanistan, Andrea Mitchell of NBC asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “why didn’t the President mention Russia’s rearming of the Taliban, which General [John] Nicholson has been talking about very openly? He seemed to be letting Russia off the hook in his speech.”

(Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has long complained of Russia’s “malign influence” in Afghanistan, and said in April that he was “not refuting” claims of Russian help to the Taliban.)

In response, Secretary Tillerson also chose not to refute such claims. “To the extent Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban, that is a violation, obviously, of international norms and it’s a violation of UN Security Council norms,” he said. “We certainly would object to that and call Russia’s attention to that.”

Russia vigorously denies doing any such thing. Of course it may be lying — providing arms to bog down the United States in war, or to curry favor with the Taliban as it racks up military gains across the country.

Dated Weapons

But many of the Russian weapons in the hands of the Taliban date back to Russia’s own misadventure in Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to one small arms expert interviewed by an editor at The Atlantic. Other weapons in Taliban hands are Chinese or Pakistani knock-offs.

“Russian-made weapons of those calibers can be obtained in many places,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

As I documented previously, Moscow has been shipping assault weapons and providing flight training to Afghan government forces, not the Taliban. The insurgents don’t need to buy their weapons from abroad when they can simply take them from the Afghan army or police. “It’s simple and cheaper,” one Taliban commander told an American reporter.

As a result, U.S. taxpayers are going to great expense to arm the very people who are killing U.S. soldiers and their allies in Afghanistan.

The Taliban don’t just use those captured Humvees and trucks for show. In a stunning operation in mid-October, insurgents drove explosives-laden vehicles “captured from security forces” into an Afghan Army base in the southern province of Kandahar, killing most of its 60 members and leaving only two unhurt.

A day or two earlier, Taliban forces used the same tactic in two southeastern provinces, killing more than 40 police officers by detonating explosives in “Humvees paid for by the United States military,” according to the New York Times.

After 16 years of failed war in Afghanistan, U.S. officials may find it convenient to look for scapegoats like Russia. But the fault, with apologies to the Bard, is not in Moscow but in ourselves.

Jonathan Marshall’s previous articles on Afghanistan include “Alleged Russia-Taliban Arms Link Disputed,”  “The Goal of ‘Not Losing’ in Afghanistan,” “Afghanistan: President Obama’s Vietnam,” and “Why Washington’s War on Drugs in Afghanistan Isn’t Working.”