German Resistance to Russia Detente

The German political hierarchy and major media remain hostile to any détente with Russia, but the ground may be shifting under the feet of Chancellor Merkel and her allies, reports Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is staggered by security lapses that may have permitted a fatal terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, the question many inside and outside Germany are asking is how this may affect the chances of her CDU party and its junior affiliate in Bavaria (CSU) to dominate the 2017 parliamentary elections and form the next government.

Her personal standing has weathered a number of crises in the past year, and polls before the terror attack gave her about a 50 percent approval rating. Moreover, within the CDU itself, she received more than 89 percent backing at the party convention in Essen a couple of weeks ago to remain at the helm and fight for another term as Chancellor next October.

That being said, the party has not done as well as Merkel. It lost several regional elections this past fall and the leader of her Bavarian affiliate, Herr Seehofer, was nipping at her heels over her continued hardline economic sanctions against Russia relating to the Ukraine crisis and more particularly over her lenient admission of around one million Mideast immigrants.

One of the widely noted features of Angela Merkel’s ten-years-plus in office is that she has sidelined all possible competitors, not only within her party but even in the leading opposition party, the Socialists (SPD) with whom she has shared a coalition government.

Just what this means in practice I saw firsthand last Friday when I was in Berlin for an event organized and attended by SPD party officials and supporters. The event was a press briefing at the Bundestag announcing the European launch of Détente Now! (or “Neue Entspannungspolitik Jetzt!” in German) after its U.S. debut with an op-ed in The Nation. The launch on two continents was meant to draw attention to the overarching objective of establishing a new peaceful Atlanticism to replace the neocon-dominated Atlantic Alliance that has developed over the past two decades in a malignant way, bringing us into a New Cold War and, in the estimation of some of us, to the brink of a hot war.

Judged as a “press briefing,” the meeting was a failure. Out of the 20 or so participants, there were just three journalists. One came from Deutsche Welle – not to prepare a report or do interviews but to ask insulting questions, such as why Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature was not on the appeal to reinstate the policy of rapprochement with Moscow that German Chancellor Willy Brandt had championed nearly a half century ago.

Explaining the History of Détente

The significance of the event lay elsewhere as several organizers of Détente Now! met with representatives of German church groups, pacifist movements, one former Greens politician, and American friends of the initiative (myself and one other). But the single most important politician in the room was SPD Bundestag member Ute Finckh-Kraemer, a longtime supporter of peaceful coexistence who keeps the memory of détente’s great thinker Egon Bahr shining bright.

Ute Finckh-Krämer is on the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee and is Deputy Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Arms Control and Disarmament. In that context, it was illuminating to hear her response to a somewhat hostile question: namely how can you consider implementing détente with Russia when Putin is doing so many nasty things like flying military aircraft around the Baltic Sea with their transponders turned off?

Finckh-Kraemer reminded the questioner of just how Entspannungspolitik originally came about, not at a time of easy relations with Moscow but amid dangerous tensions. Détente toward Moscow was first implemented by Willie Brandt in 1969 in response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the preceding August to oust a reformist regime. Instead of imposing sanctions on the Soviet Union, Brandt sent his assistant, Egon Bahr, to Moscow for extensive talks with the Kremlin with plans to draw closer to them and seek to influence their behavior from within.

Finckh-Kraemer argued that what is urgently needed today is precisely what Brandt undertook in 1969, a policy of de-escalating tensions without preconditions. With her comments, Finckh-Kraemer demonstrated that within the SPD there are very able defenders of détente who understand with great clarity why it’s needed.

The problem is that the party as a whole is enthralled to discipline of the coalition government with the CDU and to its own internal hierarchy, where the most senior voices of the party, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Sigmar Gabriel, lack charisma and seem to lack as well the courage to openly challenge the “group think” coming from Washington and passing down through Merkel to the whole German government.

The apologists for Steinmeier explained that he, like Merkel, helped frame the still-uncompleted Minsk-2 accords regarding the Ukraine crisis in 2015 out of fear that the then-imminent defeat of Ukrainian forces in the Debaltsevo Cauldron might cause the United States to step up its military support for Kiev, risking an all-out proxy war with Russia that could spread the conflagration into Central Europe.

Since then, it would appear that Steinmeier and Merkel have remained fearful of breaking with Washington over the anti-Russian sanctions or over Syria lest the Obama administration do something reckless in its final weeks in office.

That is a different approach from what is happening in France where Republican candidate Francois Fillon – emboldened by Donald Trump’s U.S. victory – made improved relations with Russia a key element in his successful primary campaign in November.

Can Germany Shift?

In Germany, the question is: will the timorous SPD and the pigheaded CDU continue to hold to these New Cold War policies during the fall 2017 federal elections? The answer seems to be yes, unless the issue is seriously addressed now and a constituency arises favoring a more constructive approach toward Russia.

Within the SPD, the two main contenders for party leadership as candidates for Chancellor are Sigmar Gabriel, who is presently serving as Deputy Chancellor for Economics, and Martin Schulz, the outgoing President of the European Parliament. Of the two, Schulz is arguably the more “charismatic” if that is taken to mean outwardly self-confident, even strident. But Schulz brings with him the baggage of his association with the increasingly unpopular European Union bureaucracy.

During his years in the European Union’s institutions, Schulz was a defender of what is called “democracy promotion,” the West’s funding and training of activists who then challenge – through media propaganda and street protests – governments that are regarded as insufficiently liberal. In that context, Schulz has been arrogant and censorious towards Russia, very much in line with the policy that developed in Berlin over the same period.

Gabriel is less involved in foreign policy and lacks his own message regarding future relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, from my correspondence with leading experts on Russia within the SPD’s main think tank, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, I must conclude that people with a distinctly neocon or “liberal interventionist” viewpoint continue to rule the roost there. One does not get very far in the think tank by calling for a change of direction on Russia without being labeled “Putin Versteher,” a pejorative that roughly translates to “Putin sympathizer” and is fatal to any political career.

The same holds true for the Foundation’s foreign relations magazine, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft (IPG). Reading through the issues since the U.S. presidential election, you could easily assume that the journal is edited by frustrated members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Its featured articles and authors are all anti-Trump and anti-détente. With this think tank and magazine, it’s hard to see how the SPD can develop a new foreign policy that deviates from Merkel’s anti-Russian orthodoxy.

Of course, there is more to German politics than the CDU and SPD, which together in the last elections gathered less than 60 percent of the votes. But the other parties also do not give much reason for hope that Germany can change direction.

Die Linke (the Left) has some very courageous thinkers and politicians on the issue of foreign policy, none more so that Bundestag Member Sahra Wagenknecht. But Die Linke is split internally and engaged in petty wrangling, so that its electoral performance remains well below its potential.

Meanwhile, the German Greens have been — from their very beginning, going back to the days of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joscha Fischer — a virulently anti-Russian force. There are signs that the party has some dissenting voices today on the Russia issue, but not enough to shift the course of German foreign policy.

That leaves the far-right Alternativ fuer Deutschland, which, like the Front National in France, is unequivocally in favor of normalizing relations with Russia. But the anti-immigration and other social issues espoused by the nationalist and xenophobic AfD puts them out of play for any coalition formations.

For all of the above reasons, it will take a small miracle for the Entspannungspolitik initiative to move forward and capture the imagination of the SPD and win at the polls in the autumn of 2017. That miracle could come either from France, where a veto on current E.U. foreign policy is virtually certain following the April elections and will position France as a direct competitor to Germany for leadership in the E.U. Or it may come from the U.S., depending on how the Trump administration handles relations with Germany and the E.U.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 20, 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




Danger from Trump’s Distrust of CIA

President-elect Trump’s distrust of the U.S. intelligence community – made worse by unproven CIA claims that Russia secretly tried to aid his election – could limit the value of daily intel briefings, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

“I don’t have to be told—you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

That’s how President-elect Trump explained in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News his intention not to receive daily intelligence briefings as president. He evidently has a major misconception about the content of such briefings. Obviously it would be a waste of the president’s, and everyone else’s, time if the briefings consisted of the same thing in the same words every single day. But they don’t.

Trump has largely declined the opportunities for intelligence briefings that most every other president-elect has taken advantage of, so the “same thing, same words” misconception evidently is a preconceived notion that he somehow arrived at, rather than anything based on experience.

Part of Trump’s explanation is that he delegates to subordinates the role of receiving briefings. He told Wallace that “my generals” — an interesting formulation — are receiving briefings, as is Mike Pence. Perhaps the flow of not just information but decision-making in the Trump White House will lead the intelligence agencies to conclude that Prime Minister Pence is the customer most worth meeting with anyway. But the most important bucks will still have to stop at the president’s desk.

Although keeping the president up-to-date on current developments is certainly a central aspect of intelligence briefings to the president, it is by no means the only important function they serve. Another one concerns what they communicate to the intelligence agencies about the president’s concerns, objectives, questions, and knowledge gaps. What the agencies learn from those interactions constitutes valuable guidance in keeping their work relevant to the needs of the president and his administration.

An additional important function is to sensitize the president and his senior subordinates to looming problems (or opportunities) that are not on their plate right now but are likely to be on their plate a week, a month, or a year from now.

Anticipating Threats

A major task expected of the intelligence agencies — but usually recognized explicitly only in the wake of some failure or disaster — is to anticipate threats before almost anyone else does. The agencies are not expected to sit back and wait for policymakers to ask them questions. When questions do get asked, formulating a response gets high priority, but most of the work done by intelligence agencies is self-initiated. It is work needed to identify troublesome trends and potential problems overseas and to highlight them before the president or other senior consumers are sufficiently aware of them even to start asking questions.

Another part of Trump’s comments to Wallace suggested a failure to understand this function. His words are jumbled, but he seemed to be saying that at certain times amid “very fluid situations” he would be willing to hear what the intelligence officers say about what has changed.

There are two problems with this approach. One is that troublesome trends and looming problems are often not a matter of what has changed today from yesterday. Some of the biggest problems that will be on the policymakers’ plates next month or next year, and that they had better be prepared to deal with, are more a matter of gradually emerging threats. The other problem is that the president is never going to ask for a non-regular briefing if he hasn’t first been made aware of the significance of the topic to be briefed.

An example of a subject in which what the president most needs to understand is the nature of an emerging long-term threat rather than what has changed from yesterday or last week is international terrorism. The president isn’t the one who will be directing the response to a specific, real-time terrorist plot — a principle misunderstood in much of the commentary about an intelligence briefing that President George W. Bush received in the month before 9/11. Rather, he must set bigger and broader counterterrorist policies that will last for months and years.

Somewhat ironically, the recent story about Russian hacking and interference in the election that has given Trump the presidency is another example. This is a very important subject, where the president needs all the edification he can get from the intelligence agencies about Russian motives and objectives. That’s what is most important to understand — not what has “changed” lately and what the Russians are doing with their latest hack.

The sort of broad understanding that dialogue with the intelligence agencies assists is all the more important with this president, who otherwise gets his information from “the shows” and doesn’t find time to read books.

And it is the questions that the intelligence output raises in the minds of the president and other policymakers, at least as much as the answers that intelligence agencies give to questions asked of them, that nurtures the understanding. A frightening thing about Donald Trump as president is not just how much he doesn’t know, but how he doesn’t seem to know how much he doesn’t know.

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’s Need to Trust Americans

Exclusive: President Obama promised transparency but delivered a deceptive administration hostile to truth-tellers. President-elect Trump’s narrow path to greatness would require the opposite choice, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Barack Obama’s chance for a transformative presidency ended when he bowed to Official Washington’s foreign-policy establishment of neocons and liberal interventionists and bought into the elitist notion that the American people should be guided by propaganda, not informed by facts.

Although he began his presidency by promising transparency, Obama instead undertook an unprecedented crackdown on national security whistleblowers, prosecuting more than all other presidents combined. Meanwhile, he authorized partial and misleading releases of information about key events. Instead of an informed public, his administration sought maximum propaganda advantage, such as with the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, and with the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

But Obama’s anti-democratic approach to information, i.e., treating Americans like mushrooms in a darkened cellar, creates an opportunity for President-elect Donald Trump to do the opposite, reinvigorate U.S. democracy by arming citizens with facts. By doing so, he also can counter his reputation as someone hostile to reality.

Once in office, Trump could use his power over pardons and commutations to reverse Obama’s punishment of truth-tellers – the likes of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden – and Trump can authorize as full a release of evidence about turning-point events as possible. There’s no justifiable reason for the U.S. intelligence community to continue to withhold its assessments on the Syria-sarin case, which killed hundreds of civilians, or on the shoot-down of MH-17, which killed 298 people.

I’ve been told by intelligence sources that there is a great deal more evidence regarding each incident than the Obama administration has shared even with official inquiries, although holding back this information has allowed guilty parties to escape while sending investigators off in wrong directions. [See here and here.]

Instead of pursuing justice, the Obama administration exploited the atrocities to demonize geopolitical “enemies.” The sarin case was pinned on the Syrian government and the MH-17 shoot-down was blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin – all the better to gin up the New Cold War and justify massive new armaments spending.

Official Washington’s foreign-policy establishment, aided and abetted by the mainstream U.S. media, also concealed or played down other relevant facts about Syria and Ukraine. Regarding Syria, the Obama administration hid the degree of collaboration between U.S.-backed “moderate” Syrian rebels and radical jihadists, including Al Qaeda’s affiliate, Nusra Front. On Ukraine, Obama concealed American complicity in the violent putsch that overthrew Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and threw Ukraine into a nasty civil war with the pro-U.S. side relying on neo-Nazi storm troopers to kill ethnic Russian Ukrainians. Those realities had to be whitewashed because they didn’t reinforce the desired narrative.

Opening the Records

On his first day in office, President Trump could order his CIA Director Mike Pompeo to review these cases and release all information that does not compromise sensitive sources and methods. The order could extend to other intelligence-related mysteries, including some that may reflect poorly on Republicans such as the October Surprise mystery of 1980, whether Ronald Reagan’s campaign went behind President Jimmy Carter’s back to undermine his hostage negotiations with Iran and thus ensure Reagan’s election.

By demonstrating a readiness to tell it like it is – regardless of where the partisan chips fall – Trump could reassure nervous Democrats and progressives who view him as a demagogue who disdains facts and exploits emotions for political gain. He could reverse that negative image by doing what Obama promised – but failed to deliver on – a transparent government that trusts the people.

Trump also could put mainstream U.S. media outlets in a bind since they would have to admit that much of what they have reported about Syria and Ukraine amounted to either propaganda or disinformation. As much as the big newspapers have decried Trump as a purveyor of “fake news,” they would have a hard time arguing against the release of information that gives Americans a fuller understanding of the world around them.

After opening up these intelligence files, Trump could explain why he believes neocon/liberal-hawk “regime change” strategies are unwise and how relations with Moscow could be improved based on a clear knowledge of what the Kremlin has and has not done, rather than a slanted and selective presentation of propaganda designed to manage the perceptions of the American people.

Advice to Obama

In early 2014, as the New Cold War was starting to heat up, I advocated for President Obama to find within himself the courage that Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy displayed when they explained real dangers that Americans faced from, respectively, the Military Industrial Complex and the demonizing of Moscow’s leaders in the pursuit of the original Cold War.

In a farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961, Eisenhower ominously warned that “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

On June 10, 1963, at American University in Washington, D.C., Kennedy outlined the need to collaborate with Soviet leaders to avert dangerous confrontations, like the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962:

“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children, not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

And then, in arguably the most important words that he ever spoke, Kennedy said, “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

But U.S. presidents since then have opted for an expanded Military Industrial Complex, the demonization of “enemies” – and what the Reagan administration liked to call “perception management” of the American public. Rather than trusting the people as the true sovereigns of the nation, these U.S. presidents saw the people as simpleminded beasts to be guided and controlled.

Obama’s Choice

Obama faced that test, too. Would he go over the heads of Washington’s elites and trust the people or would he keep the people in the dark and ally himself with the elites? Obama reached that crossroads in late 2013 and early 2014.

On March 14, 2014, I wrote: “With the neocons again ascendant and with the U.S. news media again failing to describe a foreign crisis honestly, Barack Obama faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his presidency, a moment when he needs to find the courage to correct a false narrative that his own administration has spun regarding Ukraine and to explain why it’s crucial to cooperate with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the cause of world peace.”

But Obama couldn’t find the courage to rise to the occasion. Instead he relied on the strident language of aides such as his “humanitarian” warmongering Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and he stuck with the confrontational policies of neocon holdovers such as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, an architect of the Ukraine coup.

Obama’s failure to stand up to this neocon/liberal-hawk foreign-policy elite over Syria and Ukraine may well define his historical legacy. He allowed the Syrian conflict to escalate with shipments of U.S. weapons to rebels both directly and indirectly adding to the country’s carnage. Obama also acquiesced to the provocative overthrow of Ukraine’s elected president on Russia’s border and allowed the crisis to escalate into a risky stand-off with nuclear-armed Russia.

Rather than do what was best for the American people and the world, Obama sought to appease what’s often called Washington’s “war party,” apparently thinking that the neocons and liberal hawks would think better of him if he joined them in beating the war drums.

Now, ironically, it may fall to a man with only a fraction of Obama’s oratorical skills to pick up the torch for peace that Eisenhower and Kennedy raised in their two most important speeches.

However, even more important than giving a speech, Trump can give the American people the facts from which can be built a solid foundation for rational relationships with adversaries as well as allies.

Out of the Weeds

If the weeds of propaganda and “perception management” are cleared away, a Trump administration could move forward with plans to tackle the international problems that most tripped up Obama: Ukraine and the Middle East.

With Ukraine, President Trump could make clear he will not tolerate the Kiev regime continuing to drag its feet on the Minsk II peace accord that calls for granting ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine some form of autonomy. The Crimea issue also could be resolved by arranging an internationally supervised referendum on whether the people want to be with Russia or Ukraine.

Regarding the Middle East, Trump could finally speak the truth – that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf states are the true prime sponsors of terrorism, not Iran. The Iran lie is a beloved Washington “group think” – favored by the powerful Israel Lobby – but the accusation is clearly not true.

Al Qaeda, Islamic State and other terror groups that have obsessed and bedeviled the West in recent decades are all Sunni and are backed by rich Sunni kingdoms and emirates, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

If President Trump chooses to really level with the American people and truly wants to get to the root causes of terrorism, he will identify Saudi Arabia and its friends as state sponsors of terrorism and take appropriate actions to stop them.

Of course, if Trump does challenge Official Washington’s vested interests in protecting the wealthy Saudis who have built an influential anti-Shiite alliance with Israel, he will find few friends in the U.S. capital. Which is why he must enlist the support of the American people by first empowering them with the truth and then rallying them to a policy that could make a difference.

Whether Trump has the courage and wisdom to pull off such a sharp break with the way Washington does business may determine whether he achieves his ambition to be a great president or simply presides over another failed presidency.

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).

 




Terrorism Undermining Merkel

The bloody truck attack on Berlin’s Christmas market is a reminder how the West’s destabilization of the Mideast and North Africa now destabilizes Europe and Chancellor Merkel, as Gilbert Doctorow describes.

By Gilbert Doctorow

It took German Chancellor Angela Merkel 10 hours to find the words to respond to the attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that left a dozen dead and scores injured. When she finally spoke and acknowledged that it looked like a terrorist act, she hastened to express the pious hope that it was not the deed of a “refugee.”

Merkel’s hesitant response to the attack on Monday shows why many Germans feel that their country is defenseless against terrorism and why Merkel’s political fortunes may be declining. The failure to promptly capture the assailant – on Wednesday, the search focused on a Tunisian suspect – has compounded public worries that Merkel has largely contained concerns about Islamic terrorism through control over information, not effective preventive steps.

The Chancellor has directed the whole state apparatus to serve the purposes of her personal rule, which means to ensure the general public is lulled into a sense of false security. Officials recoil at making any connection between terrorist acts and refugees from the Middle East whom she so warmly welcomed.

To protect her political flanks, Merkel has muzzled the police who are not allowed to say anything that contradicts her political narrative hailing the benefits of multiculturalism. With a pliant German press, she has withheld full information about rapes and other attacks which are alleged to have been committed by immigrants/refugees going back to the rampage by migrants at the Cologne main railway station last New Year’s Eve.

What we see in her rhetoric and in the political correctness she enforces is precisely what Donald Trump called out in his debates with Hillary Clinton — the refusal to deal with “Muslim extremists” or “Jihadists” in the name of avoiding ethnic or religious profiling. But whereas Clinton paid a price at the ballot box, so far Angela Merkel has escaped the voters’ punishment.

Security Gaps

I do not pretend to be a security expert, but ever since the terrorist attacks on Belgium’s National Airport in Zaventem and on metro stations this past spring, I am aware of what was not done to protect us before and what is being done presently. With that perspective, I have a few observations to share from my day trip to Berlin this past Friday for a press conference at the Bundestag.

I arrived at Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport and left from Tegel airport, which is more generally used for European flights and is conveniently close to the city center. What I saw at Tegel is exactly the same if not worse than what prevailed at Zaventem before the terrorist attack, only it is further aggravated by the peculiar configuration of Tegel’s departure/check-in facilities which form a semi-crescent served by a roadway for taxis and passenger cars to drop off passengers which would allow a car bomb to wreak havoc.

Moreover, as was the case at Zaventem, the departure area is served by many access doors, none of which is guarded. Police presence inside the terminal building is minimal.

By comparison, in the time since the attack on Zaventem, access roads to the airport have been diverted; there is no vehicular access to the building itself; and passengers on foot now pass through one entrance door only where they are subject to observation. Immediately after, they confront a detachment of four soldiers armed with heavy machine guns and facing in all four directions to ensure that no one can get past them who should not be there.

Whereas in Brussels we now have patrols of heavily armed soldiers posted at various metro stations and passing through trains, what I saw on the Berlin metro last Friday was a situation that antedated our modern age of terror. No police were in evidence on the system, only ticket controllers who passed through the trains and checked my tickets and the tickets of others to ensure we had properly stamped the tickets when we entered the system.

By the same token, we are told that the Christmas market in Berlin had no special police protection. To be sure, government buildings do better. The Bundestag was in session last Friday, and when I got there, I found that the security provisions were operating. We all passed through metal detectors and our briefcases and handbags were x-rayed.

Outside and above us a stationary helicopter was maintaining surveillance of the whole area.  And yet, the checking of visitors was done by unarmed personnel, and I wonder how effective they would be against properly trained and armed terrorists.

In summary, Merkel’s denial of the high risk facing Germany due to her lax policy on immigrants means that more terrorist attacks are likely.  So, what she has been doing to protect herself politically at the expense of everyone else’s personal safety may well be her undoing in 2017.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.




What the ‘Sore Losers’ Want

Disappointed Democrats are blaming Hillary Clinton’s defeat on Russian hackers, an establishment-promoted conspiracy theory that serves the interests of America’s “war party,” says Diana Johnstone.

By Diana Johnstone

If the 2016 presidential campaign was a national disgrace, the reaction of the losers is an even more disgraceful spectacle. It seems that the political machine backing Hillary Clinton can’t stand losing an election. And why is that? Because they are determined to impose “exceptional” America’s hegemony on the entire world, using military-backed regime changes.

Donald Trump seems poised to spoil their plans. The entire Western establishment — roughly composed of neoconservative ideologues, liberal interventionists, financial powers, NATO, mainstream media and politicians in both the United States and Western Europe committed to remaking the Middle East to suit Israel and Saudi Arabia and to shattering impertinent Russia – has been thrown into an hysterical panic at the prospect of their joint globalization project being sabotaged by an ignorant intruder.

Donald Trump’s expressed desire to improve relations with Russia throws a monkey wrench into the plans endorsed by Hillary Clinton to “make Russia pay” for its bad attitude in the Middle East and elsewhere. If he should do what he has promised, this could be a serious blow to the aggressive NATO buildup on Russia’s European borders, not to mention serious losses to the U.S. arms industry planning to sell billions of dollars worth of superfluous weapons to NATO allies on the pretext of the “Russian threat.”

The war party’s fears may be exaggerated, inasmuch as Trump’s appointments indicate that the United States’ claim to be the “exceptional,” indispensable nation will probably survive the changes in top personnel. But the emphasis may be different. And those accustomed to absolute rule cannot tolerate the challenge.

Bad Losers On the Top

Members of the U.S. Congress, the mainstream media, the CIA and even President Obama have made fools of themselves and the nation by claiming that the Clintonite cabal lost because of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Insofar as the rest of the world takes this whining seriously, it should further increase Putin’s already considerable prestige.

If true, the notion that Moscovite hacking could defeat the favorite candidate of the entire U.S. power establishment can only mean that the United States’ political structure is so fragile that a few disclosed emails can cause its collapse. A government notorious for snooping into everybody’s private communication, as well as for overthrowing one government after another by less subtle means, and whose agents boasted of scaring the Russians into re-electing the abysmally unpopular Boris Yeltsin in 1996, now seems to be crying pathetically, “Mommy, Vlady is playing with my hacking toys!”

Of course, Russians would quite naturally prefer a U.S. president who openly shies away from the possibility of starting a nuclear war with Russia. That doesn’t make Russia “an enemy”; it is just a sign of good sense. Nor does it mean that Putin is so naïve as to imagine that Moscow could throw the election by a few dirty tricks. The current Russian leaders, unlike their Washington counterparts, tend to take a longer view, rather than imagining that the course of history can be changed by a banana peel.

This whole miserable spectacle is nothing but a continuation of the Russophobia exploited by Hillary Clinton to distract from her own multiple scandals. Now, she must blame Russia rather than recognize that there were multiple reasons to vote against her.

The propaganda machine has found a response to unwelcome news: it must be fake. The Washington conspiracy theorists are outdoing themselves this time. The Russian geeks supposedly knew that by revealing a few Democratic National Committee internal messages, they could ensure the election of Donald Trump. What tremendous prescience!

Obama promises retaliation against Russia for treating the United States the way the United States treats, well, Honduras (and even Russia itself until blocked by Putin). Putin retorted that, so far as he knew, the United States was not a banana republic, but a great power able to protect its elections. Washington is loudly denying that. The same mainstream media that brought you Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” are now bringing you this preposterous “Russia-did-it” conspiracy theory with straight faces.

When intelligence agencies become aware of the activities of rival intelligence agencies, they usually keep the knowledge to themselves, as part of the mutual spook game. Going public with this wild tale shows that the whole point is to persuade the American public that Trump’s election is illegitimate, in the now-lost hope of defeating him in the Electoral College or of crippling his presidency by labeling him a “Putin stooge”.

Bad Losers On the Bottom

At least the bad losers on the top know what they are doing and have a purpose. The bad losers on the bottom are expressing emotions without clear objectives. It is false self-dramatization to call for “Resistance” as if the country had been invaded by extraterrestrials. The U.S. electoral system is outmoded and bizarre, but Trump played the game by the rules. He campaigned to win swing States, not a popular majority, and that’s what he got. The problem isn’t Trump but a political system which reduces the people’s choice to two hated candidates, backed by big bucks.

Whatever they think or feel, the largely youthful anti-Trump protesters in the streets create an image of hedonistic consumer society’s spoiled brats who throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. Of course, some are genuinely concerned about friends who are illegal immigrants and fear deportation. It is quite possible to organize in their defense.

The protesters may be mostly disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters, but whether they like it or not, their protests amount to a continuation of the dominant themes in Hillary Clinton’s negative campaign. She ran on fear. In the absence of any economic program to respond to the needs of millions of voters who showed their preference for Sanders, and of those who turned to Trump simply because of his vague promise to create jobs, her campaign exaggerated the portent of Trump’s most politically incorrect statements, creating the illusion that Trump was a violent racist whose only program was to arouse hatred.

Still worse, Hillary stigmatized millions of voters as “a basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” These remarks were made to an LGBT rally, as part of her identity politics campaign to win over a clientele of minorities by stigmatizing the dwindling white majority.

The identity politics premise is that ethnic and sexual minorities are oppressed and thus morally superior to the white majority, which is the implied oppressor. It is this tendency to sort people into morally distinct categories that divides Americans against each other, every bit as much – or more – than Trump’s hyperbole about Mexican or Islamic immigrants. It has served to convince many devotees of political correctness to regard white working-class Americans in the “fly-over” regions as enemy invaders.

Terrified of what Trump may do, his opponents tend to ignore what the lame ducks are actually doing. The last gasp Clintonite campaign to blame Hillary’s defeat on “fake news,” supposedly inspired by The Enemy, Russia, is a facet of the growing drive to censor the Internet – previously for child pornography, or for anti-Semitism, and next on the pretext of combating “fake news,” meaning whatever goes contrary to the official line. This threat to freedom of expression is more sinister than 11-year-old locker-room macho boasts by Trump.

There will and should be strong political opposition to whatever reactionary domestic policies are adopted by the Trump administration. But such opposition should define the issues and work for specific goals, instead of expressing a global rejection that is non-functional.

The hysterical anti-Trump reaction is unable to grasp the implications of the campaign to blame Hillary’s defeat on Putin. Do the kids in the street really want war with Russia? I doubt it. But they do not perceive that for all its glaring faults, the Trump presidency provides an opportunity to avoid war with Russia.

This is a window of opportunity that will be slammed shut if the Clintonite establishment and the War Party get their way. Whether they realize it or not, the street protesters are helping that establishment delegitimatize Trump and sabotage the one positive element in his program: peace with Russia.

Adjustments in the Enemy List

By its fatally flawed choices in the Middle East and in Ukraine, the United States foreign policy establishment has driven itself into a collision course with Russia. Unable to admit that the United States backed the wrong horse in Syria, the War Party sees no choice but to demonize and “punish” Russia, with the risk of dipping into the Pentagon’s vast arsenal of argument-winning nuclear weapons.

Anti-Russian propaganda has reached extremes exceeding those of the Cold War. What can put an end to this madness? What can serve to create normal attitudes and relations concerning that proud nation which aspires primarily simply to be respected and to promote old-fashioned international law based on national sovereignty? How can the United States make peace with Russia?

It is clear that in capitalist, chauvinist America there is no prospect of shifting to a peace policy by putting anti-war activist David Swanson in charge of U.S. foreign relations, however desirable that might be. Realistically, the only way that capitalist America can make peace with Russia is through capitalist business. And that is what Trump proposes to do.

A bit of realism helps when dealing with reality. The choice of Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson as Secretary of State is the best step toward ending the current race toward war with Russia. “Make money not war” is the pragmatic American slogan for peace at this stage.

But the anti-Trump “resistance” to Trump is not likely to show support for this pragmatic peace policy. It is already encountering opposition in the war-loving Congress. Instead, by shouting “Trump is not my President!” the disoriented leftists are inadvertently strengthening that opposition, which is worse than Trump.

Avoiding war with Russia will not transform Washington into a haven of sweetness and light. Trump is an aggressive personality, and the opportunistic aggressive personalities of the establishment, notably his pro-Israel friends, will help him turn U.S. aggression in other directions. Trump’s attachment to Israel is nothing new, but appears to be particularly uncompromising. In that context, Trump’s extremely harsh words for Iran are ominous, and one must hope that his stated rejection of “regime change” war applies in that case as well as others.

Trump’s anti-China rhetoric also sounds bad, but in the long run there is little he or the United States can do to prevent China from becoming once again the “indispensable nation” it used to be during most of its long history. Tougher trade deals will not lead to the Apocalypse.

Failure of the Intellectual Establishment

The sad image today of Americans as bad losers, unable to face reality, must be attributed in part to the ethical failure of the so-called “1968 generation” of intellectuals. In a democratic society, the first duty of men and women with the time, inclination and capacity to study reality seriously is to share their knowledge and understanding with people who lack those privileges.

The generation of academics whose political consciousness was temporarily raised by the tragedy of the Vietnam War should have realized that their duty was to use their position to educate the American people, notably about the world that Washington proposed to redesign and its history. But the new phase of hedonistic capitalism offered the greatest opportunities for intellectuals in manipulating the masses rather than educating them.

The consumer society marketing even invented a new phase of identity politics, with the youth market, the gay market, and so on. In the universities, a critical mass of “progressive” academics retreated into the abstract world of post-modernism, and have ended up focusing the attention of youth on how to react to other people’s sex lives or “gender identification.” Such esoteric stuff feeds the publish or perish syndrome and prevents academics in the humanities from having to teach anything that might be deemed critical of U.S. military spending or its failing efforts to assert its eternal domination of the globalized world. The worst controversy coming out of academia concerns who should use which toilet.

If the intellectual snobs on the coasts can sneer with such self-satisfaction at the poor “deplorables” in flyover land, it is because they themselves have ignored their primary social duty of seeking truth and sharing it. Scolding people for their “wrong” attitudes while setting the social example of unrestrained personal promotion can only produce the anti-elite reaction called “populism.”

Trump is the revenge of people who feel manipulated, forgotten and despised. However flawed, he is the only choice they had to express their revolt in a rotten election.

The United States is deeply divided ideologically, as well as economically. The United States is threatened, not by Russia, but by its own internal divisions and the inability of Americans not only to understand the world, but even to understand each other.

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. The memoirs of Diana Johnstone’s father Paul H. Johnstone, From MAD to Madness, are soon to be published by Clarity Press, with her commentary. She can be reached at diana.johnstone@wanadoo.fr . [This article previously appeared at Counterpunch, http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/19/the-bad-losers-and-what-they-fear-losing/ .]




The Left’s Risk in Blaming Russia

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

By Norman Solomon

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Contagion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Bed with Neocons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Behind the Russia-Hack Allegations

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

By Graham E. Fuller

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Political Motive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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http://lobelog.com/rex-tillerson-and-the-russian-problem/

Rex Tillerson and the Russian Problem

by Robert E. Hunter

Lobelog, December 16, 2016

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

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

But here we are.

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

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

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

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

Russia and the Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be difficult to be more definitive than that!

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

“They All Do It”

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

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

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

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

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

The Tillerson Nomination and Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Extracting Aleppo from the Propaganda

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

By Dennis J Bernstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EB: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Russia-Hack Story, Another Media Failure

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

By Joe Lauria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egregious Case

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

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

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

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

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

Two Obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

Democratic Misdirection

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

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

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

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

Political Strategy

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

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

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

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

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




Exploiting the Tragedy of Aleppo

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

By Paul R. Pillar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selective Outrage   

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

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

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

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

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

Policy Misdirection

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt to Obama

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

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

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

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

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