The Need to Hold Saudi Arabia Accountable

Exclusive: One of Official Washington’s favorite “group thinks” is to insist that Iran is the “chief sponsor of terrorism,” but the reality is that Saudi Arabia is much guiltier and U.S. officials know it, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

If someone wants to become somebody in Official Washington, there are certain lies that you must assert as undeniable truths, almost like flashing a secret sign to gain entry to an exclusive club. For instance, you must say that Iran is the world’s “chief sponsor of terrorism” though that is patently false.

The problem is that a much bigger sponsor of terrorism is Saudi Arabia, with some competition from Qatar, but those two Gulf states are extremely wealthy U.S. “allies” and their hatred of Iran is shared by Israel, which possesses the most intimidating foreign lobby in Washington. So, deviation from the “Iran-chief-sponsor-of-terrorism” mantra marks you as someone who is not part of the club and never will be.

Yet, while lies may be the mother’s milk of Official Washington, there are severe costs paid by the American people and even more by the people of the Middle East who have suffered from the bloody consequences of this particular lie because it has been at the root of a series of misguided U.S. interventions, which themselves have spread widespread terror.

The U.S. government allied itself with Saudi Arabia in building the modern Islamic terrorism movement in the 1980s when the Reagan administration went in 50/50 with Saudi Arabia to finance and arm the Afghan mujahedeen – a project costing billions of dollars – to fight a merciless war against Soviet troops defending a leftist, secular regime in Kabul.

That war not only opened the gates of Kabul to the likes of Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden and the Taliban but it created the methodology and means for the Saudis to expand their Sunni proxy wars against various Shiite “apostates” and secularists across the region.

Though hailed in U.S. propaganda as noble freedom fighters, the mujahedeen routinely sodomized, tortured and murdered captured Russian soldiers and put Afghan women back into prehistoric servitude. After the Taliban prevailed in 1996, they castrated Afghan President Najibullah and hung his mutilated body from a light pole. In the years that followed, there were plenty of public beheadings for violating the Taliban’s fundamentalist teachings, which were shared by Saudi officialdom.

From the “successful” Afghan experience, the Saudi intelligence agency recognized the value of using Sunni fundamentalist fanatics as the tip of the spear in wars against Middle East secularists and Shiites, including Shia Islam’s spinoffs, such as Alawites and Houthis.

The Saudis also recognized the value of influencing Official Washington, which the kingdom had tried to do by creating its own lobby based on spreading around lots of money. But that Saudi effort was blunted by Israel and its lobby, which didn’t want to share its unmatched influence over the U.S. government.

So, the Saudis found it easier to “rent” the Israel Lobby by developing covert ties with Israel and quietly paying Israel billions of dollars. The Saudi dollars, in effect, replaced the money that Israel had been getting from Iran during the 1980s when Israel brokered Iran’s arms sales. As part of the Israeli-Saudi under-the-table alliance, the two countries agreed that Iran and the so-called “Shiite crescent” – stretching from Tehran through Damascus to Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut – were their joint strategic enemies.

Behind the combined clout of politically influential Israel and financially powerful Saudi Arabia, the script was written for U.S. politicians, pundits and officials to recite: “Iran is the chief sponsor of terrorism.”

This dogma is repeated again and again, including by retired Generals James Mattis and Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choices for Defense Secretary and National Security Advisor, respectively. But the terror groups that Americans fear most, such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, are supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, not by Iran.

Hillary Knew Well

And this reality is well known to senior U.S. officials even though it is never openly acknowledged. For instance, classified documents provided to WikiLeaks included diplomatic cables from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top advisers recognizing that violent jihadist groups were raising millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, an inconvenient truth that even The New York Times has finally recognized.

Secretary Clinton wrote in a December 2009 cable that Saudi Arabia was the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Clinton recognized that Saudi largesse also was financing terrorists of Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) inside Syria and Iraq.

In a 2014 email from the leaked account of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, Clinton wrote, “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

A Confession

To better understand the Saudi role in supporting Sunni extremism, you have to recognize that the Saudi princelings get a pass on their licentious behavior by buying leniency from the religious ulema (or leaders) through financing the extreme Wahhabi teachings that justify bloody retribution on all sorts of heretics.

This reality was explained in testimony by Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called twentieth 9/11 hijacker who is serving a life sentence in a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Moussaoui told lawyers for the families of 9/11 victims about top-level Saudi support for Osama bin Laden right up to the eve of the attacks and even described a plot by a Saudi embassy employee to sneak a Stinger missile into the U.S. under diplomatic cover and use it to bring down Air Force One.

Moussaoui’s list of Al Qaeda contributors included the late King Abdulllah and his hard-line successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz; Turki Al Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and subsequently ambassador to the U.S. and U.K.; Bandar bin Sultan, a former ambassador, intelligence chief and close friend of the Bush family; and Al-Waleed bin Talal, a major investor in Citigroup, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the Hotel George V in Paris, and the Plaza in New York.

“Ulema, essentially they are the king maker,” Moussaoui testified. “If the ulema say that you should not take power [because of some personal deviancy], you are not going to take power.”

Israeli Preference

Israeli officials also have explained why they favor Al Qaeda or Islamic State over the secular Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad – because Assad is supported by Iran and comes from the Alawite branch of Shiite Islam.

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

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

And, if you might have thought that Oren had misspoken, he reiterated his position in June 2014 at an Aspen Institute conference. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.

“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” said Oren, who is now a deputy minister for diplomacy in Netanyahu’s office.

Israel’s preference for the “Sunni evil” – along with its semi-covert relationship with Saudi Arabia – helps explain why the Israel Lobby has weighed in so heavily against Iran and the Shiites.

Iran’s Guilt

But what’s the truth about Iran? While Saudi Arabia and Qatar finance Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, there must be reasons why U.S. officials line up to profess that Iran is the “chief sponsor of terrorism.”

Well, apparently that is a reference to Iran’s support for Hezbollah, a Shiite movement in southern Lebanon that emerged as a resistance to Israeli occupation of that area in the 1980s. For years, Hezbollah has attacked Israeli targets in a tit-for-tat shadow war of assassinations and bombings that has crossed the line into terrorism by both sides. But neither Hezbollah nor Iran have been connected to any significant terror attack aimed at Americans in the past couple of decades.

Indeed, the usual citation regarding Iranian “terrorism” is the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks near Beirut airport in 1983, but that attack was not “terrorism,” at least as it is classically defined as an intentional attack on civilians with the intent of achieving a political objective.

The factual details here are important. President Ronald Reagan deployed the Marines as “peacekeepers” following Israel’s invasion and occupation of much of Lebanon. However, as fighting continued, there was mission creep.

National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, who often represented Israel’s interests in the upper echelons of the Reagan administration, convinced the President to authorize the USS New Jersey to fire long-distance shells into Muslim villages, killing civilians and convincing Shiite militants that the United States had joined the conflict.

On Oct. 23, 1983, Shiite militants struck back, sending a suicide truck bomber through U.S. security positions, demolishing the high-rise Marine barracks in Beirut and killing 241 American servicemen.

Though the U.S. news media immediately labeled the Marine barracks bombing an act of “terrorism” – and that misnomer has stuck – Reagan administration insiders knew better, recognizing that McFarlane’s “mission creep” had made the U.S. troops vulnerable to retaliation.

“When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides,” Gen. Colin Powell wrote in his memoir, My American Journey. In other words, Powell, who was then military adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, recognized that the actions of the U.S. military had altered the status of the Marines in the eyes of the Shiites.

But that is not to say that in the 1980s and the early 1990s Iran did not support actions that would constitute “terrorism.” There were the kidnappings of American civilians in Lebanon (and possibly the retaliatory bombing of PanAm 103 in 1988 after the U.S. Navy had shot down an Iranian civilian airliner a few months earlier). But the main reason that Iran is still touted as the “chief sponsor of terrorism” is that it remains at the top of Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s enemies list, not that the label is justified by recent events and evidence.

The claim by some Americans that Iran’s support for Iraqi resistance to the American military occupation of Iraq was “terrorism” also turns the concept on “terrorism” on its head since American soldiers who have conquered a sovereign nation are not “civilians” and thus attacking them with IEDs or other weapons does not constitute “terrorism.”

The more recent complaints about Iranian “aggression” are even more dishonest. Iran has been invited by the sovereign governments of Iraq and Syria to assist in fighting Islamic State and Al Qaeda terrorists in those countries. Under international law, there is nothing illegal about that and it surely does not constitute “aggression.”

Saudi Arabia and the State Department have also accused Iran of supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen, although the extent of that assistance is apparently negligible and whatever it is, it is vastly overwhelmed by Saudi Arabia’s massive bombardment of Yemen, a true act of aggression that has killed hundreds if not thousands of civilians and is supported by the Obama administration.

Politicians Held Hostage

So, when I hear major U.S. officials repeat the falsehood about Iran as the “chief sponsor of terrorism” again and again, I’m reminded of a hostage video in which a captive is forced to read lies written by his captors who would inflict pain or death if the captive deviated from the script. But it’s hard to tell if these U.S. officials know that they’re lying or have internalized the lie as “truth.”

If some U.S. official did publicly pronounce the truth – that Saudi Arabia far outranks Iran as the “chief sponsor of terrorism” and that many people in the world would put the United States even higher – the truth-teller might never survive another Senate confirmation hearing, since the Israel Lobby would call in its chits and make an example of the apostate.

Which gets us to the problem of President-elect Trump naming retired Generals Mattis and Flynn to top national security posts. Was their Iran-bashing heartfelt, i.e., do they really believe this propaganda is true, or were they simply protecting their Official Washington “credibility” by saying something they knew to be false but also knew was a required password to enter the domain of the political elite?

The question is not an idle one because if President Trump is to achieve anything meaningful in the Middle East, he must begin by leveling with the American people about what the U.S. government really knows and then acting on the reality that Saudi Arabia – with its sponsorship of Al Qaeda, Islamic State and the Taliban – can no longer be coddled.

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




Trump and His Iran-Haters

Some of President-elect Trump’s national security appointees are part of Official Washington’s “we-hate-Iran” group think, raising concerns about another Mideast war, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The direct stakes in whether the Trump administration adheres to the agreement that restricts the Iranian nuclear program are important enough, in terms of nuclear nonproliferation. Also important are the opportunities to build on that agreement constructively to address problems of concern to both Iran and the United States.

But at stake as well, as the new administration makes policy toward Iran, is the need to avoid a potentially disastrous turn, highly costly to U.S. interests, in the U.S.-Iranian relationship.

 

Recall how the policy options were being framed in American public debate as of about four years ago, before the negotiations that produced the nuclear agreement got under way. Amid much alarmist talk about an Iranian nuclear weapon being just around the corner, the “military option” was repeatedly and seriously discussed as the principal alternative to negotiations. In other words, people were talking about starting a war with Iran — although that is not how the option was commonly phrased.

A military attack, intended to damage the mere potential for producing weapons that others, including the attacker, already have would have been a naked and illegal act of aggression. It also would have been counterproductive in probably stimulating a decision by Iran to make a nuclear weapon that it had not previously decided to make.

But that is how the alternatives were nevertheless discussed. Some who talked up the alternative of a military attack may have regarded it as more of a bluff, but for others war was an actual objective.

So in addition to the other setbacks to U.S. interests that would ensue from the United States reneging on the agreement, a U.S.-Iranian war is a potential, and highly costly, additional possible consequence. The looming danger of such a war is not, however, only a function of how the nuclear agreement is handled.

The danger looms because appointments that Donald Trump is making to senior national security positions are installing at high levels of the new administration a predisposition to stoke permanent conflict with Iran, a predisposition that is far more visceral than analytical and that embodies the kind of fervor and hatred that has the risk of leading to armed conflict.

Flynn and His Facts

The most important figure in this picture apart from the President-elect himself is his choice as national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn’s attitude toward Iran is a corollary of his broader Islamophobic view of the Muslim world, in that it involves perceptions that are out of right field if not downright bizarre.

If his preconceived notions about such topics do not fit the facts, then he tries to make the facts conform. One incident reported by the New York Times involved the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. Flynn insisted Iran had a role in the attack, and he told subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency, of which he was then the director, that their job was to find evidence that he was right. (No evidence of any Iranian role in the attack has surfaced.)

We should not be surprised that someone who performed his duties as an intelligence chief in this manner has more recently shown an affinity for fake news of other sorts that fits his political objectives, such as alleged involvement by the Democratic presidential nominee in pedophilia rings.

Other appointments made to date do not provide much hope of providing a corrective to Flynn’s proclivities on anything having to do with Iran. One cannot expect such a corrective from CIA director-designate Mike Pompeo, who comes to the job with a strongly stated political agenda of trashing the nuclear agreement.

Nor can it be expected from the nominee for Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, even though he is more erudite than Flynn. Mattis has a thing about Iran that appears to let passion shove the erudition aside whenever Iran is involved. Mark Perry may be right that the passion is a Marine Corps thing and stems from the truck bombing, by Iran’s client Lebanese Hezbollah, of the barracks in Beirut in 1983 in which 220 Marines and 21 other Americans died. Perry quotes another senior Marine officer as saying about Mattis, “It’s in his blood. It’s almost like he wants to get even with them.”

Mattis and His Excesses

Whatever the underlying cause of his passion, the passion causes accurate and realistic appraisals of Iran to suffer. When Mattis asserts that Iran is not really a nation-state but instead a “revolutionary cause devoted to mayhem,” this indicates a failure to understand, or a refusal to understand, the history of Iranian politics and policy in the four decades since the Iranian revolution and the evolution of Iran’s relationship with the rest of the region.

When he says that “Iran is not an enemy of ISIS” and that “I consider ISIS nothing more than an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief,” this flies in the face of fundamental realities about both ISIS and Iran and how the latter is combating the former, especially in Iraq.

Ingredients are falling, tragically, into place for a possible war with Iran. We have seen this play before, although some of the cast has changed. Flynn’s leaning on intelligence officers to scrape together evidence to support his predetermined, and false, assertion about Iranian culpability in Benghazi eerily resembles the leaning by the George W. Bush White House, led by Vice President Cheney, on intelligence officers to scrape together evidence to support the predetermined, and false, assertion that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was allied with Al Qaeda.

Mattis’s statements about Iran and ISIS, some of which imply an alliance between the two, also have some of the same odor of the pro-war sales campaign of 14 years ago.

The Iraq War came about partly because enough people who had been committed to that expedition for years were put in positions of power to get an inexperienced president — for whom the war served other role-defining purposes — to go along. Now we are about to get the least prepared president in U.S. history, with little capacity on his part for questioning whatever assertions are voiced by the retired generals or others around him.

At least George W. Bush, although lacking foreign policy experience, could have learned something from his father, who had been president, envoy to the United Nations and to China, and director of central intelligence. Donald Trump’s father was, like Donald, a real estate developer.

9/11 made possible the change in the American public mood necessary to sell the Iraq War. It won’t, however, take anything on the scale of 9/11 (which, remember, had nothing to do with Iraq anyway) to help catalyze a war against Iran. A lesser terrorist attack, or maybe an incident at sea, could serve the purpose. Assertive, forward U.S. military operations would increase the chance of such an incident, and once an incident occurs, it can be exploited and slanted for war-making purposes beyond the facts of the incident itself. (See Gulf of Tonkin, 1964.)

More Choices to Come

Trump has more appointments to make relevant to policy on Iran. One can hope for appointees who will exhibit more analysis than ardor and will favor facts over fakery. But the trend so far is not promising. Some persons mentioned for important sub-cabinet posts have been dedicated to killing the nuclear accord.

Then there are the hard-core neocons, including ones who were crestfallen when it appeared that Trump’s nomination marked an end to neoconservative dominance of Republican Party foreign policy. Some of these people became declared never-Trumpers and a few even hitched their wagons to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. But many of these people, upon hearing what the early appointees say about Iran, must now be licking their chops.

In their view, the lesson for Iran of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (and never mind the subsequent eight-plus years of unpleasantness) has been: you’re next. “Take a number” — that’s how it was put by John Bolton, a neocon uber-hawk on Iran who has been to Trump Tower for a job interview and is one of the candidates for Secretary of State.

A U.S. war with Iran would be disastrous for all interests except Iranian hardliners, ISIS and those who exploit Middle Eastern instability, others in the region doing ignoble things from which they would like to divert attention, and speculators who are long on the price of oil. Iran would strike back asymmetrically at times and places of its choosing, and the United States would help make enduring Iranian hostility a reality and not just a prejudicial preconception, and would do so not just among the hardliners. A messy and bloody Middle East would become messier and bloodier.

Those in the United States who correctly want to avoid such a calamity should take the early Trump appointments as a warning sign. The appointments especially ought to be a wake-up call for those who were too focused on Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness, or too encouraged by Trump’s utterances suggesting he would have a less interventionist foreign policy, or too inclined to dismiss both major party candidates as equally lost causes, to anticipate the current prospects regarding policy toward Iran.

None of this is a prediction that there will be such a war.  But the danger of one is greater now than it was before Nov. 8 and the appointments that followed. Vigilance is required to avoid further steps that would increase the chance of a war.

The immediate issue to watch is the fate of the nuclear agreement, but that is not the only relevant issue (and Mattis, to his credit, has said that junking the accord now would be a mistake regardless of one’s previous views of it). Also to be watched for are any moves, such as aggressive U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf, that could become steps down a slippery slope to conflagration.

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.) 




Democrats Launch New McCarthyism

Unwilling to examine the real reasons why Democrats did so poorly on Election Day, party leaders in Congress are scapegoating Russia and setting in motion a new McCarthyism, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

On Tuesday, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and six ranking members of major House committees sent President Obama a letter declaring, “We are deeply concerned by Russian efforts to undermine, interfere with, and even influence the outcome of our recent election.”

A prominent signer of the letter — Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee — is among the Democrats most eager to denounce Russian subversion.

A week ago, when the House approved by a 390-30 margin and sent to the Senate the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2017, Schiff praised “important provisions aimed at countering Russia’s destabilizing efforts — including those targeting our elections.” One of those “important provisions,” Section 501, sets up in the executive branch “an interagency committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence.”

This high-level committee could easily morph into a protracted real-life nightmare.

While lacking public accountability, the committee is mandated to ferret out such ambiguous phenomena as Russian “media manipulation” and “disinformation.” Along the way, the committee could target an array of activists, political opponents or irksome journalists. In any event, its power to fulfill “such other duties as the president may designate” would be ready-made for abuse.

The committee is to be selected by presidential appointees, including the director of the FBI — an agency with leadership that has all too often pursued covert and overt political agendas, from the times of J. Edgar Hoover to James Comey.

All in all, the provision is a gift for the next president, tied up in a bow by congressional Democrats.

This country went through protracted witch hunts during the McCarthy era. A lot of citizens — including many government workers — had their lives damaged or even destroyed. The chill on the First Amendment became frosty, then icy. Democracy was on the ropes.

Joe McCarthy rose to corrosive prominence at the midpoint of the Twentieth Century by riding hysteria and spurring it on. The demagoguery was fueled not only by opportunistic politicians but also by media outlets all too eager to damage the First Amendment and other civil liberties in the name of Americanism and anti-communism.

Today, congressional leaders of both parties seem glad to pretend that Section 501 of the Intelligence Authorization Act is just fine, rather than an odious and dangerous threat to precious constitutional freedoms. On automatic pilot, many senators will vote aye without a second thought.

Yet by rights, with growing grassroots opposition, this terrible provision should be blocked by legislators in both parties, whether calling themselves progressives, liberals, libertarians, Tea Partyers or whatever, who don’t want to chip away at cornerstones of the Bill of Rights.

Scapegoating Russia

Most Democratic leaders, for their part, seem determined to implicitly — or even explicitly — scapegoat the Russian government for the presidential election results. Rather than clearly assess the impacts of Hillary Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street, or even the role of the FBI director just before the election, the Democratic line seems bent on playing an anti-Russia card.

Perhaps in the mistaken belief that they can gain some kind of competitive advantage over the GOP by charging Russian intervention for Donald Trump’s victory, the Democrats are playing with fire. The likely burn victims are the First Amendment and other precious freedoms.

When liberals have helped to launch a witch hunt, Republican politicians have been pleased to boost it into the stratosphere. That’s what happened after Harry Truman issued an executive order in March 1947 to establish “loyalty” investigations in every agency of the federal government.

Truman may have thought he was tossing GOP extremists a bone that they would stop to gnaw on. But he actually supplied them with red meat for an all-out assault on civil liberties. An ambitious new arrival in the House named Richard Nixon did his part to escalate the witch hunting. So did other Republican lawmakers, like Sens. Karl Mundt of South Dakota and Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Some Democrats, like Nevada’s Sen. Pat McCarran, were pleased to join in. The rest is disgraceful and tragic history.

Now, most lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem inclined to let it happen again. Of course the upcoming era won’t be the same as the one that bears the name of McCarthy. History doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but it can rhyme an awful lot.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org, which has 750,000 members. He is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. [This article originally appeared as a blog post at The Hill newspaper.]




How War Propaganda Keeps on Killing

Exclusive: The “fake news” hysteria has become the cover for the U.S. government and mainstream media to crack down on fact-based journalism that challenges Official Washington’s “group thinks,” writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A key reason why American foreign debacles have been particularly destructive mostly to the countries attacked but also to the United States is that these interventions are always accompanied by major U.S. government investments in propaganda. So, even when officials recognize a misjudgment has been made, the propaganda machinery continues to grind on to prevent a timely reversal.

In effect, Official Washington gets trapped by its own propaganda, which restricts the government’s ability to change direction even when the need for a shift becomes obvious.

After all, once a foreign leader is demonized, it’s hard for a U.S. official to explain that the leader may not be all that bad or is at least better than the likely alternative. So, it’s not just that officials start believing their own propaganda, it’s that the propaganda takes on a life of its own and keeps the failed policy churning forward.

It’s a bit like the old story of the chicken that continues to run around with its head cut off. In the case of the U.S. government, the pro-war or pro-intervention “group think” continues to run amok even after wiser policymakers recognize the imperative to change course.

The reason for that dilemma is that so much money gets spread around to pay for the propaganda and so many careers are tethered to the storyline that it’s easier to let thousands of U.S. soldiers and foreign citizens die than to admit that the policy was built on distortions, propaganda and lies. That would be bad for one’s career.

And, because of the lag time required for contracts to be issued and the money to flow into the propaganda shops, the public case for the policy can outlive the belief that the policy makes sense.

Need for Skeptics

Ideally, in a healthy democracy, skeptics both within the government and in the news media would play a key role in pointing out the flaws and weaknesses in the rationale for a conflict and would be rewarded for helping the leaders veer away from disaster. However, in the current U.S. establishment, such self-corrections don’t occur.

A current example of this phenomenon is the promotion of the New Cold War with Russia with almost no thoughtful debate about the reasons for this growing hostility or its possible results, which include potential thermonuclear war that could end life on the planet.

Instead of engaging in a thorough discussion, the U.S. government and mainstream media have simply flooded the policymaking process with propaganda, some of it so crude that it would have embarrassed Joe McCarthy and the Old Cold Warriors.

Everything that Russia does is put in the most negative light with no space allowed for a rational examination of facts and motivations – except at a few independent-minded Internet sites.

Yet, as part of the effort to marginalize dissent about the New Cold War, the U.S. government, some of its related “non-governmental organizations,” mainstream media outlets, and large technology companies are now pushing a censorship project designed to silence the few Internet sites that have refused to march in lockstep.

I suppose that if one considers the trillions of dollars in tax dollars that the Military Industrial Complex stands to get from the New Cold War, the propaganda investment in shutting up a few critics is well worth it.

Today, this extraordinary censorship operation is being carried out under the banner of fighting “fake news.” But many of the targeted Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com, have represented some of the most responsible journalism on the Internet.

At Consortiumnews, our stories are consistently well-reported and well-documented, but we do show skepticism toward propaganda from the U.S. government or anywhere else.

For instance, Consortiumnews not only challenged President George W. Bush’s WMD claims regarding Iraq in 2002-2003 but we have reported on the dispute within the U.S. intelligence community about claims made by President Barack Obama and his senior aides regarding the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria and the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine.

In those two latter cases, Official Washington exploited the incidents as propaganda weapons to justify an escalation of tensions against the Syrian and Russian governments, much as the earlier Iraqi WMD claims were used to rally the American people to invade Iraq.

However, if you question the Official Story about who was responsible for the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, after President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and the mainstream media pronounced the Syrian government guilty, you are guilty of “fake news.”

Facts Don’t Matter

It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s been confirmed in a mainstream report by The Atlantic that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper advised President Obama that there was no “slam-dunk” evidence proving that the Syrian government was responsible. Nor does it matter that legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has reported that his intelligence sources say the more likely culprit was Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front with help from Turkish intelligence.

By straying from the mainstream “group think” that accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of crossing Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons, you are opening yourself to retaliation as a “fake news” site.

Similarly, if you point out that the MH-17 investigation was put under the control of Ukraine’s unsavory SBU intelligence service, which not only has been accused by United Nations investigators of concealing torture but also has a mandate to protect Ukrainian government secrets, you also stand accused of disseminating “fake news.”

Apparently one of the factors that got Consortiumnews included on a new “black list” of some 200 Web sites was that I skeptically analyzed a report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that while supposedly “Dutch-led” was really run by the SBU. I also noted that the JIT’s conclusion blaming Russia was marred by a selective reading of the SBU-supplied evidence and by an illogical narrative. But the mainstream U.S. media uncritically hailed the JIT report, so to point out its glaring flaws made us guilty of committing “fake news” or disseminating “Russian propaganda.”

The Iraq-WMD Case

Presumably, if the hysteria about “fake news” had been raging in 2002-2003, then those of us who expressed skepticism about Iraq hiding WMD would have been forced to carry a special marking declaring us to be “Saddam apologists.”

Back then, everyone who was “important” in Washington had no doubt about Iraq’s WMD. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt repeatedly stated the “fact” of Iraq’s hidden WMD as flat fact and mocked anyone who doubted the “group think.”

Yet, even after the U.S. government acknowledged that the WMD allegations were a myth – a classic and bloody case of “fake news” – almost no one who had pushed the fabrication was punished.

So, the “fake news” stigma didn’t apply to Hiatt and other mainstream journalists who actually did produce “fake news,” even though it led to the deaths of 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. To this day, Hiatt remains the Post’s editorial-page editor continuing to enforce “conventional wisdoms” and to disparage those who deviate.

Another painful example of letting propaganda – rather than facts and reason – guide U.S. foreign policy was the Vietnam War, which claimed the lives of some 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese.

The Vietnam War raged on for years after Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and even President Lyndon Johnson recognized the need to end it. Part of that was Richard Nixon’s treachery in going behind Johnson’s back to sabotage peace talks in 1968, but the smearing of anti-war dissidents as pro-communist traitors locked many officials into support for the war well after its futility became obvious. The propaganda developed its own momentum that resulted in many unnecessary deaths.

A Special Marking

In the Internet era, there will now be new-age forms of censorship. Your Web site will be excluded from major search engines or electronically stamped with a warning about your unreliability.

Your guilt will be judged by a panel of mainstream media outlets, including some partially funded by the U.S. government, or maybe by some anonymous group of alleged experts.

With the tens of millions of dollars now sloshing around Official Washington to pay for propaganda, lots of entrepreneurs will be lining up at the trough to do their part. Congress just approved another $160 million to combat “Russian propaganda,” which will apparently include U.S. news sites that question the case for the New Cold War.

Along with that money, the House voted 390-30 for the Intelligence Authorization Act with a Section 501 to create an Executive Branch “interagency committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence,” an invitation to expand the  McCarthyistic witch hunt already underway to intimidate independent Internet news sites and independent-minded Americans who question the latest round of U.S. government propaganda.

Even if a President Trump decides that these tensions with Russia are absurd and that the two countries can work together in the fight against terrorism and other international concerns, the financing of the New Cold War propaganda — and the pressure to conform to Official Washington’s  “group think” — will continue.

The well-funded drumbeat of anti-Russian propaganda will seek to limit Trump’s decision-making. After all, this New Cold War cash cow can be milked for years to come and nothing – not even the survival of the human species – is more important than that.

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




The Werewolves Who Hated Castro

The Little Havana celebrations of Fidel Castro’s death last month had a touch of mean-spirited delusion since perhaps Castro’s greatest achievement was defying American power and living to die of old age, observes Greg Maybury.

By Greg Maybury

Considering the deluge of bitterness and pique oozing from many in the U.S. political establishment in response to the death recently of Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro, even some folks with more than a passing knowledge of key world events and history in general, might’ve been left wondering what all the fuss was about. Castro — a man as reviled as he was revered — led that country’s 1959 revolution, one of the most portentous tipping points in the Cold War, if not in modern history.

The following might serve at the outset to give such people an idea as to why his passing provoked such a bilious response from Washington. As Wayne Smith, a former U.S. diplomat and ambassador to Cuba in the early years of Castro’s reign under President Dwight Eisenhower (Smith was later President Jimmy Carter’s Cuban representative), once memorably opined, “Cuba seems to have the same effect on US administrations as the full moon has on werewolves.”

Now Smith might’ve said this almost three decades ago, but as the reaction to the Cuban leader’s death indicated, this reality persists, despite the recent thaw in official relations initiated by President Obama. To be sure, there’s rarely been a shortage of countries that could lay claim to having this transformative effect on the collective psyche of U.S. political establishment, Iran being a prime example.

But it is Cuba that stands out as an exemplar, and so much of that has to do with Castro himself. Put simply, among the iconic revolutionary’s many talents was an unerring ability to get up Uncle Sam’s nose, and get away with it so often for so long. Suffice to say, since they seem to have inherited the same basic instincts as their forebears, the bulk of present-day Washington’s “Werewolves” must’ve been privately “howling at the moon” as it were at the Comandante’s demise at age 90.

Castro was the only world leader who resisted U.S. hegemony and lived to tell the tale, surviving by some accounts more than 630 separate assassination attempts over decades. Indeed, it would not be a surprise if the individual who came up with the expression “terminate with extreme prejudice” had Fidel in mind.

Such is the animus towards all things Cuba and Castro, President George W. Bush refused his offer to provide teams of doctors to assist the Hurricane Katrina relief effort in 2005, one of modern America’s worst natural disasters. And with folks like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich labeling Castro a “tyrant” and likewise President-elect Donald Trump dismissing the former Cuban leader as a “brutal dictator” (while also placing in doubt the future of the recent rapprochement with Cuba), it’s clear that “animus” is still alive and kicking. For many, Castro’s passing is unlikely to change this much. The Werewolves have long memories.

A Historic Turning Point

Although Castro came to power at the tail end of the Eisenhower era, he was catapulted to world prominence shortly after the inauguration of President John F Kennedy in 1961. It was on JFK’s watch that the attempts to assassinate Castro began in earnest, all under cover of the infamous Operation Mongoose; this decidedly dodgy “black-op” involved the CIA working in collaboration with the Mafia no less, and assorted pissed-off Cuban expatriates, exiles, and Batista regime “refugees,” all seeking to take back the “farm.” All this was with the full knowledge of JFK’s brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Although there is much conjecture as to whether JFK actually did know himself about Mongoose’s key objective, some find it difficult to accept he didn’t know given the brothers were “joined at the hip.” If indeed JFK did know, then he either ordered those involved — including Bobby — to stop and they were ignored, or JFK acquiesced. In the latter case, while he may not have been happy with doing so, such was the pressure on him over the Cuban “situation,” he may have gone along with it reluctantly. Like with so much of the JFK mythology, we may never know the answer.

Either way, Castro reportedly was deeply disturbed by JFK’s 1963 assassination, and the Comandante had good reason. Quite apart from having his hopes dashed for a rapprochement with the U.S. (JFK had earlier opened a back-channel communication link with the Cuban government, seeking to ease the tensions between them), Castro knew full well that if the U.S. could plausibly blame him for JFK’s murder — which he instinctively felt they’d try to do and which may have been the intention of those who engineered the hit — it would surely have escalated U.S. attacks on Cuba.

The following should further underscore the significant role played by Cuba during the Cold War. When asked in the acclaimed 2003 Errol Morris film Fog of War about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis – specifically, “how close” did the U.S. and the USSR come to an all-out nuclear exchange — then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara chillingly revealed that the two powers came “that close” (picture a grim-faced McNamara putting the tips of his thumb and forefinger so close there was little daylight between them).

The missile crisis was itself precipitated by Castro, who became an ally of the Soviet Union not long after the revolution of 1959 and who feared a full-scale U.S. invasion after the botched attempt at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. He invited Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to put some medium-range nuclear ballistic missiles on the island country (a counterpoint to U.S. missiles installed in Turkey).

As Cuba was located less than 90 miles from Florida, this triggered the scariest, most public, and potentially apocalyptic standoff between the two nuclear superpower archrivals. The stakes for humanity had never been greater.

Botched Regime Change

At this point it’s instructive to look back at some of the pre-revolution history of Cuba and its relationship with its giant neighbor. For our purposes though it is both sufficient and necessary to consider in some detail that other seminal historical tipping point of the Cold War involving Cuba and America, the Bay of Pigs invasion.

For those “buffs” of America’s regime change track record, along with its recidivistic propensity for interfering in the affairs — and ruthlessly exploiting both the resources and people — of other countries, the story of Cuba is one with which most will be well acquainted. From the early-to-mid 1950s, Castro fomented a popular revolution, and in 1959 after years of vicious, oppressive and corrupt rule by the U.S. client-dictator Fulgencio Batista, the rebels ousted him.

This is not an unfamiliar motif in the U.S. foreign policy narrative whereby the world’s loudest exponent of liberty, human rights, democracy, freedom and the rule of law, consistently relied on “klepto-brutocracies” like Batista’s to deliver anything but the above to their own people, almost always with varying degrees of unerring, bloody, tragic failure for them.

As for Batista, he’d earned his rightful place in the Client Dictators’ Hall of Fame, and then some. For years his rule generated deep-seated discontent, all of which seemed to go unnoticed by the Americans. He, his cronies and the Cuban elites of the era were enthusiastic supporters and beneficiaries of American business involvement in Cuba and, in particular, of the Mob (Batista was in the pocket of the notorious Mafia capo di tutt’i capi Meyer Lansky). All were making millions from gambling, prostitution, hospitality and tourism while bleeding the country dry and leaving the general populace far below the poverty line.

To say the Cuban people then were unhappy campers does not begin to describe the political, economic and social climate at the time. Eventually the chickens came home to roost for Batista as they do for most of America’s client dictators, although usually too late for those who’ve suffered under their sclerotic rule.

Much like the Shah of Iran 20 years later and Mobuto Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997 to name just two examples, the U.S. left its hapless client up that brown creek without a paddle when it became obvious just how restless the natives were and how little the Americans could do about it.

In order to avoid having his corrupt and brutal ass tarred and feathered by his ungrateful subjects and run out of town, Batista quit his day job and rode off into the sunset, consoling himself by filling his saddlebags with a large swag of looted booty.

Castro, along with his brother Raul (who in 2008 took over the presidency), aided memorably by Marxist revolutionary, Argentinian doctor Chè Guevara, assumed control of the country. They quickly kicked out the Americans along with the Mafia, and nationalized most of their industries and businesses.

For Lansky and the rest of the Mob in particular, their Golden Cuban Goose was cooked. Yet this was seen as an exceedingly bad development not just for them, but everyone in Washington across the defense, security, intelligence and political establishment and in the boardrooms of those U.S. corporations who’d enjoyed massive profits during the crime/corporate-friendly Batista regime.

Thus was created the circumstances that would eventually lead to the Bay of Pigs invasion (click link here for an info-graphic and timeline), one of most ill-advised, ill-fated, ill-conceived, ill-managed adventure in U.S. history. A defining event of the Cold War to be sure, but also one of the CIA’s biggest cock-ups that set the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis and possibly Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

The Bay of Pigs Blowback

Few foreign policy misadventures (those that became public knowledge at least), resulted in more immediate and vociferous response from the American public and international community, as did the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Even fewer ended in such obvious and enduring ignominy. If JFK had been enjoying the ride in Air Force One up until that point then, the “flight” became very bumpy with the Cuban “situation.”

JFK was so rattled by the Bay of Pigs experience, he threatened to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the four winds.” CIA chief Allen Dulles and two of his senior CIA spook colleagues were eventually forced to hang up their trilby hats and trench-coats, a move that Dulles neither forgot nor forgave. The CIA, however, survived as an American institution that was synonymous with fighting the dreaded, so-called “Red Menace,” which – in the Western Hemisphere at least – was personified by Castro.

As for the Agency and its operatives who survived the purge, they never forgot Kennedy’s threat nor his perceived “betrayal” of the Bay of Pigs invaders when the mission went south.

So what exactly happened with the Bay of Pigs? In order to better grasp how it all came together — a phrase not entirely appropriate because when it really counted it all came spectacularly unstuck — some brief background is needed. The original plot was hatched during the Eisenhower administration under Dulles’s direction and in concert with his big brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, the archetypal Cold Warrior, a man for whom leaders like Castro were anathema.

It involved utilizing the support of Cuban exiles, all of whom were mightily chagrinned at the new Cuban leader. If anything the Cuban exiles hated Castro more than the Americans did, and were eager to bed down with anyone who’d help restore them to their former glory.

A ‘Perfect Failure’

The truly ironic thing is that the Americans at one point did have opportunities to bring Castro inside the tent before the Soviets did. Despite the fact he’d expropriated the property of some U.S. corporations (including that of the ubiquitous, notorious United Fruit Company of Guatemalan coup fame and the poster child of rapacious, exploitative U.S. corporate fuelled neo-colonialism), he denied being a communist.

Nor were there any signs the as-yet-non-aligned Castro intended to bunk down with the Soviets. On his visit to America in April 1960, Eisenhower refused to even meet with the new leader, despite the fact the U.S. had formally recognized his new government. The sub-text of the Americans’ response might as well have been: “If we can’t own, pillage, plunder and exploit your country and bleed it dry, we don’t wanna know about you. Adios Amigo!”

Whether Fidel might’ve responded positively to any American overtures is now somewhat academic. But the truth is that no one will ever know. One thing we do know was that when the Americans “passed” on Cuba and ratcheted up the hostility, the Soviets didn’t miss a beat. and were “in like Flynn”! The rest as they say, is history, most of it as we’ll see, not so good! And so the stage was set for the Bay of Pigs.

Aptly described by Peter Kornbluh as the “perfect failure,” the Bay of Pigs was a disastrous mix of own goals, “mission myopia,” cock-ups and unalloyed hubris. The plan was so ill conceived that even the normally gung-ho Joint Chiefs of Staff knew it was bound to fail or had serious doubts. There are varying accounts as to whether they properly conveyed this to JFK, or there was some genuine misunderstanding.

But the reality was that the Chiefs had their own agenda — then as now, a not unfamiliar phenomenon in the annals of interagency rivalry within the US military, foreign policy and national security establishment. They wanted a full-scale invasion and knew JFK was not up for that under any circumstances.

Yet in effectively “nodding” a mission they knew had little or no chance of success, they calculated that Kennedy’s hand would be forced politically when that failure became obvious; the JCOS brass would then get their Big Day after all. From there they could claim bragging rights as the guys who came in and cleaned up the CIA’s mess, and Kennedy would cop all the flak for approving this “it seemed like a good idea at the time” operation.

It’s uncertain how the Chiefs were going to explain to Kennedy himself after the fact why they did not actively discourage the mission, or whether indeed they even gave this much consideration. It’s possible they short-changed JFK’s ability to “smell the rat” (that effectively he was set up by the CIA and the Chiefs), or figured that he would be so grateful to them later on when they had in fact cleaned up the mess he’d forgive and forget their treachery.

As it turned out, JFK did detect the “odor of rodent” before the mission was finally aborted. In order to minimize the failure, Kennedy refused to approve the necessary extra air cover that everyone was clamoring for, and that they insisted would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Kennedy didn’t buy this, and, once the penny dropped, seemingly preferred to cut his losses there and then.

From there on, collectively the brass was persona non grata with JFK, as he simply deduced he could no longer trust them. Much to their chagrin, they didn’t get their “boots-on-the-ground” gig as hoped. To underscore how unsettled the JCOS were about this, around 18 months later at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the then U.S. Air Force General Curtis (“Bombsaway”) Le May along with his JCOS colleagues began foaming at the mouth and literally wanted to nuke the Soviets and the Cubans back to the Neolithic Era. That Kennedy prevailed over this pressure is a matter of history of course; the fact we’re all still here talking about it is some testament to that.

Lock ‘n Load

As for the invasion however, with some modification to the original plan, in early April 1961, JFK gave the CIA and the exiled “Cubanistas” — who by this time had foam coming out of their mouths — the go-ahead. Presumably this was partly because he had a measure of respect for Allen Dulles and his judgment. While this was Dulles’s (and Eisenhower’s) baby, JFK accepted the parentage.

In preparation for the invasion, equipment, supplies and materiel were parachuted into the designated invasion location earlier with planes piloted by Cuban exiles accompanied by CIA mercenaries. However as luck would have it, much of this logistical support was lost in the swamp close by. Moreover, a pre-invasion air support strike was supposed to soften up the Cubans, break their morale, and destroy or render inactive most of the Cuban Air Force. As it turned out, the attack destroyed only a handful of planes, with a number of civilians ending up as collateral damage.

The decision not to follow-up with additional air support left the invaders with their “paramilitary peckers” swinging in the Bay of Pigs’ sea breeze, so to speak. They quickly ran out of — or were unable to locate — their supplies. Over the next three days, there was intense fighting between the two forces; but before it even started really, it was all over for the counter-revolutionary wannabes.

Amazingly, before the invasion, the CIA was apparently tipped off by the Soviets — presumably because they wanted to give the Americans pause about any aggressive military ambitions — that Castro was aware of a possible attack and/or invasion. For his part though Castro apparently expected that any such operation would be a full-scale military campaign, not the piddling bunch of deluded, right-wing, rag-tag, rabble-rousing soldiers of misfortune that eventually did do so.

Incredibly, the CIA folk adopted a “need to know” response to this critical piece of information and omitted to tell JFK when there was still ample opportunity, possibly explaining why the normally unflappable president went ballistic later. It’s difficult to see how Kennedy would’ve green-lighted the operation had he been “in the know” on this. In anticipation of such an invasion, the preternaturally charismatic Fidel mobilized all his armed forces and rallied for moral support any and all Cuban nationals who could hold a pitchfork or machete and see over the steering wheels of their Ford convertibles and Chevy pickups.

A Cult Following

The Bay of Pigs invaders eventually were outgunned, outnumbered, out-maneuvered and out-smarted. Having nowhere else to go, the “paramilitaries” high-tailed back to the beaches of the Bay of Pigs. Those that weren’t killed, either surrendered or were captured, with some later executed.

There are some further observations about the Bay of Pigs “fiasco” (as JFK aptly defined it) to note. Before the invasion the Cuban revolution was, by some accounts, running out of puff. Either way, after the botched invasion and the resulting worldwide publicity, it was unstoppable.

The location of the Soviet missiles in Cuba in October the next year — the decision taken as a direct consequence of the fallout from the Bay of Pigs to discourage any further thoughts of regime change — was the most provocative, potentially consequential acts in history.

As for JFK, he was both devastated by the failure and humiliated by the fallout of the mission. Given this was a man unaccustomed to failure, it must have been a heavy cross to bear. He’d however get an opportunity to redeem himself with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but his legacy was forever stained. As for the CIA, its senior executives got to understand the meaning of “blowback.”

Interestingly, one of the reasons why the Bay of Pigs operation was unsuccessful was much the same as why the Iraq invasion in 2003 was an unmitigated disaster: like those involved in, and who supported, that monumental foreign policy miscalculation by the U.S., they believed the Cuban people would be grateful for being liberated from Fidel’s tyranny and rise up in  arms against the oppressors. Of course, history tells a different story.

A Historic Moment

The events surrounding Castro and Cuba also resonate throughout the enduring mystery of Kennedy’s assassination, whether the Official Story of Lee Harvey Oswald and his involvement in the “Fair Play for Cuba Committee” or the Unofficial Story that Kennedy was killed as payback for abandoning the Cuban exiles (and friends of the Mafia) at the Bay of Pigs and his retaliation against the CIA.

No other foreign country comes remotely close to having any more connections to the momentous Kennedy assassination than does Cuba. For this reason alone, Cuba — and by extrapolation Fidel Castro — will feature large in any future historical narrative.

That said — love him or hate him – Castro’s place in history is guaranteed, much more so I suspect than most of his critics and enemies, past and present, most of whom are likely to end up as mere footnotes by comparison.

And as we have seen some many times throughout the American Cold War narrative, every fringe-dwelling, Marxist/Leninist and/or AK-47 packing, left-wing-leaning revolutionary wannabee in Latin America will pull out all stops to see if he or she might emulate Castro’s David and Goliath feat and kick the “gringos” where it really hurts.

That none has so far fared as well as Castro is a matter of history. Indeed, we might say this “standing up to the Man” was Castro’s most singular achievement. Even now, in the post-Castro era, Cuba itself will always remain an historically ineradicable symbol of fervent resistance to — and overt defiance of — Uncle Sam’s unerring, recidivistic predisposition for pillage and plunder in other people’s backyards.

For years, the CIA expended more time, money, ingenuity and energy in trying to “off” Fidel than they have in trying to “off” all of the other heads of state together that they’ve ever had in their sights for over 60 years. They cooked up all manner of outrageous, cockamamie Spy v Spy schemes such as placing small exploding devices in his cigars; administering exotic bacteria, viruses or toxic poisons by a multitude of means and methods; and giving him LSD in public so he’d flip out and lose face.

They even considered using non-discernible microbionoculators (lethal darts with undetectable poison fired from a high-powered gun), to all manner of bizarre plots and schemes such as administering chemicals to make the Comandante’s facial hair fall out.

The fact then that Castro still saw off 10 U.S. presidents is a remarkable feat unto itself. His success at survival made the celebrations in Little Havana in Miami, Florida, at the news of his death at age 90 seem pathetic and silly. While the anti-Castro Cubans may have been grinning from ear to ear and jumping for joy, it seems safe to say “Fiddy” had the last laugh on both his enemies in Miami and the Werewolves of Washington.

Greg Maybury is a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia.




Why Gen. Mattis Is No Gen. Marshall

President-elect Trump’s pick of retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis to run the Pentagon raises questions about civilian control of the military, especially compared to the precedent of Gen. George Marshall, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Useful perspective on issues surrounding the nomination of the retired Marine Corps general James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense, including the issue of civilian control of the military, can come from reflecting on the career of the one other general ever to be U.S. Defense Secretary.

Whether the appointment of Mattis turns out to be good or bad will depend as well on other things, but for comparison and context, consider the role and talents of the third Secretary of Defense, George C. Marshall. (After World War II, a reorganization transformed the Department of War, which had existed since 1789, into the Department of Defense.)

Marshall had a career as an Army officer but, apart from 18 months as a second lieutenant of infantry during the insurgency in the Philippines that followed the Spanish-American War, he rose to five-star general without ever commanding troops in combat. He instead was a brilliant planner and organizer.

During World War I, he was a staff officer who was heavily involved in the planning of operations for the American Expeditionary Force. As Army chief of staff throughout World War II, Marshall could be said to have managed the enormous allied war effort as much as any one person did. This was one of two roles that earned him a distinguished place in history.

His other big role was as a post-war diplomat, beginning when President Harry Truman dispatched him to China to try to arrange a political settlement between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists. He served as Truman’s Secretary of State during the critical years of the beginning of the Cold War, from 1947 to 1949. It was during his tenure in that office that he led implementation of the economic recovery program that bears his name — work for which he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

A World-Class Diplomat

Marshall’s service as Defense Secretary (following a stint as president of the American National Red Cross) thus came after he had already been one of the most prominent members of the Truman administration and a diplomat of world-class stature and accomplishment.

Truman’s calling of Marshall back to his administration to be Secretary of Defense was a short-term (Marshall served in the position for only a year) fix to a problem of bad morale and organization in the U.S. military establishment. The job of Secretary of Defense, which had been established in 1947, had not yet enjoyed a leader who would set a strong and positive model for future occupants of the office.

Truman removed each of his first two secretaries of defense (James Forrestal and Louis Johnson) after just a year and a half in the job. Marshall took the position at the low point of September 1950, after three months of the United States reeling from the North Korean invasion that began the Korean War.

As secretary, Marshall was involved in one of the best-known assertions of civilian control of the military: Truman’s firing of an insubordinate Douglas MacArthur, an action in which Marshall concurred. With that personnel problem resolved and the tide turned in Korea, Marshall retired to private life in September 1951.

In short, Marshall is not a precedent for the Mattis appointment except in the technical sense of having once worn stars on his shoulders. Putting Mattis in the job really would be a departure, in that he is at short remove from being a warrior and has had nothing like the career that Marshall had when he took over leadership of the Pentagon.

It is with good reason that the high school in Fairfax County, Virginia that is named after Marshall calls its athletic teams the Statesmen.

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.) 




Extracting Castro from the Demonization

The mainstream U.S. news media often lacks historical perspective, a problem most acute when the subject, like Fidel Castro, has faced Official Washington’s geopolitical demonization, as Lawrence Davidson explains.

By Lawrence Davidson

There was something both sad and disturbing about popular American reactions to the death of Fidel Castro on Nov. 25. According to The New York Times, news of his death caused much of the Cuban American population of south Florida to “fill Miami’s streets with song.” Those were songs of “rejoicing” rather than dirges. We will examine why these celebrations occurred later in this analysis. However, first we want to give Señor Castro his due.

Fidel Castro was the man who led the successful effort to overthrow the brutal and reactionary dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista – a dictatorship that had the backing of the U.S. government. The Castro-led victory of 1959 began a long period of transformation for Cuba, raising the country from a starkly poor Third World condition to a modernizing socialist state. Here are some of that country’s achievements under Castro’s leadership:

— The expansion of nationwide public education, which uplifted the Cuban population from being largely illiterate to being mostly literate.

— The introduction and development of a modern and accessible public health care system, which all but eliminated death from curable diseases and greatly reduced the infant mortality rate.

— The expansion of services, such as the electric grid, sewage systems, and a reliable water supply, into the countryside.

— The establishment of programs of sustainable development as the nation’s economy diversified according to environmentally safe guidelines. This did involve redistribution of large landed estates to over a quarter million peasants.

— A significant reduction of both racism and sexism through education and new laws.

— A considerable reduction of economic disparities.

There was, of course, a price to be paid for these advances. All of this and more was made possible by instituting a socialist economy and a one-party government. This alienated much of the country’s upper and middle classes. Resistance brought varying degrees of repression. Over time many of those whose economic lifestyles were compromised learned to resent and indeed hate Castro. Tens of thousands of them fled to the United States.

If the socialist road was, predictably, going to divide Cuba in such a drastic way, why did Castro decide to go this route? It was not, as popularly believed, because he came to power a convinced communist. His move to the left was in direct reaction to the policies adopted by the U.S. government.

A Fateful Visit

In April 1959, at the invitation of the American Association of Newspaper Editors, Castro paid a visit to the United States. The trip provided an opportunity for consultations with the U.S. government, although U.S. officials only begrudgingly met with Castro. There was a lot of annoyance at his early, if short-lived, declaration of neutrality when it came to the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower showed his displeasure with Castro by opting for a game of golf. But Castro did manage to get a three-hour audience with Vice President Richard Nixon.

It seems that the meeting did not go very well. Castro refused to promise swift new elections in Cuba. He was convinced that the nation’s priorities were economic and not political. And although Castro protested that he was not a communist, Nixon was suspicious. After the meeting he concluded that Castro was “either incredibly naive about communism or under communist discipline – my guess is the former.”

Subsequently, the U.S. government refused any economic assistance to the new Cuban regime. Worse yet, a decision was made to institute “punishment politics.” In March 1960, President Eisenhower set up funding for the overthrow of Castro. A year later the Kennedy administration carried out the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion. It was against this background that Castro and his advisers quickly turned to the Soviet Union for the economic and military assistance necessary for their survival.

Rejecting Sacrifice

Do those who jumped for joy in Little Havana on Nov. 25 understand this history? Most of them are the descendants of individuals who rejected Castro’s socialist ideals. Their own loyalties were not to Cuban society as a whole, but rather to family and/or a restricted economic community that was being forced to sacrifice for the greater good. Yet, for many Cubans of means, the notion of the greater good proved too threatening to be identified with their local interests.

Thus, the rejoicers’ immediate ancestors fled to the U.S. with their portable wealth and formed the political lobby (based, by the way, on the strategy and tactics of the Zionist lobby) that kept the U.S. government scheming against Cuba for over 50 years. Is it any wonder that their children should have a biased view of history?

The Cuban Americans are not the only ones to express a one-sided view of things. Members of the American conservative elite also rejoiced at Castro’s death. Here a representative voice is that of George Will, a political commentator whose columns appear in The Washington Post and other newspapers.

Will’s column on Castro’s death appeared on Nov. 28 under the title “Cuba a Tomb of Utopianism.” It is a historically incorrect judgment by virtue of the fact that Cuba’s achievements under Castro’s leadership, some of which are listed above, are not utopian at all, but rather quite real. But Will cannot see this any more than the celebrants of Little Havana. For him Castro is nothing more than a “charismatic totalitarian” whose life was “nasty” and whose “regime was saturated with sadism.” He goes on to compare Castro to Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.

What is his evidence for these morbid exaggerations? Well, the Cuban government imprisoned some of its opponents, though they allowed many more of them to emigrate out of the country. Between 500 and 700 of Batista’s henchmen were tried and executed. Over time the regime manifested increasing authoritarian tendencies largely due to relentless U.S. efforts to destroy the country’s economy and overthrow its government.

In other words, the United States created an ongoing wartime situation for Havana. Under such circumstances the historically usual reaction is for a government – any government – to become more controlling. George Will takes no notice of this.

The Cuban American rejoicing at Castro’s death, and George Will’s misreading it as the a sign of a “dead utopianism,” are both disturbing manifestations of historical narrow-mindedness.

In the case of the celebrants, this attitude is no doubt connected to pent-up anger over the fact that something had been taken from them, or from their relatives, as part of an effort to remake a society that, prior to 1959, had only enriched the wealthy and impoverished the poor.

George Will’s attitude is a function of his conservative worldview. He gives no credit at all to the economic and social achievements of Fidel Castro because he can’t get past his ideologically driven interpretation of the political steps taken to realize them.

And neither of the above will admit to the truth that the Cuba policy of the United States over more than 50 years contributed strongly to the road Castro took.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Italy’s Voters Slap Down the Elites

Exlusive: In another populist blow to the elites, Italian voters rejected a constitutional reform plan that prompted Prime Minister Renzi’s resignation and raised new doubts about the E.U.’s stability, explains Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus

Italian voters sent a strong message to their own government and to all of Europe, declaring through their rejection of a constitutional reform referendum that democracy is more important than efficiency and that the population won’t be bullied by threats from the political and financial elite.

This is the upshot of Sunday’s resounding defeat of the constitutional changes proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has now announced his resignation, opening the country up to a period of political uncertainty.

The higher-than-expected margin for the No side, which prevailed 59 percent to 41 percent and the high turnout for a stand-alone referendum (68.5 percent), makes it clear that the sentiment expressed by Italians went far beyond the merits of the reform. Indeed the proposal itself, which aimed to streamline the political process and thus give more power to the government to avoid gridlock, was too complicated to submit to a popular vote. Even its supporters weren’t sure it would actually work, while most citizens were bewildered by the fact that they were asked to judge something so complicated.

The result was that the vote took on a political significance apart from the reform itself. And thus the Italians added their voice to the popular revolt expressed through the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the success of anti-establishment candidates in the U.S. elections. People went to vote en masse against the reform to show that they won’t be manipulated by a political elite that has not solved the basic problems afflicting most of the Western world, starting with the difficulties of the middle class due to the failed economic policies of financial globalization.

Italy’s political system and bureaucacy is indeed complex, and could benefit from increased efficiency; but reform is difficult without addressing broader political and economic problems. Renzi himself, who rose to prominence as the “demolition man” taking aim at what he defined as entrenched power structures, wasn’t even elected to his post as Prime Minister. He got the job due to a shift in power in the Democratic Party (Pd) in 2014, after years of technocratic governments had already begun to provoke widespread discontent in the population.

His rise was billed as a move back towards the primacy of political power, as opposed to the harsh austerity imposed by national and international financial authorities starting from 2011 on, measures which caused an over 20 percent drop in the country’s industrial production.

Once the austerity was tempered the economy starting doing better, but it never made it past sub-one-percent growth, and the widespread impression was that Renzi’s words were much louder than his actions. The policy that continues to dominate is that of the European Union’s budget rules, which restrict government spending and largely prohibit public intervention to stimulate the economy.

Role of J.P. Morgan

Renzi’s reform, despite having some positive aspects to it, ultimately fell victim to the population’s rejection of the overall political and economic conditions. An example is the impression that international financial interests were keen on obtaining the constitutional changes in order to pursue their own interests.

In May 2013, J.P. Morgan published a report entitled “The Euro area adjustment: about halfway there.” The bank lamented the weakness of the constitutions of countries of the “periphery” (usually referring to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece). Astoundingly, among the complaints listed in the report were items such as “constitutional protection of labor rights” and “the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the status quo.”

J.P. Morgan’s conclusion was that these shortcomings have led to the failure of “fiscal and economic reform agendas,” although it held out hope for Italy, where the Renzi government was aiming “to engage in meaningful political reform.”

The political class scoffed at the “conspiracy theory” of how international banks were pushing the reform, but not surprisingly it made quite an impression on regular people. In the final months of the campaign the opposition grew based on the notion that the reform was anti-democratic, as it aimed to streamline decision-making power by limiting popular input.

Whether J.P. Morgan and other financial interests had a direct role in encouraging the reform or not is open to debate (and investigation), but at this point what matters is that the population has the impression that policy in Europe is made by the banks and multinational corporations, for the banks and multinational corporations, and that governments generally respond to those interests.

Indeed the international reaction to the anti-reform vote in Italy will predictably focus on financial stability and the potential for a banking crisis. Italy’s banks are laden with non-performing loans, with one in particular, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needing over $5 billion in new capital to avoid collapse. It’s not the largest bank in the country, but the problem of distressed assets is widespread due in particular to the collapse of the internal market during the austerity period of 2011-2014, something that most economic commentators conveniently forget to mention.

The incessant threats of financial calamity due to a No vote that were waved around by supporters of the reform and the international press, likely had the opposite effect: the population refuses to be manipulated, because it doesn’t trust the motives of the press and the politicians.

Democracy’s Outburst

Lastly, there is the question of democracy, as expressed through elections. Renzi’s resignation will lead to a caretaker government charged with completing the budget law and then making adjustments to the country’s election law, another issue of reform that has been used as a political football between Italian political parties.

The scenario that the institutions wish to avoid at all costs, is elections. The fear across Europe is that the outsider parties, considered as extremist due principally to their criticism of the European Union, will make strong gains if the population is called on to vote.

Indeed the Five Star Movement (M5S), founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, is already close to having a plurality of support in Italy. On the right is the Northern League, closer to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Marine Le Pen in France, that could also stand to benefit.

Renzi himself remains popular, in particular with the professional class and in the business community. Given the personalization of the referendum, Renzi announced from the start that it was all about him – the 41 percent vote for the Yes side could even be seen as a reflection of his personal popularity, a very high number in Europe where there are generally at least three large parties in each country. Yet the worry is that the political situation could spiral out of control, with a victory by groups with anti-establishment positions.

Faced with this scenario, European elites seem to be falling into the usual trap. For fear of losing power they aim to buy time by stifling the voice of the protest, ultimately making it worse. It’s the same model used for economic policy: the E.U. institutions are so strongly wedded to their free market and austerity ideology that they try to further centralize decision-making power at the supranational level, refusing to make fundamental changes even if it means aggravating the problem.

In Europe, few seem to have learned the lesson from Brexit and the U.S. elections. The people are restless and fed up with the elites.

Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. His book on the U.S. elections Perchè vince Trump (Why Trump is Winning) was published in June 2016.

 




WPost Won’t Retract McCarthyistic Smear

After publishing a McCarthyistic “black list” that smears some 200 Web sites as “Russian propagandists,” The Washington Post refuses to apologize — and other mainstream media outlets pile on, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

We still don’t have any sort of apology or retraction from the Washington Post for promoting “The List” — the highly dangerous blacklist that got a huge boost from the newspaper’s fawning coverage on Nov. 24. The project of smearing 200 websites with one broad brush wouldn’t have gotten far without the avid complicity of high-profile media outlets, starting with the Post.

On Thursday — a week after the Post published its front-page news article hyping the blacklist that was put out by a group of unidentified people called PropOrNot — I sent a petition statement to the newspaper’s executive editor Martin Baron.

“Smearing is not reporting,” the RootsAction petition says. “The Washington Post’s recent descent into McCarthyism — promoting anonymous and shoddy claims that a vast range of some 200 websites are all accomplices or tools of the Russian government — violates basic journalistic standards and does real harm to democratic discourse in our country. We urge the Washington Post to prominently retract the article and apologize for publishing it.”

After mentioning that 6,000 people had signed the petition (the number has doubled since then), my email to Baron added: “If you skim through the comments that many of the signers added to the petition online, I think you might find them to be of interest. I wonder if you see a basis for dialogue on the issues raised by critics of the Post piece in question.”

The reply came from the newspaper’s vice president for public relations, Kristine Coratti Kelly, who thanked me “for reaching out to us” before presenting the Post’s response, quoted here in full:

“The Post reported on the work of four separate sets of researchers, as well as independent experts, who have examined Russian attempts to influence American democracy. PropOrNot was one. The Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list of organizations that it said had — wittingly or unwittingly — published or echoed Russian propaganda. The Post reviewed PropOrNot’s findings and our questions about them were answered satisfactorily during the course of multiple interviews.”

Full of Holes

But that damage-control response was as full of holes as the news story it tried to defend.

For one thing, PropOrNot wasn’t just another source for the Post’s story. As The New Yorker noted in a devastating article on Dec. 1, the story “prominently cited the PropOrNot research.” The Post’s account “had the force of revelation, thanks in large part to the apparent scientific authority of PropOrNot’s work: the group released a 32-page report detailing its methodology, and named names with its list of 200 suspect news outlets…. But a close look at the report showed that it was a mess.”

Contrary to the PR message from the Post vice president, PropOrNot did not merely say that the sites on its list had “published or echoed Russian propaganda.” Without a word of the slightest doubt or skepticism in the entire story, the Post summarized PropOrNot’s characterization of all the websites on its list as falling into two categories: “Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were ‘useful idiots’ — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.”

As The New Yorker pointed out, PropOrNot’s criteria for incriminating content were broad enough to include “nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself.” Yet “The List” is not a random list by any means — it’s a targeted mish-mash, naming websites that are not within shouting distance of the U.S. corporate and foreign policy establishment.

And so the list includes a few overtly Russian-funded outlets; some other sites generally aligned with Kremlin outlooks; many pro-Trump sites, often unacquainted with what it means to be factual and sometimes overtly racist; and other websites that are quite different — solid, factual, reasonable — but too progressive or too anti-capitalist or too libertarian or too right-wing or just plain too independent-minded for the evident tastes of whoever is behind PropOrNot.

As The New Yorker’s writer Adrian Chen put it: “To PropOrNot, simply exhibiting a pattern of beliefs outside the political mainstream is enough to risk being labeled a Russian propagandist.” And he concluded: “Despite the impressive-looking diagrams and figures in its report, PropOrNot’s findings rest largely on innuendo and conspiracy thinking.”

As for the Post vice president’s defensive phrasing that “the Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list,” the fact is that the Post unequivocally promoted PropOrNot, driving web traffic to its site and adding a hotlink to the anonymous group’s 32-page report soon after the newspaper’s story first appeared. As I mentioned in my reply to her: “Unfortunately, it’s kind of like a newspaper saying that it didn’t name any of the people on the Red Channels blacklist in 1950 while promoting it in news coverage, so no problem.”

Pushing McCarthyism

As much as the Post news management might want to weasel out of the comparison, the parallels to the advent of the McCarthy Era are chilling. For instance, the Red Channels list, with 151 names on it, was successful as a weapon against dissent and free speech in large part because, early on, so many media outlets of the day actively aided and abetted blacklisting, as the Post has done for “The List.”

Consider how the Post story described the personnel of PropOrNot in favorable terms even while hiding all of their identities and thus shielding them from any scrutiny — calling them “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

So far The New Yorker has been the largest media outlet to directly confront the Post’s egregious story. Cogent assessments can also be found at The InterceptConsortium NewsCommon DreamsAlterNetRolling StoneFortuneCounterPunchThe Nation and numerous other sites.

But many mainline journalists and outlets jumped at the chance to amplify the Post’s piece of work. A sampling of the cheers from prominent journalists and liberal partisans was published by FAIR.org under the apt headline “Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited ‘Fake News’ Blacklist?

FAIR’s media analyst Adam Johnson cited enthusiastic responses to the bogus story from journalists like Bloomberg’s Sahil Kupar and MSNBC’s Joy Reid — and such outlets as USA TodayGizmodo, the PBS NewsHourThe Daily BeastSlateAPThe Verge and NPR, which “all uncritically wrote up the Post’s most incendiary claims with little or minimal pushback.” On the MSNBC site, the Rachel Maddow Show’s blog “added another breathless write-up hours later, repeating the catchy talking point that ‘it was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign.’”

With so many people understandably upset about Trump’s victory, there’s an evident attraction to blaming the Kremlin, a convenient scapegoat for Hillary Clinton’s loss. But the Post’s blacklisting story and the media’s amplification of it — and the overall political environment that it helps to create — are all building blocks for a reactionary order, threatening the First Amendment and a range of civil liberties.

When liberals have green-lighted a witch-hunt, right wingers have been pleased to run with it. President Harry Truman issued an executive order in March 1947 to establish “loyalty” investigations in every agency of the federal government. Joe McCarthy and the era named after him were soon to follow.

In media and government, the journalists and officials who enable blacklisting are cravenly siding with conformity instead of democracy.

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.




New Navy Ship Leaking Tax Dollars

Exclusive: The New Cold War with Russia provides a stronger budgetary lifeline for the Military-Industrial Complex than the War on Terror does while helping to quiet critics of wasteful spending, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

The world’s mightiest navy is at risk of being sunk — not by a superior enemy, but by its own inability to acquire ships that work at a price that even the richest military on the planet can afford.

The U.S. Navy today has only 272 deployable warships — a decline of more than 50 percent in just the last three decades — of which fewer than a third put to sea at any given time. Although the U. S. Navy remains by far the strongest force of its kind, current fleet trends call into question its future ability to meet inflated global missions that include tracking Russian submarines in the Arctic, patrolling the Persian Gulf, and defeating China on its home seas.

Rather than rethink those missions, the Navy is clamoring for more appropriations to pay for budget-busting weapons systems. For example, the Navy wants a dozen new ballistic-missile-carrying nuclear submarines at an estimated cost of about $140 billion. A single new Ford Class nuclear aircraft carrier will cost taxpayers nearly $14 billion — and that doesn’t include the inordinately expensive aircraft it will carry or the support ships needed to help protect it.

Now soaring costs and operating snafus are crippling a class of vessels the Navy was counting on to bulk up the fleet at relatively low cost: the littoral combat ship (LCS). A senior Pentagon official just admitted to Congress that ill-managed attempts to fast-track the design and construction of the LCS have all but “broke the Navy.”

The LCS began entering the fleet in 2008 for various missions in coastal waters. With high performance engines and fast hull designs, the ships were meant to outrun speedy patrol boats. With a modular design, they could be reconfigured for different missions, including surface combat, mine-sweeping and hunting submarines. Smaller and less heavily armored than a frigate, they were supposed to be highly affordable.

Crippled Ships

But over the past 12 months, five of the eight LCS ships acquired so far have been crippled by construction defects, design errors, or crew mistakes. The USS Milwaukee broke down just 20 days after putting to sea and had to be towed back to Virginia. The USS Freedom limped back to port after seawater leaks rusted its engine during a 26-nation exercise in the Pacific. The USS Fort Worth crawled back to San Diego from Singapore after discovering a mechanical fault.

In August, the Navy ordered all LCS ships to “stand down” for 30 days and focus on evaluating crew training and operating practices. Even so, the USS Coronado broke down that month en route to Singapore. In September, the USS Montgomery suffered engine problems just three days after it was commissioned, forcing it to head back to Florida for repairs.

That was the backdrop for more bad news delivered Dec. 1 to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Paul Francis, an expert for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reported that the cost per ship has more than doubled, from $220 million to $478 million, since the early days of the program. Delivery is running about nine years behind schedule. The LCS fails to meet Navy objectives for speed and range and its mission capabilities “remain largely unproven.”

He explained that the Navy, rushing to acquire the ships, adopted a “buy before you fly” approach, committing to a large number of ships (originally 55, now 40) before the design was complete and the kinks had been worked out.

“The miracle of LCS didn’t happen,” Francis testified. “We are 26 ships into the contract and we still don’t know if it can do its job . . . Once the money wheel starts to turn, the business imperatives of budgets and contracts and ship construction take precedence over acquisition and oversight principles.”

At the same hearing, the director of the Pentagon’s weapons testing office delivered a devastating, 30-page assessment. The LCS, he said, “has not yet demonstrated effective war-fighting capability in any of its originally envisioned missions: surface warfare, mine countermeasures, and antisubmarine warfare . . . Furthermore, all of the ships have suffered from significant and repeated reliability problems. . . . Unless corrected, the critical problems . . . will continue to prevent the ship . . . from being operationally effective or operationally suitable in war.”

Near Zero Chance

Based on current performance, he added, the ships “have a near-zero chance of completing a 30-day mission (the Navy’s requirement) without a critical failure of one or more . . . subsystems essential for wartime operations.”

He also warned that the thinly armored aluminum ship is vulnerable to being knocked out of commission by a single enemy hit. Its one onboard gun defends poorly against aircraft or swarming patrol boats, and to date the LCS has “no capability to detect or defend against torpedoes.”

No problem; the Navy just “defined down” the ship’s mission. In 2012, the chief of naval operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, said he planned to keep the LCS out of a shooting war — using them instead for peacetime exercises, port visits, humanitarian assistance, and fighting pirates. By sending them to such relatively safe venues as Latin America and Africa, he explained, the Navy could free up more capable warships for riskier theaters.

The latest Navy plan is to buy 14 more of the ships, on top of the 26 already delivered or under contract, and to call a dozen of them frigates. The GAO’s expert asked the committee, “does a program that costs twice as much but delivers less capability than planned still warrant an additional investment of nearly $14 billion?”

You can be sure that Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and other military contractors with a stake in the program, will insist yes, of course.

So will the Navy, which hates losing battles of the budget as much as those at sea. Indeed, a joint statement to the committee by an assistant secretary of the Navy and the commander of naval surface forces insisted that the LCS “is of critical importance to our Navy,” provides “increased warfighting flexibility to our Fleet,” and offers “game changing [anti-submarine warfare] capability at an affordable cost.”

Although some members of Congress in both parties decry the program’s dismal record, most just want the pork to keep on coming. When the Pentagon last December proposed cutting the LCS program to 40 ships, hawks cried foul.

“Our Navy is at risk across the world and the weak and impotent Obama Administration seeks to further undermine our position with this ill-considered decision,” thundered Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Make no mistake about it, from Mobile to Marinette, from San Diego and Jacksonville, the bell has rung, and those in the Pentagon need to hear that this will not stand.”

With the GOP soon to be in charge of both the White House and Congress, the Navy will likely get what it wants in the short term. Why “drain the swamp” when you can sail right through it? But if current budget trends continue, the math will inevitably defeat even the Navy’s greatest champions and force a fundamental reexamination of how it does business.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic . Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews include “Nazi Roots of Ukraine’s Conflict,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” “European Union’s Imperial Overreach,” and “Kosovo Chaos Undercuts Clinton ‘Success.’”