The State Department’s Collective Madness

Exclusive: More than 50 U.S. State Department “diplomats” sent a “dissent” memo urging President Obama to launch military strikes against the Syrian army, another sign that Foggy Bottom has collectively gone nuts, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Over the past several decades, the U.S. State Department has deteriorated from a reasonably professional home for diplomacy and realism into a den of armchair warriors possessed of imperial delusions, a dangerous phenomenon underscored by the recent mass “dissent” in favor of blowing up more people in Syria.

Some 51 State Department “diplomats” signed a memo distributed through the official “dissent channel,” seeking military strikes against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad whose forces have been leading the pushback against Islamist extremists who are seeking control of this important Mideast nation.

The fact that such a large contingent of State Department officials would openly advocate for an expanded aggressive war in line with the neoconservative agenda, which put Syria on a hit list some two decades ago, reveals how crazy the State Department has become.

The State Department now seems to be a combination of true-believing neocons along with their liberal-interventionist followers and some careerists who realize that the smart play is to behave toward the world as global proconsuls dictating solutions or seeking “regime change” rather than as diplomats engaging foreigners respectfully and seeking genuine compromise.

Even some State Department officials, whom I personally know and who are not neocons/liberal-hawks per se, act as if they have fully swallowed the Kool-Aid. They talk tough and behave arrogantly toward inhabitants of countries under their supervision. Foreigners are treated as mindless objects to be coerced or bribed.

So, it’s not entirely surprising that several dozen U.S. “diplomats” would attack President Barack Obama’s more temperate position on Syria while positioning themselves favorably in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton administration, which is expected to authorize an illegal invasion of Syria — under the guise of establishing “no-fly zones” and “safe zones” — which will mean the slaughter of young Syrian soldiers. The “diplomats” urge the use of “stand-off and air weapons.”

These hawks are so eager for more war that they don’t mind risking a direct conflict with Russia, breezily dismissing the possibility of a clash with the nuclear power by saying they are not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia.” That’s reassuring to hear.

Risking a Jihadist Victory

There’s also the danger that a direct U.S. military intervention could collapse the Syrian army and clear the way for victory by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front or the Islamic State. The memo did not make clear how the delicate calibration of doing just enough damage to Syria’s military while avoiding an outright jihadist victory and averting a clash with Russia would be accomplished.

Presumably, whatever messes are created, the U.S. military would be left to clean up, assuming that shooting down some Russian warplanes and killing Russian military personnel wouldn’t escalate into a full-scale thermonuclear conflagration.

In short, it appears that the State Department has become a collective insane asylum where the inmates are in control. But this madness isn’t some short-term aberration that can be easily reversed. It has been a long time coming and would require a root-to-branch ripping out of today’s “diplomatic” corps to restore the State Department to its traditional role of avoiding wars rather than demanding them.

Though there have always been crazies in the State Department – usually found in the senior political ranks – the phenomenon of an institutional insanity has only evolved over the past several decades. And I have seen the change.

I have covered U.S. foreign policy since the late 1970s when there was appreciably more sanity in the diplomatic corps. There were people like Robert White and Patricia Derian (both now deceased) who stood up for justice and human rights, representing the best of America.

But the descent of the U.S. State Department into little more than well-dressed, well-spoken but thuggish enforcers of U.S. hegemony began with the Reagan administration. President Ronald Reagan and his team possessed a pathological hatred of Central American social movements seeking freedom from oppressive oligarchies and their brutal security forces.

During the 1980s, American diplomats with integrity were systematically marginalized, hounded or removed. (Human rights coordinator Derian left at the end of the Carter administration and was replaced by neocon Elliott Abrams; White was fired as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, explaining: “I refused a demand by the secretary of state, Alexander M. Haig Jr., that I use official channels to cover up the Salvadoran military’s responsibility for the murders of four American churchwomen.”)

The Neocons Rise

As the old-guard professionals left, a new breed of aggressive neoconservatives was brought in, the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Robert McFarlane, Robert Kagan and Abrams. After eight years of Reagan and four years of George H.W. Bush, the State Department was reshaped into a home for neocons, but some pockets of professionalism survived the onslaughts.

While one might have expected the Democrats of the Clinton administration to reverse those trends, they didn’t. Instead, Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” applied to U.S. foreign policy as much as to domestic programs. He was always searching for that politically safe “middle.”

As the 1990s wore on, the decimation of foreign policy experts in the mold of White and Derian left few on the Democratic side who had the courage or skills to challenge the deeply entrenched neocons. Many Clinton-era Democrats accommodated to the neocon dominance by reinventing themselves as “liberal interventionists,” sharing the neocons’ love for military force but justifying the killing on “humanitarian” grounds.

This approach was a way for “liberals” to protect themselves against right-wing charges that they were “weak,” a charge that had scarred Democrats deeply during the Reagan/Bush-41 years, but this Democratic “tough-guy/gal-ism” further sidelined serious diplomats favoring traditional give-and-take with foreign leaders and their people.

So, you had Democrats like then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (and later Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright justifying Bill Clinton’s brutal sanctions policies toward Iraq, which the U.N. blamed for killing 500,000 Iraqi children, as “a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

Bill Clinton’s eight years of “triangulation,” which included the brutal air war against Serbia, was followed by eight years of George W. Bush, which further ensconced the neocons as the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

By then, what was left of the old Republican “realists,” the likes of Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, was aging out or had been so thoroughly compromised that the neocons faced no significant opposition within Republican circles. And, Official Washington’s foreign-policy Democrats had become almost indistinguishable from the neocons, except for their use of “humanitarian” arguments to justify aggressive wars.

Media Capitulation

Before George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, much of the “liberal” media establishment – from The New York Times to The New Yorker – fell in line behind the war, asking few tough questions and presenting almost no obstacles. Favoring war had become the “safe” career play.

But a nascent anti-war movement among rank-and-file Democrats did emerge, propelling Barack Obama, an anti-Iraq War Democrat, to the 2008 presidential nomination over Iraq War supporter Hillary Clinton. But those peaceful sentiments among the Democratic “base” did not reach very deeply into the ranks of Democratic foreign policy mavens.

So, when Obama entered the White House, he faced a difficult challenge. The State Department needed a thorough purging of the neocons and the liberal hawks, but there were few Democratic foreign policy experts who hadn’t sold out to the neocons. An entire generation of Democratic policy-makers had been raised in the world of neocon-dominated conferences, meetings, op-eds and think tanks, where tough talk made you sound good while talk of traditional diplomacy made you sound soft.

By contrast, more of the U.S. military and even the CIA favored less belligerent approaches to the world, in part, because they had actually fought Bush’s hopeless “global war on terror.” But Bush’s hand-picked, neocon-oriented high command – the likes of General David Petraeus – remained in place and favored expanded wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama then made one of the most fateful decisions of his presidency. Instead of cleaning house at State and at the Pentagon, he listened to some advisers who came up with the clever P.R. theme “Team of Rivals” – a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s first Civil War cabinet – and Obama kept in place Bush’s military leadership, including Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, and reached out to hawkish Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State.

In other words, Obama not only didn’t take control of the foreign-policy apparatus, he strengthened the power of the neocons and liberal hawks. He then let this powerful bloc of Clinton-Gates-Petraeus steer him into a foolhardy counterinsurgency “surge” in Afghanistan that did little more than get 1,000 more U.S. soldiers killed along with many more Afghans.

Obama also let Clinton sabotage his attempted outreach to Iran in 2010 seeking constraints on its nuclear program and he succumbed to her pressure in 2011 to invade Libya under the false pretense of establishing a “no-fly zone” to protect civilians, what became a “regime change” disaster that Obama has ranked as his biggest foreign policy mistake.

The Syrian Conflict

Obama did resist Secretary Clinton’s calls for another military intervention in Syria although he authorized some limited military support to the allegedly “moderate” rebels and allowed Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to do much more in supporting jihadists connected to Al Qaeda and even the Islamic State.

Under Secretary Clinton, the neocon/liberal-hawk bloc consolidated its control of the State Department diplomatic corps. Under neocon domination, the State Department moved from one “group think” to the next. Having learned nothing from the Iraq War, the conformity continued to apply toward Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia, China, Venezuela, etc.

Everywhere the goal was same: to impose U.S. hegemony, to force the locals to bow to American dictates, to steer them into neo-liberal “free market” solutions which were often equated with “democracy” even if most of the people of the affected countries disagreed.

Double-talk and double-think replaced reality-driven policies. “Strategic communications,” i.e., the aggressive use of propaganda to advance U.S. interests, was one watchword. “Smart power,” i.e., the application of financial sanctions, threats of arrests, limited military strikes and other forms of intimidation, was another.

Every propaganda opportunity, such as the Syrian sarin attack in 2013 or the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down over eastern Ukraine, was exploited to the hilt to throw adversaries on the defensive even if U.S. intelligence analysts doubted that evidence supported the accusations.

Lying at the highest levels of the U.S. government – but especially among the State Department’s senior officials – became epidemic. Perhaps even worse, U.S. “diplomats” seemed to believe their own propaganda.

Meanwhile, the mainstream U.S. news media experienced a similar drift into the gravity pull of neocon dominance and professional careerism, eliminating major news outlets as any kind of check on official falsehoods.

The Up-and-Comers

The new State Department star – expected to receive a high-level appointment from President Clinton-45 – is neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who orchestrated the 2014 putsch in Ukraine, toppling an elected, Russia-friendly president and replacing him with a hard-line Ukrainian nationalist regime that then launched violent military attacks against ethnic Russians in the east who resisted the coup leadership.

When Russia came to the assistance of these embattled Ukrainian citizens, including agreeing to Crimea’s request to rejoin Russia, the State Department and U.S. mass media spoke as one in decrying a “Russian invasion” and supporting NATO military maneuvers on Russia’s borders to deter “Russian aggression.”

Anyone who dares question this latest “group think” – as it plunges the world into a dangerous new Cold War – is dismissed as a “Kremlin apologist” or “Moscow stooge” just as skeptics about the Iraq War were derided as “Saddam apologists.” Virtually everyone important in Official Washington marches in lock step toward war and more war. (Victoria Nuland is married to Robert Kagan, making them one of Washington’s supreme power couples.)

So, that is the context of the latest State Department rebellion against Obama’s more tempered policies on Syria. Looking forward to a likely Hillary Clinton administration, these 51 “diplomats” have signed their name to a “dissent” that advocates bombing the Syrian military to protect Syria’s “moderate” rebels who – to the degree they even exist – fight mostly under the umbrella of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its close ally, Ahrar al Sham.

The muddled thinking in this “dissent” is that by bombing the Syrian military, the U.S. government can enhance the power of the rebels and supposedly force Assad to negotiate his own removal. But there is no reason to think that this plan would work.

In early 2014, when the rebels held a relatively strong position, U.S.-arranged peace talks amounted to a rebel-dominated conference that made Assad’s departure a pre-condition and excluded Syria’s Iranian allies from attending. Not surprisingly, Assad’s representative went home and the talks collapsed.

Now, with Assad holding a relatively strong hand, backed by Russian air power and Iranian ground forces, the “dissenting” U.S. diplomats say peace is impossible because the rebels are in no position to compel Assad’s departure. Thus, the “dissenters” recommend that the U.S. expand its role in the war to again lift the rebels, but that would only mean more maximalist demands from the rebels.

Serious Risks

This proposed wider war, however, would carry some very serious risks, including the possibility that the Syrian army could collapse, opening the gates of Damascus to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front (and its allies) or the Islamic State – a scenario that, as The New York Times noted, the “memo doesn’t address.”

Currently, the Islamic State and – to a lesser degree – the Nusra Front are in retreat, chased by the Syrian army with Russian air support and by some Kurdish forces with U.S. backing. But those gains could easily be reversed. There is also the risk of sparking a wider war with Iran and/or Russia.

But such cavalier waving aside of grave dangers is nothing new for the neocons and liberal hawks. They have consistently dreamt up schemes that may sound good at a think-tank conference or read well in an op-ed article, but fail in the face of ground truth where usually U.S. soldiers are expected to fix the mess.

We have seen this wishful thinking go awry in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and even Syria, where Obama’s acquiescence to provide arms and training for the so-called “unicorns” – the hard-to-detect “moderate” rebels – saw those combatants and their weapons absorbed into Al Qaeda’s or Islamic State’s ranks.

Yet, the neocons and liberal hawks who control the State Department – and are eagerly looking forward to a Hillary Clinton presidency – will never stop coming up with these crazy notions until a concerted effort is made to assess accountability for all the failures that that they have inflicted on U.S. foreign policy.

As long as there is no accountability – as long as the U.S. president won’t rein in these warmongers – the madness will continue and only grow more dangerous.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Democrats Are Now the Aggressive War Party” and “Would a Clinton Win Mean More Wars?’]

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 War Risk of Hillary Clinton

Hawkish State Department officials and Official Washington’s neocons are eager for a Hillary Clinton presidency, counting on a freer hand to use U.S. military force around the world, but that future is not so clear, says Michael Brenner.

By Michael Brenner

Is Hillary Clinton a warmonger? Well, the record demonstrates that she certainly is a hawk – someone who believes strongly in the utility of military force and is ready to use it.

There is ample evidence in support of this contention. Her actions as Senator and Secretary of State as well her speeches and campaign statements paint a picture of a would-be President who views the world in terms of an ominous threat environment, who believes that core American interests are being challenged across the globe, who is a firm advocate of intervening on a preventive basis (e.g. Syria, Libya) as well as a preemptive or defensive basis, who is dedicated to keeping putative rivals like China or Russia in a subordinate position.

This complex of attitudes puts a considerable amount of blue water between her and Barack Obama. Indeed, early in her campaign she made a point of criticizing the White House for its overly restrained policies vis a vis Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. She only switched tacks when it became evident that she needed to associate herself with the Obama record in the face of the unexpected Sanders insurrection.

The specific criticisms directed at HRC from those who find her too hawkish are well-known. They include her vote in favor of the Iraq war; her cheerleading for the Global War on Terror in all its aspects; her collaboration with the Robert Gates-led faction to push President Obama into a major Afghan escalation; her advocacy of direct military action in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and in Syria to unseat Assad; her unbending attitude toward containing Iran even after the nuclear accord; and her bellicose language in calling Putin another “Hitler’ after Russia’s seizure of the Crimea.

Hillary Clinton’s big foreign policy address at the Council on Foreign Relations reinforced the impression of a hard-liner across-the-board who thinks primarily in terms of power balances and its deployment. In addition, her full-throated endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions left no room for accommodating the concerns of those realists who see the United States as inflicting unnecessary harm on itself through its unqualified backing of everything Israel does.

Praise from Neocons

It is no coincidence that she has drawn admiring remarks from Robert Kagan and other neoconservative luminaries who envisage her as a President sympathetic to their audacious, muscular conception of American foreign policy. The coalescing of the neocons and the gung-ho liberal interventionists who pushed hard for the Libyan intervention (Samantha Power, Ann-Marie Slaughter, Susan Rice) who now promote aiding the Saudis and Gulf Cooperation Council in Yemen, and wading into Syria involves a number of people who worked for Clinton in the State Department and/or figure prominently among her current advisers.

The outstanding example is Victoria Nuland – Clinton’s spokesperson at State and now Assistant Secretary of State for Europe – who has aggressively spearheaded the anti-Russian crusade. Previously, she had been principal deputy foreign policy advisor for Vice President Dick Cheney.

Nuland was escorted into the Obama administration by Strobe Talbot who was her boss at Brookings and viewed her as his protege. Talbot himself, who had been Deputy Secretary of State during the second Bill Clinton administration, has moved progressively toward the hawkish end of the foreign policy establishment continuum (admittedly a rather short band width these days). The affiliation at Brookings of the prominent neocon Robert Kagan, Nuland’s husband, may have cemented the deal.

Some of Hillary Clinton’s defenders argue that her hawkish views must be understood in a political context. Her presidential ambitions, they explain, dictated that she find a way to overcome the liabilities she incurred on national security matters as a supposedly liberal Democrat, as heir to the Clinton dynasty that emphasized building bridges of cooperation in foreign relations – at least as seen by Republican critics, and as a woman.

That became an imperative after 9/11. So, we saw a series of moves in the form of votes and rhetoric designed to make her look tough. Hence, the much publicized buddying with John McCain on senatorial junkets to faraway places with strange sounding names highlighted by reports of her matching her macho colleague in knocking back shots of vodka.

We should bear in mind that foreign policy never had been a prominent concern of HRC. Most certainly not national security. It was a slate of domestic issues that drew her attention and on which she was knowledgeable. Her prepping only began seriously when she set her sights on winning the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Conviction or Expediency?

It is reasonable to infer that what began as an exercise in political expediency hardened into genuine conviction – at least insofar as general predisposition is concerned. There is no evidence of HRC having formulated a comprehensive strategy for the U.S. in the world, much less a theoretical model of what international affairs are all about.

At the same time, though, there is abundant reason to believe that her hard-edged rhetoric and policy proposals do express her views – however nebulous they may be. Her few concrete proposals have been half-baked and unrealistic: the idea of enforcing a “safe zone” in northern Syria being a case in point. All that it might accomplish is to create a secure base for Al Qaeda/Al Nusra and their Salafist partners while carrying the high risk of an encounter with Russian military forces operating in the area.

Does this mean that an HRC Presidency automatically would mean the dispatch of American troops to Syria? Intensified military efforts against ISIS in Iraq? The insertion of American-led force into Libya? Further provocation of Russia in Eastern Europe including an invitation to Ukraine to join NATO as first offered by George W. Bush?

It is premature to answer those questions in the affirmative. Jingoistic rhetoric is easy when you’re on the outside. When you are the one who actually has to make the decisions about military deployments and to anticipate dealing with the unpredictable consequences, anyone will move with a measure of caution.

Hillary Clinton is more likely to stumble into a war than calculatingly start one – for a number of reasons. First, there are no obvious places to intervene massively with ground troops, no tempting Iraq circa 2003. Iran has been high on the neocon hit list, but the nuclear accord removes what could have been a justification. Iraq (again) and Syria are also theoretical candidates. Who, though, is the enemy and what would be the purpose?

ISIS obviously; but now it is being contained and slowly is degrading. American boots on the ground simply would ensure an open-ended guerrilla war. As for Al Qaeda/Al Nusra in Syria, it is not seen as an enemy, rather as a tacit ally within the “moderate’ camp.

There is Assad. With Russia on the ground, however, and the lack of a Western consensus or prospect of an enabling United Nations Security Council resolution, an invasion to replace the Ba’ath regime with Salafists of the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda could not be rationalized even with the agitation of the Kagans and Samantha Power. In addition, this is an assignment that the Pentagon brass do not want – in contrast to the CIA. After all, we have spent enormous amounts of blood and treasure to immunize Afghanistan against a terrorist presence much smaller than what exists now in Syria – to no avail.

Libya is the one place where a substantial American force could be dispatched. The argument for doing so would be Afghanistan redux. Still, in the absence of 9/11-like event, that would be a hard sell to the American public.

The chances of war by miscalculation are higher. Obama’s bequest to his successor is a United States stranded in a mine field in the Middle East bereft of friends or diplomatic GPS. Hillary, of course, bears a large share of responsibility for creating this hazardous topography, and for the prevailing hyper-active habits of American policy – a potentially lethal combination.

For one, maintaining a state of high tension with Iran creates opportunities for incidents to occur in the Persian Gulf. Too, American and Iranian forces in Iraq mingle like oil and water. So, there is some possibility of relatively minor encounters escalating into serious combat by stoking the political fires among crazies on both sides.

Playing with Matches in Ukraine

The other combustible situation is Ukraine. There, the narrative of Russia as an aggressor hell-bent on regaining its Eastern European empire has led to a series of provocative military moves by Washington via NATO that are generating another Cold War. The strength of ultra-nationalists in Kiev, encouraged by their backers in the Obama administration and the fiery rhetoric of American military commanders, have killed the opportunity for a resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine as embodied in Minsk II.

Paranoia is sweeping the Baltic states and Poland – again with active connivance of the “war party” in Washington. Hillary Clinton is a charter member of that group. While one can be certain that she hasn’t thought through the implications, and one can be reassured by Putin’s sobriety, the lack of prudential thinking makes this the most dangerous of situations.

Then, there is the Bill factor. He is the joker in the pack. We know that Hillary consults with him on all questions of consequence as a matter of routine. He is her all-purpose confidante. It is inescapable that he will act as an eminence gris in the White House. So a key issue is the role that he will play and the counsel that he will offer. There is good reason to believe that he will serve to tone down Hillary’s war-mongering tendencies – such as they are.

After all, what Bill Clinton craves at this stage of his life is being back in the White House where he can prowl at will and whisper in his wife’s ear. He relishes that historically unique position. He relishes being on parade. It’s the status that counts – not the doing.

In any case, he has few convictions about the most salient foreign policy issues. Hence, his instinct will be to avoid 3:00 a.m. phone calls, grave crises and the risks they entail. Bold acts that require courage and fortitude never have been his strong suit. Like Obama, he is not cast in the heroic mold.

We should be thankful for that.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu




The Roots of Trump’s Cruel Populism

Donald Trump’s angry and ugly populism has roots going back to Jim Crow-era race-baiters and Cold War-era red-baiters, including Joe McCarthy’s adviser Roy Cohn and his disciples, write Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

There’s a virus infecting our politics and right now it’s flourishing with a scarlet heat. It feeds on fear, paranoia and bigotry. All that was required for it to spread was a timely opportunity — and an opportunist with no scruples.

There have been stretches of history when this virus lay dormant. Sometimes it would flare up here and there, then fade away after a brief but fierce burst of fever. At other moments, it has spread with the speed of a firestorm, a pandemic consuming everything in its path, sucking away the oxygen of democracy and freedom.

Today its carrier is Donald Trump, but others came before him: narcissistic demagogues who lie and distort in pursuit of power and self-promotion. Bullies all, swaggering across the landscape with fistfuls of false promises, smears, innuendo and hatred for others, spite and spittle for anyone of a different race, faith, gender or nationality.

In America, the virus has taken many forms: “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the South Carolina governor and senator who led vigilante terror attacks with a gang called the Red Shirts and praised the efficiency of lynch mobs; radio’s charismatic Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist Catholic priest who reached an audience of up to 30 million with his attacks on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal; Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who vilified ethnic minorities and deplored the “mongrelization” of the white race; Louisiana’s corrupt and dictatorial Huey Long, who promised to make “Every Man a King.” And of course, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama and four-time presidential candidate who vowed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Note that many of these men leavened their gospel of hate and their lust for power with populism — giving the people hospitals, schools and highways. Father Coughlin spoke up for organized labor. Both he and Huey Long campaigned for the redistribution of wealth. Tillman even sponsored the first national campaign-finance reform law, the Tillman Act, in 1907, banning corporate contributions to federal candidates.

But their populism was tinged with poison — a pernicious nativism that called for building walls to keep out people and ideas they didn’t like.

The McCarthy Connection

Which brings us back to Trump and the hotheaded, ego-swollen provocateur he most resembles: Joseph McCarthy, U.S. senator from Wisconsin — until now perhaps our most destructive demagogue. In the 1950s, this madman terrorized and divided the nation with false or grossly exaggerated tales of treason and subversion — stirring the witches’ brew of anti-Communist hysteria with lies and manufactured accusations that ruined innocent people and their families.

“I have here in my hand a list,” he would claim — a list of supposed Reds in the State Department or the military. No one knew whose names were there, nor would he say, but it was enough to shatter lives and careers.

In the end, McCarthy was brought down. A brave journalist called him out on the same television airwaves that helped the senator become a powerful, national sensation. It was Edward R. Murrow, and at the end of an episode exposing McCarthy on his CBS series See It NowMurrow said:

“It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism.

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”

There also was the brave and moral lawyer Joseph Welch, acting as chief counsel to the U.S. Army after it was targeted for one of McCarthy’s inquisitions. When McCarthy smeared one of his young associates, Welch responded in full view of the TV and newsreel cameras during hearings in the Senate.

“You’ve done enough,” Welch said. “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?… If there is a God in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further.”

It was a devastating moment. Finally, McCarthy’s fellow senators — including a handful of brave Republicans — turned on him, putting an end to the reign of terror. It was 1954. A motion to censure McCarthy passed 67-22, and the junior senator from Wisconsin was finished. He soon disappeared from the front pages, and three years later was dead.

The Roy Cohn Link

Here’s something McCarthy said that could have come straight out of the Trump playbook: “McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” Sounds just like The Donald, right? Interestingly, you can draw a direct line from McCarthy to Trump — two degrees of separation. In a Venn diagram of this pair, the place where the two circles overlap, the person they share in common, is a fellow named Roy Cohn.

Cohn was chief counsel to McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the same one Welch went up against. Cohn was McCarthy’s henchman, a master of dark deeds and dirty tricks. When McCarthy fell, Cohn bounced back to his hometown of New York and became a prominent Manhattan wheeler-dealer, a fixer representing real estate moguls and mob bosses — anyone with the bankroll to afford him. He worked for Trump’s father, Fred, beating back federal prosecution of the property developer, and several years later would do the same for Donald.

“If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent,” Trump told a magazine reporter in 1979, “you get Roy.” To another writer he said, “Roy was brutal but he was a very loyal guy.”

Cohn introduced Trump to his McCarthy-like methods of strong-arm manipulation and to the political sleazemeister Roger Stone, another dirty trickster and unofficial adviser to Trump who just this week suggested that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was a disloyal American who may be a spy for Saudi Arabia, a “terrorist agent.”

Cohn also introduced Trump to the man who is now his campaign chair, Paul Manafort, the political consultant and lobbyist who without a moral qualm in the world has made a fortune representing dictators — even when their interests flew in the face of human rights or official U.S. policy. [Editor’s Note: Roy Cohn was also the connection between President Ronald Reagan, an ally from the McCarthy era, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Roy Cohn Helped Rupert Murdoch.”]

So the ghost of Joseph McCarthy lives on in Donald Trump as he accuses President Obama of treason, slanders women, mocks people with disabilities, and impugns every politician or journalist who dares call him out for the liar and bamboozler he is. The ghosts of all the past American demagogues live on in him as well, although none of them have ever been so dangerous — none have come as close to the grand prize of the White House.

Understandable Resentments

Because even a pathological liar occasionally speaks the truth, Trump has given voice to many who feel they’ve gotten a raw deal from establishment politics, who see both parties as corporate pawns, who believe they have been cheated by a system that produces enormous profits from the labor of working men and women that are gobbled up by the 1 percent at the top. But again, Trump’s brand of populism comes with venomous race-baiting that spews forth the red-hot lies of a forked and wicked tongue.

We can hope for journalists with the courage and integrity of an Edward R. Murrow to challenge this would-be tyrant, to put the truth to every lie and publicly shame the devil for his outrages. We can hope for the likes of Joseph Welch, who demanded to know whether McCarthy had any sense of decency.

Think of Gonzalo Curiel, the jurist Trump accused of persecuting him because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. Curiel has revealed the soulless little man behind the curtain of Trump’s alleged empire, the avaricious money-grubber who conned hard-working Americans out of their hard-won cash to attend his so-called “university.”

And we can hope there still remain in the Republican Party at least a few brave politicians who will stand up to Trump, as some did McCarthy. This might be a little harder. For every Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham who have announced their opposition to Trump, there is a weaselly Paul Ryan, a cynical Mitch McConnell and a passel of fellow travelers up and down the ballot who claim not to like Trump and who may not wholeheartedly endorse him but will vote for him in the name of party unity.

As this headline in The Huffington Post aptly put it, “Republicans Are Twisting Themselves Into Pretzels To Defend Donald Trump.” Ten GOP senators were interviewed about Trump and his attack on Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage. Most hemmed and hawed about their presumptive nominee.

As Trump “gets to reality on things he’ll change his point of view and be, you know, more responsible.” That was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Trump’s comments were “racially toxic” but “don’t give me any pause.” That was Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Republican African-American in the Senate. And Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas? He said Trump’s words were “unfortunate.” Asked if he was offended, Jennifer Bendery writes, the senator “put his fingers to his lips, gestured that he was buttoning them shut, and shuffled away.”

No profiles in courage there.  But why should we expect otherwise? Their acquiescence, their years of kowtowing to extremism in the appeasement of their base, have allowed Trump and his nightmarish sideshow to steal into the tent and take over the circus.

Alexander Pope once said that party spirit is at best the madness of the many for the gain of a few. A kind of infection, if you will — a virus that spreads through the body politic, contaminating all. Trump and his ilk would sweep the promise of America into the dustbin of history unless they are exposed now to the disinfectant of sunlight, the cleansing torch of truth. Nothing else can save us from the dark age of unreason that would arrive with the triumph of Donald Trump.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story previously appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/trump-virus-dark-age-unreason/]




Trump’s Blatantly Racist Campaign

For half a century, Republicans – such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – used the race card to win over Southern whites, but Donald Trump took the tactic to a new level, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Donald Trump is waging the most explicitly racist major U.S. presidential campaign since the third-party candidacy of segregationist George C. Wallace in 1968. The exploitation of bias based on ethnicity or religion has taken more subtle forms in other election campaigns over the past half century, with Southern strategies, dog whistles, and advertising techniques that have shied away from blatant appeals to prejudice.

By contrast, Trump, in going after his main targets of Muslims and Mexicans, has repeatedly made accusations and calls for discriminatory treatment that are direct and explicit. The racism has been a major and intrinsic part of the fear-mongering that is central to Trump’s campaign.

The racism has important implications domestically, of course, regarding threats to the inclusiveness, tolerance, and fairness of American society. But it also has implications that extend beyond U.S. borders while still affecting U.S. interests. Obviously the implications would be all the greater if Trump were to win the presidency.

Some effects, however, occur merely because the presumptive presidential nominee of one of the two major parties is saying such things. Everyone can see that saying such things has, despite the predictions of many pundits, helped to win the Republican nomination. Everyone can hear that Trump is not backing off from his favorite themes, despite the advice of political strategists that he needs to do so to “pivot” effectively to the general election campaign. And given how often Trump already has defied experts and strategists and kept on winning, one should be wary about dismissing what he is doing.

Probably the most important declaration of what is going on here is the statement by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan that Trump’s attack on a federal judge on grounds of the judge’s Mexican heritage is “the textbook definition of a racist comment” — while Ryan continues to support Trump for the presidency. When the senior elected leader in the U.S. Congress and in Trump’s party combines that accurate observation about the racist nature of Trump’s comments with backing for Trump’s candidacy, this says that even explicit racism should not be considered inconsistent with respectability in America.

The reverberations overseas take several forms, one of which is in leading ever more people among the populations that are targets of Trump’s hostility to conclude that they are the targets of broader American hostility as well. There already had been a major problem, well before Trump came along, with much of the public in majority Muslim countries perceiving the United States to be anti-Muslim. That perception has been stimulated by assorted U.S. policies that unsurprisingly have been seen as hostile or threatening. The Trump campaign makes that pre-existing problem even worse.

Beliefs and attitudes among the public in foreign countries establish boundaries for elites and policy-makers in those same countries. A perception of American hostility makes it politically risky for foreign governments to cooperate with the United States and to support U.S. policies. And there are many different ways even governments that nominally are friends or allies of the United States can be uncooperative.

All of this is true even of moderates and reasonable people among foreign publics and elites. With extremists, the effects are even more clear-cut. Put simply, Trump’s message of hostility toward people of a particular religion or ethnicity plays right into the hands of violent extremists claiming to protect the interests of those people against a predatory United States. The anti-Muslim part of the message is a huge (as Trump might say) favor to ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other practitioners of anti-U.S. “Islamic terrorism” (as Trump wants all of us to say).

Exposing U.S. Hypocrisy

Another effect is damage to U.S. credibility whenever the United States attempts to exert influence in favor of civil and political rights abroad. An image of the United States practicing at home what it preaches abroad, and of being a shining city on the hill with regard to tolerance and fairness, is an important underpinning of any such influence. Trump’s message makes the city look much less shiny.

Yet another effect concerns how Trump’s campaign can be seen as part of a larger recent pattern in the West of riding prejudice to political power. The pattern has especially been evident in the electoral success of xenophobic right-wing parties in Europe.

Future European elections will depend primarily on economic and social issues in each individual European country, but transnational influences are a factor as well. The sense of momentum that the Trump phenomenon, explicit racism and all, has exhibited will tend to impart confidence, credibility, and momentum to similar prejudice-riding movements in Europe.

The phenomenon might have some effect on the vote later this month in the United Kingdom on whether to remain in the European Union. Anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment very similar to what Trump expresses has become a significant factor in the campaign leading up to that referendum.

Pro-Brexit forces point to possible E.U. membership for Turkey and argue that continued British membership in the E.U. will mean being inundated by hordes of Turkish Muslims. It certainly cannot help those campaigning in favor of Britain staying in the E.U. to have one of the major presidential candidates in the United States — Britain’s most important partner and ally — sounding more like Nigel Farage than like David Cameron.

How the U.S. election in November comes out will, of course, have much to do with each of these effects over the long term. It will be important not only whether Trump loses but by how much. Probably only a decisive defeat would undo most of the overseas damage that this racism-infused campaign already is causing.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Making Sense of Orlando Madness

After the Orlando massacre, there was a rush to apply single-issue cures to a multi-cause disease, when what’s needed is a holistic approach that attacks both the sickness and the delivery systems of death, says ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

The mind cannot quite take it in — the wantonness of the Orlando events that now rank as the worst murder spree by a gunman in U.S. history. The longer-range repercussions cannot yet be calculated, but if the past is any judge, nearly all of them are likely to be bad. How can we possibly bring any kind of rational “explanations” to bear on it? That it was an evil act is utterly clear. But when confronted with such horrific events we want better answers.

In this case, as in so many others, there is no single cause to explain it all — although some will hasten to offer you one-size-fits-all explanations. Indeed, nothing could be more dangerous than to latch onto any single-cause theory to clarify everything. Like most things in life, all-of-the-above factors are at work. Not one or two, but all. Here they some key ones, in no particular order of priority.

–The killer was deeply disturbed, deranged, flawed. This goes almost without saying for anyone capable of such an inhuman act. A gasoline-drenched mind awaiting a spark.

–The killer was Muslim. In the last minutes of his life he claimed for the record that he owed allegiance to ISIS (“Islamic State”). It’s not yet clear if he had been recruited by them — probably not — but he was at least self-recruited, a lone wolf seeking wider connections.

–We cannot avoid mentioning Islam in the context of this massacre — not because Islam is an inspiration for murder, but because some Muslims in the last decades have self-identified with Islam as now representing the out-group, the oppressed. Even some disturbed non-Muslims have converted on that basis. Think how many American Black Muslims converted to Islam as a statement against racism in white American culture. Radical Islam has become today the ideology of preference for some individuals seeking out a “higher cause” by which to justify their frustrations, resentments, fantasies and even savagery.

–There will always be deranged individuals filled with hate, compensating for failure and impotence. They will always seek those higher justifications that can seemingly lend dignity to their own wretched state of mind and acts of rage. If it is not Islam today, it will be something else tomorrow. Anarchist and communist (Marxist-Leninist) killers proclaimed ideology to justify their acts of violence. Weird Buddhist sects in Japanese subways. Or “sacred nationalism” invoked. When religion is added, it only intensifies the psychological brew as it raises the “moral banner” higher. [Editor: In recent years, we have even seen “noble” secular causes, such as “promoting democracy” and even “humanitarianism,” used by states to justify wars.]

–Guns kill. The availability of military assault weapons to almost any unstable individual who seeks one unquestionably was key to the record number of deaths in Orlando. A handgun or a knife also kills — but not 50 people in as many seconds. Sadly, similar massacres in the past have left the gun lobby unfazed; it is unlikely it will be any different this time.

–Homophobia is widespread in the US. Christian scripture as well as Islamic law inveigh against it. In traditional Jewish law, male homosexuality called for death. Seventy-seven countries currently ban homosexuality. But while broad elements of U.S. society today have attained a fairly high tolerance for sexual freedom, there still exists a macho popular culture in many parts of the country which regularly puts gays at risk of homophobic attack.

–The Muslim world right now is undergoing intensely traumatic conditions of war, death, civil strife, sectarian witch-hunts, breakdown of social norms, and the destruction of law, order and infrastructure. There have long been many outstanding local problems, but rarely has the extent of regional devastation been of this magnitude. We must acknowledge the huge degree of U.S. responsibility in creating and prolonging many of these conditions abroad. The anguish of the region is now spreading out across much of the globe and leaching back into our own American society. The U.S. cannot kill at leisure abroad and remain untouched at home.

–This exceptionally ugly current environment in the Middle East is churning the religious, ethnic and ideological pot, producing a broad range of extreme or deviant interpretations of Islam relating to identity, community self-preservation and resistance. People especially turn to religious faith in times of desperation. Now, clearly, the Orlando killer experienced none of these conditions first hand. But events in the Middle East, on television non-stop, constitute part of the ambient atmosphere in and around where all Muslims live.

No Picking and Choosing

There may be other specific explanatory factors at work here as well. But all of these factors must be acknowledged — we can’t pick and choose our favorite hobby horse. It’s not “all guns,” or “all Muslims” or “all homophobia,” or “all U.S. Middle East policy,” or “all Israeli occupation.” If each person’s pet issue is cherry-picked to “prove” their position without reference to the others, we are just playing at high-school, or Fox, debating.

There are no, repeat no, policy steps — Donald Trump notwithstanding — that can immediately alleviate these conditions in the short term. The domestic and foreign scenes have created a deep and volatile mix not readily amenable to any quick fixes.

But some medium-term steps that need to be taken? They are pretty much the obverse of the conditions we cited above.

–The U.S. and the West must cease use of military force in the Middle East as the primary tool of foreign policy. U.S. “boots on the ground” everywhere are as much or more of the problem as existing local problems on their own. The presence of Western armies abroad feeds the “clash of civilization” myth and distracts regional people from dealing with issues themselves.

–We can ban the sale of assault rifles — to anyone. Gun deaths in the U.S. staggeringly outweigh those in other industrialized countries.

–If U.S. domestic politics cannot permit an even-handed American role in the Arab-Israeli problem — obviously the case — then let other nations do it. It is not America’s role to make Israel safe for expansionist Zionism.

–Work more closely with U.S. Muslim communities in helping spot wayward and troubled youth who might otherwise eventually find their way to zealots advocating murder. This does not mean more FBI stings against sad, vulnerable souls fast-talked into some wacko plot. Muslim communities are the first to pay the highest price for murderous events of this sort. Muslim-American communities are deeply motivated to stop them, especially when they are included as security partners. This is already taking place in many communities.

Given the magnitude of the problem today, there is a temptation for the U.S. government itself to monitor and control the rhetoric of preaching in U.S. mosques. But it won’t really work. The issue has already long since been politicized.

Is organizing political action against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands to be treated as “hate speech” and incitation to violence? It certainly will if AIPAC has anything to say about it. Are anti-Russian Chechens to be perceived as nothing more than freedom fighters?

American Muslim communities themselves will have to take up the sensitive and complex role of monitoring aberrant speech and behavior in their own mosques and speak out against radical interpretations of Islam in their communities. And foreign preachers may well come under particular scrutiny, posing complex judgment calls.

These are not easy times.

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




Bridging Divides of a New Cold War

As NATO steps up military maneuvers near Russia’s borders and congressmen fume about “Russian aggression,” a delegation of Americans including former U.S. officials is looking for face-to-face ways to encourage peace, writes Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

I just flew across 11 times zones — from Tokyo, Japan to Moscow, Russia. Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area, nearly twice as large as the United States and has extensive mineral and energy resources, the largest reserves in the world. Russia has the world’s ninth largest population with over 146.6 million people. The population of the U.S of 321.4 million is more than twice as large as Russia’s.

I haven’t been back to Russia since the early 1990s when the Soviet Union dissolved itself and allowed 14 new countries to be created from it. At the time I was a U.S. diplomat and wanted to be a part of the historic opening of U.S. Embassies in one of the newly formed countries. I asked to be sent to a new country in Central Asia and soon found myself in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Since the new embassies were being logistically supported out of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, I was fortunate to make frequent trips to Moscow in the short three months I was in Uzbekistan until the permanent Embassy staff was assigned. Several years later in 1994, I returned to Central Asia for a two-year tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and again made trips to Moscow.

Over almost 25 years since the Cold War ended, Russia has undertaken a monumental shift from state-operated institutions to privatized businesses with the Russian Federation joining the G20, the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the World Trade Organization.

But now the U.S/NATO and Russia are engaged in a 21st Century new Cold War complete with large military “exercises” in which a small misstep could bring actual war.

On June 16, I will join a group of 19 US citizens and one from Singapore in Moscow, Russia. We are going to Russia to do what we can to continue bridges of peace with the Russian people, bridges that our governments seem be having difficulty maintaining.

With international tensions high, members of our delegation believe its time for the citizens of all nations to loudly declare that military confrontation and hot rhetoric are not the way to resolve international problems.

Our group is composed of several retired U.S. government officials and persons representing peace organizations. As a retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel and former U.S. diplomat, I join retired CIA officer Ray McGovern and retired Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and CIA analyst Elizabeth Murray. Ray and I are members of Veterans for Peace and Elizabeth is the member-in-residence of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. The three of us are also members of the Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Long-time peacemakers Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-Violence; Hakim Young of Afghan Peace Volunteers; David and Jan Hartsough of the Quakers, Nonviolent Peaceforce and World Beyond War; Martha Hennessy of the Catholic Workers movement; and Bill Gould, former national president of Physicians for Social Responsibility are just a few of the delegates on this mission.

The delegation is led by Sharon Tennison, the founder of the Center for Citizen Iniatives (CCI).  Over the past 30 years, Sharon brought thousands of Americans to Russia and over 6,000 young Russian entrepreneurs to 10,000 companies in over 400 American cities in 45 states. Her book The Power of Impossible Ideas: Ordinary Citizens’ Extraordinary Efforts to Avert International Crises, is the remarkable story of bringing citizens of the U.S. and Russia together in each other’s country for better understanding and peace.

In the tradition of going where our governments do not want us to go to witness the effects of the breakdown of non-violent approaches to conflict resolution, we will be meeting with members of Russian civil society, journalists, businesspersons and perhaps government officials to express our commitment to non-violence, not war.

The Russian people know well the carnage caused by war, with over 20 million Russians killed during World War II. Although not on the same scale as Russian deaths, all too many U.S. military families know the agony of injuries and deaths from World War II, the Vietnam War and the current wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

We go to Russia to talk with the Russian people about the hopes, dreams and fears of the American people and to call for a peaceful resolution to current tensions between the US/NATO and Russia. And we will return to the United States to share our first-hand impressions of the hopes, dreams and fears of the Russian people.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  She was a US diplomat for 16 years and served in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq.  She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”




A Campaign Based on Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories – suspicions without evidence – have become a bane of modern life, but Donald Trump seeks to make them a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, as Todd Gitlin describes.

By Todd Gitlin

After the weekend’s carnage in Orlando, Donald Trump didn’t wait long before launching yet another guided missile full of insinuation. He didn’t exactly say that the massacre was the doing of an unreconstructed Mau-Mau descendant born in Kenya. Trump is craftier than that. Monday morning, he told Fox News:

“Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on… [Obama] doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it’s one or the other and either one is unacceptable.” [My italics]

Later he told NBC’s Today’s Savannah Guthrie: “There are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. A lot of people think maybe he doesn’t want to know about it. I happen to think that he just doesn’t know what he’s doing, but there are many people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. He doesn’t want to see what’s really happening. And that could be.” [My italics]

Something else in mind… Can’t believe it… There’s something going on… Maybe he doesn’t want to get it… People cannot believe… A lot of people think… These are Trump’s characteristic high-frequency whistles, repeated and restated and re-repeated to make sure he gets through to the feebler dogs out on the periphery of his adoring crowd.

There are two intertwined strands to the Trump brand of insinuation. One is that traitors have crept into our midst. They are Muslims, Mexicans and other alien inhabitants of Trojan horses, aided and abetted by those who cover up for them, who reassure you that these sinister forces are harmless.

The second strand is that Trump speaks for a movement of folks who get it. He’s not just the leader who glimpses the buried truth. The leader, after all, has the wisdom to channel the “people,” the stouthearted ones, the deprogrammed, those brave souls who can handle the awful truth, who all together will rise to strip the masquerade bare, to evict the aliens — along with corrupting serpents — so as to restore Edenic greatness. The truth that matters, in all fascist and para-fascist movements, is the truth that the savior-masters have unearthed.

In the minds of circle of the adepts, there’s always “something going on” — the inside story that compactly explains the apparent mysteries of the world. What’s “going on” is always deep and dark. A special craft of intelligence is required to discern it. They, the conspirators, either are invisible to the official channels of information, who are at best naïve — at worst, complicit — because they ignore the common sense of the common folks who do get it.

In this view, official opinion is made up by know-it-alls who really know nothing, because they have an interest in concealment. They’re cover-up artists, the liberal-mainstream-lamestream media and their elite pals. They suppress the knowledge that, against all odds, the circle of deep knowers have patiently scraped together. It takes a special brand of astuteness to join the ranks of the adepts, to get down with the connoisseurs of the International Communist Conspiracy and the grassy knoll and the “false flag” and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Jews who stayed home from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Here are words out of Trump’s mouth, to Bill O’Reilly, in 2011: “I’m a very smart guy. I went to the best college. I had good marks. I was a very smart guy, good student and all that stuff. Because what they do to the birthers, which is a term I hate because a lot of these birthers are just really quality people that just want the truth.”

We get it. They don’t. They refuse to. Because — well — you know about them…

Inventing Reality

Conspiracy nuts despise official knowledge. What they relish is their own knowingness. Just when you think you’ve refuted their canards, they dance away. One mark of this sort of conspiracy theory is that it never says die. Blocked at the end of one cul-de-sac, it reverses field and rushes off to find another one. So, during his effort in 2011 to force Obama to present his birth certificate to prove his citizenship, Trump implied to Fox News that the reason for the president not showing it was “because maybe it says he is a Muslim.”

Having lifted that rock, Trump couldn’t let it go undisturbed. Just this February, he tweeted:  “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice Scalia if it were held in a Mosque?” Well, he didn’t say Obama was a Muslim, did he? He only implied that Obama has a special feeling for Muslims. Which takes us straight to his insinuations about Orlando.

Fortunately for the Trumps of the world, they have their own efficient, instantaneous, echo chambers at their disposal. They delude themselves that what other people think doesn’t matter, because they are deafened by the applause that reverberates through their own arenas.

This doesn’t mean that what mainstream media say and don’t say, expose and fail to expose, are irrelevant. Writing in The Washington Post, Paul Waldman goes too far when he laments that mainstream media exposés are now helpless because there is no single media figure who has the audience or the stature that Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite had. But the multiplication of sources has led to a Balkanization of information — there’s no common text among voters that functions the way the evening news functioned a half-century ago. Further, the profusion of opinion available to everyone means that there’s no perspective or analysis, no matter how extreme, to which the public doesn’t have access.

As I noted last week, a good many journalists are at long, long last finding their ways through the conundrum of how to cover a serial liar without covering up. Untruths that passed unchallenged as run-of-the-mill Republican rhetoric during the primaries have now slipped into what the media scholar Daniel Hallin has called “the sphere of legitimate controversy.” Reporters are not so fearful of highlighting and challenging Trump’s steady assaults on truth. Investigative reports are catching up with his past of deception, greed and fraud. One reads this, for example, by Jenna Johnson in The Washington Post:

“For months, Trump has slyly suggested that the president is not Christian and has questioned his compassion toward Muslims. Years ago, Trump was a major force in calls for the president to release his birth certificate and prove that he was born in the United States. On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly stated as fact conspiracy theories about the president, his rivals and Muslims, often refusing to back down from his assertions even when they are proven to be false.”

No wonder Trump just took the step of revoking the Post’s credentials for upcoming events. He made this decision before the Post did him the favor of this weasely headline: “Donald Trump spreads unproven theories.” Not “unproven” — false and crackpot!

A Hesitant Press

What took journalists so long to rise to the occasion? Aside from normal, everyday deference, false equivalencies and the fear of being seen as knowing too much (aka “partisanship”), mainstream journalists suffered from lack of material from campaign rivals. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler usefully explains that one reason journalists failed to puncture so many of Trump’s hot-air balloons is that they weren’t getting any help from other candidates’ opposition — or “oppo” — research:

“Political reporters have done a pretty good job unearthing the unflattering details of Trump’s past, but they can only do so much on their own. If the media could document everything untoward every candidate had ever done, campaigns and advocacy groups wouldn’t employ opposition researchers. But there’s a reason they do: In general, campaigns outgun and outpace the press at investigating rival candidates (particularly with respect to archival information that can’t be found online, and that requires expertise to obtain and decipher). They have more resources, no daily print deadlines and no need to worry about impartiality. …

“[R]epublican campaigns and anti-Trump activists did an absolutely abysmal job sifting through his dirty laundry between June 2015 and today… [F]or too long, most Republicans mistakenly assumed Trump would collapse on his own… They were also inhibited from attacking his wealth (or lack thereof), his tax avoidance and his barking-mad tax reform plan, because that would contradict fundamental conservative dogma: that taxes are terrible, that they can’t be cut enough and that the wealthy are wise to pay as little as possible.

“Most Republicans were loath to attack Trump in any meaningful way at all, until it was too late, because they didn’t want to alienate the front-runner and his millions of supporters.”

Can millions of supporters be wrong? As Lindsey Graham said in December: “[T]here’s about 40 percent of the Republican primary voter[s] who believes [sic] that Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim.”

The freak show is not over. Fatuous commentaries and foolish questions still resound through cable TV land. On Fox, Howard Kurtz opined that “it probably would have been better if Trump had let one of his aides or surrogates” make the points the candidate made that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism” and, “I said this was going to happen—and it is only going to get worse.”

Not better in the sense of more revealing of the actual sentiments of the putative Republican nominee — better in the sense of less damaging to Trump’s reputation, such as it is. No doubt more advice to Trump about how to airbrush his dirty pictures will be forthcoming in days to come.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University. He is the author of sixteen books, including several on journalism and politics. His next book is a novel, The Opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin. [This article appeared previously at http://billmoyers.com/story/truth-according-trump/ ]




Drawing Wrong Lessons from Orlando

America’s mass shootings, especially those linked to Islamic terrorism like the slaughter in Orlando, Florida, prompt a reflex of responses, but some reactions are particularly unhelpful, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Here we go again. Another terrorist incident, and another iteration of the depressingly familiar suite of responses we hear each time in the subsequent surge of rhetoric and commentary. Much of what we hear is what careful consideration of the circumstances and evidence associated with many of these incidents would show to be wrong.

And this is even without including most of the politically driven reactions that have become common amid the partisanship of contemporary America and that one ought to be able to see through without the need of careful consideration.

There are, for example, the fatuous criticisms of leaders for not uttering the term “Islamic terrorism” — criticisms made with no indication that the leaders being criticized don’t fully understand the nature of the terrorism at hand, no hint of any constructive policy implications flowing from this bit of semantics, and no sense of responsibility regarding the damage caused by leaders uttering such phrases.

There is, as with any mass shooting incident, the obligatory fealty to the gun lobby and expression of opposition to gun control. (Is a darkened, crowded night club dance floor — amid loud music, strobe lights, and booze — one of those places where, if everyone were armed, supposedly everyone would be safer?)

And in what could be called a new low for Donald Trump if we had not already had to use the term new low so many times in referring to his utterances, Trump suggested that President Obama was somehow connected to the Orlando shooting, saying that the President has “something else in mind … there’s something going on.”

Rushing Judgment

One of the familiar post-incident patterns is to jump to conclusions and to assume as fact much that really ought to await investigation. To avoid committing that same mistake, one needs to be cautious and agnostic even in criticizing the criticism. But a couple of the common post-incident patterns can confidently be marked as mistaken without awaiting completion of the current investigation.

One is the tendency to see terrorism as the work of a fixed and identifiable set of bad guys, embodied in specific, named groups acting on behalf of a specific ideology and especially in the name of a specific religion. The basic misunderstanding involved in this tendency is to equate whatever group or brand name or ideology that an individual terrorist invokes as a complete and accurate indicator of his motivations. Instead the invocation more often represents a way for the individual, otherwise motivated, to identify with a cause larger than himself.

Whatever else the shooting in Orlando was, it appears — based on the target chosen and an observation by the shooter’s father — to have been a homophobic act. With the shooter having reportedly invoked the name of ISIS in a phone call during the incident, attribution to that group comes naturally.

Among the vicious methods the group has used in the territory it controls in the Middle East, it has been especially vicious toward gay people. But based on what has been made publicly known so far, the connection does not go beyond the invocation. FBI director James Comey notes that the shooter also mentioned as supposed inspiration other groups and individuals that have nothing to do with ISIS and are even in competition with it.

Answering homophobia with Islamophobia is a mistake. Hostility to gays is hardly unique to ISIS, and it is not unique to Islam. To the extent there is a religious base for anti-gay (or anti-LGBT) sentiment and actions in the United States, that base has more often involved branches of Christianity. Where such sentiment has taken a violent turn overseas or has required shows of force to prevent it, any religious basis for the homophobia is again diverse. In Africa, which is perhaps the most homophobic continent, the hostility prevails as much in non-Muslim areas (such as majority Christian Uganda) as in Muslim ones.

The Orlando shooter probably had other motivations besides his hostility to gays. Such violent extremists often do. Other motivations can be a mix of inner demons and more outward-oriented matters such as objection to certain public policies. Perhaps more will be learned in the investigation. But nothing should be assumed to be the product of any one group.

Blaming Government

Another familiar pattern that we are hearing once again is the one about how government agencies should have been able to prevent a tragedy if they only had been more diligent, or more imaginative, or something. The basis for the pattern this time is the fact that the shooter had come under suspicion before and had twice been investigated by the FBI.

Recriminations along this line assume, mistakenly, that there always should be some way of finding a terrorist needle in a haystack of potential terrorists. They also mistakenly assume that there already is such a needle to be found, as distinct from terrorist plans that are only in the future and have not yet been made as of the time that someone invites government attention.

We do no favors to ourselves or to our security by falling into these familiar reactive ruts after each terrorist incident. We do a favor to ISIS by giving the group credit each time it claims credit. We especially do it a favor by conforming to its portrayal of global conflict as a Muslim versus non-Muslim thing.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Muhammad Ali’s True Patriotism

Muhammad Ali angered much of America by declaring “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong” and refusing to fight in Vietnam, but his principled stand was vindicated by history and is a lesson for today, says Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

Although it is customary to say nice things about a person who has died, Muhammad Ali has been rightly commended for not only his superb boxing career but also his principled opposition to the then-popular Vietnam War. Unlike later chair-borne hawks, such as Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, Ali did not try to evade the draft or get numerous college deferments to avoid service. He declared that because of his religion, he would not fight against people who had done nothing to him and bluntly said, “just take me to jail.”

Therefore, it is difficult to argue that Ali avoided the war for selfish reasons, because the costs of non-compliance with the draft were substantial. If the Supreme Court had not nullified his conviction 8-0, he would have served five years in prison. Although he ultimately avoided losing his liberty, he had to give up his heavyweight boxing title and experienced financial hardship as a result.

At the time, Ali’s was not a popular stand, but he turned out to be right about many things, just as the then unpopular civil rights heroes Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were. The war — in a faraway, insignificant country — turned out to be a non-strategic quagmire in the competition with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Of course, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) privately predicted that at the time, but escalated the conflict anyway, so as not to be seen as a wimp politically with an eye toward winning the 1968 election. The war killed 58,000 Americans, a few million Vietnamese, and drained equipment and resources from the U.S. military, which it hollowed out for more important missions.

Like George W. Bush during the Iraq War and many other American presidents when conflict has been afoot, LBJ essentially lied the United States into war by saying that the North Vietnamese patrol boats had twice attacked a U.S. warship off the coast of Vietnam. Even if the North Vietnamese did attack once, it was in retaliation for the ships supporting secret raids on North Vietnam’s coast, which LBJ just forgot to mention.

He also forgot to tell the American people that the Americans fired first in the dust-up with the patrol boats. And when LBJ ordered U.S. bombing in retaliation for these attacks, he was in such a hurry to get on prime-time TV that he announced that the U.S. air attacks on North Vietnam had occurred before they had even started.

The North Vietnamese, realizing this amazing reality, had their air defenses ready when U.S. aircraft came overhead and inflicted unneeded casualties on U.S. air forces. Subsequently, Congress passed the open-ended Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which essentially let LBJ do whatever he wanted in Southeast Asia. He, and his successor Richard Nixon, did.

Yet the Vietnam War was popular for a long time in America before the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive in 1968 exposed LBJ’s lie that the United States was winning the war. Wars that drag on, result in mounting U.S. casualties, and do not appear to be for a worthy objective often eventually become unpopular at home, as the similar unending battles with guerrillas in Afghanistan and Iraq have become.

But why don’t Americans spot these turkeys in advance and just say “no!”? Why do they wait until large amounts of blood and treasure have been futilely wasted to call it quits? (We still can’t seem to admit that Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria have been lost.)

One reason is that the American people almost always think patriotism means giving the benefit of the doubt to the president, so much so nowadays that the if the president asks Congress to approve a war, he thinks he needs to do so only out of courtesy. Lately, we have not had very good luck with this method, which has led to perpetual war in many Third World hellholes simultaneously.

We should go back to the Founders’ now seemingly out-of-fashion constitutional requirement for Congress to declare war. But members of Congress, to avoid taking any responsibility for a conflict, run into the shadows, even when a president, such as Barack Obama, says he would like an authorization for war.

Even by approving the war, the Congress could at least constrain the war on terror (even though it is also out of fashion now to label it as such) within a specific geographical area or against certain terror groups — like maybe those that have actually attacked the United States.

But many times in American history, both the Congress and the people have agreed with ill-advised wars. Perhaps citizens should remember that in America, originally “patriots” were not people who reflexively supported their government, but those who instead went against it in support of society and its values. Patriots in the American Revolution were Englishmen fighting for their rights against their English King and Parliament.

So the country was founded on a very different concept of patriotism than has taken hold nowadays. Patriotism has been turned on its head and is now synonymous with reflexive nationalism — support for your government, no matter what.

Muhammad Ali was a true patriot of the original variety when he just said “hell no” to meddling in another country’s business that was unneeded and was, from the beginning, unlikely to turn out well.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.




Pushing the Doomsday Clock to Midnight

As the U.S. and NATO mount provocative military maneuvers on Russia’s border, the West is oblivious to how these threatening gestures ratchet up prospects of thermonuclear war that could extinguish civilization, says Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

In his eulogy to Mohammed Ali at the Louisville memorial service, Rabbi Michael Lerner reminded us all of the distinguishing feature of “The Greatest,” that from the start of his career he spoke Truth to Power and paid the price when he was stripped of his heavyweight title for five years.

In that spirit, and in the presence of eminent national leaders, Rabbi Lerner listed major issues that concern Liberal Progressives, adding one issue that is often overlooked. He said that attempts to subjugate peoples and rule the world have been made over the last 10,000 years and they have never worked. In what follows, I will try to expand on that very important observation and how it bears on our own and broader humanity’s prospects for survival now.

One of the very sad consequences of the monopoly control of mainstream print and electronic media, as well as of the two houses of Congress by the ideologists of Neoconservatism and Liberal Interventionism is that the broad American public, including instinctively skeptical Progressives, is clueless about the level of risk of all-out nuclear war that we are inviting by our current and projected policies of global domination. America’s seemingly irresistible force is coming up against indomitable resistance from Russia and China and the result is an escalating confrontation that we have not seen since the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

I had a personal awakening to the reality of the false sense of security that pervades American society some 18 months ago when I participated in a Peace Day event organized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where the keynote speaker was Noam Chomsky and where a number of other leading personalities in the nationwide antiwar movement also held forth.

The auditorium, which accommodated the opening, plenary session, was filled by perhaps 350 activists, many of them gray-headed veterans from the 1960s Vietnam War resistance, but also a representative sampling of students from the Greater Boston area. When we broke up for workshops, perhaps 250 chose the then very fashionable issue of the Islamic State, whose exploits had filled our newspapers with beheadings and bloody terror taking place in distant lands. My own workshop was on the red-hot civil war then raging in Donbass, in southeastern Ukraine, which was becoming a proxy war between Russia and the U.S. It drew a total of five auditors.

And the workshop on nuclear dangers, which I looked in on when my session closed, had perhaps 10 auditors. The organizers were busy presenting slides showing what could happen in a European city like Rotterdam if “bad guys” managed to detonate a dirty radioactive bomb in the city center. A better scenario for substituting phony threats for real ones could not have been written by Pentagon strategists.

The thought that we might find ourselves in a nuclear exchange with Russia did not cross the minds of organizers or auditors alike. And yet to my understanding, the level of risk of war coming out of the Great Power stand-off in Ukraine, and of it — accidentally or otherwise — spinning out of control and going nuclear was vastly greater than anything that could ever befall us from the advance of radical Islamists in the Middle East.

My point is not to ridicule the very earnest and well-intentioned anti-war campaigners whose ranks I joined that day. It is to demonstrate how and why the highly tendentious reporting of what the U.S. is doing in the world and what others are doing to us, combined with selective news blackouts by major media, has left even activists unaware of real threats to the peace and to our very survival that American foreign policy has created over the past 20 years. And those threats are likely to grow in the future if the public does not awaken from its slumber and demand to be informed by experts with countervailing views.

Ignoring War and Peace

We are living through a situation unparalleled in our history as a nation where the issues of war and peace are not being debated in public, at least not in any serious way.

Moreover, the risk of accidental war has moved quickly beyond where it was just 18 months ago. Now we are entering upon implementation of very provocative U.S.-directed military expansion of NATO activities at the borders of Russia. The ongoing war games — code-named Anaconda-16 in Poland numbering 31,000 troops, 17,000 of them Americans — are rehearsing a NATO seizure and occupation of Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, just a few miles away.

President Vladimir Putin’s remark at the start of the exercises was that any move into Russian territory would elicit a nuclear response that would not be limited to the European theater but would be directed at the mainland United States. These were clear words, but I greatly doubt that many Americans heard them (or if they did, it was in the mainstream media’s context of the demonized Putin’s “reckless” rhetoric).

The NATO Summit planned for July 6-8 in Warsaw will confirm plans to greatly expand the presence of NATO troops and heavy equipment in bases being built in Poland as well as in the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In response to this unanticipated threat to its national security, Russia is now moving a large part of its armed forces from the center of the country to the Leningrad Oblast, bordering on Estonia. The distances separating Russian and NATO forces will be miniscule.

In this sense, we are now two minutes to midnight on the nuclear catastrophe clock. But the American people seem unaware of this potential threat to the survival of human civilization. The only political commentary is more belligerent talk directed at Putin and vows to confront “Russian aggression.”

What can we do about this dire situation? First, we can write to the editors of our major national daily newspapers and complain about the wholly one-sided view of international affairs that they are feeding us day by day. We should politely demand that they open their op-ed pages to responsible experts and non-experts who challenge our present foreign and defense policies as being aggressive and provocative.

The same letters should be sent to the producers of news programming and panel discussions at CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and other leading electronic media who have systematically black-balled all those who do not agree with the Washington Narrative ever since the start of the Information Wars with Russia in 2007.

Secondly, we should write to our Congressmen and women demanding that Congressional hearings on foreign relations and relations with Russia and China in particular must cease to be phony exercises at which only those who support the U.S. government’s present policies or call for still more drastic poking the Russians in the eye get invited to testify.

Hearings which bring in as well those who believe as I do that we are presently on course for Armageddon should get C-SPAN coverage and give the American public a chance to judge for itself from authoritative and credible sources and not only from “alternative media” that can easily be dismissed by the establishment.

These recommended actions will not by themselves turn back the minute hand on the Clock, but they may stop its progression and give us a very much needed time out to fix policies that are wrongheaded and extremely dangerous.

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