A Treacherous Crossing

Paul Ryan’s recent trip to the Gulf reiterated the U.S. government’s support of the Saudi-led assault on Yemen and a bellicose stance towards Iran, which has created a watershed of human suffering, writes Kathy Kelly.

By Kathy Kelly

On January 23rd an overcrowded smuggling boat capsized off the coast of Aden in Southern Yemen. Smugglers packed 152 passengers from Somalia and Ethiopia in the boat and then, while at sea, reportedly pulled guns on the migrants to extort additional money from them. The boat capsized, according to The Guardian, after the shooting prompted panic. The death toll, currently 30, is expected to rise. Dozens of children were on board.   

The passengers had already risked the perilous journey from African shores to Yemen, a dangerous crossing that leaves people vulnerable to false promises, predatory captors, arbitrary detention and tortuous human rights violations. Sheer desperation for basic needs has driven hundreds of thousands of African migrants to Yemen. Many hope, upon arrival, they can eventually travel to prosperous Gulf countries further north where they might find work and some measure of security. But the desperation and fighting in southern Yemen were horrible enough to convince most migrants that boarded the smuggling boat on January 23rd to try and return to Africa.

Referring to those who drowned when the boat capsized, Amnesty International’s Lynn Maalouf said: “This heart-breaking tragedy underscores, yet again, just how devastating Yemen’s conflict continues to be for civilians. Amid ongoing hostilities and crushing restrictions imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, many people who came to Yemen to flee conflict and repression elsewhere are now being forced yet again to flee in search of safety. Some are dying in the process.”

In 2017, more than 55,000 African migrants arrived in Yemen, many of them teenagers from Somalia and Ethiopia where there are few jobs and severe drought is pushing people to the verge of famine. It’s difficult to arrange or afford transit beyond Yemen. Migrants become trapped in the poorest country in the Arab peninsula, which now, along with several drought-stricken North African countries, faces the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II.

In Yemen, eight million people are on the brink of starvation as conflict-driven near-famine conditions leave millions without food and safe drinking water. Over one million people have suffered from cholera over the past year and more recent reports add a diphtheria outbreak to the horror. Civil war has exacerbated and prolonged the misery while, since March of 2015, a Saudi-led coalition, joined and supported by the U.S., has regularly bombed civilians and infrastructure in Yemen while also maintaining a blockade that prevented transport of desperately needed food, fuel and medicines.

Maalouf called on the international community to “halt arms transfers that could be used in the conflict.” To heed Maalouf’s call, the international community must finally thwart the greed of transnational military contractors that profit from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and other countries in the Saudi-led coalition. For instance, a November, 2017 Reuters report said that Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy about $7 billion worth of precision guided munitions from U.S. defense contractors. The UAE also has purchased billions in American armaments.

Raytheon and Boeing are the companies that will primarily benefit from a deal that was part of a $110 billion weapons agreement coinciding with President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May.

Paul Ryan’s Remarks

Another dangerous crossing happened in the region on January 24th. U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) arrived in Saudi Arabia, along with a congressional delegation, to meet with the monarchy’s King Salman and subsequently with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has orchestrated the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. Following that visit, Ryan and the delegation met with royals from the UAE.

“So rest assured”, said Ryan, speaking to a gathering of young diplomats in the UAE, “we will not stop until ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates are defeated and no longer a threat to the United States and our allies.

“Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we are focused on the Iranian threat to regional stability.”

Beyond the simple well-recorded fact of lavish Saudi financial support for Islamist terrorism, Ryan’s remarks overlook the Saudi-led coalition military assaults and “special operations” in Yemen, which the U.S. supports and joins. The war there is arguably undermining effort to combat jihadist groups, which have flourished in the chaos of the war, particularly in the south which is nominally under the control of the government allied to Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian government Ryan denounced does have allies in Yemen and may be smuggling weapons into Yemen, but no one has accused them of supplying the Houthi rebels with cluster bombs, laser-guided missiles and littoral (near-coastal) combat ships to blockade ports vital to famine relief. Iran does not provide in-air refueling for warplanes used in daily bombing runs over Yemen. The U.S. has sold all of these to countries in the Saudi-led coalition which have, in turn, used these weapons to destroy Yemen’s infrastructure as well as create chaos and exacerbate suffering among civilians in Yemen.

Ryan omitted any mention of the starvation, disease, and displacement afflicting people in Yemen. He neglected to mention documented human rights abuses in a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen’s south. Ryan and the delegation essentially created a smokescreen of concern for human life that conceals the very real terror into which U.S. policies have thrust the people of Yemen and the surrounding region.

Potential starvation of their children terrifies people who can’t acquire food for their families. Those who can’t obtain safe drinking water face nightmarish prospects of dehydration or disease. Persons fleeing bombers, snipers, and armed militias who might arbitrarily detain them shudder in fear as they try to devise escape routes.

Paul Ryan, and the congressional delegation traveling with him, had an extraordinary opportunity to support humanitarian appeals made by UN officials and human rights organizers.

Instead, Ryan implied the only security concerns worth mentioning are those that threaten people in the U.S. He pledged cooperation with brutally repressive dictators known for egregious human rights violations in their own countries, and in beleaguered Yemen. He blamed the government of Iran for meddling in the affairs of other countries and supplying militias with funds and weapons.  U.S. foreign policy is foolishly reduced to “the good guys,” the U.S. and its allies, versus “the bad guy,” – Iran.

The “good guys” shaping and selling U.S. foreign policy and weapon sales exemplify the heartless indifference of the smugglers who gamble human life in exceedingly dangerous crossings.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).




Former Ambassador Reflects on Current Events

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray discussed the current situation with Julian Assange, the alleged Russian election hack, Trump’s Israel embassy move and more in an interview with Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein.

By Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. Murray’s books include Zionism is Bullshit–censored on Facebook–and Murder in Samarkand. He is a self-proclaimed defender and strong supporter of the work of Julian Assange as one of the most significant “Publishers” of our time.

Murray was interviewed by Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein on January 25.

Randy Credico: The last time we spoke, Craig, you were involved in a libel suit which I believe had a positive outcome for you. Even as we spoke, you were in route to London to defend yourself from the suit brought against by a gentleman you called a liar, after he publicly called you an anti-Semite because of your criticism of Israel and the ongoing ethnic cleansing there against the Palestinians. I understand that the suit was dropped just as the case was getting underway. But it cost you a pretty penny before it was over.

Craig Murray: Unfortunately, while I didn’t lose the case, I still ended up having to pay my lawyers.  Libel suits are incredibly expensive in the UK, which is why they are used by corporations and the wealthy to silence ordinary people.  My legal bills came to well over $100,000.  Lucky for me, there were over 5,000 individuals who subscribed to our defense fund and that paid the bill for me.  But it is frightening because ordinary people are terrified to write anything critical of the wealthy and powerful.

RC: I was there right after your suit ended.  I was covering Stefania Maurizi’s suit in the high court to get email transmissions from the Crown Prosecution Service to both Sweden and the US concerning Julian Assange.  She made a great case but in the end they sided with the prosecution.  Is the system totally rigged there, or is it libelous to say that?

CM: It is fair to say that the establishment stick together.  In fact, I believe that the government and the judiciary are closer here than they are in the United States to some extent.  There is quite a closed circle of the ruling class.  They attend all the same schools and they are closely linked in various ways. So once you take on the establishment, you are taking on the entire establishment.

RC: So they are protecting the US government but they are protecting themselves as well.  The UK was involved in a lot of the things that Assange exposed–the war logs and some of the cables.  Is the motivation to keep him quiet so that the exposures don’t continue?

CM: Yes, and the corporate press is part of the same nexus and control the public’s access to judicial proceedings.  Wikileaks very much threatens this control of government information.  Wikileak’s motto is “we open governments” and that is very true.

Dennis Bernstein: I’d like to talk a little more about Julian Assange’s situation.  We know that the powers that be try to undermine the spirit as best they can.  To date they have been unable to stop Julian from continuing this work for the people.  We know he is facing health problems now.  How do you assess his condition and what could happen at this point?

CM: I last met Julian in the embassy a little over two weeks ago.  I am not a medical person but medical professionals now say he is in serious condition, both medical and psychological, from the effects of his confinement.  He has a single room which is about twelve square feet and a smaller room where people from Wikileaks sometimes work with him.  The entire Ecuadorian embassy in London is just an apartment.

Julian gets no daylight at all.  He doesn’t like to go near the windows because of the threats which have been made against him.  He gets no outside exercise, which even the worse prison offenders are allowed for a short period every day to get some fresh air and stretch their legs.  This kind of confining existence is a real health danger.  In addition, there is the indeterminate nature of the whole thing, which is bound to have a severe psychological effect, not having any idea when he is going to be let out.

But having said all that, I have not seen any diminution in his intellectual abilities.  In fact, he seems to be even more honed in on the issues of the day.  He is extremely well informed on political and social developments and an extremely shrewd analyst.  I don’t want people to worry about him in that way.  But he looks pale and he is obviously not in a healthy state.  The dangers of decline are definitely there.

DB: The current Ecuadorian government, which would really like to earn some good favor in the United States, could become a very dangerous entity to Julian Assange.

CM:  In general, Ecuador has been fantastic in what they have done for him.  Ecuador is a small country and like most countries in Latin America is vulnerable to pressure from the United States.  The political situation there has changed and the left is not in the position it was five or six years ago.  There is a heavy CIA presence there, both overt and covert.  So I don’t criticize the Ecuadorian government, they’re in a very difficult position.

DB: Facebook has not taken kindly to your recent critique of Zionism. What did they say?

CM: An editor has very kindly taken on the task of collecting earlier articles of mine into a book.  They include a speech I gave after one of the big Israeli attacks in Gaza.  I actually gave the speech in front of a crowd of 350,000 people in Hyde Park.  That’s when I first used the phrase “Zionism is bullshit,” which became the title of the book.

Facebook took down ads for the book, claiming that they objected to the profanity, which is kind of funny because it is a word that appears quite often on Facebook.  Later they claimed that the book was banned because the title denigrated a religion.  Of course, Zionism is not a religion but a political movement.   Many religious Jews do not support Zionism.  If I don’t agree with a political position I should be able to say so as plainly as I wish.

DB: The current US administration plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Would that be in keeping with Zionist policy?

CM:  Look, my own ancestors were primarily Celtic and we know that 3,000 years ago the Celtic people resided in places like present-day Switzerland.  Just because 3,000 years ago some people believed that God gave Jerusalem specifically to the Jewish people, that doesn’t mean that you ignore the next 3,000 years and the place should become the capital of Israel based on biblical references.  The idea that the rights of the Palestinian people can be ignored because of religious text written down thousands of years ago is absolutely ludicrous.

The Palestinians have had a dreadful time over the last ten years.  Not only have they periodically suffered completely disproportionate military attacks but they continue to suffer the appropriation of their land and the destruction of their buildings and farms, with more and more Israeli settlements being built on Palestinian land, to the extent that a two-state solution is no longer viable because so much of what would be the Palestinian state is now Israeli settlements, containing hundreds of thousands of people.

To declare Jerusalem the capital of the Israeli state is going to be a major handicap to any future peace settlement.  It is something that the entire international community has resisted doing.  It really does set back progress on the Israel/Palestine issue, doing nothing for the cause of peace or for Israeli security.   This is being done to gain domestic political advantage in the United States with the Christian Evangelical lobby.

RC: Julian Assange has now been granted citizenship as well as diplomatic status by the Ecuadorian government.  But the British government refuses to recognize this diplomatic status.

CM: Now it gets a little technical.  Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, if you appoint an ambassador, that ambassador has to be approved in advance by the host country.  If you appoint a diplomat to the embassy below the level of ambassador, you don’t have to seek agreement in advance.  All you have to do is notify.  And Ecuador notified the British government of its decision to grant Assange diplomatic status.

Again, the Vienna Convention is absolutely clear that from the moment of notification that person enjoys diplomatic immunity.  The host state doesn’t have to accept the person, they can declare him or her persona non grata and the person then has to leave the country within a reasonable period of time.  But they have diplomatic immunity from the moment of notification until they leave.

The whole point of diplomatic immunity is to prevent foreign states from effectively kidnapping your diplomats in order to extort from them your country’s secrets.  So the British government should have to allow Assange to leave the country and he should have immunity while he leaves, but they have stated that they would arrest him if he leaves the embassy.

The remedy would be for Ecuador to take the United Kingdom to the International Court of Justice to oblige the UK to follow international law in this regard.  Whether Ecuador is prepared to do that, I don’t know.  It would require significant legal resources and time and cost a certain amount of diplomatic capital.

Another option would be, were he to be arrested, his lawyers could take his case to the courts in the UK.  But we have spoken already of the close ties between the British courts and the government and whether he could succeed is an open question.  The fear is that immediately an extradition request would come in from the United States.

DB:  The fact is, Julian Assange is a political prisoner who has made an extraordinary practice of monitoring centers of power.  They are going to do whatever they can to bring him down.  The only real way to save Assange is for the people to be made aware and for them to rise up and prevent the UK government from doing this because this person has performed a great public service on many fronts in many countries.

CM: You are absolutely right.  He is being persecuted by governments because of the tremendous journalism he has published.  It is ironic that at the moment Hollywood is bringing out a film called The Post about the Pentagon Papers and that is being celebrated at the same time that the entire establishment is out to get Julian Assange for publishing in exactly the way The Washington Post did.

Of course, The Washington Post has now given up on that and we no longer have a liberal media.  The New York Times and The Washington Post are leading the calls for attacks on whistleblowers.  Julian Assange exemplifies the only remaining form of free media outlet.

DB: You write in your recent piece “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming”,  “The complete and unmitigated irrationality of the current epidemic of Russia-phobia does nothing to reduce its incredible virulence as it continues to infect the entire political and media class.”  That would include The Washington Post, wouldn’t it?

CM: In fact, the articles that The Washington Post has been spewing out for a year now on Russiagate and the alleged collusion between WikiLeaks and Russia have been quite remarkable to behold.  They appear to have given up any journalistic standards in terms of truthful reporting, in terms of allowing people a chance to reply to their allegations, and in terms of doing any real investigation of the facts.  The New York Times is probably just as bad on this story.  They have both been astonishing in their inaccuracy.

It is difficult to explain what is happening.  The political and intelligence communities have seen WikiLeaks as an enemy ever since the Chelsea Manning revelations.  And then the political establishment was very alarmed by the challenges to Hillary Clinton, the first of which was the challenge posed by Bernie Sanders.  Then WikiLeaks got a hold of emails from the DNC and Podesta which indicated that the entire playing field was being quite deliberately tilted against Sanders to make sure that he didn’t win.  This, of course, added to Clinton’s unpopularity.  All through the campaign opinion polls showed that Clinton was the only person who could possibly lose to Donald Trump.  But the establishment made sure that she got the nomination.  Already during the campaign she and her people identified Russia as the scapegoat.

So we have had the coming together of these factors: the hatred of WikiLeaks by the intelligence community, the military’s need for Russia as an enemy to justify the billions and billions in military spending, and the need of the so-called liberal left for a scapegoat for Hillary’s defeat.  So you have this kind of perfect storm that has led people to concoct this imaginary scenario where Russia installed the president of the United States in collusion with Julian Assange.

DB: So again, was this a hack or a leak?

CM: It was definitely not a hack, not by Russia or anybody else.  It was a leak of information legally downloaded from their servers.  I know this because I am quite closely associated with WikiLeaks.  But WikiLeaks never reveal their sources because they are totally focused on source protection.

RC:  Is there an economic motivation here?  Is there a Russiagate industry that has developed?

CM: We shouldn’t underestimate the NSA and their fantastic capabilities.  People from inside the agency, such as William Binney and Edward Snowden, all say that if it were a hack the NSA would have the technical ability to trace that data as it passed through the Internet.  They would be able to tell you the exact second the hack occurred and where it went.  There is no such data, because it wasn’t a hack.

People tend to rationalize doing what makes their employers happy or what they consider to be to their advantage in terms of their career.  That is a kind of economic motive, but I think it is largely subconscious.  People do what they do to get ahead.

Of course, people at the top have a very definite economic motive.  They are trying to maintain corporate control and the control of the political class through a process described by Noam Chomsky [and the late Edward Herman] as “manufacturing consent.”  But I believe the foot soldiers subconsciously fall in with what they are supposed to do in order to keep their jobs.

RC: You just wrote a piece on Margaret Thatcher and her support for Apartheid in South Africa.

CM: It is interesting how the media airbrush history.  One of the things which has been airbrushed out of Margaret Thatcher’s history is that she was a strong supporter of the Apartheid system.  I have no doubt about this whatsoever because my first job as a foreign officer was at the South Africa desk as a political officer.

The entire two years I was there, we were trying to bring her to understand that Apartheid was evil and had to end.  But this went against her strong personal instincts, which were to support Whites-only rule.  She successfully opposed any sanctions against Apartheid South Africa.  She refused to allow any of her government officials to talk to the ANC or to anybody representing Black people in South Africa.

I have been explaining this to people for many years but people have tended to doubt me because I was going against the accepted narrative.  I was very gratified last week that Sir Patrick Wright, the head of the foreign service at that time, published his diaries from that time, where he makes absolutely plain that Thatcher supported Apartheid and that he considered her a racist.  I am happy indeed that the truth is starting to get out there.

But the other point is that there are many people in senior positions in the conservative party now–including our minister of defense who just resigned–who at the time were also strong supporters of Apartheid.

DB: Meanwhile, as we all know, Apartheid is alive and well in Israel/Palestine.  Let us pray that the kind of forces that rose up to end Apartheid in South Africa will also bring pressure to end the situation in Palestine.

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




Rethinking Cultural Attitudes Towards Sex and Violence

The recent stories of sexual harassment being shared through the #MeToo campaign and allegations against Washington, Hollywood and Olympics bigwigs is an opportunity to correct harmful cultural perceptions of sex and violence, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Sigmund Freud published his book Civilization and Its Discontents in 1930. Having witnessed World War I, Freud knew that discontent was part and parcel of the human condition. The question he sought to answer was why that was so.

The short answer he came up with goes like this:

Human beings have instinctual drives such as sex and violent aggression – expressions of the Id. Left unchecked they would destroy any hope of settled life and high culture. According to Freud, civilization is the vehicle humans have created to control these inherent drives. Civilization and its various component cultures create rules and regulations– as well as feelings of remorse and guilt (expressions of a culturally attuned Superego) – that result in either suppression or sublimation of these primitive drives.

However, the results are not perfect, especially when it comes to controlling violent aggression. Indeed, as a consequence of the mass slaughter that was World War I, Freud came to the conclusion that human beings have a deep and permanent “death wish.” Even at less drastic levels of aggression, most societies experience frequent episodes of domestic violence, and the high degree of across-the-board neuroses.

In the Freudian scheme, control of the instinctual sexual drive (itself another form of aggression) is supposed to be a bit easier. Eros can be sublimated into the creation of beauty (art) as well as various intellectual achievements. Yet here too, what has been evolved are imperfect controls, especially when encapsulated in cultures that promote male domination.

If one does not like Freud’s ideas, the whole issue of the activation and control of aggression and sex can be looked at in terms of brain function. In other words, our brains have evolved to promote survival and reproduction – originally in the pre-state, pre-tribal primate bands of distant prehistory. These tasks involve multiple parts of the cortex and amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus, and so forth. There is one area of the brain that is particularly important in keeping instinct from running amok – the prefrontal cortex. Slow to mature (it is not fully on-line until one’s mid-twenties) it is this part of the brain that exercises “executive function.” It encourages you “to do the right, though perhaps harder, thing.”

The Role of Culture

Despite the fact that the physical manner in which most individuals experience these primitive and instinctual drives is similar, culture makes a difference in how aggression and sexual urges are expressed. For instance, most of the world’s cultures are patriarchal. That is, they overtly assign authority, both in the public realm and private, to men. Men are supposed to exercise that authority within the confines of their culture’s rules and regulations. Sometimes these are relatively strict, damping down the “macho” impulses that rationalize aggressive physical and sexual behavior. More often they condone or even encourage “macho.”

Keep in mind that the assignment of authority is the assignment of power, and power is the ability to act with aggression. Thus, in a patriarchy, it is with men that the issue of control is most immediate. If there are not sufficient mechanisms within such cultures that identify specific aggressive behavior as unacceptable, or promote public shaming, or just generate a heck of a lot of remorse and guilt, you are going to have high degree male recklessness – everything from schoolyard bullying to criminal violence, as well as the sexual “acting out” we now see as not just rape, but also sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment as a Worldwide Problem

The common definition of sexual harassment is as follows: “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student).” The legal definition in the U.S. pertains chiefly to the workplace, where the unwelcome approach has the connotation of blackmail – something like, “Do this with me or you won’t get promoted.” There are also a myriad number of state and local laws that cover a wide range of situations. Many of these have been on the books only since the 1960s and, unfortunately, are not uniformly enforced.

It is hard to get exact numbers unless you start adding up the results of hundreds of surveys and polls that address the whole range of harassment-related situations. And these only give you the approximate numbers of reported incidents. Time magazine had a series of particularly scandalous cases at Cornell and Harvard Universities in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and came up with an estimate that “as many as 18 million American females were harassed sexually while at work in 1979 and 1980.”

If this estimate is anywhere near accurate, the problem of sexual harassment has to be huge. We know it can’t be just a U.S. problem. It has to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Sad to say, such a horrid diagnosis should not be surprising if sexual aggression stems from evolution-based drives and societal accommodation to this primal instinct through the encouragement of machismo male characteristics.

What To Do?

If in nothing else, Freud was correct in seeing that culture is, albeit imperfectly, our only plausible line of defense. It takes on this role by serving as a guide for the prefrontal cortex – a guide to the “right, though harder, thing to do.” The problem is that, to date, patriarchal cultures have not defined the protection of the subordinate gender as a necessarily “right” thing. They are more interested in directing male aggression into pathways compatible with patriarchal power structures. In other words, the guide is corrupt.

Although this is the way it is, it is not the way it has to be. It is possible to reshape cultural concepts. For better or worse, religions and empowered ideologies have been doing this for a long time. However, their targets have not been male aggression, sexual or otherwise.

But now we may have a window of time when this important subject can be rethought – rethought to the end of improving the cultural assistance given to the mature prefrontal cortex. Along these lines, here are some potential steps to consider. All should be pursued in a non-ideological way. Let’s keep religion and politics out of these efforts, and let science and evolutionary awareness be our tutors.

— Educate both men and women about the nature of the primitive instincts they are subject to. As it is, most individuals grow up without having a clue about what they are experiencing. Explain the need to manage these instinctual urges in reasonable ways. Explain that this means maintaining responsible cultural values.

— Sexual egalitarianism should be implemented by law and then taught as “what is right” from kindergarten through college. The gender biases inherent in patriarchy should be seen as part of an unfortunate past history – like racism.

— Devise instructional lessons to prepare young folks for serious relationships and marriage based on egalitarian principles. Such lessons should be at least as detailed as those needed to get a driver’s license.

— Use the media to create a popular cultural environment that strongly condemns sexual harassment and other forms of aggression. The media should encourage serious remorse among bullies and harassers.

Do these suggestions sound like some civil authority should be allowed to shape how we think? Sorry, but in every culture, past and present, something like that has always been the case. You can also safely assume that those primitive instincts have always been playing with your mind.

And what have all the age-old, status quo cultural rules brought us so far? Civilization? Well, perhaps. But it is a civilization that still suffers periodic outbreaks of aggressive violence and rationalizes a tradition of unwanted sexual behavior abetted by patriarchal values. Not surprisingly, current laws, as they reflect the current state of culture, haven’t been very effective holding either form of aggression back.

Now that the sexual harassment genie seems to have escaped the bottle, we can see the problem more clearly. It’s time to pursue serious culture renovation – to take on those primitive instincts and thoughtfully develop better, non-doctrinaire cultural ways to manage them. One thing is for sure, they are not going to go away on their own.

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. He blogs at www.tothepointanalyses.com.




Gazing at Iran Through a Distorted Glass

A truism about U.S. politics and media is that once a foreign leader or a country has been demonized everything written or said about the subject will be skewed to the negative, a rule reflecting Washington’s groupthink and careerism, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes about Iran.

By Paul R. Pillar

With any country that, like Iran, has been the subject of acrimonious debate in Washington, pronouncements by American observers about events in that country have more to do with politics here than with what is going on over there.  So it has been with much of the spinning and interpreting of protests in Iranian streets during the past few days.  Some guidelines for intelligent, responsible, and useful commentary on those protests are in order, and applicable no matter what are the policy preferences of whoever is commenting.

The first guideline is to apply a large dose of agnosticism to the question of where the protests are heading.  The future course of popular unrest in any country is inherently difficult to predict.  That future depends on the vicissitudes of emotion, the complex interplay of different issues and political forces, and the especially unpredictable ways in which minor incidents can spark much larger responses.  A current trajectory cannot be extrapolated into the future, partly because of the effects of decisions not yet made.  In the current Iranian case, security elements of the regime have refrained so far from using most of their capability to crack down on protesters, but have strongly hinted that the capability may yet be used.  Such use would change the game being played in Iranian streets, but again with much uncertainty about where things would go from there.

Some qualities of the current protests make their future path especially unpredictable, even in comparison with the larger protests in Iran in 2009.  There is no single movement with a recognizable leadership as there was with the Green Movement in the earlier disturbances.  There is no single happening or trigger equivalent to the disputed presidential election in 2009.  Diverse political elements have participated.  It appears that some of the first protests in Mashhad were the work of hardliners apparently seeking to embarrass President Hassan Rouhani, but they were joined by economically disgruntled citizens of other political persuasions.  The messages being chanted in the street also are diverse.

Domestic Economics

The diversity of the messages leads to another guideline, which is not to presume to know what is in the hearts and minds of protesters.  Nor should it be presumed that what is chanted or is written on a protester’s sign identifies the motivation behind the protests.  American commentators who have pushed for confrontation with Iran have taken pains to point out  how one theme voiced in the protests has been that resources ought to be spent back in Iran rather than for foreign adventurism.  But inclusion of that message does not overturn the recurrent pattern—in country after country in addition to Iran—that, per Bill Clinton’s famous observation, it is the state of a nation’s economy that most determines whether political support is won or lost.  Most residents of provincial Iranian cities in which protests have occurred probably care little about the Syrian civil war or the balance of forces in northern Iraq.  They care instead about unemployment and a stagnant standard of living.  If a slogan about foreign adventurism is consistent with the economic grievances and it sounds like a point where the regime might be vulnerable, then it gets used.

Americans ought to find this easy to understand because we have had in the United States similar dynamics between economic discontent and political themes.  Donald Trump molded a winning campaign with themes such as America having allowed foreigners to take advantage of it in ways that supposedly have had economic repercussions at home.  But the Rust Belt voters who were swayed by Trump’s message did not really care about whether bilateral trade deals were better than multilateral agreements or whether Europeans weren’t paying their fair share of NATO’s expenses, let alone about U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen.  They cared about unemployment and a stagnant standard of living.  And if Trump loses their support it will not be because, contrary to what he said in the campaign, he has not curbed foreign adventurism and has even expanded it.  It instead will be because he did not bring back jobs and improve standards of living for working class Americans.  Such dynamics are remarkably similar to what appears to be going on with much of the current popular unrest in Iran, which can be described as a working class protest in which many protesters have much in common with denizens of the Rust Belt.

Consistency is Key

Another guideline is that, however much knowledge one may or may not claim to have about what is going on in Iran, one at least should be logically (as well as morally) consistent.  The protests have presented consistency challenges especially to those who have argued most strongly for confrontation with, and punishment of, Iran.  The chief inconsistency is that those who have been most in favor of imposing more rather than fewer sanctions on Iran are also those who today are calling most loudly for supporting the economically disgruntled protesters in Iranian streets—who are among those most economically harmed by the sanctions.

Arguments that have long been used against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear program, raise additional challenges to consistency.  If the current protests are a good thing—and the aforementioned anti-Iran American hardliners seem downright excited about them—one needs to note that this is happening with the JCPOA having been in effect for two years.  Wasn’t that agreement, according to the agreement’s opponents, supposed to have given Iran a windfall that unduly and prematurely relieved economic pressure on Tehran?  The opponents try to square this circle with the notion of the regime diverting the “windfall” to foreign adventurism while making citizens suffer.  This notion usually gets conveyed without any supporting data about economics and fiscal policies (and Rouhani’s policies have emphasized domestic economic improvement above all else).  It also raises another inconsistency.  If the current protests really are as much of a regime-shaking occurrence as some American hardliners contend, wouldn’t any Iranian leader with at least half a brain and a desire to stay in power use the “windfall” to buy domestic support rather than wasting it away on foreign adventurism, if that really were the choice?

By treating the protests as a vehicle for pressuring the regime to change non-nuclear policies, the American hardliners also run into inconsistency with all their prior opposition to doing any business with the Iranian regime, of which opposition to the JCPOA has been a part.  If this regime is as irredeemable and thoroughly dominated by hardline fanatics as the American hardliners have repeatedly portrayed it, who could possibly emerge from such a cauldron to respond positively to street protests?  Thus we get intellectual contortions such as trying to argue in the space of a single paragraph that it was a mistake in the past to “be in the business of currying favor with the regime’s ‘moderates’ ” but that today the protests provide an occasion to “strengthen the arguments of pragmatists arguing for a change in policy”.

Regardless of whether the eventual overall outcome of the current protests is good or bad from a U.S. point of view, it would be just as mistaken for supporters of the JCPOA to claim credit for whatever good comes out of them as for opponents to make such a claim.  The JCPOA needs to stand or fall based on its intended purpose, which was to close all pathways to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon.  The economic under-performance that has spawned discontent in Iran, as manifested in the current protests, has multiple sources.  Economic mismanagement by the regime is one.  Sanctions are another, including non-nuclear sanctions that the United States keeps in place today.  Moreover, even the lifting of nuclear sanctions has not brought much of the hoped-for economic benefit to Iran, given uncertainty in the private sector—uncertainty the Trump administration has vigorously stoked—about the future of the JCPOA, with the private sector knowing of the U.S. Treasury’s ability to punish even non-American businesses for any future sanctions transgressions.  The Rouhani government also probably raised Iranian economic expectations to an unreachable level as it worked to sell the agreement over hardline Iranian opposition.

Dangers of Foreign Interference

Another guideline for American commentators of any persuasion is to be mindful that such commentary is not only part of an American debate but also is heard by Iranian ears.  This includes ears in the regime, where, as with regimes everywhere, the perception that a foreign government is trying to overthrow you is a big disincentive to doing any business with that government or trusting its promises.  Also listening are the protesters and other citizens of Iran.  Regardless of the sympathy we have for them, American expressions of support will not be fuel for keeping the protests going.  No would-be protester will go out in the street and risk arrest or worse because some U.S. leader encouraged him to do so.

The much more likely hazard is to taint Iranian opposition with the stain of foreign involvement.  For any Iranian movement, a perception that the United States put it up to whatever it is doing is a political kiss of death.  Those in the United States urging a more active encouragement of the protests dismiss this hazard by saying, “No matter what we say and do, the regime will seek to blame the United States for the protests.”  Of course it will; that’s the sort of accusation almost any regime in such a situation will make.  But that’s beside the point.  What matters is whether the United States makes such accusations appear credible, in the eyes of Iranians in the street and Iranians in general, by what it does and what it says.

Certainly there is a role for declaring strong support for the right of Iranians or any other people to express their grievances peacefully, and for condemning any use of force against such expression.  The line between such declarations and a posture that gives credibility to the Iranian regime’s accusations about foreign interference is admittedly thin.  But the line exists, and Americans do no favors to the Iranian people by crossing it.

Finally, as the events in Iranian streets have gotten regime change juices flowing again back in the United States, those feeling the flow need to be careful what they wish for.  They should bear in mind how hardliners apparently were in the forefront of getting the current protests going.  They also should think about the likelihood that the Iranian politics and policies that would follow any harsh crackdown on protesters—which is still one of the possible next chapters in the current events—would likely be at least as unfavorable to U.S. interests as what Tehran exhibits now.  In other words, change can be a change for the worse rather than for the better.

Also worthy of reflection is the absence of Green Movement-style leadership of the current protests, and more broadly of a credible alternative leadership for the nation that would be better than what Rouhani represents.  The paucity of attractive alternatives for Americans to latch on to is demonstrated by how many otherwise sane U.S. political figures have latched on to the terrorist-group-cum-cult known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which has little support inside Iran.

Even if a more attractive leadership were in the wings, the history of revolutions worldwide shows how frequently a moderate figure becomes an Alexander Kerensky, who gives way to more extreme and ruthless elements who hold power much longer.  Iran itself has had its Kerenskys, in the persons of Mehdi Bazargan and Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, briefly-tenured leaders after the fall of the shah who lost out to the forces of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

If all this were not enough to give pause, there are more recent lessons in Iraq, where U.S.-fomented regime change boosted the influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Libya, which is still divided and chaotic.

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.)




Giving War Too Many Chances

As the new year begins, it is important for the U.S. to acknowledge its troubling history of global war-making, especially  over the past two-decades, as Nicolas J.S. Davies delineates.

By Nicolas J.S. Davies

I met John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Christmas Eve in 1969.  I joined them and a small group of local peace activists in a Christmas fast for world peace in front of Rochester Cathedral in England, a short walk from where I lived with my family in Chatham Dockyard.  I was 15 years old, and my father was the dockyard medical officer, responsible for the health and safety of the dockyard workers who maintained the U.K.’s new fleet of nuclear submarines.

John and Yoko arrived before midnight mass.  We were all introduced and went in for the service.  By the time we came out, thousands of people had heard John was there.  He was still a Beatle and he was mobbed by a huge crowd, so he and Yoko decided they couldn’t stay with us as planned.  While most of our little group helped John back to their iconic white Rolls Royce, I and another boy not much older than me were left to shepherd a panicking Yoko back through the crowd to the car.  They both made it, and we never saw them again.  The next morning a florist came by with a huge box of white carnations, and we spent the rest of our Christmas and Boxing Day handing flowers to passers-by and getting to know each other – the birth of what became the Medway and Maidstone Peace Action Group.

While the U.K. was not openly involved in the Vietnam War, it was deeply involved in the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, and watching the U.K.’s closest ally destroy Vietnam led many of my generation to question the Cold War assumptions about “good guys” and “bad guys” that we’d been raised on.  John and Yoko became the de facto leaders of the peace movement, and their song “Give Peace a Chance” was a simple unifying anthem.

After two world wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War, we all wanted peace, but it seemed to be the one thing our leaders were not willing to try, claiming that the Cold War justified an endless arms race, and wars and coups wherever U.S. and British leaders thought they’d spotted a Red under somebody’s bed.  That included many countries whose experiments with socialism were less advanced than in the U.K., where I grew up with a cradle to grave healthcare system, free education through university, a comprehensive welfare state and state-owned utilities, railways and major industries.

The peace dividend vs the power dividend

Once the Cold War ended, the justification for 50 years of massive military spending, global warfare and coups was finally over.  Like U.S. allies, enemies and neighbors around the world, Americans breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the “peace dividend.”  Robert McNamara and Lawrence Korb, former cold warriors of both parties, testified to the Senate Budget Committee that the U.S. military budget could be cut in half from its FY1990 level over the next 10 years.  Committee chairman Senator Jim Sasser hailed “this unique moment in history” as “the dawn of the primacy of domestic economics.”

But the peace dividend was short-lived, trumped by what Carl Conetta of the Project for Defense Alternatives has dubbed the “power dividend,” the drive to exploit the end of the Cold War to consolidate and expand U.S. military power.  Influential voices linked to military industrial interests had a new refrain, essentially “Give War a Chance.”  But of course, they didn’t put it so plainly:

–    After the First Gulf War in 1991, President Bush I celebrated “kick(ing) the Vietnam syndrome,” and deployed U.S. pilots directly from Kuwait to the Paris Air Show to cash in on the marketing value of a war that had just killed tens of thousands of people in Iraq.  The next 3 years set a new record for U.S. arms sales. The Pentagon later admitted that only 7% of the bombs and missiles dropped on Iraq were the “precision-guided” ones they showcased to TV viewers, and only 41% to 60% of those “precision” weapons hit their targets anyway.  Iraq was ruthlessly carpet bombed, but we were sold a high-tech dog and pony show.

–    Despite surely being well aware of the reality behind the propaganda, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz crowed to General Wesley Clark, “With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity.”

–    As the Clinton administration took over the reins of the U.S. war machine in 1992, Madeleine Albright challenged General Colin Powell on his “Powell Doctrine” of limited war, asking him, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

–    Albright was appointed Secretary of State in 1997, mainstreaming new political pretexts for otherwise illegal wars such as “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect.”  But despite the steady diet of war propaganda, Albright was drowned out by protests from the audience when she threatened war on Iraq at a town hall meeting in Columbus in 1998.

–    Clinton’s 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review declared, “When the interests at stake are vital… we should do whatever it takes to defend them, including, when necessary, the unilateral use of military power.  U.S. vital national interests include, but are not limited to… preventing the emergence of a hostile regional coalition… (and) ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.”  But as the U.K. Foreign Office’s senior legal adviser told his government during the Suez crisis in 1956, “The plea of vital interest, which has been one of the main justifications for wars in the past, is indeed the very one which the UN Charter was intended to exclude as a basis for armed intervention in another country.”

–    After a failed CIA coup in 1996 betrayed every CIA agent in Iraq to the Iraqi government, precluding a second coup attempt, the newly formed neoconservative Project for the New American Century began pushing for war on Iraq.  The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, threatening “regime change” through the use of military force, passed Congress with only 38 Nays in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate.

–    When U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Albright his government was having trouble “with our lawyers” over NATO’s illegal plan to attack Yugoslavia and annex Kosovo, she told him it should just “get new lawyers.”

–    Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations a few weeks before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000, Hillary Clinton derided recent U.S. wars in Panama, Kuwait and Yugoslavia as “splendid little wars” and called for what a banking executive in the audience described as a “new imperialism.”

–    Samantha Power popularized the idea that the use of U.S. military force could have prevented the genocide in Rwanda, an assumption challenged by experts on genocide (see “A Solution From Hell”) but which has served ever since as a powerful political argument for the U.S. uses of military force.

Afghanistan

After pleading with the American people to “Give War a Chance” for a decade, U.S. political leaders seized on the crimes of September 11th, 2001 to justify an open-ended “global war on terror.”

Many Americans approved of attacking Afghanistan as an act of self defense, but of course it was not Afghanistan or the Taliban that committed the crimes of September 11th.  As former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz told NPR at the time, “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”

Sixteen years later, 16,500 U.S. troops soldier on through the graveyard of empires, while U.S. warplanes have dropped 3,852 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan since Mr. Trump took office.  No serious study has been conducted to estimate how many hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been killed since 2001.

As Matthew Hoh wrote in his resignation letter as he quit his post as the U.S. Political Officer in Zabul Province in Afghanistan in 2009,

“The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies.   …I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.”

Or as an Afghan taxi driver in Vancouver told me, “We defeated the Persians in the 18th century, the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th.  Now, with NATO, we’re fighting 29 countries at once, but we’ll defeat them too.”  Who would doubt it?

Today, after 16 years of occupation by up to 100,000 U.S. troops, thousands of deadly “kill or capture” night raids by U.S. special operations forces and over 60,000 bombs and missiles dropped on Afghanistan on the orders of 3 U.S. presidents, the corrupt U.S.-backed government in Kabul governs less territory today than at any time since before the U.S. invasion.

The U.S. war on Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history.  There must be U.S. troops in Afghanistan today whose fathers were fighting there 16 years ago. This isn’t giving war a chance.  It’s giving it a blank check, in blood and money.

Iraq

When President Bush II unveiled a “national security strategy” based on a flagrantly illegal doctrine of preemptive war in 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy called it a “call for 21st century imperialism that no other country can or should accept.”  The rest of the world rejected the U.S. case for war on Iraq in the UN Security Council and 30 million people took to the streets in the largest global demonstrations in history.  But the U.S. and U.K. invaded Iraq anyway.

The U.K.’s role in the invasion was thrown into limbo when Admiral Michael Boyce, the Chief of the Defense Staff, told his government he could not give orders to invade Iraq without written confirmation that it would be legal.  It took Tony Blair and his cronies five full days of grappling with their legal advisers before one of them, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, who was not even an international lawyer, was willing to contradict what he and all the U.K.’s legal advisers had consistently and repeatedly told their government, that the invasion of Iraq would be a criminal act of aggression.

Four days later, the U.S. and U.K. committed the war crime of the new century, unleashing a war that has killed a million innocent people and left Iraq mired in bloody violence and chaos for 14 years and counting.

When the people of Iraq rose in resistance to the illegal invasion and occupation of their country, the U.S. launched a bloody “counterinsurgency” campaign.  As U.S. forces destroyed Fallujah and Ramadi, U.S. officials in Baghdad recruited, trained and ran Interior Ministry death squads who tortured and assassinated tens of thousands of men and boys to ethnically cleanse Baghdad and other areas on a sectarian basis.

The most recent U.S. atrocity in Iraq was the massacre of an estimated 40,000 civilians in Mosul by U.S., Iraqi, French and other “coalition” forces.  The U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria has dropped 104,000 bombs and missiles since 2014, making it the heaviest U.S. bombing campaign since the American War in Vietnam.  Iraqi government death squads once again prowl through the ruins of Mosul, torturing and summarily executing anyone they identify as a suspected Islamic State fighter or sympathizer.

In Iraq, “Give war a chance” does not mean, “It didn’t work here. Let’s try it somewhere else.”  It means, “Keep bombarding Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul and massacring their people over and over again until there is nothing left but rubble and graveyards.”  That is why 9,123 U.S. troops remain deployed in a land of rubble and graveyards in the 15th year of an illegal war.

Somalia

Independent Somalia was formed from the former colonies of British and Italian Somaliland in 1970.  After initially investing in literacy and infrastructure, Said Barre and his government built the largest army in Africa, supported first by the U.S.S.R. and then by the U.S., as it waged a long war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden, an ethnically Somali region of Ethiopia.  In 1991, Barre was ousted in a civil war and the central government collapsed.  UN and U.S. military interventions failed to restore any kind of order and foreign troops were withdrawn in 1995.

For the next 11 years, a dozen warlords ruled small fiefdoms while the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government, hunkered down in Baidoa, the sixth largest city.  But the country was not as violent as some other parts of Africa.  Somalia is an ancient society and some order was preserved by traditional systems of law and government, including a unique system of customary law called Xeer, which has existed and evolved in Somalia since the 7th century.

In 2006, these various local authorities came together and formed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).  With the support of one of the strongest warlords, they defeated other warlords, including ones backed by the CIA, in fierce fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and soon controlled the southern half of the country.  People who knew Somalia well hailed the ICU as a hopeful development and tried to reassure the Bush administration that it was not a danger.

But the threat of peace breaking out in Somalia was too much for the “give war a chance” crowd to stomach.  The U.S. backed an Ethiopian invasion, supported by U.S. air strikes and special operations forces, plunging Somalia back into violence and chaos that continues to this day.  The Ethiopian invaders drove the ICU out of Mogadishu, and it split into factions, with some of its leaders going into exile and others forming new armed groups, not least Al-Shabaab [an offshoot of Al Qaeda], to resist the Ethiopian invasion.

After Ethiopia agreed to withdraw its forces in 2008, a coalition government was formed by TFG and ICU leaders but did not include Al-Shabaab, which by then controlled large areas of the country.  The government has been fighting Al-Shabaab ever since, supported by an African Union force and currently at least 289 U.S. special operations forces and other U.S. troops.  The government has made gains, but Al-Shabaab still controls some areas.  As it has been pushed back militarily, Al-Shabaab has launched devastating terrorist attacks in Somalia and Kenya, where the U.S. now also has 212 troops deployed.  Neighboring Djibouti hosts 4,715 U.S. troops at the largest U.S. base in Africa.

The U.S. is doggedly expanding its militarized counterterrorism strategy in Africa, with at least 7,271 U.S. troops in 47 countries as of September 30th.  But a new body of research has confirmed what independent analysts have long believed, that it is precisely these kind of operations that drive civilians into armed resistance in the first place.  A recent survey of 500 African militants by the UN Development Program found that the “tipping-point” that decided 71% of them to join a group like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram or Al Qaeda was the killing or detention of a family member or friend in U.S.-led or U.S.-model “counterterrorism” operations.

So the circular logic of U.S. counterterrorism policy uses the emergence and growth of groups like Al-Shabaab as a pretext to expand the operations that are fueling their growth in the first place, turning more and more civilians into combatants and their homes and communities into new U.S. battlefields, to “give war a chance” in country after country.

Honduras

On June 28th 2009, President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was woken in the early hours of the morning by soldiers in combat gear bursting into his official residence.  They hauled him away at gunpoint in his pajamas, bundled him into a car and onto a plane to Costa Rica.  President Obama immediately called the coup a coup and reaffirmed that Zelaya was still the democratically-elected president of Honduras, appearing to adopt the same position as every government in Latin America, the European Union and the UN General Assembly.

But, in the coming days, as Hillary Clinton has since admitted, she went to work to push for a new election in Honduras that would, as she put it, “render the question of Zelaya moot,” by making the coup against him a fait accompli and allowing the coup regime of Roberto Micheletti to organize the new election.

Despite Obama’s statement and Wikileaks’ release of cables in which the U.S. Ambassador also called this an illegal coup, the U.S. never officially recognized that a coup had taken place, avoiding the cut-off of military aid to the post-coup government that was required under U.S. federal law and any further action to restore the democratically-elected president.  In the coming years, Honduras, which was already the murder capital of the world, became even more dangerous as labor organizers and activists of all stripes were killed with impunity by the post-coup government’s death squads.  Environmental activist Berta Cáceres’ murder caused worldwide outrage, but she is one of hundreds of activists and organizers killed.

The role of Secretary Clinton and the U.S. government in consolidating the results of the coup in Honduras should be seen in the context of the U.S.’s dominant historic role in Honduras, the original “banana republic,” 70% of whose exports are still sold to the United States.  Honduras currently hosts 529 U.S. military personnel, far more than any other country in the Western hemisphere, and they are deeply embedded with the Honduran military which committed the coup.

In the 1980s, under Ambassador John Negroponte, who eventually became Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa reportedly hosted the largest CIA station in the world, from where the CIA ran its covert war against Nicaragua, death squads that killed even American nuns with impunity in El Salvador and an outright genocide in Guatemala.  With this history of U.S. military and CIA involvement in Honduras, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the CIA was secretly involved in planning the coup against Zelaya.

The 2009 coup in Honduras has now come home to roost, as even the historically U.S.-controlled Organization of American States has demanded a rerun of the latest rigged election and Honduras’s feared Cobra paramilitary police have refused to repress pro-democracy protesters.  The opposition party, the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, which appears to have won the most votes in the election, is a coalition of left and right against the post-coup government.  How far will Trump and the U.S. go to rescue Clinton’s 2009 campaign in Honduras?  Will it ask us to “give war another chance?”

Yemen

From 897 (not a typo) until 1962, most of Yemen was ruled by the Zaidi Imams.  The Zaidis follow a branch of Shiite Islam, but in Yemen they coexist and worship in the same mosques as Sunnis.  The Houthis, who rule most of Yemen today, are also Zaidis.  The last Zaidi Imam was overthrown by a republican coup in 1962, but, with Saudi support, he fought a civil war until 1970.  Yes, you read that right.  In the 1960s, the Saudis backed the Zaidi royalists in the Yemeni civil war.  Now they call the Zaidis apostates and Iranian stooges and are waging a genocidal war to bomb and starve them to death.

At the peak of the previous civil war, 70,000 Egyptian troops fought on the republican side in Yemen, but the 1967 Arab-Israeli War changed the priorities of Arab countries on both sides.  In February 1968, royalist forces lifted their siege of Sana’a and the two sides began peace talks, which led to a peace agreement and international recognition of the Yemen Arab Republic in 1970.

Meanwhile, also in 1967, a popular armed rebellion forced the U.K. to withdraw from its colony in Aden, which formed the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, a Marxist state and Soviet ally.  When the Cold War ended, the two Yemens merged to form a united Republic of Yemen in 1990.  Ali Abdallah Saleh, the president of North Yemen since 1978, became president of the united Yemen and ruled until 2011.

Saleh’s repressive government alienated many sectors of Yemeni society, and the Zaidi Houthis launched an armed rebellion in their northern homeland in 2004.  The Zaidis and other Shia Muslims make up about 45% of the population and Zaidis ruled the country for centuries, so they have always been a force to be reckoned with.

At the same time, the new Obama administration launched a campaign of cruise missile and drone strikes and special forces operations against the fledgling Al Qaeda faction in the country and increased military aid to Saleh’s government.  A U.S. drone strike assassinated Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, and another strike two weeks later murdered his American son, 16-year-old Abdulrahman.  Like militarized U.S. counterterrorism campaigns in other countries, U.S. attacks have predictably killed hundreds of civilians, fueling the growth of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Arab Spring protests and political turmoil forced Saleh to resign in November 2011.  His deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, was elected in February 2012 to head a unity government that would draw up a new constitution and organize a new election in two years.  After Hadi failed to hold an election or step down as president, the Houthis invaded the capital in September 2014, placed him under house arrest and demanded that he complete the political transition.

Hadi and his government rejected the Houthis’ demands and simply resigned in January 2015, so the Houthis formed a Revolutionary Council as an “interim authority.”  Hadi fled to Aden, his hometown, and then to Saudi Arabia, which launched a savage bombing campaign and naval blockade against Yemen on Hadi’s behalf.  The U.S. provides most of the weapons, munitions, satellite intelligence and in-air refueling and is a vital member of the Saudi-led coalition, but of course U.S. media and politicians downplay the U.S. role.

The Saudi-U.S. coalition’s bombing campaign has killed at least ten thousand civilians, probably many more, while a naval blockade and the bombing of ports have reduced the population to a state of near-starvation.  Hadi’s forces have recaptured Aden and an area around it, but they have failed to defeat the Houthis in the rest of the country.

U.S.-made bombs keep hitting markets, hospitals and other civilian targets in Yemen.  Western military trainers regard the Saudi armed forces as more or less untrainable, due mainly to Saudi Arabia’s rigid class and tribal hierarchy.  The officer corps, some of whom are members of the royal family, are beyond criticism, so there is no way to correct mistakes or enforce discipline.  So Saudi pilots bomb indiscriminately from high altitude, and will keep doing so unless and until the U.S. stops selling them munitions and withdraws its military and diplomatic complicity in this genocidal war.

Aid agencies keep warning that millions of Yemenis are close to starvation, but neither Saudi nor U.S. officials seem to care.  The normalization of war and the culture of apathy nurtured by 16 years of American wars that have killed millions of people in a dozen countries have left U.S. officials supremely cynical, but their cynicism will be tested in 2018 as the predictable results of this “made in the U.S.A.” humanitarian catastrophe unfold.  The U.S. propaganda machine will also be tested as it keeps trying to pin all the blame on the Saudis.

Libya

Muammar Gaddafi was a favorite villain of the West and an ally of the U.S.S.R., Cuba, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, the PLO, the IRA and the Polisario Front in Western Sahara.  Gaddafi created a unique form of direct democracy, and he used Libya’s oil wealth to provide free healthcare and education and to give Libya the 5th highest GDP per capita in Africa and the highest development rating in Africa on the UN’s HDI index, which measures health and education as well as income.

Gaddafi also used Libya’s wealth to fund projects to give African countries more control of their own natural resources, like a Libyan-funded factory in Liberia to manufacture and export tire grade rubber instead of raw rubber.  He also co-founded the African Union in 2002, which he envisioned growing into a military alliance and a common market with a single currency.

Militant Islamists within the military tried but failed to assassinate Gaddafi in 1993.  The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), formed by Libyans who had fought with CIA- and Saudi-backed forces in Afghanistan, was paid by the U.K.’s MI6 intelligence agency and Osama Bin-Laden to also try to kill him in 1996.  The U.K. gave asylum to some of LIFG’s members, most of whom settled among the large Libyan community in Manchester.

The U.K. banned LIFG in 2005 and confiscated its members’ passports due to its links with Al Qaeda.  But that all changed again in 2011, their passports were returned, and MI6 helped many of them travel back to Libya to join the “NATO rebels.”  One LIFG member, Ramadan Abedi, took his 16-year old son Salman with him to Libya.  Six years later, Salman struck his own blow for his family’s Islamist ideology, carrying out a suicide bombing that killed 23 young music fans at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May 2017.

Western leaders’ eagerness to overthrow Gaddafi led France, the U.K., the U.S. and their NATO and Arab royalist allies to exploit a UN Security Council Resolution that authorized the use of force to protect civilians in Libya to overthrow the government, rejecting an African Union initiative to resolve the crisis peacefully.

The UN resolution called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Libya, but also authorized a “no-fly zone,” which became a pretext for bombing Libya’s military and civilian infrastructure with 7,700 bombs and missiles, and secretly deploying CIA officers and British, French and Qatari special operations forces to organize and lead Libyan rebel forces on the ground.

Qatar’s Chief of Staff, Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Atiya, told AFP, “We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were in the hundreds in every region.  Training and communications had been in Qatari hands.  Qatar… supervised the rebels’ plans because they are civilians and did not have enough military experience. We acted as the link between the rebels and NATO forces.”  Qatari forces were even spotted leading the final assault on Libya’s Bab al-Aziziya military headquarters in Tripoli.

After taking Tripoli, NATO and its Libyan and Qatari allies cut off food, water and electricity to the people of Sirte and Bani Walid as they bombarded them for weeks.  The combination of aerial, naval and artillery bombardment, starvation and thirst on these civilian populations made a final, savage mockery of UNSCR 1973’s mandate to protect civilians.

Once the U.S. and its allies had destroyed Libya’s government, they abandoned it to chaos and civil war that still rage on six years later.  Two competing governments control different parts of the country, while local militias control many smaller areas.  Since 2011, human rights groups have reported that thousands of black Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans have suffered arbitrary detention and appalling abuse at the hands of the Libyan militias that the U.S. and its allies helped to take over the country.  News reports of Africans being sold in slave markets in Libya are only the latest outrage.

As Libya struggles to dig its way out of the endless chaos the U.S. and its allies plunged it into, the U.S. has more or less washed its hands of the crisis in Libya.  In 2016, U.S. foreign aid to Libya was only $27 million.

Syria

The U.S. role in the civil war in Syria is a case study in how a CIA covert operation can fuel a conflict and destabilize a country to create pretexts for U.S. military intervention.  The CIA began organizing the transport of fighters and weapons from Libya to Turkey in late 2011, as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were militarizing an uprising in Syria that grew out of Arab Spring protests earlier in the year.  British and French special operations forces provided military training in Turkey, and the CIA managed the infiltration of fighters and the distribution of weapons across the Syrian border.

The Syrian government’s repression contributed to the transition from peaceful protests to an armed uprising.  But the primarily leftist groups that organized the political protests in 2011 were committed to opposing violence, sectarianism and foreign intervention.  They have always blamed Syria’s descent into war mainly on the foreign powers who supported the small Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and funneled more extreme foreign-based Islamist forces and thousands of tons of weapons into the country to ignite a full-scale civil war.

In 2012, as Kofi Annan tried to negotiate a ceasefire and a political transition in Syria, the U.S. and its allies poured in foreign fighters and heavier weapons and pledged even greater support to rebel forces at three Orwellian “Friends of Syria” conferences.  One of these was timed to coincide with the date when Annan’s ceasefire was to take effect, and their new pledges of weapons, money and support for the rebels were a flagrant move to undermine the ceasefire.

After Annan eventually got all sides to agree on a peace plan in Geneva on June 30th 2012, on the understanding that it would then be codified in a UN Security Council Resolution, the U.S. and its allies went back to New York and inserted new conditions and triggers for sanctions and military action in the resolution, leading to a Russian veto.  Annan’s Geneva Communique has been eclipsed by 5 more years of war and equally fruitless Geneva II, Geneva III and Geneva IV peace conferences.

Annan quit a month later and was characteristically guarded in his public statements.  But UN officials told the Atlantic in 2013 that Annan blamed the U.S. government for the failure of his mission.  “The U.S. couldn’t even stand by an agreement that the Secretary of State had signed in Geneva,” said one of Annan’s closest aides. “He quit in frustration.”

After shipping at least 2,750 tons of weapons from Libya to Turkey in 2011 and 2012, including howitzers, RPGs and sniper rifles, the CIA began scouring the Balkans for weapons left over from the wars in the 1990s that the Saudis and Qataris could buy to flood into Syria through Turkey and Jordan.  They shipped in up to 8,000 tons of weapons on flights from Croatia by March 2013.

Since then, the Saudis have bought more weapons from 8 different Balkan countries, as well as 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles directly from the U.S. for $1.1 billion in December 2013.  That was despite U.S. officials admitting as early as October 2012 that most of the weapons shipped into Syria had gone to “hardline Islamic jihadists.”  Investigators in the Balkans report that the Saudis made their largest purchases ever in 2015, including brand new weapons straight off the production line.  Only 60% of these weapons had been delivered by early 2017, meaning that the flood of weapons will continue as long as the CIA keeps facilitating it and U.S. allies like Turkey and Jordan keep acting as conduits.

The main innovation in U.S. war-making under the Obama administration was a doctrine of covert and proxy war that avoided heavy U.S. casualties at the expense of a reliance on aerial bombardment, drone killings, a huge expansion of deadly special forces operations and the use of foreign proxy forces.  In every case, this fueled the global explosion of violence and chaos unleashed by Bush, and the main victims were millions of innocent civilians in country after country.

U.S. support for Al Qaeda splinter groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (now rebranded Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and Islamic State turned the U.S. “war on terror” on its head.  Only ten years after September 11th, the U.S. was ready to support these groups to destabilize Libya and Syria, where the CIA was looking for pretexts for war and regime change.  The U.S. only reverted to its “war on terror” narrative after U.S. and allied support had built up these groups to the point that they could invade Iraq and take over its second largest city and a large swath of the country.

The U.S. covert proxy war in Syria led to the heaviest U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam, which has reduced several cities in Iraq and Syria to rubble and killed tens of thousands of civilians; a civil war in Syria that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians; and a refugee crisis that has overwhelmed U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe.  After 6 years of war, Syria remains fragmented and mired in chaos.  The Syrian government has regained control of many areas, but the future remains very dangerous and uncertain for the people of Syria.  The U.S. currently has at least 1,723 troops on the ground in Syria, without any legal basis to be there, as well as 2,730 in Jordan and 2,273 in Turkey.

Ukraine

President Yanukovych of Ukraine was overthrown in a violent coup in February 2014.  Originally peaceful protests in the Maidan, or central square, in Kiev had gradually become dominated by the extreme right-wing Svoboda Party and, since November 2013, by a shadowy new group called Right Sector.  These groups displayed Nazi symbols, fought with police and eventually invaded the Ukrainian parliament building, prompting Yanukovych to flee the country.

On February 4th, 2014, leaked audio of a conversation between U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland revealed U.S. plans for a coup to remove Yanukovych and install U.S. favorite Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister.  Nuland and Pyatt used language like, “glue this thing,” “midwife this thing” and “we could land jelly side up on this thing if we move fast,” as well as the more widely reported “Fuck the EU,” who they didn’t expect to support their plan.

On February 18th, Right Sector led 20,000 protesters on a march to the parliament building.  They attacked police with Molotov cocktails, stormed and occupied government buildings and the police attacked the protest camp in the Maidan.  As running battles with the police continued over the next few days, an estimated 75 people were killed, including 10 police and soldiers.  Mysterious snipers were reported firing from Philharmonic Hall and a hotel overlooking the Maidan, shooting at police and protesters.

Yanukovych and his government held meetings with opposition leaders, and the EU sent the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland to mediate the crisis.  On February 21st, Yanukovych agreed to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections before the end of the year.

But the protesters, now led by Svoboda and Right Sector, were not satisfied and took over the parliament building.  Right Sector had broken into an armory in Lviv and seized assault rifles and pistols, and the police no longer resisted.  On February 22nd, the parliament failed to make a quorum (338 of 447 members), but the 328 members present voted to remove Yanukovych from office and hold a new election in May.  Yanukovych issued defiant statements and refused to resign, then fled to Russia.

Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine refused to accept the results of the coup.  The Crimean parliament organized a referendum, in which 97% voted to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia, which Crimea had been part of since 1783.  As an administrative matter, Kruschev had placed Crimea within the Ukrainian SSR in the 1950s, but when the USSR broke up, 94% of Crimeans voted to become an autonomous republic and 83% voted to keep dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship.

Russia accepted the result of the referendum and now governs Crimea.  The greatest dangers to Russia from the coup in Kiev were that Ukraine would join NATO and Russia would lose its most strategic naval base at Sevastopol on the Black Sea.  NATO issued a declaration in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO.”  Also in 2008, Ukraine threatened not to renew the lease on the base at Sevastopol, which was due to expire in 2017, but it was eventually extended to 2042.

The UN has not recognized Russia’s reintegration of Crimea, and the U.S. has called it a violation of international law.  But given the history and autonomous status of Crimea, and the importance of Sevastopol to Russia, it was an understandable and predictable response to the illegal U.S.-planned coup in Ukraine.  It is the height of hypocrisy for U.S. officials to suddenly pose as champions of international law, which U.S. policy has systematically ignored, violated and undermined since the 1980s.

Russian-speaking majorities in Eastern Ukraine also declared independence from Ukraine as the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and appealed for Russian support, which Russia has covertly provided, although the extent of it is hotly debated.  There were also large protests against the coup in Odessa on the Black Sea, and 42 protesters were killed when a Right Sector mob attacked them and set fire to the Trades Union building where they took refuge.

With the Ukrainian military unable or unwilling to launch a civil war against its Russian-speaking compatriots in the East, the post-coup government recruited and trained a new “National Guard” to do so.  It was soon reported that the Azov Battalion and other National Guard units were linked to Svoboda and Right Sector, and that they were still displaying Nazi symbols as they assaulted Russian-speaking areas in Eastern Ukraine.  In 2015, the Azov Battalion was expanded to a 1,000-strong Special Operations Regiment.

The civil war in Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people.  The Minsk agreements between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in September 2014 and February 2015 established a tenuous ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides, but the political problems persist, fueling outbreaks of fighting.  The U.S. has now agreed to send Ukraine Javelin anti-tank missiles and other heavier weapons, which are likely to reignite heavier fighting and complicate political negotiations.

Giving Peace a Chance?

Giving war a chance has not worked out well, to put it mildly, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Honduras, Yemen, Libya, Syria or Ukraine.  All remain mired in violence and chaos caused by U.S. invasions, bombing campaigns, coups and covert operations. In every case, U.S. policy decisions have either made these countries’ problems worse or are entirely responsible for the incredible problems afflicting them.  Many of those decisions were illegal or criminal under U.S. and/or international law.  The human cost to millions of innocent people is a historic tragedy that shames us all.  In every case, the U.S. could have made different decisions, and in every case, the U.S. can still make different decisions.

As an American general once observed, “When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”  The allocation of most of our federal budget to military spending both deprives the U.S. of other “tools” and creates political pressures to use the one we have already paid so much for, as implied in Albright’s question to Powell in 1992.

In Mr. Trump’s new national security strategy, he promised Americans that he will “preserve peace through strength.”  But the U.S. is not at peace today.  It is a nation at war across the world.  The U.S. has 291,000 troops stationed in 183 foreign countries, amounting to a global military occupation.  It has deployed special operations troops on secret combat and training missions to 149 countries in 2017 alone.  It has dropped 39,000 bombs and missiles on Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan since Trump took office, and the U.S.- and Iraqi-led assault on Mosul alone killed an estimated 40,000 civilians.  Pretending we are at peace and vowing to preserve it by diverting more of our resources to the military industrial complex is not a national security strategy.  It is an Orwellian deception taken straight from the pages of 1984.

At the dawn of 2018, nobody could accuse the American public of not giving war a chance.  We have let successive presidents talk us into war over each and every international crisis, most of which were caused or fueled by U.S. aggression and militarism in the first place, in the belief that they may have finally found an enemy they can defeat and a war that will somehow make life better for somebody somewhere.  But they haven’t.

As we look forward to a new year, surely it is time to try something different and finally “Give Peace a Chance.”  My 15-year old self was willing to spend Christmas fasting on the cold steps of a church to do that in 1969.  What can you do to give peace a chance in 2018?

Nicolas J. S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.




Remaining Peaceful Was Their Choice

Despite early efforts at peaceful protest, Yemeni civilians face the reality of another year of devastating warfare inflicted by Saudi- and U.S.-led forces, as Kathy Kelly describes.

By Kathy Kelly

People living now in Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, have endured unimaginable circumstances for the past three years. Civilians fear to go outside lest they be shot by a sniper or step on a land mine. Both sides of a worsening civil war use Howitzers, Kaytushas, mortars and other missiles to shell the city. Residents say no neighborhood is safer than another, and human rights groups report appalling violations, including torture of captives. On Dec. 26th, 2017, a Saudi-led coalition bomber killed between 20 and 50 people in a crowded marketplace.

Before the civil war developed, the city was regarded as the official cultural capital of Yemen, a place where authors and academics, artists and poets chose to live. Taiz was home to a vibrant, creative youth movement during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Young men and women organized massive, yet peaceful demonstrations to protest the enrichment of entrenched elites as ordinary people struggled to survive.

Peaceful Protest

The young people were exposing the roots of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. They were sounding an alarm about the receding water tables which made wells ever harder to dig and were crippling the agricultural economy. They were similarly distressed over unemployment. When starving farmers and shepherds moved to cities, the young people could see how the increased population would overstress already inadequate systems for sewage, sanitation and health care delivery. They protested their government’s cancellation of fuel subsidies and the skyrocketing prices which resulted. They clamored for a refocus on policy away from wealthy elites and toward creation of jobs for high school and university graduates.

Despite their misery, they steadfastly opted for unarmed, nonviolent struggle.

Dr. Sheila Carapico, an historian who has closely followed Yemen’s modern history, noted the slogans adopted by demonstrators in Taiz and in Sana’a, in 2011: ‘Remaining Peaceful Is Our Choice,’ and ‘Peaceful, Peaceful, No to Civil War.’

Carapico adds that some called Taiz the epicenter of the popular uprising. “The city’s relatively educated cosmopolitan student body entertained demonstration participants with music, skits, caricatures, graffiti, banners and other artistic embellishments. Throngs were photographed: men and women together; men and women separately, all unarmed.”

In December of 2011, 150,000 people walked nearly 200 kilometers from Taiz to Sana’a, promoting their call for peaceful change. Among them were tribal people who worked on ranches and farms. They seldom left home without their rifles, but had chosen to set aside their weapons and join the peaceful march.

Yet, those who ruled Yemen for over thirty years, in collusion with Saudi Arabia’s neighboring monarchy which fiercely opposed democratic movements anywhere near its borders, negotiated a political arrangement meant to co-opt dissent while resolutely excluding a vast majority of Yemenis from influence on policy. They ignored demands for changes that might be felt by ordinary Yemenis and facilitated instead a leadership swap, replacing the dictatorial President Ali Abdullah Saleh with Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, his vice-president, as an unelected president of Yemen.

The U.S. and neighboring petro-monarchies backed the powerful elites. At a time when Yemenis desperately needed funding to meet the needs of starving millions, they ignored the pleas of peaceful youths calling for demilitarized change, and poured funding into “security spending” – a misleading notion which referred to further military buildup, including the arming of client dictators against their own populations.

And then the nonviolent options were over, and civil war began.

The Nightmare of War

Now, the nightmare of famine and disease those peaceful youths anticipated has become a horrid reality, and their city of Taiz is transformed into a battlefield.

What could we wish for Taiz? Surely, we wouldn’t wish the terror plague of aerial bombardment to cause death, mutilation, destruction and multiple traumas. We wouldn’t wish for shifting battle lines to stretch across the city and the rubble in its blood-marked streets. I think most people in the U.S. wouldn’t wish such horror on any community and wouldn’t want people in Taiz to be singled out for further suffering.

We could instead build massive campaigns demanding a U.S. call for a permanent ceasefire and an end of all weapon sales to any of the warring parties. But, if the U.S. continues to equip the Saudi-led coalition, selling bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and refueling Saudi bombers in midair so they can continue their deadly sorties, people in Taiz and throughout Yemen will continue to suffer.

The beleaguered people in Taiz will anticipate, every day, the sickening thud, ear-splitting blast or thunderous explosion that could tear apart the body of a loved one, or a neighbor, or a neighbors’ child; or turn their homes to masses of rubble, and alter their lives forever or end their lives before the day is through.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, (www.vcnv.org), a campaign to end U.S. military and economic wars.




The Still-Missing Evidence of Russia-gate

The central groupthink around Russia-gate is the still unproven claim that Russia hacked Democratic emails in 2016 and publicized them via WikiLeaks, a crucial issue that NSA experts say should be easy to prove if true, reports Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J. Bernstein

A changing-places moment brought about by Russia-gate is that liberals who are usually more skeptical of U.S. intelligence agencies, especially their evidence-free claims, now question the patriotism of Americans who insist that the intelligence community supply proof to support the dangerous claims about Russian ‘hacking” of Democratic emails especially when some  veteran U.S. government experts say the data would be easily available if the Russians indeed were guilty.

One of those experts is William Binney, a former high-level National Security Agency intelligence official who, after his 2001 retirement, blew the whistle on the extraordinary breadth of NSA surveillance programs. His outspoken criticism of the NSA during the George W. Bush administration made him the subject of FBI investigations that included a raid on his home in 2007.

Even before Edward Snowden’s NSA whistleblowing, Binney publicly revealed that NSA had access to telecommunications companies’ domestic and international billing records, and that since 9/11 the agency has intercepted some 15 trillion to 20 trillion communications. Snowden has said: “I have tremendous respect for Binney, who did everything he could according to the rules.”

I spoke to Binney on Dec. 28 about Russia-gate and a host of topics having to do with spying and America’s expanding national security state.

Dennis Bernstein: I would like you to begin by telling us a little about your background at the NSA and how you got there.

William Binney: I was in the United States Army from 1965 to 1969.  They put me in the Army Security Agency, an affiliate of the NSA.  They liked the work I was doing and they put me on a priority hire in 1970.  I was in the NSA for 32 years, mostly working against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  I was solving what were called “wizard puzzles,” and the NSA was sometimes referred to as the “Puzzle Palace.”  I had to solve code systems and work on cyber systems and data systems to be able to predict in advance the “intentions and capabilities of adversaries or potential adversaries.”

Bernstein: At a certain point you ran amiss of your supervisors.  What did you come to understand and try to tell people that got you in dutch with your higher-ups?

Binney: By 1998-1999, the “digital issue” was basically solved.  This created a problem for the upper ranks because at the time they were lobbying Congress for $3.8 billion to continue working on what we had already accomplished.  That lobby was started in 1989 for a separate program called Trailblazer, which failed miserably in 2005-2006.  We had to brief Congress on how we were progressing and my information ran contrary to the efforts downtown to secure more funding.  And so this caused a problem internally.

We learned from some of our staff members in Congress that several of the corporations that were getting contracts from the NSA were downtown lobbying against our program in Congress.  This is the military industrial complex in action.  That lobby was supported by the NSA management because they just wanted more money to build a bigger empire.

But Dick Cheney, who was behind all of this, wanted it because he grew up under Nixon, who always wanted to know what his political enemies were thinking and doing.  This kind of approach of bulk acquisition of everything was possible after you removed certain segments of our software and they used it against the entire digital world.  Cheney wanted to know who his political enemies were and get updates about them at any time.

Bernstein: Your expertise was in the Soviet Union and so you must know a lot about bugging.  Do you believe that Russia hacked and undermined our last election?  Can Trump thank Russia for the result?

Binney:  We at Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) published an article on this in July.  First of all, if any of the data went anywhere across the fiber optic world, the NSA would know.  Just inside the United States, the NSA has over a hundred tap points on the fiber lines, taking in everything.    Mark Klein exposed some of this at the AT&T facility in San Francisco.

This is not for foreigners, by the way, this is for targeting US citizens.  If they wanted only foreigners, all they would have to do was look at the transatlantic cables where they surface on the coast of the United States.  But they are not there, they are distributed among the US population.

Bernstein: So if, in fact, the Russians were tapping into DNC headquarters, the NSA would absolutely know about it.

Binney: Yes, and they would also have trace routes on where they went specifically, in Russia or anywhere else.  If you remember, about three or four years ago, the Chinese hacked into somewhere in the United States and our government came out and confirmed that it was the Chinese who did it, and it came from a specific military facility in Shanghai.  The NSA had these trace route programs embedded by the hundreds across the US and all around the world.

The other data that came out from Guccifer 2.0, a download from the DNC, has been a charade.  It was a download and not a transfer across the Web.  The Web won’t manage such a high speed.  It could not have gotten across the Atlantic at that high speed.  You would have to have high capacity lines dedicated to that in order to do it. They have been playing games with us.  There is no factual evidence to back up any charge of hacking here.

Bernstein: So was this a leak by somebody at Democratic headquarters?

Binney: We don’t know that for sure, either.  All we know was that it was a local download.  We can likely attribute it to a USB device that was physically passed along.

Bernstein: Let me come at this from the other side.  Has the United States ever tried to hack into and undermine Russian operations in this way?

Binney:  Oh, sure.  We do it as much as anybody else.  In the Ukraine, for example, we sponsored regime change.  When someone who was pro-Soviet was elected president, we orchestrated a coup to put our man in power.

Then we invited the Ukraine into NATO.  One of the agreements we made with the Russians when the Soviet Union fell apart was that the Ukraine would give them their nuclear weapons to manage and that we would not move NATO further east toward Russia.  I think they made a big mistake when they asked Ukraine to join NATO.  They should have asked Russia to join as well, making it all-inclusive.  If you treat people as adversaries, they are going to act that way.

Bernstein: Did the US meddle in the Russian elections that brought Yeltsin to power?

Binney: I believe they did.  We try to leverage our power and influence elections around the world.

Bernstein: What has your group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, been up to, and what has been the US government’s response?

Binney: We have been discussing privacy and security with the European Union and with a number of European parliaments.  Recently the Austrian supreme court ruled that the entire bulk acquisition system was unconstitutional.  Everyone but the conservatives in the Austrian parliament voted that bill down, making Austria the first country there to do the right thing.

Bernstein: Is it your goal to defend people’s privacy and their right to communicate privately?

Binney: Yes, to defend privacy but also to defend the Constitution.  Right now, our government is violating the first, fourth and fifth amendments in various ways.  Mueller did it, Comey did it, they were all involved in violating the Constitution.

Back in the 1990’s, the idea was to make our analysts effective so that they could see threats coming before they happened and alert people to take action so that lives would be saved.  What happens now is that people go out and kill someone and then the NSA and the FBI go on a forensics mission.  Intelligence is supposed to tell you in advance when a crime is coming so that you can do something to avert it.  They have lost that perspective.

Bernstein: They now have access to every single one of our electronic conversations, is that right?  The human mind has a hard time imagining how you could contain, move and study all that information.

Binney: Basically, it is achievable because most of the processing is done by machine so it doesn’t cost human energy.

Bernstein:  There seems to be a new McCarthyite operation around the Russia-gate investigation.  It appears that it is an attempt to justify the idea that Clinton lost because the Russians undermined the election.

Binney: I have seen no evidence at all from anybody, including the intelligence community.  If you look at the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) report, they state on the first page that “We have high confidence that the Russians did this.”  But when you get toward the end of the report, they basically confess that “our judgment does not imply that we have evidence to back it up.”

Bernstein:  It was initially put out that seventeen intelligence agencies found compelling evidence that the Russians hacked into our election.  You’re saying it was actually selected individuals from just three agencies.  Is there anything to the revelations that FBI agents talked about taking action to prevent Trump from becoming president?

Binney: It certainly does seem that it is leaning that way, that is was all a frame-up.  It is a sad time in our history, to see the government working against itself internally.

Bernstein:  I take it you are not a big supporter of Trump.

Binney:  Well, I voted for him.  I couldn’t vote for a warmonger like Clinton.  She wanted to see our planes shooting down Russian planes in Syria.  She advocated for destabilizing Libya, for getting rid of Assad in Syria, she was a strong backer of the war in Iraq.

Bernstein: What concerns do you have regarding the Russia-gate investigation and the McCarthyite tactics that are being employed?

Binney: Ultimately, my main concern is that it could lead to actual war with Russia.  We should definitely not be going down that path.  We need to get out of all these wars.  I am also concerned about what we are doing to our own democracy.  We are trampling the fundamental principles contained in the Constitution.  The only way to reverse all this is to start indicting people who are participating in and managing these activities that are clearly unconstitutional.

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




Reverberations from Trump’s Jerusalem Move

One ironic benefit from Donald Trump’s presidency is that the world is showing more independence against U.S. edicts, such as the recent rebuff of Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, as Dennis J Bernstein reports.

 

By Dennis J Bernstein

The U.N. General Assembly’s rebuff of overt threats of economic retaliation from President Trump — in the overwhelming repudiation of his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — marked a rare show of independence from Washington. Despite President Trump’s threats, the vote against the U.S. position was 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions.

I spoke about the significance of the vote with Professor Francis Boyle, a scholar and long-time pro-Palestinian activist, who has been deeply engaged in the Mideast peace process and various negotiations over the last 30 years. Boyle is a professor of international law at the University of Illinois’ College of Law. He served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Dennis Bernstein:  Before we jump into this, I would like people to know a little bit more about your background, because you’re the perfect person to hit this subject at this time. Just say a little bit more about your work with the Palestinians.

Francis Boyle:  Right. Well, starting in 1987, at [the Palestinians] request, I made a speech at the United Nations on the 20th anniversary of the Six-Day War. And, in this speech, I outlined to them an agenda for establishing their statehood, including, at some point, invoking the Uniting for Peace Resolution.

So, they liked what I had to say and asked me to write it up in a memo, which I did. You can read it in my book “Palestine, Palestinians and International Law.” And they then carried out my recommendation in their Declaration of Independence of 15 November, 1988. And I was their legal advisor on all of that. My memorandum became their position paper. And I’ve worked with them since then.

Today, the State of Palestine is recognized du jour by 136 states, the last time I looked. And it also has U.N. observer state status now at the United Nations along the lines that Switzerland had before it became a full-fledged U.N. member state.

[…]  And certainly the Palestinians have publicly stated that they can, at some point in the future, invoke the Uniting for Peace Resolution to obtain their admission to the United Nations as a full-fledged U.N. member state. They said that’s next on the agenda. I guess we have to see what happens here. I really can’t say, but they said they’re renewing that struggle in January [2018], after the dust settles here.

DB:  Okay, now let’s talk about the significance of the vote today [Dec. 21], which has a lot to do with Jerusalem. And, talk about it, if you will, in the context of the Uniting for Peace procedure because this gives it more power or more of a focus.

FB:  Well, that is correct. When Uniting for Peace started out, back during the days of the Korean War, the Soviet Union proceeded to exercise a veto. And the United States under Secretary of State Dean Acheson – back in those days we controlled the General Assembly – put forward the Uniting for Peace Resolution in the General Assembly to circumvent the Soviet veto. And then [the US] used it to impose fairly terrible economic sanctions against North Korea that continue until today.

And, over the years, the Uniting for Peace procedure was approved by the International Court of Justice in the [Unclear 05:48] advisory opinion in 1962. And I did, I was the one who informed the Palestinians about the Uniting for Peace procedure and that we need to go forward and use it. And they have used it.

And [the vote on Dec. 21] was yet another example. The mainstream news media is dismissing this as nothing more than symbolic. You know, Dennis, if it were nothing more than symbolic then why did Nikki Haley get up there and threaten to break the legs of everyone in the world, if they voted for it, and likewise, Trump make his thuggish threat, as well, at his last cabinet meetings? So it’s far more than symbolic.

Under Uniting for Peace the General Assembly cannot require states to do anything. But they can certainly authorize them. And what happens here with this resolution under Uniting for Peace is that it really solidified the international consensus on Jerusalem. As you note, we discussed this before, when Trump announced his new policy, and invited other states to follow moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which it definitely is not, whether west Jerusalem or east Jerusalem.

And, this vote today really solidifies that international consensus. So that is a positive thing, but, obviously it’s going to have to be followed up by more steps by the Palestinians. Again, my advice is the next stage here is to use United for Peace to have Palestine admitted to the U.N. itself. But, that’s under consideration. We’ll have to see what they do.

DB:  And what, exactly, did that resolution say? It was reinforcing earlier Security Council resolutions. What exactly are we talking about here?

FB:  Well, the way the United States government set it up under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, was that in the event there is a matter affecting international peace and security, and at least one of the permanent members at the Security Council exercises a veto power over a resolution on that matter, when the resolution is introduced in the Security Council, the matter is then turned over to the United Nations General Assembly for action, for the General Assembly to decide what to do about it, in accordance with a two-thirds vote. So, the United States government originally introduced this. We conceived it and we applied it, regretfully, to North Korea.

And those economic sanctions are still strangling North Korea today, as we talk. And Trump is trying to escalate them. But in any event, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I think it’s only history, sort of cosmic blowback here, that a generation later the Palestinians and most of the rest of the world are using Uniting for Peace against the United States. This is our baby, as it were, and they are sticking it back to us.

DB:  Alright, now let’s just talk a little bit about Jerusalem and what’s at stake here. Last we spoke, one of the things you said, and it’s very concerning and absolutely true, is that you were now fearing the deaths again of more Palestinians in this fight for liberation.

FB:  And, it’s true, Dennis, […] in fairness, that Jews might die too.

DB:  Yes. And things have been happening, clearly Palestinians have been dying. There have been attacks in the Gaza Strip. There have been some incidents from Palestinians coming at Jews, that’s a fact as well. But, always, it’s the Palestinians that lead the dying. And what I want you to talk about here is, because people still do not get it: What is at stake in Jerusalem here? What exactly is this about? And why will this be the line of resistance?

FB:  Because, as you know, Jerusalem is the headquarters for the three great monotheistic faiths: Islam, Judaism, Christianity. And, especially, for the Muslims the Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, it’s the plateau over there. And that plateau is considered to be sacred. They have on there the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslims used to direct their prayers before Mecca Medina. There is the Dome of the Rock where it is said Mohammed ascended into Heaven. And then you have the El Burka, which is the sort of “stand on the side” where Mohammed is said to have tied up his horse, when he miraculously flew from Arabia to Jerusalem, to make his ascent into Heaven.

So, on the Jewish side, you have the Wailing Wall. And, despite when everything is said, this is still Palestinian. It is protected under the Geneva Conventions, and also there’s a 1953 convention to which Israel is a party, protecting cultural religious sites in times of war. Although, I believe, that could easily be negotiated by simply setting up an easement so that Jews could go worship at the Wailing Wall. I don’t think Palestinians have any great desire to stop that, one way or the other. And then Christianity, of course, you have all the holy sites there, the Nativity, the Church of the Nativity, the Holy Sepulchre, etc.

So, it’s really the flashpoint for these three religions. Although, again, I did devise a proposal for the Palestinians that was approved by the PLO, on sharing Jerusalem as a capital between both Israel and Palestine, the two states. That would have to be subject to approval by the Security Council because Jerusalem still has a separate status under international laws of corpus separatum. But that would probably be approved.

And you can read that proposal that did have the approval of the PLO in my book “Palestine, Palestinians and International Law” along with the original memorandum I did for them going back to 1987. And then the Chair of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations, my client and friend, the late, great Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi, instructed me to draw up the counter offer to Israel’s Oslo Bantustan [the Oslo Accords of 1993], which I did do. And that is published in there with Dr. Abdel-Shafi’s permission.

It was clear at the beginning that Oslo was pretty much a Bantustan, and so I advised all the Palestinians to that effect. And Abdel-Shafi then instructed me to come up with their counter offer which I did do. But that position did not prevail. Dr. Abdel-Shafi and I fought against Oslo to the bitter end. Then we lost, so there you go.

DB:  Now, staying with Jerusalem, I think the statement made by Trump, even though it’s obviously a continuum of U.S. policy – Obama’s ambassador [Dan Shapiro] was no better, if not worse–but what’s going on on the ground in Jerusalem in the context of this statement, in other words, the continuing expansion of house demolitions, the attempt to put security devices, and set up a place to block Muslims from going to pray before making them go through a metal detector..that was going on in the recent past. The heat on this situation in Jerusalem has been high before this announcement. So, this is just sort of pushing it right at the edge, isn’t it?

FB:  Right. Dennis, it’s really emboldening Netanyahu and his religious fanatics over there, who, by the way were complicit in the assassination of Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin. Who was first and, so far, the only Prime Minister they’ve had over there who was interested in negotiating peace with the Palestinians and Syria, which is why they murdered him.

So, yeah, this simply emboldens these people. And the real flashpoint is… Netanyahu permitting these fanatical, racist settlers to go onto Haram Al-Sharif [Temple Mount] itself, and storm Al-Aqsa Mosque. And, that is happening repeatedly. And it’s extremely dangerous and highly provocative. Because, at the end of the day, these people want to destroy Al-Aqsa and build their so-called third temple. And it would be a total catastrophe if this happens, because you’d have 1.5 billion Muslims in the world rising up in unison over this.

But that’s the real danger right now, I think, is the emboldenment of Netanyahu and these fanatical religious extremists, settlers that now believe they have a blank check to do whatever they want to do. And especially in Jerusalem and particularly the Haram Al-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, yeah.

DB:  And, I guess it should be of concern that Jared Kushner has a foundation that funds the building of settlements in the West Bank. I would think that that would be of concern to anybody thinking about any kind of negotiation, whatsoever. Not to mention the fact that Netanyahu would stay with the family at the Kushner house when he was in the U.S.

FB:  Well, that’s correct. Kushner is aiding and abetting, by means of his foundation, he is aiding and abetting more crimes under the Hague Regulations of 1907, to which the United States government is a party, a violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the four Geneva Conventions to which the United States is a party. And crimes against humanity as defined by the statute of the International Criminal Court. And the prosecutor, the International Criminal Court, is currently investigating war crimes, and crimes against humanity because of these settlements.

So, it’s impossible to think that a guy like Kushner could possibly serve as some type of mediator here, and it does look now, the Palestinians have decided to turn to Russia and China, and the United Nations to serve as mediators. Although I have to point out, Dennis, that I was involved as legal advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations right from the very beginning there in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1991, convened by President Bush, Sr., and the United States government has never served as an honest broker. They’ve always supported the Israeli position.

And, indeed, I think as I mentioned it before, Bush, Sr. put three American Jews in charge of the process, [Dennis] Ross, [Aaron David] Miller and [Daniel] Kurtzer. And they basically functioned as Israel’s lawyer. And, I believe, two of them were, still are, orthodox. I don’t think Ross is. And here we are, all these years later, now 2017 – that was 1991 – and nothing has changed because Trump has put Kushner, [David] Friedman and [Jason] Greenblatt as the so-called negotiators.

And here all three of them are orthodox. So, this situation is completely preposterous. How do you expect any negotiations to go on here – reasonable, fair negotiations? It’s not going to happen.

DB: And, I guess, that takes us back to Nikki Haley’s threatening statements today sounding like a bit of a mafioso captain warning any nation that would vote – I guess they didn’t have much of an impact on the vote – but clearly it’s got to be frightening if you’re a little nation that lives or dies based on U.S. aid and they’re saying you vote for this resolution in support of the Palestinians then we’re going to kill you. This is also not a good sign.

FB:  Right, well without the Haley/Trump threats, I suspect the Palestinians would have also picked up the 35 abstentions, and maybe the no-shows. It appears several states just didn’t show up, because of these threats. So, basically it probably would have been – what, there’s 193 U.N. member states – so it probably would have been 185 to 9. But under United for Peace all they needed was two-thirds of those voting and abstentions didn’t count. So, there you are.

They have the votes, and indeed, they do have the votes to be admitted as a full-fledged U.N. member state based on this vote here. And the Trump/Haley threats, it does appear to me, they’ve got the votes to get admitted to the U.N., hopefully starting in January [2018]. There’s been a statement made that they will be submitting another resolution on their admission to the Security Council sometime in January. And, assuming the U.S. vetoes it, which it probably will under Trump, they can again invoke Uniting for Peace, and put it before the General Assembly.

Because, at the end of the day, in accordance with the terms of the United Nations charter, the Security Council only makes a recommendation on admission, not any decision. There’s a big difference between recommendations and decisions. And, also, under the terms of the United Nations charter, at the end of the day, it is the General Assembly that admits a member state, not the Security Council.

I had advised the Palestinians years go, they can do this, that they did try in 2012. And, at that point they decided just to go for observer state status. They’re going one step at a time, and we’ll have to see what their next step is.

I also noticed that, although I don’t have a list, but [Palestinian] President Abbas just exceeded to about 22 different treaties. I still haven’t gotten the names of those treaties. But that also goes back to our previous conversation on Jerusalem here on a legal intifada.

They will use their memberships in all these international organizations to further solidify and promote their statehood. And, the bottom line is, I think that’s positive, one, because even [Noam] Chomsky has pointed out, if the Palestinians keep going this way, at the end of the day you’ll have two states over there.

Otherwise, I’m afraid we’re just going to have total chaos, and the Palestinians will be getting nothing more than a collection of little Bantustans. You remember, back in the days, Dennis, when we used to fight apartheid in South Africa. We had Transkei, Ciskei, and Bophuthatswana that weren’t even connected with each other. They were little bitty plots of land. And that’s pretty much what Israel has in mind here.

DB:  And it is important to note those who fought that war against apartheid in South Africa are among the strongest supporters of the Palestinians. And they now say, and I pushed them on this, because I want to know if we’re talking hyperbole here, and they now say that the Palestinian situation is way worse, particularly in Gaza. Way worse than they ever had it in terms of the Bantustans that you were just referring to.

FB:  That’s correct. And indeed, my friend, Professor John Dugard, who had been Special Rapporteur on Palestine is from South Africa. And he was one of a handful of white, international law professors over there with the courage, integrity and principles to oppose apartheid in South Africa, at risk to his life. And Dugard has said the same thing. If you want to look at… do a google on his name DUGARD.

And Dugard has said, and as you point out, other ANC leaders have said, that what the Palestinians are up against is far worse than what we were up against in the struggle against apartheid. You were involved, I was involved, many of us fought apartheid in South Africa. And we’re fighting apartheid over there [Palestine] today as well. The legal principles are pretty much the same.

DB:  The legal principles are the same, but the uh… sort of the history and the details, or the situation, are quite a bit different. Israel and its lobby controls U.S. policy so they’re… all those anti-apartheiders have been fairly silent, wouldn’t you say?

FB:  Well, we have the BDS campaign…

DB:  Well, yes… no, no, this is the silver lining but I mean all those politicians, and all those civil rights activists, and all those folks… and you know I can go down the list, do not see… if you even bring that up, either the subject disappears or you’re considered an idiot, or a conspiracy theorist, over the top, whatever. When you make that parallel structure. I haven’t heard it on NPR, have you?

FB:  You mean National Propaganda Radio, Dennis? But, look, I set up the Israeli divestment/disinvestment campaign, in November of 2000, because of my involvement in the divestment/disinvestment campaign here against apartheid South Africa, that was called for by a black lawyer who was ahead of me at Harvard Law School, Randal Robinson.

And looking into the situation, I concluded that the legal principles are the same. And, when I did this, I remember the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, condemned me, because I was involved in the Harvard divestment/disinvestment campaign, and accused me of being anti-semitic.

And WBUR, which is the NPR affiliate out there in Boston asked me to debate Summers and I said I would. And Summers did not have the courage, integrity or principles to debate me. As you know, eventually Harvard fired him because he publicly stated women are dumber than men when it comes to math and science. So, fine.

So I debated Alan Dershowitz on this, as far back as 2002. And, we had a debate and I won that debate. I clobbered Dershowitz. And in 2005 then-Palestinian civil society leaders contacted me and said “We really want to set up a BDS campaign, modeled on what the world did against apartheid South Africa. Boycott, divestment and sanctions, would you go in with us?” I said, “Sure.” So, I sort of surrendered the initiative to them.

But we’ve made an enormous amount of progress in these years. And, yes, the forces against us are substantial, and I guess more substantial than in apartheid South Africa.

Although thereto, as you note, the United States government fully supported apartheid South Africa, except during President Jimmy Carter. But all the rest of them supported it, up through and including Reagan, and the collapse of apartheid. So, when I set this thing up in 2000 I knew the forces against us would be formidable.

But the only progressive … change we’ve ever seen in this country, Dennis, in my lifetime, going back to the struggle for civil rights for black people, which I also supported, has come from the people, and grassroots movement. It has never come from Washington, D.C. And it certainly hasn’t come from the judiciary. It hasn’t come from Congress. It hasn’t come from the executive branch.

So, I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the BDS campaign, not just in this country, but worldwide. And it’s going to take more time. Israel is fighting it tooth and nail, as you know. They even set up a separate ministry over there, to counteract BDS. [Sheldon] Adelson is putting millions of dollars into the campaign.

But I think everyone who looks at it realizes they are losing, because we have truth and justice on our side. So we’re just going to have to keep plucking away, Dennis. People want to have peace with justice there for both Palestinians and Jews. It can be done. But we have a lot more work to do.

DB:  Beautiful. Alright, well, Professor Boyle, as always we appreciate the good information, and the discussion about an issue that is really at the core, whether there’s going to be peace in this world.

FB:  I do want to make one more point here which I think is very important. Back in 1991, I was advising both the Palestinian delegation and the Syrian delegation. And the Jordanians were prepared for peace but they couldn’t go first. And at that time Lebanon was occupied by Syria, so they basically did whatever the Syrians told them. So I was advising, at the same time, the two key actors here.

And I can assure you that if Israel had wanted peace back in 1991, with the Palestinians and with the Syrians, we could have had it. Because I knew the Palestinian bottom line, and I knew the Syrian bottom line, and I was drafting their documents. And, regretfully, they started under [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir, whose strategy was stall and delay. Then came Rabin, and he negotiated a comprehensive peace plan, agreement with Syria, full peace for full withdrawal. And he also did the Oslo Accord with the Palestinians. And then he was murdered.

DB:  He was murdered by settlers. Let’s remind people. He was murdered by crazy…..

FB:  Extremist settlers. And Netanyahu came to power and there’s been no peace, peace process to speak of, since then. Now that’s 1995. And here we are today. But I can say, based on my inside personal knowledge that peace was at hand, back at that point, at this early point. And, regretfully, we’re pretty far from it today.

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




Trump’s Continuation of US Interventionism

Criticizing his predecessors for misguided foreign wars, President Trump promised a break in that approach, but his National Security Strategy report indicates a shift more in rhetoric than substance, reports Dennis J. Bernstein.

 

By Dennis J Bernstein

President Trump’s recent report on National Security Strategy supposedly reflected his America First “realism” but his approach seems more like old wine in a new bottle, particularly his continued strong support for Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East combined with an even more aggressive U.S. policy in Asia aimed at containing China as well as confronting North Korea.

For more background on Trump’s foreign policy, I spoke to Matthew Hoh. In 2009, Hoh resigned his position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of the Afghan War by the Obama administration. He previously had been in Iraq with a State Department team and with the U.S. Marines. He is a senior fellow with the Center of International Policy. Hoh is also a member of the advisory boards of Expose Facts, Veterans For Peace and World Beyond War.

Dennis Bernstein:  Before we get into Trump’s recent major speech on foreign policy, let’s take a look at Afghanistan, where you were posted by the State Department until you resigned in protest. Your thoughts after over 16 years of a US-waged war there?

Matthew Hoh: For the people of Afghanistan, this war has been going on since the 1970’s, much of it propelled by and supported by outside involvement.  It has been eight years now since I resigned.  If you had told me back then that this level of tragedy would still be continuing eight years on, there is no way I would have believed you.

It was just revealed by the Pentagon that in the last six months, American and Afghan commandos have conducted more than 2,000 raids in Afghanistan.  Americans are still there kicking in doors, raiding people’s homes in the middle of the night, killing them, taking prisoners.  This has happened over 2,000 times in Afghanistan in the last six months!  In addition to that, we have seen an escalation in air strikes, both from drones and from manned aircraft, in Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world.

These poor suffering people are no closer to seeing an end to this horrific violence.  Money continues to pour in to support the war, people continue to get rich off the war, the opium trade continues to expand.

Bernstein: It’s interesting, there are two major things that Trump has done when it comes to Afghanistan.  One was to test out “the mother of all bombs” there and the other was to state that we are not going to make any commitment to withdraw by a certain date.

Hoh: Dropping the mother of all bombs was really the first indication of what war policy was going to look like under Trump.  Under Obama and under Bush, there was a political victory sought.  As immoral and misguided as the military aims were, there was a political end stated.  They encouraged elections, they assisted in development, they were involved in a process of reconciliation.

Under the Trump administration, there is no political end state.  People who were concerned about there being so many generals in the White House were concerned for a reason.  We have General Kelly as Chief of Staff, Mattis as Secretary of Defense and General McMaster as National Security Advisor.  You have military operations now conducted simply for military purposes. This new bomb is a great example of that.

They lied that it was used to go after a tunnel complex.  It was above ground and turns the entire area into one huge flash.  It is useless against tunnels.  The dropping of this bomb was meant to punish the people there because, a week prior, an American service member had been killed in that area.

This policy of terror and punishment is in common with other wars which America is leading in the region.  In Iraq, the US-led forces have demolished Sunni cities in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys.  Look at what the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates have been doing in Yemen, what the Kurdish forces along with the American Air Force have done to Raqqa as well as other cities in eastern Syria.  And in Afghanistan we are seeing an increase in air strikes, in artillery operations and in these night raids into people’s homes.

Our policy has become to terrorize people into subjugation.  And this ties into what Trump said on the campaign trail.  Trump said a number of times that he was going to “take the gloves off,” that our wars were too politically correct, that we should be killing the families of terrorists and destroying their homes, etc.

Bernstein: President Trump gave his big speech yesterday [Monday, Dec. 18]  on US foreign policy.  What is your take on what was said?

Hoh: As has been pointed out by a number of commentators, Trump’s speech yesterday was really a public relations speech, affirming his status as the leader of the Make America Great Again campaign.  The first thing he talked about, as he was addressing the national security interests of the United States, was how thirteen months prior the American people elected him to be a “glorious new hope.”  The target of the speech was not China or Russia or the Islamic State.  Its purpose was to reaffirm to his domestic political base that he is the man to lead a policy of American exceptionalism.  This is the belief that American moral superiority is needed to keep the world in order.

If you wanted details, you weren’t going to get them in this speech.  I always tell people, if you want the details, go to the budget.  Just as in previous administrations, there is a preoccupation with China.  We are building ten new aircraft carriers that will cost $13 billion apiece.  That is meant for an adversary like China.  The Air Force refuses to even reveal the price tag of its new nuclear bomber.  Our nuclear weapons program will get a trillion dollar shot in the arm to modernize over the next thirty years.  These types of weapons are meant to intimidate our “competitors,” as Trump likes to call them, who might rival our power.

Bernstein: The Obama administration had a very aggressive policy in the so-called Pacific Pivot, drawing a ring around China to undermine it while at the same time asking for China’s support in dealing with North Korea.  Is it more dangerous now because Trump is a little more volatile and dangerous and might want to create a distraction from his troubles at home?

Hoh: For those of us on the left, we should not lose sight of what took place during Obama’s eight years which allowed this to happen.  The previous administration did nothing to hold the torturers accountable.  This makes it easier for a Donald Trump to proclaim that torture is back.

In the case of the Pacific Pivot, we are ringing China with military bases, strike aircraft and naval ships that would demolish anything that China has, despite the fact that they have expanded their military forces over the last couple decades.  A modern conventional war with China would last a week at the outside.  Obama did a lot to heighten those tensions.

For centuries, the Chinese have had to deal with colonization and the imperialist ambitions of various powers.  A hundred years ago, the American Navy was present on Chinese rivers!  What we are seeing now is really an extension of gunboat diplomacy.  So when, today, the Chinese hear of American plans to build new aircraft carriers and bombers and nuclear cruise missiles, and know that this is geared toward them, it is not difficult to predict how they are going to react.

I think Trump truly believes that, through our weapon superiority and our violence, we can be a great nation again.  And also, as you mentioned, there’s the “wag the dog” phenomenon.  What if his son does get indicted (which is probably what he deserves)?  Will he do something to distract from that?  Clinton did something similar to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair.  It is not uncommon for politicians to get the media and the public to focus elsewhere.

But the fact that Trump has these generals on his cabinet who are driven by their military mindset and tend not to have the political concerns that civilians have, makes this administration more dangerous than the previous two.

Bernstein: I’d like to hear your thoughts on Russiagate.

Hoh: First of all, if the Russian intelligence services were not trying to hack into the DNC and RNC computers in order to understand our election system, as well as everything else about us, then the head of Russian intelligence should be fired.  This is what intelligence services do.  We’ve known about hacking for decades now.  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they did hack into these systems.  However, evidence of this has not been presented to the American public, other than assertions from the intelligence community, whose chief function is to lie.

Normally, what is called a “national intelligence estimate” is done, which follows specific guidelines and is reviewed by all the different agencies.  This is what was doctored under the Bush administration to allow for the war in Iraq.  But we also saw it with the 2007 national intelligence estimate, which said that the Iranians had not been doing anything with their nuclear weapons program since 2003.

So, within the intelligence community, they do have a process that would substantiate these claims of Russian interference in our elections but that process has not been utilized.  This hand-picked group of a dozen or so men and women from a few different agencies produced a report that says, in effect, “trust us.”  I am very skeptical, because no real evidence has yet to be produced.

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




The Israel-gate Side of Russia-gate

While unproven claims of Russian meddling in U.S. politics have whipped Official Washington into a frenzy, much less attention has been paid to real evidence of Israeli interference in U.S. politics, as Dennis J Bernstein describes.

 

By Dennis J Bernstein

In investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in U.S. politics, special prosecutor Robert Mueller uncovered evidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressured the Trump transition team to undermine President Obama’s plans to permit the United Nations to censure Israel over its illegal settlement building on the Palestinian West Bank, a discovery referenced in the plea deal with President Trump’s first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

At Netanyahu’s behest, Flynn and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly took the lead in the lobbying to derail the U.N. resolution, which Flynn discussed in a phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (in which the Russian diplomat rebuffed Flynn’s appeal to block the resolution).

I spoke on Dec, 18 with independent journalist and blogger Richard Silverstein, who writes on national security and other issues for a number of blogs at Tikun Olam.

Dennis Bernstein: A part of Michael Flynn’s plea had to do with some actions he took before coming to power regarding Israel and the United Nations. Please explain.

Richard Silverstein: The Obama administration was negotiating in the [UN] Security Council just before he left office about a resolution that would condemn Israeli settlements.  Obviously, the Israeli government did not want this resolution to be passed.  Instead of going directly to the Obama administration, with which they had terrible relations, they went to Trump instead.  They approached Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner became involved in this.  While they were in the transition and before having any official capacity, they negotiated with various members of the Security Council to try to quash the settlement resolution.

One of the issues here which is little known is the Logan Act, which was passed at the foundation of our republic and was designed to prevent private citizens from usurping the foreign policy prerogatives of the executive.  It criminalized any private citizen who attempted to negotiate with an enemy country over any foreign policy issue.

In this case, what Flynn and Kushner were doing was going directly against US foreign policy, because Obama wanted the resolution to pass; He just didn’t want to vote for it because that would cross the Israel lobby in the United States.  The US finally ended up abstaining on the resolution and it passed 14-0.

But before that happened, Flynn went to the Russians and to Egypt, both members of the Security Council, and tried to get the resolution delayed.  But all of Israel’s machinations to derail this resolution failed and that is what Mueller was investigating, the intervention and disruption of American foreign policy by private citizens who had no official role.

This speaks to the power of the Israel lobby and of Israel itself to disrupt our foreign policy.  Very few people have ever been charged with committing an illegal act by advocating on behalf of Israel.  That is one of the reasons why this is such an important development.  Until now, the lobby has really ruled supreme on the issue of Israel and Palestine in US foreign policy.  Now it is possible that a private citizen will actually be made to pay a price for that.

This is an important development because the lobby till now has run roughshod over our foreign policy in this area and this may act as a restraining order against blatant disruption of US foreign policy by people like this.

Bernstein: So this information is a part of Michael Flynn’s plea.  Anyone studying this would learn something about Michael Flynn and it would be part of the prosecution’s investigation.

Silverstein: That’s absolutely right.  One thing to note here is that it is reporters who have raised the issue of the Logan Act, not Mueller or Flynn’s people or anyone in the Trump administration.  But I do think that Logan is a very important part of this plea deal, even if it is not mentioned explicitly.

Bernstein: If the special prosecutor had smoking-gun information that the Trump administration colluded with Russia, in the way they colluded with Israel before coming to power, this would be a huge revelation.  But it is definitely collusion when it comes to Israel.

Silverstein: Absolutely.  If this were Russia, it would be on the front page of every major newspaper in the United States and the leading story on the TV news.  Because this is Israel and because we have a conflicted relationship with the Israel lobby and they have so much influence on US policy concerning Israel, it has managed to stay on the back burner.  Only two or three media outlets besides mine have raised this issue of Logan and collusion.  Kushner and Flynn may be the first American citizens charged under the Logan Act for interfering on behalf of Israel in our foreign policy.  This is a huge issue and it has hardly been raised at all.

Bernstein: As you know, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has made a career out of investigating the Russia-gate charges.  She says that she has read all this material carefully, so she must have read about Flynn and Israel, but I haven’t heard her on this issue at all.

Silverstein: Even progressive journalists, who you’d think would be going after this with a vengeance, are frightened off by the fact the lobby really bites back.  So, aside from outlets like the Intercept and the Electronic Intifada, there is a lot of hesitation about going after the Israel lobby.  People are afraid because they know that there is a high price to be paid.  It goes from being purely journalism to being a personal and political vendetta when they get you in their sights.  In fact, one of the reasons I feel my blog is so important is that what I do is challenge Israeli policy and Israeli intervention in places where it doesn’t belong.

Bernstein: Jared Kushner is the point man for the Trump administration on Israel.  He has talked about having a “vision for peace.”  Do you think it is a problem that this is someone with a long, close relationship with the prime minister of Israel and, in fact, runs a foundation that invests in the building of illegal Israeli settlements?  Might this be problematic?

Silverstein: It is quite nefarious, actually.  When Jared Kushner was a teenager, Netanyahu used to stay at the Kushner family home when he visited the United States.  This relationship with one of the most extreme right political figures in Israel goes back decades.  And it is not just Kushner himself, but all the administration personnel dealing with these so-called peace negotiations, including Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, the ambassador.  These are all orthodox Jews who tend to have very nationalist views when it comes to Israel.  They all support settlements financially through foundations.  These are not honest brokers.

We could talk at length about the history of US personnel who have been negotiators for Middle East peace.  All of them have been favorable to Israel and answerable to the Israel lobby, including Dennis Ross and Makovsky, who served in the last administration.  These people are dyed-in-the-wool ultra-nationalist supporters of [Israeli] settlements.  They have no business playing any role in negotiating a peace deal.

My prediction all along has been that these peace negotiations will come to naught, even though they seem to have bought the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, which is something new in the process.  The Palestinians can never accept a deal that has been negotiated by Kushner and company because it will be far too favorable to Israel and it will totally neglect the interests of the Palestinians.

Bernstein: It has been revealed that Kushner supports the building of settlements in the West Bank.  Most people don’t understand the politics of what is going on there, but it appears to be part of an ethnic cleansing.

Silverstein: The settlements have always been a violation of international law, ever since Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967.  The Geneva Conventions direct an occupying power to withdraw from territory that was not its own.  In 1967 Israel invaded Arab states and conquered the West Bank and Gaza but this has never been recognized or accepted by any nation until now.

The fact that Kushner and his family are intimately involved in supporting settlements–as are David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt–is completely outrageous.  No member of any previous US administration would have been allowed to participate with these kinds of financial investments in support of settlements.  Of course, Trump doesn’t understand the concept of conflict of interest because he is heavily involved in such conflicts himself.  But no party in the Middle East except Israel is going to consider the US an honest broker and acceptable as a mediator.

When they announce this deal next January, no one in the Arab World is going to accept it, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia because they have other fish to fry in terms of Iran.  The next three years are going to be interesting, supposing Trump lasts out his term.  My prediction is that the peace plan will fail and that it will lead to greater violence in the Middle East.  It will not simply lead to a vacuum, it will lead to a deterioration in conditions there.

Bernstein: The Trump transition team was actually approached directly by the Israeli government to try to intercede at the United Nations.

Silverstein: I’m assuming it was Netanyahu who went directly to Kushner and Trump.  Now, we haven’t yet found out that Trump directly knew about this but it is very hard to believe that Trump didn’t endorse this.  Now that we know that Mueller has access to all of the emails of the transition team, there is little doubt that they have been able to find their smoking gun.  Flynn’s plea meant that they basically had him dead to rights.  It remains to be seen what will happen with Kushner but I would think that this would play some role in either the prosecution of Kushner or some plea deal.

Bernstein: The other big story, of course, is the decision by the Trump administration to move the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.  Was there any pre-election collusion in that regard and what are the implications?

Silverstein: Well, it’s a terrible decision which goes against forty to fifty years of US foreign policy.  It also breaches all international understanding.  All of our allies in the European Union and elsewhere are aghast at this development.  There is now a campaign in the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the announcement, which we will veto, but the next step will be to go to the General Assembly, where such a resolution will pass easily.

The question is how much anger, violence and disruption this is going to cause around the world, especially in the Arab and Muslim world.  This is a slow-burning fuse.  It is not going to explode right now.  The issue of Jerusalem is so vital that this is not something that is simply going to go away.  This is going to be a festering sore in the Muslim world and among Palestinians.  We have already seen attacks on Israeli soldiers and citizens and there will be many more.

As to collusion in all of this, since Trump always said during the campaign that this was what he was going to do, it might be difficult to treat this in the same way as the UN resolution.  The UN resolution was never on anybody’s radar and nobody knew the role that Trump was playing behind the scenes with that–as opposed to Trump saying right from the get-go that Jerusalem was going to be recognized as the capital of Jerusalem.

By doing that, they have completely abrogated any Palestinian interest in Jerusalem.  This is a catastrophic decision that really excludes the United States from being an honest broker here and shows our true colors in terms of how pro-Israel we are.

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