Syria’s Nightmarish Narrative

Exclusive: With military and political help from Saudi Arabia and Israel, the nightmare scenario of an Al-Qaeda and/or Islamic State victory in Syria may be coming true, as the army of the more secular Syrian government retreats and as President Obama seems frozen by indecision, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Saudi-Israeli alliance, in league with other hard-line Sunni countries, is helping Al-Qaeda affiliates advance toward gaining either victory or at least safe havens in Syria and Yemen, highlighting unresolved contradictions in President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East.

Fueled by a surge of support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey and with Israel striking at Syrian government allies Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda’s hyper-brutal spinoff, the Islamic State, are making major advances in Syria with some analysts now predicting the likely collapse of the relatively secular government of President Bashar al-Assad.syria-map

Saudi Arabia and Israel have made clear over the past few years that they regard the overthrow of the Iranian-backed Assad government as a geopolitical priority even if it results in a victory by Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. But Obama, who has been unwilling or unable to rein in the Saudi-Israeli alliance, would then have to decide what to do with Islamic terrorists dominating a major Mideast nation.

Some of these Sunni radicals have shown that they will move aggressively toward slaughtering minority groups that they consider infidels, including Christians, Alawites and Shiites. The terrorists could leave the streets of major Syrian cities running red with blood and give Al-Qaeda a solid platform from which to launch terrorist attacks against the West.

How Obama or his successor might respond to that is uncertain but it would be difficult for any American president to sit back and do nothing. Yet, dispatching another U.S. military expeditionary force to Syria to dislodge Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State from Damascus and across Syria would likely be a fool’s errand resulting in massive loss of life, costing trillions of dollars and promising little success.

Meanwhile, the neocon-dominated mainstream U.S. news media is already pushing the narrative that Obama’s failure was that he didn’t intervene earlier to overthrow the Assad regime so some  “moderate” rebels could have taken power.

But the existence of a significant “moderate” rebel army was always a fiction. As Obama noted in a frank interview with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman in August 2014, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.”

Obama explained: “This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Obama added that his administration had trouble finding, training and arming enough secular Syrian rebels to make a difference: “There’s not as much capacity as you would hope.”

Indeed, much of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army threw in its lot and their U.S.-supplied weapons with Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front or the Islamic State in 2013. After that, Obama’s only realistic choice was to strike a pragmatic political agreement with Assad and cooperate with Iran and Russia in reclaiming territory from Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Getting Rid of Assad

But that option proved politically impossible because the Israel Lobby and American neocons continued to press for Assad’s overthrow. They were aided by Obama’s unwillingness to release U.S. intelligence that undercut some of the major anti-Assad themes dominating the mainstream U.S. media. For instance, Obama could have revealed doubts within the U.S. intelligence community that Assad’s regime was responsible for the infamous sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

Blaming Assad for the sarin attack, which killed hundreds of civilians, was a valuable part of the neocon narrative that prevented any détente with Assad. Yet, even as more evidence emerged that the attack was likely a provocation committed by rebel extremists, Obama balked at updating the initial rush to judgment nine days after the event fingering Assad’s forces.

As recently as this month, the Obama administration was still handing out those initial accusations to CBS’ “60 Minutes” and other mainstream media outlets, which simply regurgitate the outdated intelligence data rather than examine the newer evidence that points to a rebel “false-flag” operation designed to draw the U.S. military into the Syrian civil war on the rebel side. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Fact-Resistant ‘Group Think’ on Syria.”]

Though Obama pulled back in 2013 from bombing the Syrian military, which could have opened the gates of Damascus to Al-Qaeda and/or the Islamic State, the President hasn’t been willing to override the “regime change” desires of his State Department, which remains influenced by neocons and their sidekicks, the liberal interventionists.

Now, despite the growing risk of an Al-Qaeda or Islamic State victory in Syria, Obama seems frozen by indecision over what to do, hemmed in by the Israel Lobby, the oil-rich Saudis and neocon politicians and opinion-leaders in Official Washington.

But the dangers of an Islamic terror victory in Syria grow by the day. In an article entitled “Rebel resurgence puts Syrian regime in peril,” the Washington Post’s Liz Sly reported on Monday that “A surge of rebel gains in Syria is overturning long-held assumptions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which now appears in greater peril than at any time in the past three years.

“The capture Saturday of the town of Jisr al-Shughour in northern Idlib province was just the latest in a string of battlefield victories by rebel forces, which have made significant advances in both the north and the south of the country.

“The battlefield shifts come at a time when the Obama administration has set aside the crisis in Syria to focus on its chief priorities: defeating the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and concluding a nuclear deal with Iran. Yet the pace of events in Syria may force the United States to refocus on the unresolved war, which remains at the heart of the turmoil engulfing the Middle East, analysts say.

“Iran backs ­Assad, Saudi Arabia backs the rebels, and a shift in the balance of power in Syria could have profound repercussions for the conflicts in Iraq and Yemen. ‘We’re seeing a game changer right now in Syria,’ said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist. ‘I think we are going to see an end to the Assad regime, and we have to think now about what will happen the day after, because the day after is near.’

“The revival of rebel fortunes is attributed to a large degree to the recent rapprochement between a newly assertive Saudi Arabia and its erstwhile rivals for influence over the rebels, Turkey and Qatar.

“Since inheriting the throne in January, Saudi King Salman has moved forcefully to challenge the expanding regional influence of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s biggest foe, most publicly by embarking on an air war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. He has also acted to shore up the flagging and deeply divided rebels in Syria, in coordination with Qatar and Turkey, Khashoggi said.

“The result has been an unexpectedly cohesive rebel coalition called the Army of Conquest that is made up of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, an assortment of mostly Islamist brigades and a small number of more moderate battalions. The coalition, which launched last month, has proved more effective than expected.

“In a commentary for the Middle East Institute in the past week, Robert S. Ford, a former U.S. envoy to Syria, said a regime collapse cannot be ruled out. The regime’s schisms, its battlefield setbacks and its manpower shortages ‘are all signs of weakness,’ he wrote. ‘We may be seeing signs of the beginning of their end.’”

More Israeli Airstrikes

Meanwhile, Israel has reportedly resumed airstrikes against Syrian military bases near Lebanon, possibly aimed at Lebanese Hezbollah forces cooperating with the Assad government in battling Sunni rebels. While refusing to comment directly on these reported airstrikes, Israeli officials have vowed to prevent Syria from transferring sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.

An earlier Israeli airstrike killed a number of Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general who was in Syria assisting Assad’s military. Israel also has arranged what amounts to a non-aggression pact with Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front along the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with Israel even providing hospital care for Nusra fighters who then return to the battlefield.

More importantly, Israel has turned loose its powerful Israel Lobby in the United States to rally Republicans and many Democrats to obstruct President Obama’s efforts to work out an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program and clear the way for a more constructive relationship with the Shiite-ruled country.

Obama’s overtures toward Iran have alarmed Saudi Arabia, which views itself as leading the Sunni faction in the Middle East. The Saudi disdain for Iran even has led to the Saudis joining sides with Israel in an odd-couple relationship, since both countries now view Iran as their principal adversary.

As this relationship firmed up, Israel even began voicing a preference for Al-Qaeda’s militants over the relatively secular Assad government, which was viewed as the protectors of Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other Syrian minorities terrified of the Saudi-backed Sunni extremists.

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

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

Oren expanded on his position in June 2014 at an Aspen Institute conference. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State, which was massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.

“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

On Oct. 1, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted at the new Israeli-Saudi relationship in his United Nations General Assembly speech, which was largely devoted to excoriating Iran over its nuclear program and threatening a unilateral Israeli military strike.

Amid the bellicosity, Netanyahu dropped in a largely missed clue about the evolving power relationships in the Middle East, saying: “The dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”

The next day, Israel’s Channel 2 TV news reported that senior Israeli security officials had met with a high-level Gulf state counterpart in Jerusalem, believed to be Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States who was then head of Saudi intelligence.

The reality of this unlikely alliance has even reached the mainstream U.S. media. For instance, Time magazine correspondent Joe Klein described the new coziness in an article in the Jan. 19, 2015 issue: “On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

“They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had ‘crossed the Rubicon’ and ‘don’t want to fight Israel anymore.’”

Rallying Congress

During Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress, he further indicated Israel’s preference for the Saudi-backed jihadists over Iranian allies in the Syrian government. He urged the U.S. government to shift its focus from fighting Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to fighting Iran.

Netanyahu depicted the danger from the Islamic State as relatively minor with its “butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube” compared to Iran, which he accused of “gobbling up the nations” of the Middle East.

To the applause of Congress, he claimed “Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.” His choice of capitals was peculiar, however, because Iran took none of those capitals by force and, indeed, was simply supporting the embattled government of Syria and was allied with Shiite elements of the government of Lebanon.

As for Iraq, Iran’s allies were installed not by Iran but by President George W. Bush via the U.S. invasion. And, in Yemen, a long-festering sectarian conflict has led to the capture of Sanaa by Houthi rebels who are Zaydi Shiites, an offshoot of Shia Islam that is actually closer to some Sunni sects. The Houthis deny they are agents of Iran, and Western intelligence services believe Iran’s support has consisted mostly of some funding.

However, as part of the Saudi-Israeli campaign against Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia has bombed Yemeni cities from the air using sophisticated American-supplied aircraft while the U.S. Navy has supported a blockade of Yemen from the sea, including this past weekend turning back nine Iranian ships carrying relief supplies because of unconfirmed suspicions that there might be weapons onboard as well.

Though the Saudi leadership had agreed to peace talks urged by President Obama, the Saudi air force resumed its bombing of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and other targets on Sunday. Despite U.S. intelligence support, the Saudi airstrikes have been largely indiscriminate killing hundreds of civilians and shattering some of Yemen’s ancient cities.

Another effect of the Saudi airstrikes has been to bolster the cause of “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” an affiliate that the U.S. government has identified as the most dangerous Al-Qaeda branch in terms of sponsoring attacks on the West. With the Houthi rebels under Saudi bombardment, AQAP has succeeded in seizing more territory in the east and overrunning a prison to free Al-Qaeda militants.

The most immediate and severe crisis, however, appears to be unfolding in Syria where Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the bloodthirsty Islamic State appear to be gaining the upper hand, with military support from Saudi Arabia and political cover from Israel.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Money Seal the Israeli-Saudi Alliance?”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Shutting Down Debate about Israel

Anyone who dares criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians knows what to expect: accusations of being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.” In mainstream political and academic circles, the topic can be especially toxic as “pro-Israel” zealots go to great lengths to block even a debate, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Here is the situation: the threat of aggressive public protests against those assembling to critically discuss the behavior of Israel has become an excuse to shut down such gatherings. The latest example of this tactic, which is really a form of blackmail to impose censorship, took place earlier this month at the University of Southampton in the UK.

An international conference entitled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” was scheduled for April 17-19, 2015, at the University of Southampton. It was to bring together lawyers and scholars to examine the legal basis for the establishment of the State of Israel and the rationales (or lack thereof) for its historical treatment of the Palestinian people.

The standard by which these issues were to be judged was international law. The conference would also have examined the issue of exceptionalism when it came to the inadequate legal and diplomatic response to Israeli policies and behavior. Conference participants were to include both those critical of Israel and those who would present a defense of Israeli practices.

This conference had been planned for over a year, yet days before its opening Southampton University announced that it would not allow the gathering to go ahead on its campus because there were “risks to safety and public order.” This was due to expected protests against the conference.

Where did these risks come from? They originated with Zionists and their allies. Specifically, the Sussex Friends of Israel were ready to bring out as many as 300 peaceful protesters. In addition, there was likely to be a very small number of English Defense League members, who are anti-Muslim, pro-Israel, and potentially violent.

Certainly the Zionist rhetoric was aggressive and emotionally charged. The conference was described as a gathering of “Israel-haters,” “a rally of bigots,” a gathering of “toxic speakers,” and an “anti-Israel carnival.” It made no difference to these ideologically driven zealots that what was really planned was a sober investigation of historical patterns of behavior against the backdrop of internationally recognized legal norms.

Though the negative emotional energy ran high, the actual danger from the planned protests was probably quite minimal, and the local police declared themselves capable and ready to handle the situation. Nonetheless, instead of acting resolutely against those who would threaten free speech, the university simply gave in.

It essentially ran scared not only from exaggerated threats of violence but, as seems always to be the case, from the wrath of a small number of financial donors who threatened to stop supporting the institution if it provided a forum for open discussion of issues that cast Israel in a poor light. Essentially, Southampton University allowed itself to be blackmailed by Zionist censors.

One can speculate on what would have been the case if the situation were reversed. That is, if pro-Palestinian demonstrators had implied a “risk to safety and public order” at a Zionist conference upholding Israeli practices. The army would have been called out before such a conference was canceled.

An Ongoing Tactic

This is not the first time this sort of scenario has played out. Back in 2001 the president of the University of South Florida, Judy Genshaft, forced Dr. Sami Al-Arian, then a member of the faculty, to stay away from the campus because of negative and slanderous media publicity and Zionist threats against him.

This all stemmed from his vocal support of Palestinian rights. Here too a university administration allowed itself to be blackmailed by ideologically driven zealots. In the process it abandoned the principle of free speech and allowed censorship to prevail through threats of disruption.

There are other suspicious occurrences that may have been brought about by quieter forms of the same censoring pressures. For instance, in March, this writer was invited to address the prestigious Oxford Union in London on a topic that would, in part, cover U.S. foreign policy in support of Israel. Within five days the invitation was withdrawn.

The quick turnaround called into doubt the Oxford Union’s claim that the cause of the withdrawal was scheduling problems. While it is not possible to say for sure that the reversal was due to Zionist pressure, the present atmosphere of aggressive Zionist efforts to stymie all criticism of Israel and its supporters, makes this sort of occurrence appear suspicious.

What is going on here is not only the censoring of those critical of Israel, but the undermining of the rule of law, particularly international law. The irony is that much of this body of law was promulgated because of the savage persecution experienced by Europe’s Jews and others during the World War II.

However, the Zionist element among Jewry (not all Jews) decided that their future lay not in the support of law, but in the creation of a state through a process of imperial invasion and colonial settlement. They pursued this objective just at the time when both classical imperialism and colonialism were going out of style and the European empires were falling apart.

Thus, even at the moment it succeeded in establishing the State of Israel, Zionism was already an anachronism – an ideology that could only prevail through aggression and racist policies in a world that was trying to outlaw both types of behavior.

That Zionism has, to date, gained its goal is largely due to its having achieved for Israel an “exceptional” status in the West that has allowed it to escape the rule of law. In other words, Israel has evolved into a “rogue” state that is being protected by Western powers, particularly the United States.

Israel has achieved this “exceptional” status by two means: first, the Zionist corruption of Western governments through a lobby process involving the bribing of politicians, and second, through the exploitation of the Western fear of the Arab and Islamic world.

The Zionists always complain that Israel is being singled out. For instance, one of the gambits used to attack the Southampton conference was as follows: “no academic conference on Pakistan, for instance, founded just a year before Israel, would consist solely of discussion on whether it should have been created and how to end it.”

Putting aside the fact that this is an overly simplistic, and thus distorted, description of the Southampton conference, the comparison with Pakistan is off base. Pakistan was created as part of a process of decolonization. Israel was created in defiance of that same process. Zionist ideology, like any form of dogmatic thinking, ends up skewing history to its own needs.

Actually, as long as Israel insists on being “a Jewish state” instead of a democratic state of all its citizens, it must walk the path of apartheid. And, it can only get away with that through successfully maintaining an exceptional status – a status that puts it above international law.

The Southampton conference would have exposed this situation in a factual and sober way – in a way that would be hard for any fair-minded person to doubt. That is why the Zionists went to such lengths to shut it down.

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.




Gen. Petraeus: Too Big to Jail

From the Archive: Retired Gen. David Petraeus confessed on Thursday to giving sensitive government secrets to his mistress and then lying about it to the FBI, but will get no jail time, only two years probation and a fine, showing that he is too big to jail, as ex -CIA analyst Ray McGovern predicted in March.

By Ray McGovern (Originally published on March 5, 2015)

The leniency shown former CIA Director (and retired General) David Petraeus by the Justice Department in sparing him prison time for the serious crimes that he has committed puts him in the same preferential, immune-from-incarceration category as those running the financial institutions of Wall Street, where, incidentally, Petraeus now makes millions. By contrast, “lesser” folks and particularly the brave men and women who disclose government crimes get to serve time, even decades, in jail.

Petraeus is now a partner at KKR, a firm specializing in large leveraged buyouts, and his hand-slap guilty plea to a misdemeanor for mishandling government secrets should not interfere with his continued service at the firm. KKR’s founders originally worked at Bear Stearns, the institution that failed in early 2008 at the beginning of the meltdown of the investment banking industry later that year.

Despite manifestly corrupt practices like those of subprime mortgage lenders, none of those responsible went to jail after the 2008-09 financial collapse which cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes. The bailed-out banks were judged “too big to fail” and the bankers “too big to jail.”

Two years ago, in a highly revealing slip of the tongue, Attorney General Eric Holder explained to Congress that it can “become difficult” to prosecute major financial institutions because they are so large that a criminal charge could pose a threat to the economy or perhaps what he meant was an even bigger threat to the economy.

Holder tried to walk back his unintended slip into honesty a year later, claiming, “There is no such thing as ‘too big to jail.’” And this bromide was dutifully echoed by Holder’s successor, Loretta Lynch, at her confirmation hearing in late January.

Words, though, are cheap. The proof is in the pudding. It remains true that not one of the crooked bankers or investment advisers who inflicted untold misery on ordinary people, gambling away much of their life savings, has been jailed. Not one.

And now Petraeus, who gave his biographer/mistress access to some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets and then lied about it to the FBI, has also been shown to be too big to jail. Perhaps Holder decided it would be a gentlemanly thing to do on his way out of office to take this awkward issue off Lynch’s initial to-do list and spare her the embarrassment of demonstrating once again that equality under the law has become a mirage; that not only big banks, but also big shots like Petraeus who was Official Washington’s most beloved general before becoming CIA director are, in fact, too big to jail.

It strikes me, in a way, as fitting that even on his way out the door, Eric Holder would not miss the opportunity to demonstrate his propensity for giving hypocrisy a bad name.

A Slap on Wrist for Serious Crimes

The Justice Department let David Petraeus cop a plea after requiring him to admit that he had shared with his biographer/mistress eight black notebooks containing highly classified information and then lied about it to FBI investigators. Serious crimes? The following quotes are excerpted from “U.S. v. David Howell Petraeus: Factual Basis in support of the Plea Agreement” offered by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division:

“17. During his tenure as Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS maintained bound, five-by-eight-inch notebooks that contained his daily schedule and classified and unclassified notes he took during official meetings, conferences, and briefings. A total of eight such books (hereinafter the “Black Books”) encompassed the period of defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’S ISAF [Afghanistan] command and collectively contained classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America. [emphasis added]

“18. The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret//SCI and code word information.”

Despite the sensitivity of the notebooks and existing law and regulations, Petraeus did not surrender them to proper custody when he returned to the U.S. after being nominated to become the Director of the CIA. According to the Court’s “Factual Basis,” Petraeus’s biographer/mistress recorded a conversation of Aug. 4, 2011, in which she asks about the “Black Books.” The Court statement continues:

“ [Petraeus] ‘Umm, well, they’re really I mean they are highly classified, some of them.  I mean there’s code word stuff in there.’ On or about August 27, 2011, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS sent an email to his biographer in which he agreed to provide the Black Books to his biographer. On or about August 28, 2011, defendant DAVID HOWEL PETRAEUS delivered the Black Books to a private residence in Washington, D.C. where his biographer was staying. On or about September 1, 2011, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS retrieved the Black Books from the D.C. private residence and returned them to his own Arlington, Virginia home.” [emphasis added]

I would think it a safe guess that Petraeus’s timing can be attributed to his awareness that his privacy and freedom of movement was about to be greatly diminished, once his CIA personal security detail started keeping close track of him from his first day on the job as CIA Director, Sept. 6, 2011.

“32. On or about October 26, 2012, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS was interviewed by two FBI special agents. [He] was advised that the special agents were conducting a criminal investigation. PETRAEUS stated that (a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer. These statements were false. Defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS then and there knew that he previously shared the Black Books with his biographer.” [emphasis added]

Lying to the FBI? No problem. As “Expose Facts” blogger Marcy Wheeler immediately commented: “For lying to the FBI a crime that others go to prison for for months and years Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped out the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.” [emphasis added]

Talk about “prosecutorial discretion” or, in this case, indiscretion giving Petraeus a fine and probation but no felony conviction or prison time for what he did! Lesser lights are not so fortunate. Just ask Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning who is serving a 35-year prison sentence for disclosing information to the public about U.S. war crimes and other abuses. Or Edward Snowden, who is stuck in Russia facing a U.S. indictment on espionage charges for informing the people about pervasive and unconstitutional U.S. government surveillance of common citizens.

Or former CIA officer John Kiriakou who was sent to prison for inadvertently revealing the name of one Agency official cognizant of CIA torture. Here’s what Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said then: “The government has a vital interest in protecting the identities of those involved in covert operations. Leaks of highly sensitive, closely held and classified information compromise national security and can put individual lives in danger.”

When, on Oct. 23, 2012, Kiriakou acquiesced to a plea deal requiring two-and-a-half years in federal prison, then CIA Director Petraeus sent a sanctimonious Memorandum to Agency employees applauding Kiriakou’s conviction and noting, “It marks an important victory for our agency  there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.” [emphasis added]

Consequences for Kiriakou but not, as we now know, for Petraeus.

If you feel no discomfort at this selective application of the law, you might wish to scroll or page back to the “Factual Basis” for Petraeus’s Plea Agreement and be reminded that it was just three days after his lecture to CIA employees about the sanctity of protecting the identity of covert agents that Petraeus lied to FBI investigators on Oct. 26, 2012 about his sharing such details with his mistress.

Why Did Petraeus Do It?

Old soldiers like Petraeus (indeed, most aging but still ambitious men) have been known to end up doing self-destructive things by letting themselves be flattered by the attentions of younger women. This may offer a partial explanation human weakness even in a self-styled larger-than-life super-Mensch. But I see the motivation as mostly vainglory. (The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.)

Looking back at Petraeus’s record of overweening ambition, it seems likely he was motivated first and foremost by a desire to ensure that his biographer would be able to extract from the notebooks some juicy morsels he may not have remembered to tell her about. This might enhance his profile as Warrior-Scholar-“King David,” the image that he has assiduously cultivated and promoted, with the help of an adulating neocon-dominated media.

Petraeus’s presidential ambitions have been an open secret. And with his copping a plea to a misdemeanor, his “rehabilitation” seems to have already begun. He has told friends that he would like to serve again in government and they immediately relayed that bright hope to the media.

Sen. John McCain was quick to call the whole matter “closed.” A strong supporter of Petraeus, McCain added this fulsome praise: “At a time of grave security challenges around the world, I hope that General Petraeus will continue to provide his outstanding service and leadership to our nation, as he has throughout his distinguished career.”

And Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings’ neocon military specialist who rarely gets anything right, spoke true to form to the New York Times: “The broader nation needs his advice, and I think it’s been evident that people still want to hear from him. People are forgiving and I know he made a mistake. But he’s also a national hero and a national treasure.”

The “mainstream media” is trapped in its undeserved adulation for Petraeus’s “heroism.” It is virtually impossible, for example, for them to acknowledge that his ballyhooed, official-handout-based “success” in training and equipping tens of thousands of crack Iraqi troops was given the lie when those same troops ran away (the officers took helicopters) and left their weapons behind at the first sight of ISIL fighters a year ago.

Equally sham were media claims of the “success” for the “surges” of 30,000 troops sent into Iraq (2007) and 33,000 into Afghanistan (2009). Each “surge” squandered the lives of about 1,000 U.S. troops for nothing yes, nothing except in the case of Iraq buying time for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to get out of town without a clear-cut defeat hanging around their necks.

Many of the supposed successes of Petraeus’s Iraqi “surge” also predated the “surge,” including a high-tech program for killing top militants such as Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the formation of the so-called Sunni Awakening, both occurring in 2006 under the previous field commanders. And, Bush’s principal goal of the “surge” to create political space for a fuller Sunni-Shiite reconciliation was never accomplished. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Surge Myth’s Deadly Result.”]

And last, it is important to note that David Petraeus does not have a corner on the above-the-law attitudes and behavior of previous directors of the CIA. The kid-gloves treatment he has been accorded, however, will increase chances that future directors will feel they can misbehave seriously and suffer no serious personal consequence.

The virtual immunity enjoyed by the well connected even when they lie to the FBI or tell whoppers in sworn testimony to Congress (as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has done) feeds the propensity to prioritize one’s own personal ambition and to delegate a back seat to legitimate national security concerns even basic things like giving required protection to properly classified information, including the identity of covert officers.

One might call this all-too-common syndrome Self-Aggrandizing Dismissiveness (SAD). Sadly, Petraeus is merely the latest exemplar of the SAD syndrome. The unbridled ambitions of some of his predecessors at CIA the arrogant John Deutch, for example have been equally noxious and destructive. But we’ll leave that for the next chapter.

[For more on Petraeus’s corruption and his close ties to self-interested neoconservatives, see “Neocons Guided Petraeus on Afghan War.”]

Full Disclosure: Petraeus has not yet answered McGovern’s letter of Feb. 3 regarding why McGovern was barred from a public speaking event by Petraeus in New York City on Oct. 30, 2014, and then was roughly arrested by police and jailed for the night. McGovern wonders if Petraeus failed to respond because he was pre-occupied working out his Plea Agreement.

Ray McGovern worked for a total of 27 years in all four of CIA’s main directorates. He served under seven Presidents and nine CIA Directors, and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He now works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.




Seeking Justice for Egyptian Massacres

Egypt’s 2013 military coup killed hundreds of unarmed protesters as it overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood of Mohamed Morsi. The coup had the support of Saudi Arabia and Israel which assured that the U.S. did little. But an appeal for justice is underway in the Netherlands, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

On July 3, 2013, the Egyptian military staged a coup’etat and deposed the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thousands of Egyptians staged demonstrations throughout Egypt to show support for Morsi.

One month later, the Egyptian army and police carried out several massacres in Cairo, killing hundreds of unarmed protesters. Authorities mounted a military response to largely peaceful protests by supporters of the Brotherhood against the illegitimate Egyptian government. Although aimed primarily at the Brotherhood, the crackdown included other political opposition groups and individuals.

Four Dutch citizens of Egyptian origin, who were present during three of the most brutal massacres in summer 2013, filed a petition in the Netherlands that charged Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim with crimes against humanity. In September 2014, the Dutch law firm of Seebregts & Saey submitted a formal request to the Dutch prosecutor to prosecute Ibrahim.

Dutch criminal courts have jurisdiction under the International Crimes Act when a Dutch national has been the victim of a crime. Due to head of state immunity, the lawsuit did not name Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who ordered the Rab’a massacre when he was Defense Minister.

 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) undertook a one-year investigation into the conduct of security forces responding to the demonstrations. In its report titled “All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” HRW concluded, “police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.”

HRW also determined “the killings not only constituted serious violations of international human rights law, but likely amounted to crimes against humanity, given both their widespread and systematic nature and the evidence suggesting the killings were part of a policy to attack unarmed persons on political grounds.”

Although HRW was able to confirm that some protesters used firearms in a few instances, they did not justify “the grossly disproportionate and premeditated lethal attacks on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.”

The Rab’a Massacre

There were over 20,000 protesters in Rab’a Square. In what HRW called “the gravest incident of mass protester killings,” Egyptian police, snipers and military personnel opened fire on unarmed demonstrators on Aug. 14, 2013, “killing at least 817 and likely more than 1,000.” Security forces used live ammunition “with hundreds killed by bullets to their heads, necks, and chests.” Snipers fired from helicopters over Rab’a Square.

“Much of the shooting by police appears to have been indiscriminate,” HRW found, “openly firing in the general direction of crowds of demonstrators instead of targeting armed protester gunmen who may have posed a serious threat.”

The Rab’a mosque, which served as a refuge, particularly for women and children, “held so many corpses that it felt like it ‘had turned into a cemetery,’” one protester told HRW.

An 18-year-old boy came into the hospital and said his stomach hurt. A doctor noted, “I looked down and his intestines were all out. He had taken several bullets and [later] died.”

The doctor also reported that another person “took a bullet in the face, causing his face to open and tongue to fall out . . . He spent 40 minutes looking at me and gesturing for help, but I couldn’t do anything. Surgery was not possible.”

The deaths “amounted to collective punishment of the overwhelming majority of peaceful protesters,” HRW concluded.

One of the petitioners, who was present at the demonstration, was not wounded but people on his left and right were being shot. He was also present when the authorities set fire to the hospital on Rab’a Square, killing about 300 patients who were not able to leave.

Other Attacks

On July 7, 2013, about 2,000 Brotherhood supporters began a peaceful sit-in. Shortly before dawn on July 8, police and army units opened fire, targeting those in the protest and others emerging from prayers at the mosque. Authorities killed 61 protesters with live ammunition and injured 435. Most suffered gunshots to the head, neck and chest. One of the petitioners was hit by a bullet, but survived.

At least 95 protesters were killed on July 27, 2013. A field hospital doctor reported, “From 2 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. it was a steady stream; the bodies kept coming. Most had gunshot wounds in the head, neck or chest. The hospital was overflowing; we were completely over capacity.”

Another field house doctor told HRW: “All of the dead were either dead on arrival or died immediately after they arrived, because of where they were hit; if you’re hit in the head or chest, you won’t last very long. The entire hospital floor was covered with injured people. It was beyond imagination.”

The two petitioners who were present at this demonstration were not wounded but were in danger of being hit. Others a short distance away were hit by bullets.

Dutch law provides for sentences up to life in prison for convictions of crimes against humanity. The crime is defined as intentional killing or other inhumane acts of a comparable nature which intentionally cause severe suffering or severe physical or psychological damage, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population pursuant to State policy.

HRW found that “security forces systematically and deliberately killed largely unarmed protesters on political grounds . . . in a widespread manner, resulting in the deaths of over 1,150 protesters, in July and August of 2013.”

HRW further concluded, “[t]he manner in which security forces used force to disperse protests appears to reflect policies set by the Egyptian government.” In fact, “the government anticipated and planned for the deaths of several thousand protesters.”

The Rab’a massacre was “executed pursuant to a plan formulated by the Interior Ministry and approved by the Cabinet and National Defense Council after three weeks of preparation,” HRW determined, citing statements of Ibrahim that he anticipated the dispersal would kill large numbers of demonstrators.

Ibrahim made public statements revealing he knew beforehand that many people would die during the police and military actions to end the demonstrations. The day after the Rab’a massacre, Ibrahim said “the dispersal plan succeeded 100 percent,” indicating that it adhered to a plan that had been put in place.

In a televised interview on Aug. 31, 2013, Ibrahim confirmed that the Interior Ministry expected losses of “10 percent of the people,” adding, “you will find thousands lost from their side.”

HRW learned that “[s]ecurity forces detained over 800 protesters on Aug. 14, 2013, some of whom they beat, tortured and in some cases summarily executed.”

Politicized Justice

On April 11, 2015, 51 Brotherhood supporters were convicted in a mass trial, based on the testimony of a single police officer. HRW said the evidence presented at the trial demonstrated that the men were disseminating news about and organizing peaceful protests in opposition to the military coup and removal of Morsi.

Fourteen of the defendants were sentenced to death and the other 37 were given life sentences. According to Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of HRW, “The fact that people who covered and publicized the mass killings in 2013 could go to prison for life or be executed while the killers walk free captures the abject politicization of justice in Egypt.”

Morsi was convicted of charges including incitement to violence and torture from 2012 demonstrations that resulted in the deaths of 10 people outside the presidential palace. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The case against Ibrahim is under consideration by the Dutch prosecutor’s office. Should the prosecutor refuse to prosecute Ibrahim, the petitioners can request that the superior court in The Hague order the prosecutor to prosecute.

There has been no legal accountability for the massacres conducted by the Egyptian military government against the largely peaceful protesters. If high government officials in Egypt are permitted to commit crimes against humanity with impunity, it will encourage similar actions in the future both in Egypt and elsewhere.

Since there is little prospect for justice in Egypt itself, the Dutch lawsuit may be the only vehicle for accountability for these most serious crimes.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.”




Is Hillary Clinton a Neocon-Lite?

From the Archive: As Democrats line up behind Hillary Clinton as their presumptive 2016 presidential nominee, many are whistling past the graveyard of her disastrous record on foreign interventions, judgments that raise doubts about her fitness for the job, as Robert Parry observed in 2014.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on Feb. 10, 2014, with some updates.)

Most Democratic power-brokers appear settled on Hillary Clinton as their choice for President in 2016 and she holds lopsided leads over potential party rivals in early opinion polls but there are some warning flags flying, paradoxically, hoisted by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his praise for the former First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State.

On the surface, one might think that Gates’s glowing commendations of Clinton would further burnish her standing as the odds-on next President of the United States, but strip away the fawning endorsements and Gates’s portrait of Clinton in his memoir, Duty, is of a pedestrian foreign policy thinker who is easily duped and leans toward military solutions.

Indeed, for thoughtful and/or progressive Democrats, the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton could represent a step back from some of President Barack Obama’s more innovative foreign policy strategies, particularly his readiness to cooperate with the Russians and Iranians to defuse Middle East crises and his willingness to face down the Israel Lobby when it is pushing for heightened confrontations and war.

Based on her public record and Gates’s insider account, Clinton could be expected to favor a more neoconservative approach to the Mideast, one more in line with the traditional thinking of Official Washington and the belligerent dictates of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As a U.S. senator and as Secretary of State, Clinton rarely challenged the conventional wisdom or resisted the use of military force to solve problems. She famously voted for the Iraq War in 2002 falling for President George W. Bush’s bogus WMD case and remained a war supporter until her position became politically untenable during Campaign 2008.

Representing New York, Clinton rarely if ever criticized Israeli actions. In summer 2006, as Israeli warplanes pounded southern Lebanon, killing more than 1,000 Lebanese, Sen. Clinton shared a stage with Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman who had said, “While it may be true and probably is that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim.”

At a pro-Israel rally with Clinton in New York on July 17, 2006, Gillerman proudly defended Israel’s massive violence against targets in Lebanon. “Let us finish the job,” Gillerman told the crowd. “We will excise the cancer in Lebanon” and “cut off the fingers” of Hezbollah. Responding to international concerns that Israel was using “disproportionate” force in bombing Lebanon and killing hundreds of civilians, Gillerman said, “You’re damn right we are.” [NYT, July 18, 2006]

Sen. Clinton did not protest Gillerman’s remarks, since doing so would presumably have offended an important pro-Israel constituency.

Misreading Gates

In November 2006, when Bush nominated Gates to be Defense Secretary, Clinton gullibly misread the significance of the move. She interpreted it as a signal that the war was being wound down when it actually presaged the opposite, that an escalation or “surge” was coming.

From her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clinton failed to penetrate the smokescreen around Gates’s selection. The reality was that Bush had ousted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in part, because he had sided with Generals John Abizaid and George Casey who favored shrinking the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Gates was privately onboard for replacing those generals and expanding the U.S. footprint.

After getting blindsided by Gates over what became a “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops, Sen. Clinton sided with Democrats who objected to the escalation, but Gates quotes her in his memoir as later telling President Obama that she did so only for political reasons.

Gates recalled a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009, to discuss whether to authorize a similar “surge” in Afghanistan, a position favored by Gates and Clinton, with Secretary of State Clinton supporting even a higher number of troops than Defense Secretary Gates was. But the Afghan “surge” faced skepticism from Vice President Joe Biden and other White House staffers.

Gates wrote that he and Clinton “were the only outsiders in the session, considerably outnumbered by White House insiders. Obama said at the outset to Hillary and me, ‘It’s time to lay our cards on the table, Bob, what do you think?’ I repeated a number of the main points I had made in my memo to him [urging three brigades].

“Hillary agreed with my overall proposal but urged the president to consider approving the fourth brigade combat team if the allies wouldn’t come up with the troops.”

Gates then reported on what he regarded as a stunning admission by Clinton, writing: “The exchange that followed was remarkable. In strongly supporting the surge in Afghanistan, Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary [in 2008]. She went on to say, ‘The Iraq surge worked.’

“The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.” (Obama’s aides have since disputed Gates’s suggestion that the President indicated that his opposition to the Iraq “surge” was political, noting that he had always opposed the Iraq War. The Clinton team has not challenged Gates’s account.)

But the exchange, as recounted by Gates, indicates that Clinton not only let her political needs dictate her position on an important national security issue, but that she accepts as true the superficial conventional wisdom about the “successful surge” in Iraq.

While that is indeed Official Washington’s beloved interpretation in part because influential neocons believe the “surge” rehabilitated their standing after the WMD fiasco and the disastrous war the reality is that the Iraq “surge” never achieved its stated goal of buying time to reconcile the country’s financial and sectarian divides, which remain bloody to this day.

The Unsuccessful Surge

The truth that Hillary Clinton apparently doesn’t recognize is that the “surge” was only “successful” in that it delayed the ultimate American defeat until Bush and his neocon cohorts had vacated the White House and the blame for the failure could be shifted, at least partly, to President Obama.

Other than sparing “war president” Bush the humiliation of having to admit defeat, the dispatching of 30,000 additional U.S. troops in early 2007 did little more than get nearly 1,000 additional Americans killed almost one-quarter of the war’s total U.S. deaths along with what certainly was a much higher number of Iraqis.

For example, WikiLeaks’s “Collateral Murder.” video depicted one 2007 scene during the “surge” in which U.S. firepower mowed down a group of Iraqi men, including two Reuters news staffers, walking down a street in Baghdad. The attack helicopters then killed a Good Samaritan, when he stopped his van to take survivors to a hospital, and severely wounded two children in the van.

A more rigorous analysis of what happened in Iraq in 2007-08 apparently beyond Hillary Clinton’s abilities or inclination would trace the decline in Iraqi sectarian violence mostly to strategies that predated the “surge” and were implemented in 2006 by Generals Casey and Abizaid.

Among their initiatives, Casey and Abizaid deployed a highly classified operation to eliminate key al-Qaeda leaders, most notably the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006. Casey and Abizaid also exploited growing Sunni animosities toward al-Qaeda extremists by paying off Sunni militants to join the so-called “Awakening” in Anbar Province.

And, as the Sunni-Shiite sectarian killings reached horrendous levels in 2006, the U.S. military assisted in the de facto ethnic cleansing of mixed neighborhoods by helping Sunnis and Shiites move into separate enclaves, thus making the targeting of ethnic enemies more difficult. In other words, the flames of violence were likely to have abated whether Bush ordered the “surge” or not.

Radical Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr also helped by issuing a unilateral cease-fire, reportedly at the urging of his patrons in Iran who were interested in cooling down regional tensions and speeding up the U.S. withdrawal. By 2008, another factor in the declining violence was the growing awareness among Iraqis that the U.S. military’s occupation indeed was coming to an end. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki insisted on and got a firm timetable for American withdrawal from Bush.

Even author Bob Woodward, who had published best-sellers that praised Bush’s early war judgments, concluded that the “surge” was only one factor and possibly not even a major one in the declining violence. In his book, The War Within, Woodward wrote, “In Washington, conventional wisdom translated these events into a simple view: The surge had worked. But the full story was more complicated. At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge.”

Woodward, whose book drew heavily from Pentagon insiders, listed the Sunni rejection of al-Qaeda extremists in Anbar province and the surprise decision of al-Sadr to order a cease-fire as two important factors. A third factor, which Woodward argued may have been the most significant, was the use of new highly classified U.S. intelligence tactics that allowed for rapid targeting and killing of insurgent leaders.

However, in Washington, where the neocons remain very influential, the myth grew that Bush’s “surge” had brought the violence under control. Gen. David Petraeus, who took command of Iraq after Bush yanked Casey and Abizaid, was elevated into hero status as the military genius who achieved “victory at last” in Iraq (as Newsweek declared).

Even the inconvenient truth that the United States was unceremoniously ushered out of Iraq in 2011 and that the mammoth U.S. embassy that was supposed to be the command center for Washington’s imperial reach throughout the region sat mostly empty did not dent this cherished conventional wisdom about the “successful surge.”

Clinton’s Conundrum

Yet, it is one thing for neocon pundits to promote such fallacies; it is another thing for the Democratic front-runner for President in 2016 to believe this nonsense. And to say that she only opposed the “surge” out of a political calculation could border on disqualifying.

But that pattern fits with Clinton’s previous decisions. She belatedly broke with the Iraq War during Campaign 2008 when she realized that her hawkish stance was damaging her political chances against Obama, who had opposed the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Despite Clinton’s shift on Iraq, Obama still managed to win the Democratic nomination and ultimately the White House. However, after his election, some of his advisers urged him to assemble a “team of rivals” a la Abraham Lincoln by asking Republican Defense Secretary Gates to stay on and recruiting Clinton to be Secretary of State.

Then, in his first months in office, as Obama grappled with what to do about the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, Gates and Clinton teamed up with Gen. David Petraeus, a neocon favorite, to maneuver the President into another 30,000-troop “surge” to wage a counterinsurgency war across large swaths of Afghanistan.

In Duty, Gates cites his collaboration with Clinton as crucial to his success in getting Obama to agree to the troop escalation and the expanded goal of counterinsurgency. Referring to Clinton, Gates wrote, “we would develop a very strong partnership, in part because it turned out we agreed on almost every important issue.”

The hawkish Gates-Clinton tandem helped counter the move dovish team including Vice President Joe Biden, several members of the National Security Council staff and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who tried to steer President Obama away from this deeper involvement.

Gates wrote, “I was confident that Hillary and I would be able to work closely together. Indeed, before too long, commentators were observing that in an administration where all power and decision making were gravitating to the White House, Clinton and I represented the only independent ‘power center,’ not least because, for very different reasons, we were both seen as ‘un-fireable.’”

When General Stanley McChrystal proposed the expanded counterinsurgency war for Afghanistan, Gates wrote that he and “Hillary strongly supported McChrystal’s approach” along with UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Petraeus. On the other side were Biden, NSC aide Tom Donilon and intelligence adviser John Brennan, with Eikenberry supporting more troops but skeptical of the counterinsurgency plan because of weaknesses in the Afghan government, Gates wrote.

After Obama hesitantly approved the Afghan “surge” and reportedly immediately regretted his decision Clinton took aim at Eikenberry, a retired general who had served in Afghanistan before being named ambassador.

Pressing for his removal, “Hillary had come to the meeting loaded for bear,” Gates wrote. “She gave a number of specific examples of Eikenberry’s insubordination to herself and her deputy. She said, ‘He’s a huge problem.’

“She went after the NSS [national security staff] and the White House staff, expressing anger at their direct dealings with Eikenberry and offering a number of examples of what she termed their arrogance, their efforts to control the civilian side of the war effort, their refusal to accommodate requests for meetings.

“As she talked, she became more forceful. ‘I’ve had it,’ she said, ‘You want it [control of the civilian side of the war], I’ll turn it all over to you and wash my hands of it. I’ll not be held accountable for something I cannot manage because of White House and NSS interference.’”

However, when the protests failed to get Eikenberry and General Douglas Lute, a deputy national security adviser, fired, Gates concluded that they had the protection of President Obama and reflected his doubts about the Afghan War policy:

“It had become clear that Eikenberry and Lute, whatever their shortcomings, were under an umbrella of protection at the White House. With Hillary and me so adamant that the two should leave, that protection could come only from the president. Because I could not imagine any previous president tolerating someone in a senior position openly working against policies he had approved, the most likely explanation was that the president himself did not really believe the strategy he had approved would work.”

Of the 2,357 American soldiers who have died in the 12-year-old Afghan War, about 1,725 (or nearly three-quarters) have died since President Obama took office. Many were killed in what is now widely regarded as the failed counterinsurgency strategy that Gates, Petraeus and Clinton pushed on Obama.

Getting Gaddafi

In 2011, Secretary of State Clinton also was a hawk on military intervention in Libya to oust (and ultimately kill) Muammar Gaddafi. However, on Libya, Defense Secretary Gates sided with the doves, feeling that the U.S. military was already overextended in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and another intervention risked further alienating the Muslim world.

This time, Gates found himself lined up with Biden, Donilon and Brennan “urging caution,” while Clinton joined with Rice and NSC aides Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power in “urging aggressive U.S. action to prevent an anticipated massacre of the rebels as Qaddafi fought to remain in power,” Gates wrote. “In the final phase of the internal debate, Hillary threw her considerable clout behind Rice, Rhodes and Power.”

President Obama again ceded to Clinton’s advocacy for war and supported a Western bombing campaign that enabled the rebels, including Islamic extremists with ties to Al-Qaeda, to seize control of Tripoli and hunt Gaddafi down in Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 20, 2011. After Gaddafi was caught, he was tortured, including being sodomized by a knife, and then murdered.

Clinton expressed delight when she received the news of Gaddafi’s capture and death, though she may not have known all the grisly details at the time. During a TV interview, she joked, “We came, we saw, he died,” in a reference to Julius Caesar’s famous phrase, “veni, vidi, vici,” Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered” after a decisive military victory in what is now Turkey.

But the overthrow and murder of Gaddafi cast Libya into civil war and chaos with Islamic terrorism spreading throughout Libya and surrounding areas. The violence included an assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel, an incident that Clinton has called the worst moment in her four years as Secretary of State.

Gates retired from the Pentagon on July 1, 2011, and Clinton stepped down at the State Department on Feb. 1, 2013, after Obama’s reelection. Afterwards, Obama charted a more innovative foreign policy course, collaborating with Russian President Vladimir Putin to achieve diplomatic breakthroughs on Syria and Iran, rather than seeking military solutions or more “regime changes” favored by the neocons.

In both cases, Obama had to face down hawkish sentiments in his own administration and in Congress, as well as Israeli and Saudi opposition. Regarding negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, the Israel Lobby pressed for new sanctions legislation that appeared designed to sabotage the talks and put the U.S. and Iran on a possible path to war.

(Later in February 2014, neocons inside the State Department, including Assistant of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who had been promoted by Secretary Clinton, sabotaged Obama’s cooperation with Putin by orchestrating a coup in Ukraine on Russia’s border. The crisis drove a wedge between Obama and Putin.)

Dealing with Iran

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had been a hawk on the Iranian nuclear issue. In 2009-2010, when Iran first indicated a willingness to compromise, she led the opposition to any negotiated settlement and pushed for punishing sanctions.

To clear the route for sanctions, Clinton helped sink agreements tentatively negotiated with Iran to ship most of its low-enriched uranium out of the country. In 2009, Iran was refining uranium only to the level of about 3-4 percent, as needed for energy production. Its negotiators offered to swap much of that for nuclear isotopes for medical research.

But the Obama administration and the West rebuffed the Iranian gesture because it would have left Iran with enough enriched uranium to theoretically refine much higher up to 90 percent for potential use in a single bomb, though Iran insisted it had no such intention and U.S. intelligence agencies agreed.

Then, in spring 2010, Iran agreed to another version of the uranium swap proposed by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey, with the apparent backing of President Obama. But that arrangement came under fierce attack by Secretary of State Clinton and was derided by leading U.S. news outlets, including editorial writers at the New York Times who mocked Brazil and Turkey as being “played by Tehran.”

The ridicule of Brazil and Turkey as bumbling understudies on the world stage continued even after Brazil released Obama’s private letter to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva encouraging Brazil and Turkey to work out the deal. Despite the letter’s release, Obama didn’t publicly defend the swap and instead joined in scuttling the deal, another moment when Clinton and administration hardliners got their way.

That set the world on the course for tightened economic sanctions on Iran and heightened tensions that brought the region close to another war. As Israel threatened to attack, Iran expanded its nuclear capabilities by increasing enrichment to 20 percent to fill its research needs, moving closer to the level necessary for building a bomb.

Ironically, the nuclear deal reached in late 2013 (and reinforced by the framework agreement of April 2, 2015) essentially accepts Iran’s low-enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes, pretty much where matters stood in 2009-2010. But the Israel Lobby quickly set to work, again, trying to torpedo the new agreement by getting Congress to approve new sanctions on Iran.

Clinton remained noncommittal for several weeks as momentum for the sanctions bill grew, but she finally declared her support for President Obama’s opposition to the new sanctions. In a Jan. 26 letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, she wrote:

“Now that serious negotiations are finally under way, we should do everything we can to test whether they can advance a permanent solution. As President Obama said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table. The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that imposing new unilateral sanctions now ‘would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.’ I share that view. “

Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, also has pressed Israel and the Palestinian Authority to accept a U.S. framework for settling their long-running conflict (an effort that ultimately failed when Israeli leaders balked at meaningful concessions). The Obama administration’s aggressiveness even in the face of Israeli objections stood in marked contrast to the behavior of previous U.S. administrations and, indeed, Obama’s first term with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

One key question for a Clinton presidential candidacy will be whether she would build on the diplomatic foundation that Obama has laid, or dismantle it and return to a more traditional foreign policy focused on military might and catering to the views of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




We Lucky Molecules

Exclusive: As American neocons and other war hawks push for endless war in the Mideast and now eastern Europe, the resulting chaos is straining the capacity of civilization to meet basic human needs and raising the risk of nuclear war, what would be a tragic ending to the Universe’s luckiest molecules, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Scientists don’t know how many atoms and molecules there are in the Universe, but it’s clear that the vast, vast, vast majority find themselves locked in lifeless form perhaps consumed by the fire of an exploding nova, or sucked into a black hole going who knows where, or simply frozen in the dark reaches of space.

A tiny, tiny, infinitesimal minority found themselves on Planet Earth and even there, the vast, vast majority remained in inert form as rocks or water or may have edged their way into the simplest life forms as amoeba or plankton or made it up to vegetation as a tree or a flower.

Relative to the total number, an extraordinarily few molecules have achieved intelligent life and fewer still formed themselves into human beings with the intellect to comprehend many of the mysteries of the Universe. As far as scientists know, we may be the only beings anywhere capable of this feat. Despite decades of seeking signs of intelligent life across the Universe, none has been found.

So, it may be that we the seven billion or so of us humans who live on Planet Earth in the Twenty-first Century represent the luckiest of molecules. We get to appreciate the magnificence of Nature, not only the beauty of budding trees and blossoming flowers, or the stark snow-covered mountains and the pounding ocean waves, but via modern technology like the Hubble Spacecraft, we get to see deeply into space to observe the colorful, surrealistic displays of distant galaxies.

Yet, what those photographs also tell us is that, as awe-inspiring as the Universe is, it is fearsomely hostile to life. Some parts of the Universe are extremely hot amid burning gases of giant stars but most of it is extremely cold, a black and bleak emptiness.

The odds of finding ourselves on a tiny piece of the Universe with the delicate, almost impossible balance between hot and cold, a sphere spinning at the right speed in the perfect location with a moon to pull at the oceans and a large planet situated as a shield between us and waves of giant asteroids rampaging through space, with an atmosphere to further protect and sustain us, and all the other stunning improbabilities of Planet Earth those odds are below any imaginable calculation. It’s safe to say the chances of us being here having advanced enough to know as much as we do are very close to zero.

We are, indeed, very lucky molecules. But there is, of course, a downside to our luck. As living things, we are also dying things. And our consciousness makes us aware of that inevitability. Plus, there are even more painful aspects of life, watching loved ones suffer with illness or from hunger or as victims of violence.

There can be a sense of senselessness to the human existence. There is wholly unnecessary destruction, driven by greed or fear or ideology or religion. We have seen plenty of that in human history and especially over the past century, a time of world wars, human-caused global pollution and advanced instruments to deliver death, even the potential to exterminate all life on the planet.

Science has not only enabled us to understand our possibly singular place in the Universe; science also has helped us master the capability to make Earth just one more barren rock floating through space.

That risk of ending the extraordinary run of luck experienced by those relatively few molecules that found their way onto Planet Earth and then into the bodies of human beings remains the greatest challenge of our time. Yet it is a challenge that is often treated cavalierly, as something to be ignored or even taunted, as politicians, pundits and pretend patriots push the human race toward endless war, daring the chance that one side or another might take the extra step and unleash nuclear conflagration in some ultimate game of chicken.

Journalism’s Role

In my life’s role as a journalist, I have always believed that ignorance presents the greatest danger for humanity touching off such a cosmic catastrophe. Sometimes the ignorance can be self-imposed by people not wanting to know facts that make them uncomfortable or that contest what they have been trained to believe. Other times, the ignorance is imposed from the outside as propaganda to manipulate a population into a desired response, usually to get in line behind some warmongering leader.

Though there’s not much a journalist can do about the first type of ignorance besides making reliable information available and hoping that people will open their eyes to it the most daunting and crucial professional challenge is to pierce through the second kind of ignorance, the intentional twisting of reality to elicit a dangerous response from a population.

But success in countering propaganda has become increasingly difficult as its practitioners have become more sophisticated in their management and control of information and as their methods of disinformation delivery have grown more varied. Now, the false information can come from a dominant news outlet but also from an upstart Web site that has the look of independence but is actually bought and paid for by powerful interests.

Propaganda can come from entities of the Right, the Left or the Center. It is hard, if not impossible, to know who to trust and who is reliable. That is why I have always tried to stay true to the bedrock principles of journalism, precepts as basic as “show, don’t tell,” laying out the information in a way so the reader is enlightened but also can draw his or her own conclusion. Stories should be engaging, not lecturing.

After all, despite journalism’s sometimes lofty goals empowering the people so they can make democracy work or act to prevent unnecessary killing and suffering journalism is fundamentally a pedestrian profession. It is the job of assembling facts and applying common sense to those facts. And, there must be no preference for one outcome over another, just a commitment to figure out what happened as best you can. Or, put differently, you might say: “I don’t care what the truth is; I just care what the truth is.”

A journalist also should be humble, recognizing that something as grand as “truth” is rarely revealed. We almost always have to settle for a more limited understanding, though one that can keep expanding as more facts become available. The best we can usually do is give people an honest framework for understanding what is happening around them, even if it’s an imperfect or limited depiction.

But the more people understand about the realities of the world, the less vulnerable they are to the propagandists, those clever folks who disseminate ignorance in the superficial form of information and then use that ignorance to dominate the people. The true calling of a journalist is to give the people as many facts as possible and thus the tools to detect and negate the propaganda.

All this goes to the overriding principle that there is nothing more important to a democracy than an informed electorate and to the counterpoint that the most effective way to defeat democracy is to misinform the people. And, as the world hurtles toward more and more wars and ever worsening crises, there may be nothing more important than exposing the lies, exaggerations and prejudices that undergird most conflicts.

As President John F. Kennedy said in perhaps his finest speech at American University on June 10, 1963 “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

In an age of environmental fragility and nuclear dangers, the human race must finally recognize its common interests and cooperate in the common cause of averting unnecessary chaos and conflict. We must in the end realize that we are among the luckiest molecules in the Universe and act accordingly.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




The West Snubs Russia over V-E Day

Exclusive: Last year’s U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine followed by violence and tensions has soured plans for the May 9 commemoration in Moscow of World War II’s V-E Day, the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany, a war which cost the Russian people nearly 27 million dead, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern describes.

By Ray McGovern

The controversy over alleged Russian “aggression” in Ukraine is already raining on the Kremlin parade with which Russia will mark the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Adolf Hitler and the Nazis on May 9. U.S. President Barack Obama set the tone by turning down the Kremlin’s invitation to take part in the celebration, and allies in Western Europe have been equally uncouth in saying No.

The fanfare on Red Square will be a “Last Hurrah” for most surviving World War II veterans, since few are likely to be able to be there for the 75th or 80th anniversaries. Though I was only five years old on V-E Day marking the victory in Europe I was delighted to receive an invitation to go to Russia this week for a smaller-scale celebration marking an equally important 70th anniversary April 25, 1945, the historic day on which U.S. and Russian troops met at the Elbe River.

On V-E Day, which came a couple of weeks later on May 9, 1945, I recall the thundering celebration as one of my most vivid early memories. So I find it a particular shame that for this year’s 70th anniversary the usual thunderclaps of applause will be muted.

Tragically divided once again by hate, greed, and power-lust, Europe lies in the shadow of war, as the violence percolating in Ukraine threatens to result in wider, more open military intervention from outside. Equally sad, responsibility for the turmoil in Ukraine lies mostly at the doorstep of Washington. Worse still for one who normally pretends to understand what drives foreign policy, how shall I explain to my hosts what lies behind U.S. actions in central Europe, when try as I may to come up with cogent explanations that make some sense the reasons elude me.

For those who may find my straightforward allocation of blame surprising, do not feel you must rely on me (although I have been watching what happens in Russia and Europe for half a lifetime). I strongly recommend the trenchant insights of John Mearsheimer, pre-eminent political science professor at the University of Chicago, and professor Stephen F. Cohen of Princeton and New York University, a distinguished Russianist who has been a Kremlin watcher even longer than I have.

Last fall, a year into the burgeoning troubles in Ukraine, Mearsheimer stunned those who had been misled by hate-Putin propaganda when he placed an article in the Very-Establishment journal Foreign Affairs entitled “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault,” and more recently followed up with a more recent op-ed entitled “Don’t Arm Ukraine.”

As for Professor Cohen, if you have not already done so, please take the time to read his recent “Why We Must Return to the US-Russian Parity Principle: the Choice is Either a New Détente or a More Perilous Cold War.” and his earlier “Patriotic Heresy vs. the New Cold War.”

You will emerge from that reading far better educated on the realities than those malnourished on the thin gruel of the co-opted corporate media, which unashamedly are well into a redux of their familiar drum-beating to send people from our poverty draft merrily off to war. And for extra credit, I highly recommend veteran journalist Patrick L. Smith’s recent interview of Professor Cohen, Part 1 of which Salon has published under the title “The New York Times Basically Rewrites Whatever the Kiev Authorities Say.”

Some Visitors to Moscow

U.S. leaders along with its foreign “vassals” as Russian President Vladimir Putin has called them have responded to the Kremlin’s invitations to the V-E celebration with “regrets.” Not so Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose plan to come for the anniversary observance was announced in January. The President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, will also take part.  Signs of the times.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has devised a compromise. So as not to appear to be breaking ranks with other “vassals,” she will shun the parade but will travel to Moscow on May 10 to lay a wreath at a war memorial. The U.S. will be represented by U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft.

It may be difficult for history-starved Americans to understand why it should be that most Russians react so negatively to what they regard as something more serious than a mere gratuitous snub. From watching Russian media one gets the clear impression that veterans and most men/women-on-the-street view the boycott as more serious than a petulant slight but rather as a supreme indignity.

For example, during Putin’s four-hour TV tour de force Q&A with Russian citizens on April 16, one questioner said the world leaders who boycott the celebration “insult the memory of war veterans of the Red Army. … We liberated them out of that Nazi plague, or they would still be shouting ‘Heil!’”

And a retired colonel, who fought in the five-month-long, pivotal World War II battle of Stalingrad as a 19-year-old battery commander, had this to say: “In the first years of the war, the Red Army, our people, were fighting all of Europe singlehandedly. … Yes, we had allies, but they opened the second front too late.”

Putin replied with a mix of condescension and feigned understanding: “Some simply do not want to go, but some are not being allowed to go by the ‘Washington apparatchiks,’ who say, ‘No way.’ And they say, ‘We won’t go,’ although many would like to come.”

Putin then underscored what he sees as the importance of the anniversary observance: “We pay tribute to a generation of victors. We do this so that the present generation, both here and abroad, never forgets about this and never allows anything like this to happen again.”

But what about those aging Russian veterans claiming the lion’s share of credit for defeating Germany? Do they exaggerate?

The Facts

As journalist Martin Sieff keeps pointing out, the current crop of young Americans and Russians has grown up fairly ignorant of how crucially important the Grand Alliance of WWII was to the survival of both their great nations, but all serious Western historians recognize that the Russian people made the greatest sacrifices. The nearly 27 million total of Soviet military and civilian dead was more than twice the death toll of all Americans, Britons, Commonwealth citizens, French and even Germans killed in the war combined.

None other than British War Premier Winston Churchill publicly acknowledged, “It was the Red Army that tore the guts out of the Wehrmacht.” Over 80 percent of the German soldiers killed in World War II died fighting the Red Army.

These facts have been largely forgotten on both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States and Western Europe. At next month’s anniversary observance, pity the squandering of such an excellent opportunity to remind the world that there is strength in unity.

It is altogether understandable, of course, that at the end of WWII, many Europeans looked at their liberation by the Red Army with very mixed emotions. To begin with, in central Europe, liberation was followed by decades of Soviet occupation with harsh rule by Kremlin-installed satraps. So V-E has always been regarded there with considerable ambiguity.

In his extended Q & A on April 16, Putin made an unusual allusion to that dark period in addressing “the ugly nature of the Stalin regime” and the reaction that persists to this day. He conceded: “[It] “may not be very pleasant for us to admit. But in truth, we, or rather our predecessors, gave cause for this. Why? Because after World War II, we tried to impose our own development model on many Eastern European countries, and we did so by force.

“This has to be admitted. There is nothing good about this and we are feeling the consequences now. Incidentally, this is more or less what the Americans are doing today, as they try to impose their model on practically the entire world, and they will fail as well.”

More Recent History

The Ukraine crisis and other circumstances now clouding the May 9 celebration are perhaps the inevitable consequence of another lost opportunity, the chance for an enduring peace in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. That hope was squandered by Western leaders who reneged on earlier promises to welcome a very new kind of Russia into European security arrangements, as the Soviet empire fell apart.

In sum, instead of President George H. W. Bush’s 1990-91 vision of a “Europe whole and free” from Portugal to the Ural mountains, the world got the “Wolfowitz doctrine” of 1992 embodied in the draft Defense Policy Guidance drafted by then-Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.”

While George H. W. Bush softened the rhetoric, the Wolfowitz approach did become the core principle of a “We-Won-the-Cold-War” triumphalist policy, with which Bush the Elder, Bill Clinton and Bush the Younger went back on the elder’s promise “not to take advantage” of the fall of the USSR and not to paint Russia as the big loser.

During an interview late last year, former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev reminisced about what could have been: “I remember the Paris Summit in 1990. Europe offered an example of how to build … a new relationship. The Americans and Bush senior, talked about it. And I spoke about it. … And one wonders how people can object to their own decisions.

“It all began with the fact that the United States suddenly started talking about the creation of a ‘new empire.’ An over-empire, a super-empire. Alas, God and fate had put the task before them. Yes, they thought their moment had come.”

Despite promises by top U.S., German and NATO leaders not to move NATO to the east of a reunited Germany (which joined NATO in 1990), 12 new members all of them to the east subsequently joined, bringing total NATO membership to 28. Worse still from Moscow’s point of view, a NATO summit meeting in Bucharest declared on April 3, 2008:  “We agreed that these countries (Ukraine and Georgia) will become members of NATO.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had sternly warned U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns two months earlier that the Russians would say a loud NYET to that. They did. Accordingly, it should have come as no surprise that the Russians decided that the U.S.-arranged coup d’état of Feb. 22, 2014, in Kiev was one “regime change” too many.

I have watched many government overthrows oops, sorry, the present term of art is “regime change” but the way this coup was advertised in advance, for me, that was a first. The key U.S. dramatis personae Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. ambassador in Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt had been overheard plotting the coup more than two weeks before Feb. 22 in an intercepted telephone conversation that was posted on YouTube. George Friedman, head of the well-connected STRATFOR think tank, has said, “It truly was the most blatant coup in history.”

Annexation of Crimea

What prompted the Kremlin’s strong reaction? Was it the coup d’état on Moscow’s doorstep or the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO or the risk of losing Russia’s only warm-water naval port to NATO or was it concern over U.S. plans for missile defense? The correct answer, of course, is all-of-the-above; indeed, they are inextricably linked.

Putin has been very upfront about what moved him to action on Feb. 23, 2014, the day AFTER the putsch in Kiev. By the way, there is not one scintilla of evidence that either Putin or any other Russian leader planned to annex Crimea BEFORE the Feb. 22, 2014 coup.

After the Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to be rejoined to Russia, Putin permitted himself a somewhat jocular passage following a serious one, in addressing this very serious missile issue in a speech on March 18, 2014. to the Russian Duma and other officials at the Kremlin:

“Let me note too that we have already heard declarations from Kiev about Ukraine soon joining NATO. What would this have meant for Crimea and [the naval base at] Sevastopol in the future? It would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city of Russia’s military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia. These are things that could have become reality were it not for the choice the Crimean people made, and I want to say thank you to them for this.

“NATO remains a military alliance, and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory. I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round.”

Putin has not disguised Moscow’s motives regarding the annexing of Crimea. This, for example, is what he said on April 17, 2014, during last year’s marathon Q & A on live TV:

“I’ll use this opportunity to say a few words about our talks on missile defense. This issue is no less, and probably even more important, than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this.” (emphasis added)

Clear enough? In Putin’s eyes, missile defense systems in European countries near Russia and in adjacent waters would pose an existential threat to the forces upon which Russia relies as a deterrent. In recent weeks, several top Russian national security officials have weighed in strongly on this issue.

This is not only a mark of their genuine strategic concern; Russian leaders also see it as increasingly difficult, in present circumstances, for the U.S. to justify a European missile defense system by using the same paper-thin rationale that such is needed to defend against missile attack from Iran.

During an interview on April 18, Putin again drew attention to George W. Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 a key anchor for deterrence. Putin listed it high on the list of serious problems with the U.S.

(On Dec. 13, 2001, President George W. Bush gave Russia notice of the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, in accordance with the clause that required six months’ notice before terminating the pact. This was the first time in recent history that the United States has withdrawn from a major international arms treaty.)

Speaking the day before at an International Security Conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov insisted on the need for “joint efforts based on respect for the legitimate interests of all partners,” if peace is to be preserved. He, too, focused on the U.S. missile defense programs as the primary cause of concern:

“Ground-based missile defense systems will be deployed in Romania this year and in Poland by 2018. More ships with missile defense systems are being deployed. We perceive all this as part of a global project that is creating risks for Russia’s strategic deterrence forces and upsetting regional security balances.

“If the global missile defense program continues to be implemented without any adjustments, even as talks on the Iranian nuclear program are making headway, … then the specific motives for establishing the European missile defense system will become obvious for everyone.”

Lavrov was more soft-spoken than the official statement issued by his own ministry a week before on April 10. That statement quoted President Obama’s public assurance in a speech in Prague in April 2009 about how the elimination of the “Iranian threat” would also eliminate the main reason for the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement adds: “Against this background, the statements that ‘the missile defense program is not directed against Russia’ look even less convincing.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he served as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, and was in Moscow for the signing of the ABM Treaty and other agreements concluded in May 1972. He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

 




Obama Tries His Hand at ‘Realism’

President Obama is what might be called a “closet realist” who often pounds his fists upon the table while shaking hands under the table. He has to pull off this trick because of America’s ugly partisan realities, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Edward Luce in the Financial Times has a take on Barack Obama’s foreign policy that is accurate and should be evident to all. But given the state of foreign policy discourse within American politics, perhaps it is not surprising that it falls to a longtime foreign observer of American policy and politics to make this particular observation.

Luce states that as Mr. Obama’s presidency “matures,” he “is showing qualities one would normally associate with Henry Kissinger,the arch-realist of U.S. diplomacy.” Luce points to Obama’s handling of relations with both Iran and Cuba as evidence that he “is grasping the essence of diplomacy, when adversaries come to terms, neither achieves everything they want,” and that he realizes that “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.”

Luce focuses especially on the Middle East as a region where President Obama, without acknowledging it, “is taking a leaf from Mr. Kissinger’s book” by both pursuing a deal with Iran’s regime and simultaneously “stepping up support for its equally dubious counterparts in the Sunni world.”

It is a balance-of-power approach, in which the essence of the Obama administration’s policy in the region is: “Rather than trying to convert the Middle East to our values, it seeks to limit the region’s ability to export its pathologies.”

That Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is in its main respects a sober, prudent, and mostly unoriginal, exercise of realism should be obvious but gets obscured by, most of all, the different colors with which his political opponents assiduously endeavor to paint it. The President is consistently portrayed as naive, or weak, or insufficiently assertive in advancing American values.

Or as Speaker of the House John Boehner said the other day about the nuclear negotiations with Iran (in comments in which Mr. Boehner made clear he wants to kill the deal outright, dropping the pretense that those on his side of the aisle want a “better deal”), “It just appears to me that the administration wants a deal at almost any cost.”

The groundless nature of that statement should be apparent to anyone who has looked at all seriously at the history of the negotiations, at what has been agreed to so far, and at who has had to make what concessions to get to this point.

The obscuring of the nature of the current administration’s foreign policy also has other roots, including ones that do not necessarily involve the President’s opponents. There has been talk about an “Obama doctrine,” reflecting a perpetual yearning among the chattering class in this country to apply such labels and to characterize each presidential administration in unique terms that would warrant such a label. Apply the label if you want, but it implies more uniqueness than is really there.

It is more boring, but also more accurate in characterizing the current administration’s policies, to describe it as guided mostly by realist principles that have been applied not just by Henry Kissinger but many others in the past.

Among those principles are that U.S. policy should be focused consistently on the most effective ways of pursuing carefully defined U.S. national interests, that the world must be dealt with as it really is and not as we might wish it to be, that in pursuing its interests the United States must use all available tools and deal with all other countries, and that compromise is inevitable and perfection impossible. Unexciting stuff, but wise stuff.

The widespread failure to recognize, with regard to this stuff, both what the Obama administration has been doing and what any administration ought to be doing is a sad comment on the state of foreign policy discourse in the United States today (and Luce notes that the realist strand in Mr. Obama’s policy “goes heavily against the grain of the debate in Washington”).

This discourse takes place in an environment in which sound and unexciting realism cannot be accepted for what it is without being dressed up with a snazzier label, and in which policies based on such realism get denigrated as weak or unprincipled or something else.

The political environment in which the discourse takes place is one in which the foreign policy of one of the major parties, which now controls the Congress, has been captured by neoconservatism, with a libertarian minority and a realist remnant, reflecting a tradition once represented by Mr. Kissinger and his boss, President Richard Nixon, that is an even smaller minority.

The other major party, as a political beast separate from the Obama administration, has been having a hard time finding its foreign policy bearings amid a nationwide rightward shift. The Democrats seem likely to put up a presidential candidate who is substantially more hawkish than the party’s rank-and-file, and many members seem less inclined to assert proudly any realist tradition than merely to limit the ability of the other side of the political spectrum to export its pathologies.

The political power of American exceptionalism, of which neoconservatism is the most muscular manifestation, leaves little basis for expecting that any of this will change any time soon. Completion and implementation of a nuclear agreement with Iran would be a significant realist achievement very much in the tradition of, and Luce makes this comparison explicit, what Kissinger and Nixon did in their opening with China. But first the agreement must be completed and implemented, and anti-realist sentiment is keeping uncertain whether that will happen.

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




Making Unnecessary Enemies in Yemen

The Saudi-Israeli tandem is trying to pull the U.S. and other militaries into the Yemeni civil war by arguing that the Houthi rebels are Iranian proxies. But the reality is much more nuanced and the American interest may go in a different direction, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

A strong Manichean streak runs through American perceptions of the outside world.  That streak involves a habit of seeing all conflict and instability in binomial terms, a presumption that one of the perceived two sides is good and the other bad, and an urge to weigh in on the presumptively good side.

The influence that these tendencies have had on U.S. policy has varied over time. The influence was readily apparent, for example, during the George W. Bush administration’s days of “you’re either with us or with the terrorists.” The Obama administration has tried to move in a less Manichean and more realist direction, especially in conducting diplomacy with Iran and in so doing opening a door to a more fruitful all-azimuths diplomacy in the Middle East generally.

But the current administration still operates in a political environment in which the old perceptual habits set limits on what the administration can do, or perhaps push it into doing things it might not otherwise have done.

There have been ample demonstrations throughout the Middle East of how inaccurate and inapplicable the Manichean perspective is. There is Iraq, where the United States and the Iranian bête noire are on the same side in countering the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. There is the even more complicated deadly brawl in Syria, where the people who from the viewpoint of the West are the closest thing to good guys are opposing the same regime that also is opposed by ISIS and the local al-Qaeda affiliate.

At least as clear a lesson both in the fallacies of the Manichean perspective and the mistake of the United States taking sides in such conflicts is found in the current strife in Yemen. But the lesson does not seem to have been learned, as reflected in U.S. support for the Saudi military intervention in Yemen. Three major features of the conflict in Yemen are pertinent to that lesson.

One is that the conflict is at least as complicated and multidimensional as any others in the Middle East. It is impossible to draw a line that would put everyone worth supporting on one side and everyone worth opposing on the other, or even to come close to doing that.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, often considered the most capable Al-Qaeda affiliate today, is completely at odds with, and a confirmed enemy of, the Houthi forces who are the principal target of the U.S.-backed Saudi intervention. One of the most significant allies of the Houthis is Ali Abdullah Saleh, who for three decades was America’s guy as ruler of Yemen.

Second, this war is, as Adam Baron has put it, “by and large, an internal Yemeni political conflict” that “remains deeply rooted in local Yemeni issues.” This fact has been obscured by those who, intent on depicting Iran as a dangerous wide-ranging regional renegade, portray the Houthi rebellion as part of some Iranian expansionist plan. It is nothing of the sort.

The Houthis have been driven for years by grievances involving the distribution of resources and power within Yemen, and their more recent gains have mostly reflected the sympathy for those grievances among other Yemeni elements who have been similarly displeased and disadvantaged by the most recent Yemeni regimes.

Third, the motivations of outside actors intervening in this conflict are not ones that the United States ought to associate itself with. One set of motivations is sectarian. There is no advantage at all, and lots of disadvantage, for the United States to be seen identifying with one side or another in sectarian disputes within the Muslim world.

Another set of motivations, rooted in decades of Saudi-Yemeni strife dating back to when the expansion of the Saudi kingdom first led to seizure of traditionally Yemeni provinces and to lingering border disputes, involves a Saudi desire to exercise dominance over the Arabian Peninsula and in particular this part of it.

Graham Fuller observes, “Riyadh has always loathed Yemeni feistiness, independence, its revolutionary politics, and even its experiments with democracy.”

The Saudis publicly play up the Iranian angle, but what they really don’t like about the Houthis is that they haven’t been able to buy off the Houthis as effectively as they have many other Yemeni elements. The Saudi objective of maintaining this kind of overlordship over its neighbors is also not an interest that the United States shares.

And yet the urge to take sides and intervene persists, as reflected in recent remarks about the Yemeni case by John McCain. The urge pays insufficient heed either to what is in U.S. interests or to what is effective. McCain asserted that the Saudis did not seek advance coordination with the United States concerning their intervention “because they believe we are siding with Iran.”

Actually, according to a senior officer at U.S. Central Command, “The reason the Saudis didn’t inform us of their plans is because they knew we would have told them exactly what we think, that it was a bad idea.”

We know that the Obama administration is feeling the need these days to appear supportive of the Gulf Arabs because of angst related to the impending nuclear agreement with Iran. And if catering to that angst is one of the prices that has to be paid to get the agreement and, through it, to get closer to liberating U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East from rigid side-taking in the future, then this policy may turn out to be on balance worthwhile.

But the Yemeni conflict itself still ought to serve as a lesson in the multiple reasons the United States would be better off to resist its side-taking urge.

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




How Ukraine Commemorates the Holocaust

Exclusive: Pundit Thomas Friedman says the new Ukraine regime “shares our values” but as much of the world marked the 70th anniversary of the Nazi Holocaust finally being ended by Russian and U.S. armies politicians in Kiev were busy honoring Ukraine’s Nazi collaborators, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The U.S.-backed Ukrainian government came up with a curious way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust being brought to an end. The parliament in Kiev voted to extend official recognition to Ukrainian fascists who collaborated with the Nazis in killing Jews.

Though Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media continue to dutifully ignore the key role played by neo-Nazis in Ukraine’s February 2014 coup and in the post-coup regime’s subsequent military offensives against ethnic Russians in the east, Ukrainian politicians can’t stop their arms from snapping into Heil Hitler salutes like the fictional character Dr. Strangelove. They can’t hold back this reflex even as the world stopped this week to recall the Nazi barbarity that claimed the lives of some six million Jews as well as other minorities.

On April 9, the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill making the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army eligible for official government recognition, a demand that has been pushed by Ukraine’s current neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist movements, the same forces that spearheaded the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and then the slaughter of thousands of ethnic Russians who resisted the new order.

Ukraine’s honor-the-Nazi-collaborators vote came amid increased repression of opposition politicians and journalists who dare to criticize the U.S.-backed regime as it moves to repudiate the political settlement envisioned by February’s Minsk-2 agreement and instead prepares for a resumption of the war to crush the resistance in eastern Ukraine once and for all. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s ‘Poison Pill’ for Peace Talks.”]

Emergence of ‘Death Squads’

Over the past several months, there have been about ten mysterious deaths of opposition figures some that the government claimed to be suicides while others were clearly murders. It now appears that pro-government “death squads” are operating with impunity in Kiev.

On Wednesday, Oleg Kalashnikov, a political leader of the opposition Party of Regions, was shot to death in his home. Kalashnikov had been campaigning for the right of Ukrainians to celebrate the Allied victory in World War II, a gesture that infuriated some western Ukrainian neo-Nazis who identify with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich and who now feel they have the current government in their corner.

On Thursday, unidentified gunmen murdered Ukrainian journalist Oles Buzina, a regime critic who had protested censorship being imposed on news outlets that didn’t toe the government’s propaganda line. Buzina had been denounced by a pro-regime “journalistic” outfit which operated under the Orwellian name “Stop Censorship” and demanded that Buzina be banned from making media appearances because he was “an agent of the Kremlin.”

This week, another dissident journalist Serhiy Sukhobok was reportedly killed in Kiev, amid sketchy accounts that his assailants may have been caught although the Ukrainian government has withheld details.

These deaths are mostly ignored by the mainstream U.S. news media or are mentioned only in briefs with the victims dismissed as “pro-Russian.” After all, these “death squad” activities, which have also been occurring in government-controlled sections of eastern Ukraine, conflict with the preferred State Department narrative of the Kiev regime busy implementing “democratic reforms.”

But many of those “democratic reforms” amount to slashing old-age pensions, removing worker protections, and hiking the price of heating fuel as demanded by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a $17.5 billion bailout for Ukraine’s collapsing financial structure.

Similarly, the decision by the Ukrainian parliament to bend to the demands of neo-Nazi and other ultra-right groups to honor Ukraine’s World War II fascists is also downplayed or ignored by the major U.S. media.

The Holocaust in Ukraine

During World War II, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, an offshoot of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, collaborated with the Nazis in their orgy of mass murder against Jews, Poles and other minority groups. The UIA also joined with the Nazis in fighting against the Soviet Union’s Red Army, although some UIA elements did ultimately turn against the Germans over their occupation of Ukraine.

Ukraine was the site of several major Holocaust atrocities including the infamous massacre at Babi Yar in Kiev, where local Ukrainian fascists worked alongside the Nazi SS in funneling tens of thousands of Jews to a ravine where they were slaughtered and buried.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned Ukraine’s recognition of the UIA as well as a second bill that equated Communist and Nazi crimes.

“The passage of a ban on Nazism and Communism equates the most genocidal regime in human history with the regime which liberated Auschwitz and helped end the reign of terror of the Third Reich,” said Wiesenthal Center director for Eastern European Affairs Dr. Efraim Zuroff, adding:

“In the same spirit the decision to honor local Nazi collaborators and grant them special benefits turns Hitler’s henchmen into heroes despite their active and zealous participation in the mass murder of innocent Jews. These attempts to rewrite history, which are prevalent throughout post-Communist Eastern Europe, can never erase the crimes committed by Nazi collaborators in these countries, and only proves that they clearly lack the Western values which they claim to have embraced upon their transition to democracy.”

Not Seeing Nazis

Despite propaganda efforts by the Obama administration and the major U.S. news media to play down western Ukraine’s legacy of Nazi collaboration, one of the heroes honored during the Maidan protests, which led to the Feb. 22, 2014 coup, was Stepan Bandera, an OUN leader who worked with the Nazis before falling out with them over issues of Ukrainian independence.

After spearheading the 2014 coup, the neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist militias from western Ukraine were enlisted as the shock troops to attack ethnic Russian cities in eastern Ukraine, which had been the political base for ousted President Yanukovych. Even though some of those militias sported Swastikas and SS symbols, the mainstream U.S. news media either ignored those inconvenient realities or acknowledged them in the final paragraphs of long stories. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]

The recognition of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army was demanded last October by Ukraine’s right-wing and neo-Nazi groups, including the Svoboda party and the Right Sektor, which surrounded the parliament in Kiev with 8,000 protesters.

At that time, with U.S. officials sensitive to the image of the Ukrainian government caving in to rioters carrying neo-Nazi banners, the legislation was defeated. However, in recent weeks with the Kiev leadership leaning more heavily on the neo-Nazis and other ultra-nationalists to carry out the war against ethnic Russians in the east, more concessions are being made to the extremists.

Lurches to the Right

These lurches to the right have again been largely ignored by the mainstream U.S. media, which continues to blame the ethnic Russians for not submitting to the post-coup regime in Kiev and to demonize Russian President Vladimir Putin as the supposed instigator of all the trouble.

But the Jerusalem Post noted, “While Jewish worries over anti-Semitism have been on the back burner due to the war [in Ukraine], several recent developments have shown that antipathy toward Jews, or at least indifference toward such attitudes when held by important military or political figures, still exists in Ukraine.

“Last November Jewish organizations expressed their displeasure when it was disclosed that the newly appointed police chief for the Ukrainian province in which Kiev is located came under fire after it was alleged that he had past ties with a neo-Nazi organization.”

The Jerusalem Post also took note of the Kiev regime’s recent appointment of right-wing extremist Dimitri Jarosch, who organized many of the fighters behind the February 2014 putsch, to be an official adviser to the army leadership.

The larger historical context is that Nazism has been deeply rooted in western Ukraine since World War II, especially in cities like Lviv, where a cemetery to the veterans of the Galician SS, a Ukrainian affiliate of the Nazi SS, is maintained. These old passions were brought to the surface again in the battle to oust Yanukovych and sever historic ties to Russia.

The muscle behind the U.S.-backed Maidan protests against Yanukovych came from neo-Nazi militias trained in western Ukraine, organized into 100-man brigades and bused to Kiev. After the coup, neo-Nazi leader Andriy Parubiy, who was commander of the Maidan “self-defense forces,” was elevated to national security chief and soon announced that the Maidan militia forces would be incorporated into the National Guard and sent to eastern Ukraine to fight ethnic Russians resisting the coup.

As the U.S. government and media cheered on this “anti-terrorist operation,” the neo-Nazis and other right-wing battalions engaged in brutal street fighting against Russian ethnic rebels. Only occasionally did this nasty reality slip into the major U.S. news media. For instance, an Aug. 10, 2014 article in the New York Times mentioned the neo-Nazi paramilitaries at the end of a lengthy story on another topic.

“The fighting for Donetsk has taken on a lethal pattern: The regular army bombards separatist positions from afar, followed by chaotic, violent assaults by some of the half-dozen or so paramilitary groups surrounding Donetsk who are willing to plunge into urban combat,” the Times reported.

“Officials in Kiev say the militias and the army coordinate their actions, but the militias, which count about 7,000 fighters, are angry and, at times, uncontrollable. One known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Discovers Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis at War.”]

Meeting the Nazis

The conservative London Telegraph offered more details about the Azov battalion in an article by correspondent Tom Parfitt, who wrote: “Kiev’s use of volunteer paramilitaries to stamp out the Russian-backed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ should send a shiver down Europe’s spine.

“Recently formed battalions such as Donbas, Dnipro and Azov, with several thousand men under their command, are officially under the control of the interior ministry but their financing is murky, their training inadequate and their ideology often alarming. The Azov men use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites.”

Based on interviews with militia members, the Telegraph reported that some of the fighters doubted the reality of the Holocaust, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and acknowledged that they are indeed Nazis.

Andriy Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” according to the Telegraph article which quoted a commentary by Biletsky as declaring: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

In other words, for the first time since World War II, a government had dispatched Nazi storm troopers to attack a European population and officials in Kiev knew what they were doing. The Telegraph questioned Ukrainian authorities in Kiev who acknowledged that they were aware of the extremist ideologies of some militias but insisted that the higher priority was having troops who were strongly motivated to fight. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ignoring Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]

Since the coup, the New York Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets have decried any recognition of the significant neo-Nazi presence in Ukraine as “Russian propaganda.” So, Ukraine’s new initiative to honor Nazi collaborators in legislation coinciding with the commemoration of the end of the Holocaust also must be ignored.

The pro-coup propaganda in the U.S. media has been so pervasive that a powerful “group think” took hold with the Kiev regime revered as white-hatted “good guys,” certainly not brown-shirted neo-Nazis. Or as the New York Times’ dimwitted foreign policy pundit Thomas L. Friedman declared in a column earlier this year, the new leaders of Ukraine “share our values.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.