Slouching Down a March of Folly

The threats from Turkey and Saudi Arabia to mount a full-scale invasion of Syria create the potential for a modern-day “march of folly” into World War III by drawing NATO and the U.S. into a direct military confrontation with Russia and Iran, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

The centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of World War I elicited comparisons between the circumstances of the European crisis that touched off that horrendous conflict and conditions that surround current international conflicts. Many such comparisons focused on how confrontations involving an increasingly assertive China might spin out of control.

Graham Allison, for example, wrote of how a possible confrontation in the East China Sea involving Japan could carry such a danger. A rising China throwing its increasing weight around the Far East does indeed offer some of the most plausible scenarios for escalation of local crises into much bigger war. But so does the multifaceted civil war in Syria, as underscored by some of the most recent developments in the northwest of that country.

The prospect of the Syrian conflict remaining unsettled for years and thus providing many opportunities for it to grow into something bigger is the starting point for spinning out escalatory scenarios. But some more specific attributes of that conflict have greater and more disturbing similarities to the 1914 crisis.

One is the multiplicity of players, from outside as well as inside Syria and the region, who perceive themselves as having a stake in the conflict. That perception is fuel for possible escalation. Atop a recent article describing the diverse players participating in fighting in Syria’s Aleppo province, the Washington Post used a headline about a “mini world war” there.

Related to the perceptions about stakes is the tendency to view the war in Syria as part of a larger conflict between large coalitions. This view amplifies the perceived stakes ever further and also brings into play a sense of obligation to friends and allies. The line-ups relevant to the Syria conflict actually are messier and more complicated than that, but they often have come to be treated as if the line-ups were as well defined as the Entente and the Central Powers at the start of World War I.

The outlook involved is readily apparent in the tendency in the United States to see anything that Russia or Iran is doing in Syria as by definition contrary to U.S. interests, whether it actually is or not.

The most disturbing correspondence with the situation in Europe a century ago is the active role played by second-order powers that have become obsessed with the local outcome in Syria, are driven partly by internal political neuroses, and are positioned to drag more deeply into the conflict major powers from which they demand support. This description applies to two second-order powers in particular.

One is Saudi Arabia. Its policies are being made by the latest claimants to leadership in an archaic family-run enterprise that is trying to throw its own regional weight around and feels obliged to assert forcefully the Sunni cause in sectarian conflicts. The overthrow of Bashar Assad has become an idée fixe for the Saudi regime, at the cost of exacerbation of the conflict in Syria and ignoring or exacerbating the problems of Sunni extremism there.

Recently the Saudis have talked about upping the external involvement in the conflict even more, with an insistence that the United States lead the way in doing so.

The other player that has become a major problem in Syria is Turkey. A few years ago Turkey looked like more of a solution than a problem in the Middle East. But that has changed.

A formerly promising effort to deal constructively with Turkey’s perpetual Kurdish issue has died, and the current top Turkish obsession is to oppose the activities of armed Syrian Kurds, although most of what those fighters have been doing in the Syrian war is favorable as far as U.S. interests are concerned.

The megalomania and domestic political frustrations of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have led to greater Turkish risk-taking, as demonstrated by the shooting down of a Russian warplane that had incidentally strayed for only seconds into Turkish airspace. The potential for Turkey dragging the United States into bigger trouble is made all the greater by its status as a party to the North Atlantic Treaty. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently stated, “The only thing we expect from our U.S. ally is to support Turkey with no ifs or buts.”

Assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne lit the match that led to the great conflagration that was World War I. Terrorism also could play a role in escalation of the Syrian mess, and not only because of the major part that ISIS plays in that mess. Instructive in that regard is a recent bombing against a military convoy in Ankara that killed 28 people. Turkish authorities insist that the Syrian Kurdish militia that has been fighting in northwest Syria was responsible, although that militia strongly denies any involvement and a completely separate Kurdish group in Turkey has claimed responsibility.

We on the outside are left to guess, but this affair sounds a lot like the Turkish government manipulating attributions of responsibility to try to support its campaign to oppose the Syrian Kurds.

The Turkish-Russian line of conflict, which underlay multiple Russo-Turkish wars across several centuries, could be at the center of escalation and expansion of the Syrian conflict. If so, there would be shades again of World War I, in which the Russian and Ottoman Empires were on opposite sides.

If the Syrian conflict were to escalate and expand greatly, it would not be because any one player intended that to happen. What happened in 1914 was not intended either.

The tragic possibilities would involve lesser steps leading to unforeseen larger results. Nor would catastrophic escalation require us now to foresee and spell out in advance a particular scenario for that happening.

Allison wrote in his piece two years ago, “Claims that war is ‘inconceivable’ are not statements about what is possible in the world, but rather, about what our limited minds can conceive.” Perhaps relevant in this regard is that the leader of one of the major players involved, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has shown himself to be a better short-term tactician than a long-term strategist.

A repeat of 1914 and the outbreak of another Great War is very unlikely. But it is a risk. Even small risks need to be taken account of in policy-making if the risked contingency would be extremely harmful. Remember Dick Cheney’s “One Percent Doctrine”? The outbreak of another Great War would be many times more harmful than somebody’s unconventional weapons program.

Taking account of this or any other risk should not be the sole consideration as far as policy decisions are concerned. This is one factor among many.

In the case of Syria, this risk is an additional reason among other reasons, including avoiding lesser harms and curtailing the human suffering from the war, to work to deescalate and defuse rather than to escalate and expand. It is a reason to give high priority to efforts to secure cease-fires and to realize that tamping down this still-local war is more important than prosecuting the war to obtain a particular local result.

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.)

Kosovo Chaos Undercuts Clinton ‘Success’

Exclusive: President Bill Clinton’s Kosovo war of 1999 was loved by neocons and liberal hawks the forerunner for Iraq, Libya, Syria and other conflicts this century but Kosovo’s political violence and lawlessness today underscore the grim consequences of those strategies even when they “succeed,” writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

The insatiable appetite of America’s bipartisan foreign policy elites for military intervention, despite its record of creating failing states in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, traces back to the marriage of liberal and neoconservative interventionists during the Clinton administration’s 78-day bombing of Serbia to create the break-away state of Kosovo in 1999.

One scholar-advocate has called NATO’s campaign “The most important precedent supporting the legitimacy of unilateral humanitarian intervention.” Even Sen. Bernie Sanders was proud to support that use of American power, ostensibly “to prevent further genocide.”

But Kosovo, which is still not recognized as an independent state by nearly half of all UN members, and which still relies on 4,600 NATO troops to maintain order, is hardly a showcase for the benefits of military intervention. With an unemployment rate of 35 percent, Kosovo is wracked by persistent outbreaks of terrorism, crime, and political violence.

Following a series of violent street protests and wild disruptions of parliament, the leader of the radical nationalist party, Vetëvendosje, announced on Feb. 19, “This regime is now is in its final days. They will not last long.”

That day, members of Vetëvendosje set off tear gas cannisters in parliament and tussled with police in the latest of their many protests against an agreement reached by the government last summer to grant limited powers to the country’s Serbian minority, in return for Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo. Opposition lawmakers also rail against endemic corruption and the country’s under-performing economy.

Two days earlier, at least 15,000 Kosovars gathered in the central square of Pristina, the country’s capital, to demand the government’s resignation. In January, thousands of protesters clashed with police, hurling Molotov cocktails, setting a major government building and armored police cars on fire, and wounding 24 police officers.

“The aim of this protest was to overthrow the government with violence,” the government said in a statement. The U.S. ambassador chimed in, “Political violence threatens democracy and all that Kosovo has achieved since independence.”

This violence gets little attention from the American media in part because, unlike the Ukrainian demonstrators who overthrew their democratically elected government in 2014, Kosovo’s protesters are targeting a pro-Western government that eagerly seeks membership in the European Union.

But it’s no wonder that Kosovo’s political fabric is so rent by violent confrontations. The rump state was created by a violent secessionist movement led by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). That guerrilla band of Albanian nationalists was covertly backed by the German secret service to weaken Serbia. Its terrorist attacks on Serbian villages and government personnel in the mid-1990s prompted a brutal military crackdown by Serbia, followed by NATO’s decisive intervention in 1999.

During the fighting the KLA drove tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs from Kosovo as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign to promote independence for the majority Albanian population. It recruited Islamist militants, including followers of Osama Bin Laden, from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan and other countries.

President Bill Clinton’s special envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, called the KLA “without any question, a terrorist group,” and a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder added, “most of its activities were funded by drug running.”

None of that, however, stopped Washington from embracing the KLA’s cause against Serbia, a policy spearheaded by the liberal interventionist First Lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Without authorization from the United Nations, NATO began bombing Serbia in March 1999, killing some 500 civilians, demolishing billions of dollars’ worth of industrial plants, bridges, schools, libraries and hospitals, and even hitting the Chinese embassy. (“It should be lights out in Belgrade,” demanded New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. “Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted. Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation.”)

Following Serbia’s capitulation, according to Human Rights Watch, “elements of the KLA” engaged in “widespread and systematic burning and looting of homes belonging to Serbs, Roma, and other minorities and the destruction of Orthodox churches and monasteries. This destruction was combined with harassment and intimidation designed to force people from their homes and communities. By late-2000 more than 210,000 Serbs had fled the province . . . The desire for revenge provides a partial explanation, but there is also a clear political goal in many of these attacks: the removal from Kosovo of non-ethnic Albanians in order to better justify an independent state.”

Former KLA leaders, including its political head Hashim Thaçi, went on to dominate the new Kosovo state. A 2010 report by the Council of Europe declared that Thaçi, who was then Kosovo’s prime minister, headed a “mafia-like” group that smuggled drugs, guns and human organs on a grand scale through Eastern Europe. The report’s author accused the international community of turning a blind eye while Thaçi’s group of KLA veterans engaged in “assassinations, detentions, beatings and interrogations” to maintain power and profit from their criminal activities.

Prime Minister Thaçi and the Kosovo government strenuously denied the allegations and succeeded for years in resisting accountability. Their American friends were eager to put the past behind as well. In 2012, Madeleine Albright and a former Clinton special envoy to the Balkans bid to take control of the country’s state-owned telecommunications company despite widespread allegations of corruption, the attempted assassination of the telecommunications regulatory chief, and the murder of the state privatization agency’s chief.

No one seemed immune from corruption. A study of the European Union’s own legal mission to Kosovo suggested that its members may have taken bribes to drop investigations of senior Kosovo politicians for rampant criminal activity.

In 2014, a three-year E.U. investigation concluded that “senior officials of the former Kosovo Liberation Army” should be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including “unlawful killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions in camps in Kosovo and Albania, sexual violence, other forms of inhumane treatment, forced displacements of individuals from their homes and communities, and desecration and destruction of churches and other religious sites.”

Under tough pressure from the United States and E.U., Kosovo’s parliament finally agreed last summer to permit a special court to prosecute former KLA leaders for war crimes. The court will begin operating this year in The Hague.

“The sad thing is that the United States and European countries knew 10 years ago that Thaçi and his men were engaged in drug smuggling and creating a mafia state,” said one European ambassador last year. “The attitude was, ‘He’s a bastard, but he’s our bastard.’”

Whether delayed justice will clean up Kosovo’s “mafia state,” and whether belated granting of rights to the Serbian minority will ease or aggravate Kosovo’s explosive ethnic tensions, remain to be seen. One thing’s for sure: a great many people have died in the name of this great “humanitarian intervention,” and many more are still suffering for it. Kosovo is no Libya or Syria, but neither is it any kind of showcase for the benefits of U.S. armed intervention.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]

KLA Country (A Forewarning from Kosovo)

From the Archive: President Clinton’s 1999 air war on Serbia supposedly to stop genocide in Kosovo became the model for neocon/liberal hawk “humanitarian” wars this century. But as Kosovo descends again into political violence the war also foreshadowed what can go wrong, as Don North reported in this prescient story from 1999.

By Don North (Originally published on Aug. 12, 1999)

Serbia was the NATO’s victory in Kosovo expelled the Serb military and stopped the brutal “ethnic cleansing” of the province’s Albanian majority. But in a post-war inspection, I found that the pro-Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army is quickly establishing itself as the real power on the ground, sowing the seeds for more violence and corruption ahead.

In effect, the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force emerged from hiding after the Serb withdrawal in June 1999 to claim the spoils of a war in which the KLA never won a battle. Ignoring commitments to disband as a military force, the KLA instead asserted its power by dividing the province into seven KLA regions. The KLA set up roadblocks in areas supposedly under the control of NATO’s “KFOR” occupation troops, a clear message to Serbs that the KLA was the province’s new master.

Since then, the KLA has been blamed for a new round of “ethnic cleansing,” a systematic campaign to transform Kosovo into an ethnic Albanian territory by terrorizing Serbs and Gypsies and driving them into exile. The revenge attacks have included mass murders, destruction of property and the razing of Serb religious shrines.

Even as 37,000 NATO peacekeepers fanned out across Kosovo, the scene on the ground suggested that little could be done to preserve Kosovo as a multi-ethnic home for both Serbs and Albanians. Tens of thousands of Serbs fled with the retreating Serb army and many others have left since the NATO troops arrived. The present Serb population may be fewer than 30,000, down from a pre-war estimate of about 200,000.

The emerging reality is far removed from President Bill Clinton’s soaring rhetoric about his hopes for a land free from “anyone who seeks to use racial, religious or ethnic differences to promote hatred.” From the moment I arrived in the provincial capital of Pristina on June 14, 1999, it was clear that Kosovo was headed in the opposite direction.

Like other provinces of the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo fast was becoming a place controlled by an intolerant ethnic organization seething with nationalism and revenge. In effect, NATO’s air war had created a new Albanian Republic of Kosovo to take its place beside the Balkans’ other ethnic territories: Croatian Bosnia, Muslim Bosnia and the Serb Republic.

NATO found the KLA militants willing to give lip service to the rules of the international occupation but grudging in their follow through, if not outright defiant. In some areas, Russian KFOR troops considered friendly to the Serbs — have come under sniper fire.

In the French-patrolled town of Mitrovica, about 50 miles north of Pristina, a KLA-backed mob stormed across a bridge toward a Serb neighborhood. The mob was pushed back by French troops, with one French soldier seriously injured. Angered by the failed march, KLA leader Hashim Thaci denounced the French troops as “undemocratic and arrogant.”

I witnessed another typical confrontation between a young KLA leader and a U.S. Army colonel in the small village of Kacanik, about 50 miles south of Pristina. The KLA had set up illegal checkpoints on the road, prompting Col. Joe Anderson of New York City, the 82nd Airborne commander in the area, to complain to the young KLA commander, Xhabir Zharku.

“I’ll make it simple for you,” Anderson declared. “If we find anymore checkpoints here, we’re going to apprehend your people. I’m telling you as commander in this zone, it’s not authorized. So we can do it easy or do it hard. But the next checkpoint we come across of any kind, we will apprehend your people. Understand what I’m saying?”

But Xhabir Zharku appeared unfazed by Anderson’s threat. Sitting behind a large desk under the red Albanian flag with a black double-headed eagle crest, the KLA commander defended the use of roadblocks. “These checkpoints are only to register returning residents for health reasons,” Zharku argued.

“That role is not authorized,” Anderson countered.

“I took the mines,” Zharku responded. “Nobody gave us help, and we fought in the mountains. These are our people and this is our country and that means we control it.”

“But you don’t control it,” said Anderson. “For the fifth time, you have no authority for checkpoints. And if I don’t have your cooperation, I’ll move you out, too. I’ll say it one more time, you can assist your people, but security and law enforcement is KFOR’s job.”

In the weeks that followed, KLA militants only continued to stir up more trouble. On July 23, 1999, unidentified gunmen believed to be KLA guerrillas massacred 14 Serb farmers, ages 18 to 63, who were harvesting a field near Gracko, a small farming village just south of Pristina. Overall, about 30 Serbs a week were dying at the hands of revenge-seeking Albanian Kosovars, human rights observers estimated.

In early August, Human Rights Watch blamed KLA members for a string of murders, kidnappings and beatings directed against Serbs and Gypsies. Though Human Rights Watch did not accuse the KLA leadership of directing the violence, the group condemned the KLA high command for not taking action to stop it.

Beyond the evaporating hopes for a multi-ethnic Kosovo, chances also are disappearing for a multi-party democracy in an Albanian-run Kosovo. The KLA has begun asserting broad authority over the province’s economy, politics and security. The KLA seems intent on establishing a one-party Kosovo not unlike the old communist regimes of Serbia and Albania.

As the KLA’s consolidates its control, non-violent Albanian Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova reportedly fears for his life because of threats from the KLA. The KLA’s new dominance could make the idea of free elections in the future a farce.

Since the June cease-fire, an open border with lawless Albania also has allowed organized-crime gangs to relocate in Kosovo, where new opportunities exist because of the shattered society and the prospects of a golden shower of international aid.

The chaos has allowed KLA warlords to expand heroin smuggling routes that run from the Middle East through Kosovo to Europe. Interpol estimated that 40 percent of the heroin traffic into Europe transits Kosovo, a figure that is expected to increase.

The very thin blue line of United Nations police totaling only about 300 in mid-August (1999) with the eventual goal of about 3,000 is arriving to find a Kosovo already in the grip of KLA-connected criminal gangs.

Even Albanian journalists are appalled by what the KLA is doing.

In an interview with The New York Times, Baton Haxhiu, editor of Koha Detore, an Albanian-language daily, said, “The only political group with any structure is the KLA. They use it to take power, backed by a police they alone will control. It will be hard to turn Albania into Kosovo, but I expect very easy to turn Kosovo into Albania. Each day it is becoming more dangerous to think and speak independently.” [NYT, July 29, 1999]

Besides foreshadowing more trouble in the region, the KLA’s actions have undercut one of President Clinton’s chief arguments for U.S. policy in the troubled region, a determination to end the region’s ethnic violence.

Even as this new reality becomes apparent, however, Clinton has continued to single out Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic as the villain responsible for the region’s “ethnic cleansing.”

“I do not believe we should give reconstruction aid to Serbia as long as it rejects democracy and as long as Mr. Milosevic is in power,” Clinton asserted on July 30, 1999, during a visit to Sarajevo, the capital of nearby Bosnia. “We have had enough of ethnic cleansing. I did not involve the United States in Bosnia or in Kosovo to hurt Serbian people. We took a stand for the humanity of all people, and against anyone who seeks to use racial, religious or ethnic differences to promote hatred.”

But NATO leaders have failed to condemn the ethnic Albanian attacks on Serbs with the same vigor. Taking a more philosophical view after the 14 Serb farmers were killed, British KFOR commander, Gen. Mike Jackson, explained that “attitudes or thinking can’t be changed with a soldier.”

Since the early 1990s, Milosevic and the Serbs earned themselves the role as the region’s “black hats,” blamed for the bulk of ethnic violence in the historically divided Balkans. But there was always plenty of blame to go around for the tit-for-tat ethnic fighting.

Still, the prevailing anti-Serb attitude within the international community helped explain why there was so little protest in 1995 when the Croatian Army marched through U.N. lines and expelled several hundred thousand ethnic Serbs from a Serb enclave in Croatia. Thousands of Serb civilians were killed in that round of “ethnic cleansing.”

Milosevic and the Serbs became the heavies again when they confronted a rebellious Albanian majority in Kosovo.

Fearing the loss of another piece of historic Serb territory, Milosevic cracked down on the province’s autonomy and appealed stridently to Serb nationalism. As tensions mounted, the ethnic Albanians, who had become the overwhelming majority of Kosovo’s population, resisted Serb authority.

By early 1998, the KLA had emerged as a troublesome guerrilla force best known for its tendency toward terrorism and its connections to the heroin trade. During 1998, I traveled with KLA forces and felt sympathy toward their resistance to Serb repression, though troubled by many of their tactics.

The KLA’s chief accomplishment was to provoke a harsh counterinsurgency campaign by the Serb army and police forces that sent the KLA reeling in a string of bloody confrontations. But the Serbs also took aim at suspected KLA supporters. In some of the worst abuses, Serb soldiers stepped aside and allowed Serb paramilitary thugs to terrorize the Albanian Kosovars.

By spring 1998, villages considered sympathetic to the KLA were put to the torch, with civilians suffering rape, torture and executions. KLA guerrillas fled into Albania and into the mountains. An uneasy truce existed through the winter, but the KLA regrouped in early 1999. The Serbs retaliated with more brutality.

Led by the United States, NATO demanded the right to intervene inside Yugoslavia and issued what amounted to an ultimatum to Milosevic. When Milosevic balked, NATO launched an air campaign on March 24 against Serb targets in Kosovo and throughout Serbia.

NATO’s bombings raised Serbia’s nationalistic passions even higher. On the ground, Serb forces inflicted widespread atrocities against ethnic Albanians, while NATO jets accidentally killed thousands of civilians as “collateral damage.” All told, about one million Kosovars fled as refugees, roughly one-half of the province’s pre-war population.

Faced with unrelenting NATO air attacks and political pressure from his Moscow allies, Milosevic finally capitulated in June, winning only NATO’s assurance that Kosovo would remain part of Serbia. Yet, as Milosevic’s forces retreated, the KLA quickly advanced toward strategic towns and roadways.

Though considered ineffective in waging guerrilla warfare or when matching up against the regular Serb army, the KLA finally was benefiting from more professional leadership. The KLA had come under the command of a U.S.-trained Croatian Army general, Agim Ceku, who had assisted the 1995 ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Croatia. Besides sharing his experience with the KLA, Gen. Ceku organized a purge of moderate Albanians from the KLA’s ranks.

NATO troops also rushed to take up peacekeeping positions, supposedly to protect the civilian populations, both Serb and Albanian. When I reached Kosovo on June 14, 1999, British Gen. Mike Jackson was touring the Serb neighborhoods of Pristina, urging the residents to stay. But many Serbs doubted that NATO could protect them from KLA revenge, a suspicion that was grounded in reality.

Crisscrossing Kosovo, I found that the pattern of law and order in NATO’s five occupation zones varied depending on the nationality of the KFOR troops. There were frequent reports of Italian and German troops virtually ignoring their peacekeeping duties in favor of the KLA.

In the southwestern town of Prizren, thousands of armed KLA troops marched in from Albania as the small 200-man force of the German 12th Panzer Division stood aside. In film clips shown on TV in Pristina, some German soldiers were seen embracing the KLA guerrillas. When Albanian youths stoned a busload of fleeing Serb civilians, the Panzer troops did not unshoulder their rifles.

A BBC-TV crew told me that Albanians torched 20 Serb homes in the western city of Pec as Italian KFOR troops, resplendent in their parrot-feather plumes, looked on. Half of a group of 200 Serb refugees returning from Montenegro immediately decided to turn back.

The British seemed sincere in their peacekeeping efforts but less than aggressive. In Pristina, British troops tried to disarm about 50 KLA fighters holed up in one apartment building. Three hours of negotiations led to a standoff with the KLA guerrillas allowed to keep their AK-47s and the British explaining that the goal was to “disarm” the KLA’s “command and control,” rather than just collect guns.

South of Pristina, near Gnjilane, the U.S. Marines from the 26th Expeditionary Force took “disarming” more literally. They stopped a force of 160 KLA guerrillas heading to the village of Zegra. The Marines seized more than 100 AK-47s and assorted other weapons. In another incident, Marines confiscated KLA weapons prompting a torrent of insults from nearby Albanians.

In the 82nd Airborne’s territory, Col. Anderson deployed his 4,000 troops with a clear goal of establishing law and order and grabbing as many of the KLA’s guns as possible. He showed me a large warehouse where his troops had stacked a motley collection of weapons taken from the KLA. But many rifles were rusted and the AK-47s were in disrepair, suggesting that the KLA was keeping its best weapons.

One KLA sub-commander promised to deliver his weapons to the warehouse but had second thoughts. “He decided he would keep his guns against the orders of his senior commanders and mine,” Anderson said. “It’s an indication that discipline within the KLA ranks is beginning to break down, when subordinates decide to buck their commanders’ orders.”

Or it was a sign that the KLA commanders were willing to surrender only their old and useless weapons. Other times, NATO succeeded in forcing only cosmetic changes on the KLA. For instance, KFOR’s rules prohibited KLA forces from swaggering around villages in their combat fatigues. But many KLA guerrillas simply switched to wearing civilian black shirts, trousers and berets, making them look a bit like a Hitler youth group and still very intimidating.

Whatever the sincerity of NATO’s peacekeeping, however, KLA-backed Albanian revenge swept across Kosovo, with widespread reports of beatings, murders and destruction of ancient Serb monasteries. In Vetina, in the American sector, Capt. Mat McFarlane of Burke, Virginia, said the revenge begins after dark.

“It starts about nightfall,” McFarlane told me. “Homes or barns burning, and shootings. We respond with mobile or foot patrols and try to apprehend the lawbreakers and seize their weapons. There’s really no pattern to it, just Serbs and Albanians staking claims to territory and blaming each other for the violence. They seem to have grown up in an environment of threats and killings as a way of life.”

In Pristina, a few blocks from my apartment, a prominent Serb economic professor and two colleagues were brutally murdered, even as British paratroops patrolled the streets in armored personnel carriers and on foot. The three victims were tied up with duct tape and bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

Other times, the reprisals targeted the small businesses and media outlets that hold a community together. The Vocar market, near Pristina’s Grand Hotel, was run by friendly Serbs who sold groceries at a fair price. But in early July, the store closed after a rock was hurled through its plate-glass window.

The Serb-run Media Centar at the Grand Hotel was another target. Computers and fax machines were stolen. KLA hooligans took over the hotel lobby, got drunk and began looting. The Media Centar’s director, Radovan Urosevic, soon left for Greece, while his partner, Milivoje Mihalovic, editor of Radio Pristina, turned off the mikes and headed north to Serbia.

Another facet of the Albanian revenge has been to target Serb religious sites. British troops found the Fourteenth Century Monastery of Svete Trojice in Suva Reka completely destroyed. Serbian Orthodox priest Sava Jajic led me to another ancient monastery, a 15th Century structure in Devik, that had suffered KLA looting.

One of the nuns, Sister Anastasia, described how guerrillas from the local KLA chapter smashed religious icons that were several hundred years old. She pointed to a large oil painting of a favorite Orthodox saint which had been defaced by a KLA activist who had carved the group’s initials in Albanian “UCK” into the painting with a bayonet.

Father Sava, known as the “cyber-monk” for his informative e-mails sent around the world, protected Albanians in his own monastery in Decani during the Serb “ethnic cleansing” campaigns. Because of that, he has seen Albanians return the favor by defending the monastery from retaliation.

“If they [the KLA] are going to kill the monks, they [the KLA] must kill us first,” said Shaban Bruqi, an Albanian villager. “They [the monks] saved us.”

On July 2, 1999, Father Sava joined with a small group of Serb and Albanian leaders issuing a joint statement seeking reconciliation.

“We want to realize our joint goal of a civil society in Kosovo, a society where no one has to fear for his life, his family, his job or his home because of his ethnicity or belief,” the communique read. “The road to reconciliation will be long and difficult. There is no such thing as natural hatred among people in Kosovo.”

But that night, a less-forgiving attitude was on display in Pristina. Celebrating the ninth anniversary of an Albanian declaration of independence for Kosovo, thousands of Albanian Kosovar youths drove through the streets waving Albanian flags and firing AK-47s. The shooting continued until 3 a.m.

Despite the best hopes of many well-intentioned citizens from both ethnic groups and the brave peacekeeping efforts of some NATO troops, the future of Kosovo seems headed in a very different direction than Father Sava or President Clinton might hope.

Rather than a multi-cultural society living in peace, Kosovo likely will be dominated by KLA gunmen determined to purge the province’s centuries-old Serb ethnic presence. As a consequence of NATO’s military intervention, Kosovo appears to have traded the brutality of Serb paramilitary thugs for the brutality of like-minded Albanians.

With corrupt warlords vying for control, Kosovo seems headed for a future that resembles more Albania or Chechnya than some Western-style democracy.

Don North is a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world. He is the author of a new book, Inappropriate Conduct,  the story of a World War II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.

Other historic reporting on the Kosovo crisis from

Why Kosovo?” by Don North. Originally published Nov. 6, 1998. The early days of the war and what the two sides were fighting over.

Irony at Racak: Tainted U.S. Diplomat Condemns Massacre” by Don North. Originally published Jan. 26, 1999. An American condemnation of a Serb massacre in Kosovo recalls U.S. ambivalence about massacres in Central America.

Wag the Dog in Reverse” by Mollie Dickenson, Originally published May 4, 1999. Bill Clinton’s political crisis over sex distracts from a real war in the Balkans.

Television Wars” by Don North, Originally published May 4, 1999. NATO intentionally bombs a Serb TV station.

Target Yugoslovia” by Robert Parry, Originally published May 4, 1999. The Clinton administration tries out high-tech info-war tactics on the Serbs.

Fearing Sanders as ‘Closet Realist’

Exclusive: To Washington’s neocons like David Ignatius, Sen. Sanders should be disqualified as a presidential candidate for being a “closet realist.” Sanders seems not to accept their forced “regime change” in Syria, nor their plans for more “nation building” like the neocon handiwork in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

How little Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy elite has learned from the past couple of decades can be measured by reading the last line of Friday’s Washington Post op-ed by David Ignatius, supposedly one of the deeper thinkers from the American pundit class.

Ignatius writes, regarding the Syrian mess, “It’s never too late for the United States to do the right thing, which is to build, carefully, the political and military framework for a new Syria.”

Reading Ignatius and other neocon-oriented policy prescribers, it’s as if Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya not to mention other failed states following U.S. interventions never happened. Just like Iraq was a cakewalk, Syria will be one of those child puzzles with only 24 pieces, easy to assemble and reassemble.

Though Ignatius doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of his nation-building scheme, it should be obvious that for President Barack Obama to “do the right thing” in Ignatius’s way of thinking, the U.S. military would first have to invade and occupy Syria, killing any Syrians, Iranians, Russians and others who might get in the way. Then there would be the tricky process of “carefully” putting Syria back together again amid the predictable IEDs, suicide bombings and sectarian strife.

One is tempted to simply dismiss Ignatius as not a serious person, but he is considered part of the crème de la crème of Official Washington’s current foreign-policy establishment. He’s sought after to moderate foreign policy conferences and he pontificates regularly from the well-read pages of The Washington Post.

But he is really just another example of how dangerous it was for the American people to exact no accountability from the hubristic neoconservatives and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks for their many disastrous miscalculations and war crimes.

If Americans still had pitchforks, they should have chased down this arrogant elite for inflicting so much pain and bloodshed on both the people of these tragic countries and on the U.S. soldiers who were dispatched so casually to make the benighted policies work. There’s also the little issue of the trillions of dollars in taxpayers’ money wasted.

But the neocons are impervious to criticism from the “little people.” Within the neocon “bubble,” the Syrian crisis is just the result of President Obama not intervening earlier and bigger by shipping even more weapons to Syria’s mythical “moderate” rebels.

No one ever wants to admit that these “moderates” were always dominated by Sunni jihadists and by 2012 had become essentially their front men for receiving sophisticated U.S. weapons before passing the hardware on, willingly or not, to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Read, for instance, a remarkable account from veteran foreign affairs writer Stephen Kinzer, who describes in a Boston Globe op-ed the reign of terror that the Syrian rebels have inflicted on the people of Aleppo, while the mainstream U.S. news media painted pretty pictures about these noble insurrectionists.

Kinzer scolds his media colleagues for their malfeasance in reporting on the Syrian crisis, writing: “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.”

Another inconvenient truth is that the “moderate” rebels of Aleppo operate hand in glove with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. So much so that a proposal for a partial Syrian cease-fire failed because U.S. diplomats wanted to extend its protections to Al Qaeda’s forces, also known inside Syria as Jabhat al-Nusra.

As The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung nonchalantly mentioned deep inside a story on Saturday, “Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic. Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of the cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.”

In other words, the cease-fire plan is being delayed — and possibly killed — because the Obama administration doesn’t want the Syrian army and the Russian air force attacking Al Qaeda.

This strange reality underscores reporting by Mideast expert Gareth Porter who wrote that “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces [around Aleppo] is engaged in a military structure controlled by Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it.” [See’s “Risking Nuclear War for Al Qaeda.”]

Believing in Unicorns

However, to be accepted in Official Washington as a profound thinker, you must believe in the unicorns of “moderate” Syrian rebels, just like earlier you had to accept as “flat fact” that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was lying when he denied having weapons of mass destruction and that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was lying when he claimed to be under attack by terrorists.

But what is truly remarkable about these Washington “wise men and women” who are so unwise is that they simply move from one catastrophe to the next. The journalists and columnists among them routinely get basic facts wrong but are never fired by their editors and publishers, presumably because the editors and publishers are kindred ideologues.

And the neocon/liberal-hawk politicians also float above any meaningful accountability for their grotesque misjudgments and for their contributions to war crimes. On the Republican side, all the establishment candidates the likes of Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich favor doubling down on neoconservative foreign policies as they prove how “serious” they are.

On the Democratic side, the reputed frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, not only voted for the Iraq War but promoted similar warmongering as Secretary of State, pushing for a senseless escalation in Afghanistan, masterminding the mindless Libyan operation, and blocking any timely peace initiatives in Syria.

Her supporters may call her a “liberal” or “humanitarian” interventionist but there is no discernible difference between her policies and those of the neocons. [For details, see’s “Hillary Clinton and the Dogs of War.”]

There may be some hope from the anti-establishment candidates Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic race but that’s mostly because they have steered clear of precise foreign policy prescriptions. They have, however, decried the Iraq War and suggested that collaboration with Russia makes more sense than confrontation.

Not surprisingly then, Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy elite has been scathing toward both men, seeking to marginalize them so far from the mainstream that aspiring pundits and academics with hopes for professional advancement will obsequiously vouch for the diplomatic chops of Hillary Clinton and the seriousness of the GOP establishment contenders.

Sniffing Out ‘Realism’

As for Sanders, David Ignatius has detected a clearly disqualifying characteristic, that the Vermont senator may be, gasp, a “closet realist.”

On Feb. 12, Ignatius raised that shocking possibility in another Washington Post column: “Is Bernie Sanders a closet foreign policy ‘realist’? Reading his few pronouncements on foreign policy, you sense that he embraces the realists’ deep skepticism about U.S. military intervention.”

Having sniffed out this foul odor of “realism,” Ignatius further asks, “Now that Sanders has nearly tied Clinton in Iowa and won New Hampshire, there’s a real possibility that he may emerge as the Democratic nominee. And the question is: How scared should mainstream Democrats be about Sanders as a foreign policy president?”

That’s right, how scary would it be if there was a “realist” in the White House?

But Ignatius observes that President Obama already has demonstrated some of the same disturbing “realist” traits although Sanders might be even worse. The pundit prognosticates, “If I had to guess, I’d say that Sanders would continue and reinforce President Obama’s wary approach to using force, whereas Clinton would be more hawkish. But that’s just a guess. Perhaps Sanders would be far more dovish.”

Like a hapless Inspector Clouseau, Ignatius then presses ahead trying to determine exactly how bad or “realistic” Sanders would be:

“Sanders’s statements on Syria suggest that he would take a position embraced by many self-described realists. His first priority, he has said, would be a ‘broad coalition, including Russia,’ to defeat the Islamic State. ‘Our second priority must be getting rid of [President Bashar al-Assad] through some political settlement, working with Iran, working with Russia.’”

Ignatius, of course, finds Sanders’s priorities troubling and pulls out an old canard to make the point, reviving the long-discredited claim that Assad was responsible for the lethal sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. [See’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?” and “A Call for Proof on Syria-Sarin Attack.”]

Ignoring the lack of evidence against Assad, Ignatius writes: “Some critics would argue that it’s immoral to make replacing a leader who used chemical weapons a secondary concern.”

Yes, in neocon land, the moral thing is to accuse someone of a heinous crime without any verifiable evidence and indeed with the evidence going in the opposite direction and then invading and occupying the country in defiance of international law, killing hundreds of thousands of its people, much like neocon policymakers did with Iraq as Ignatius and other foreign policy “moralists” cheered them on.

However, with Syria, Ignatius tells us, it would be so simple to follow up the invasion and occupation with a plan “to build, carefully, the political and military framework for a new Syria.” No wonder Ignatius and other neocons are so hostile to “realism” and to Bernie Sanders.

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

Turkey’s Perilous Crossroad

Turkey is at a dangerous crossroad, having plunged down the bloody route of “regime change” in Syria and getting drawn deeper into conflicts with Kurds, Iran and Russia. Can President Erdogan return to the more peaceful path he once followed, asks ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

What does Turkey need to do to overcome its present foreign policy fiasco, one of the worst in modern Turkish history? The irony of all this is that those directly responsible for this mess, the team of Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now president) and Ahmet Davutoglu, (former foreign minister and now prime minister), is exactly the team that one decade ago had made extraordinary steps in creating a new, creative and successful foreign policy.

What went wrong? And how can Ankara now climb back out of the deep hole that it has dug for itself? The answer is simple: Erdogan and Davutoglu  should return to their original successful principles of a decade ago, now recklessly abandoned. The overwhelmingly most urgent task is for Ankara to get out of Syria.

Turkey’s Syrian policy has done more to destroy Turkey’s international position than any other single factor. But let’s be clear: Ankara is not primarily responsible for the present disaster in Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is. But Erdogan has hugely exacerbated the problem, encouraged radical jihadist elements fighting in Syria, helped stir up sectarian passions, and mishandled the Syrian Kurds.

All these policies have damaged relations with countries that really matter for Turkey: Iran, Iraq, Russia, China, the U.S., the European Union, Kurdish communities, and of course relations with Syria itself. Instead Ankara has opened a dubious, dangerous and futureless coalition with Saudi Arabia. And it has created a damaging confrontation with Russia in which Turkey is already the loser.

What should Ankara now do?

  1. Acknowledge the reality that Assad is not going to fall anytime soon, even though that was a reasonable assumption after the outbreak of an uprising against him in 2011. Turkey must abandon the obsessive effort to overthrow him. Russia, the U.S., the E.U., China, Egypt and even large numbers of Syrians now correctly believe that what might come after Assad is likely to be far worse than Assad. Turkey has little to gain and much to lose in continuing this fruitless struggle.
  2. Work with the major powers to bring about a peaceful solution in Syria: working with the U.S., Russia and the E.U., and rejecting Saudi Arabia’s absurd vision of a massive international Sunni army seizing control of Damascus.
  3. Return to Ankara’s earlier policy of standing above sectarian struggle in the region. Turkey is predominantly Sunni, but it has large Shiite and Alevi (quasi-Shiite) populations. Turkey has not really sought to be the champion of Sunni Islam for several hundred years. Indeed, Turkey gained respect and clout when it sought to act impartially between Sunni and Shia groups a decade ago. It should play no favorites in that capacity now.
  4. Work to improve its relations with Iran. Iran’s role in the region is growing steadily. It is vital to Turkey strategically and economically. It is a democracy in the making. Relations were seriously damaged when Turkey went all out to overthrow Assad, an ally of Tehran.
  5. Work closely with Iraq to help overcome sectarian problems, not simply as a supporter of Sunnis in Iraq. Turkey does not benefit from a divided Iraq. Nor does Iran, which would prefer to exert its influence in a united and stable Iraq. Turkey is well equipped to help bring sectarian reconciliation about in Iraq, with its excellent economic relations with Baghdad and shared interests in the wellbeing of Iraqi Kurdistan.
  6. Back away from strategic ties with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia rejects everything that Turkey claims to value: moderate Islam, religious and ethnic tolerance, non-sectarianism, non-intervention, democracy, globalizing markets, cultural attractiveness and soft power. Saudi Arabia, however, seeks only to draw Ankara in to be a Sunni champion and ally against Assad, against Iran, against the Iraqi Shiites and the Zaydi Shiites in Yemen.
  7. Cooperate with the other Gulf States, as long as it is on a non-sectarian basis. Ties with Qatar, in particular, could be productive.
  8. Place priority on restoring Turkish relations with Russia. Stop trying to drag NATO into unwise confrontations with Russia. The reality is that Moscow’s entry into the Syrian equation has all but eliminated Ankara’s options and freedom of action there. And Ankara cannot defeat Russia diplomatically. Furthermore, like it or not, Moscow is in fact well-positioned to forge a political settlement in Syria.

If Turkey undertakes the policy shifts outlined above, its relations with Moscow will automatically improve.

  1. Devote priority to close relations with all Kurdish elements in the region. Turkey, through the wisdom of its earlier policies, had won over the Iraqi Kurds as a close ally. But Erdogan has allowed his earlier path-breaking rapprochement with the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, the PKK, to collapse. Ankara has refused to deal with the Syrian Kurdish movement, one of the few effective fighting groups against ISIS in Syria. It may be sliding into a general war against the Kurds which it might be able win on the battlefield but will assuredly lose politically.

Growing Kurdish power in the entire region is a reality, it has been on an upward curve for the last 25 years, invariably benefiting from each regional conflict to achieve greater de facto autonomy and world awareness. If Ankara is determined to stop Kurdish progress towards greater autonomy, anywhere in the region, it will only alienate the Kurds; above all such a posture will only hasten the emergence of greater Kurdish political, economic and cultural demands. Efforts to block this process of Kurdish emergence will not only fail, but will guarantee an uglier and more dangerous relationship for Turkey and the entire regional Kurdish reality long into the future.

Ironically, handled right and granted broader autonomy, most Kurds will inevitably look to Turkey as a regional protector, economic entrepôt and cultural magnet, as long as  Ankara does not alienate them. Where else could the Kurds look for valuable geopolitical ties in the region?

Ankara deserves great credit for having moved generously and humanely to accommodate more than 2½ million Syrian refugees inside Turkey. When Syrian domestic violence finally begins to end, many Syrians will go back home, but not all. This could be a problem for Turkey, but also a benefit.

The Ottoman tradition included an important role for Arabs within imperial rule. Today Turkey can only be enriched and strengthened through the acquisition of new Turkish Syrian citizens who can facilitate Turkish entree into the Arab world. Turkey is, after all, multinational already with huge numbers of other ethnic groups, from the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Balkans. A stronger Arab voice and expertise will only add to Turkey’s regional clout, economic access, and skills.

Finally Turkey should cooperate with Washington where it can, but only to the extent that Washington’s own policies in the region are wise and productive. Since 9/11 (and arguably even much before) U.S. policies in the Middle East have been disastrously bad, failing and destructive. Ankara would not cooperate.

President Obama in recent times, however, has dialed back the level of U.S. intervention and aggressiveness, especially now in Syria. If Ankara can undertake all these policy shifts its relations with Washington will much improve. That is assuming the next American president approaches the Middle East with wisdom, for which there is little guarantee.

All this also assumes that Erdogan will act wisely and not sacrifice Turkey’s foreign policy interests to his own reckless and divisive drive for greater personal power. Erdogan’s personal interests are not synonymous with the Turkish national interest.

Erdogan had once embraced and implemented Ataturk’s wise adage: Peace at home and peace abroad. Now he has abandoned those principles and is left with neither.

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

America’s Slide toward Failed State

The blanket refusal of Senate Republican leaders to consider President Obama’s choice to succeed Justice Scalia reflects a descent of the United States toward the kind of dysfunctional failed state that Washington normally upbraids, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

We Americans, usually quick to judge other societies by American standards, can become more self-aware by reversing the direction of the comparison and thinking of what the attributes of other nations might highlight about our own deficiencies.

Such comparisons can work in either of two ways. One is to observe how far the United States has fallen behind others in endeavors at which others excel and set the standards. Investment in transportation infrastructure, for example. Ride a train in Switzerland after riding one in the United States and the point becomes clear.

The other sort of comparison is to examine the troubles of other countries that are deeply troubled, with an eye toward identifying underlying problems that might also be found in the United States even though the United States has not gone as far down the troubled path, at least not yet. There is no shortage of countries, from Syria to Somalia to South Sudan, that we commonly label as politically unstable and that present grief for their own citizens, challenges for U.S. policymakers, and fodder for foreign policy pundits.

An attempt to identify underlying problems can come up with many things, involving the structure of civil society, ethnic divisions, and the like. But two very fundamental necessities for stable liberal democracy are in short supply in those trouble lands. One is the acceptance as legitimate of interests and viewpoints different from one’s own. Such acceptance does not preclude continued sharp differences. Recognized legitimacy is not the same as agreement.

Opposing political positions can grow out of different interests or different views about the best way of pursuing a shared interest. Either way, what is required is acknowledgment that one’s own side in a political contest does not necessarily have a monopoly on what is just, wise or moral, and that those on the other side have as much right to be part of the contest and of the give-and-take that feeds into national policy.

The other big necessity is a commitment to the entire political system that is greater than commitment to any of the particular interests or objectives that get pursued through that system. This does not just mean an avowing of patriotism; expressions of nationalist sentiment are easy to come by even in troubled and unstable nations. What is needed is acknowledgment and genuine belief that the health and smooth functioning of the entire system are of paramount importance and that without them those more parochial interests could not be effectively pursued anyway.

The Republican posture of keeping the U.S. Supreme Court short-handed for a year, and thereby screwing up not just one but two terms of the court, solely to deny an appointment to the incumbent president and to try to hand that power to a hoped-for Republican successor, is the latest and most salient of several episodes that indicate a growing shortfall in the United States of these two essential conditions for stable liberal democracy.

There have been other episodes occurring with increasing frequency in recent years. These include blanket rejection, begun even before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, of anyone Barack Obama would nominate as an appellate judge. They include automatic opposition to the President’s most important legislative initiatives, as seen most vividly with health care, on which the opposition has become an obsession pursued without regard to the conceptual origins of the particular legislation or its actual effects once enacted. And they include the use of extortion, with threats involving default on debt or shutdown of government, in pursuit of some matter involving the budget or a social issue.

This pattern exhibits a lack of the first requirement involving an acceptance of the opposing side’s legitimacy. The outlook involved has been clear on an issue such as abortion, in which an opposing side get defined as not just wrong but as immoral. The outlook also has been applied personally to Barack Obama more than to any other U.S. president in modern times.

Suffusing through much of the reflexive opposition to his policies, and punctuated by the birther nonsense, has been a sense that he is somehow, well, not quite one of us and not quite a real American, that he is less a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office and more of a transient interloper there. To what extent this attitude is due, as many African-American supporters of Mr. Obama believe, to his race is impossible to determine definitively, but the attitude is too obvious to ignore.

The pattern also exhibits a shortfall in the second key requirement of stable liberal democracy, the greater value that must be placed on the political whole than on any more parochial interests. This shortfall is obviously present with the extortionate tactics involving damage to the nation’s credit rating or to the operation of the entire government, as it is now with tactics threatening to cripple the Supreme Court.

All of this goes beyond the damage that is due to intensified partisanship, which also has become worse in the United States over the past couple of decades and is bad enough just by itself. We are talking here about something more fundamental, and something that is alike in kind to what underlies the instability in any number of politically unstable countries on other continents.

The corresponding problem in the United States, though alike in kind, has not become alike in degree to those archetypical unstable countries from the Third World, again, not yet. But the trend is in the wrong direction, and those who care about the health of American democracy ought to be worried about that trend.

American citizens who do care, and at least as much, those who have been participating in some of the disturbing episodes mentioned above, ought to look at those unstable countries abroad and think the following thoughts.

First, there but for the grace of wise forefathers and other lucky circumstances of America go we.

Second, the critical ingredients of successful and stable liberal democracy are precious, not all that common in the world, and vulnerable to being lost. It may sound oxymoronic but is nevertheless true that political stability is fragile.

And finally, we need to ask ourselves continually what is more important: whatever specific policy issue has gotten people’s dander up at the moment, or having a political system, healthy and effective as well as free, that enables us to argue and compete about such issues at all.

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 the Democratic Party Got Lost

Though the political odds still favor Hillary Clinton, her stumbling candidacy and dependence on vast sums of special-interest money reflect the weaknesses of the Democratic Party, which lost its way in the 1980s and 1990s, forgetting its historic role as defender of the little guy, as Michael Brenner explains.

By Michael Brenner

The Clinton juggernaut is losing traction. Powered by the full weight of the Democratic Establishment, it was designed to smoothly carry its idol across America and into the White House. It still may get there. But now it must traverse a far more treacherous and uncertain route than Hillary Clinton and her entourage ever imagined.

The course is lined with the pundits, operatives and analysts who will cover the spectacle with their usual attention to trivia and a faith in their own perspicacity which matches that of the heroine herself.

This was all predictable. For it conforms to the parochialism and inbreeding that for so long has infirmed the Democratic Party’s leadership as well as the punditocracy. Fortunes could be made betting against the “Washington consensus” whose singular talent for getting it wrong extends from the country’s endless skein of foreign misadventures to electoral politics.

They give the impression of all sipping out of each other’s double-lattes at Starbucks in Dupont Circle. The resulting damage done to the party’s traditional constituents, to the integrity of national discourse and to America’s interests in the world is incalculable and may well be irreparable.

Still, it is worth recording the pathologies that this latest bruising encounter with reality reveal. Most obvious is the disconnect between political elites and the country they presume to know or aspire to govern. The success of Bernie Sanders makes that transparently clear. His greatest asset is simply that (even though he has served in the Senate as an Independent) he ran as a “Democrat” – that is, as representative of the party as forged in the mid-Twentieth Century and whose precepts conform to the socio-economic interests and philosophical truths typically held by most Americans today.

Sanders is the first presidential candidate to do so since Walter Mondale in 1984. Mondale’s defeat convinced many pols that the future lay with the Reagan smorgasbord of discredited nostrums and myths repackaged by skillful political craftsmen as the new Revelation. Market fundamentalist economic models, a cartoonish version of American individualism a la Ayn Rand, financial libertinism, muscle-flexing abroad in the mantle of democratic proselytizing, and anti-government demagoguery were fashioned into an intoxicating cocktail.

It worked to the extent that the cheap high that it produced tapped latent racism, jingoism, evangelical Christian passions, and a new-found greedy selfishness which was the mutant offspring of 1960s liberation.

Disoriented Democrats badly miscalculated the danger, and in the process lost sight of who they were. Most damaging, many found a comfortable niche in this new world of hallucination. Among them are the careerists, the trendy intellectuals*, and the ambitious politicians who thought that they had discovered the one route to recouping power and glory.

Together, they reshaped the Democratic Party into a me-too auxiliary to a waxing conservative movement. Today, it is radical reactionary Republicans who sweep elections at state and local levels, who hold an iron grip on the Congress, who have used their power to ruthlessly transform the judiciary into an active ally.

True, Democrats have won the White House twice. Bill Clinton did thanks to Ross Perot and then retained it against feeble opposition. In the process, he moved progressively to the Right in policy and philosophy (“the era of Big Government is over”). Republican ascendancy followed.

Only the Bush era collapse into disaster abroad and at home made possible Barack Obama who presented himself not as the embodiment of Democratic values but as a transcendent bipartisan healer — with just a few vermilion strokes. A prophet without message or mission. Whatever liberal ideas he had sounded were swiftly abandoned in what is surely the most shameless bait-and-switch in American political history.

This was predictable. After all, he thrice cited Ronald Reagan as the man who most influenced his view of the Presidency. His administrations arguably were oriented to the Right of Richard Nixon on civil liberties as well as on economic and social programs. Look it up.

His White House actually took delight in maligning “Progressives” as made manifest in Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s cursing out of their representatives personally within its walls.  That was the administration of which Hillary Clinton, the born-again “progressive,” was a mainstay.

The cause already was abandoned in his first months in office when the Democrats held majorities in both houses of Congress. Indeed, Obama’s embrace of the Wall Street barons was what allowed the Tea Party to channel popular anger and fear into a well-financed anti-government, know-nothing movement which nowadays dominates the political landscape. Hence, Obama drove the final nails into the coffin of the old Democratic Party.

This evolution of American politics in effect disenfranchised something like 20 percent of the electorate. They are Bernie Sanders’s constituency. It’s as simple as that. Personalities do play a role, but it is a secondary one. Sanders as a person stands out for his integrity, his earnestness, for his truth-telling, for his transparent decency. It is the message, though, that counts above all.

An old Brooklyn Jew who advertises himself as a “Socialist” is not a compelling figure on the political stage. Intelligent and well-informed on domestic matters, he is not a phrase-maker, not verbally nimble, an incurably respectful gentleman, and largely disengaged from foreign policy where Hillary was custodian of ACT II in the pageant of American failure and fiasco in the Middle East.

In addition, Sanders feels inhibited about attacking the misdeeds of the Obama years out of a concern for estranging black voters, and turning the President from Hillary’s tacit ally into an active ally. Yet, he has made history with unprecedented accomplishments in the teeth of implacable opposition from the entire political and media establishment. At the moment, Sanders nearly has caught Hillary in the national polls and actually performs marginally better in hypothetical contests against the major Republican contenders.

Clinton’s shortcomings and failures are aggravated by the widespread distrust that she engenders. That was evident a year ago. She has had higher “negatives” in polls that any serious candidate ever. So why was she crowned even before the contest began? Why did no other candidates present themselves? Why did Democratic bigwigs feel so complacent at the prospect of another electoral setback?

One common answer is that there was nobody else. Decimated at the state level, and lacking fresh blood in the Senate, they have a very thin squad. For the better part of a decade, Harry Reid has been the face of the Democratic Party outside of the White House and during Obama’s romantic non-partisanship phases, its face country-wide.

Still, someone like former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley could have been promoted as a credible candidate had the party leaders the will to do so. Compare him to George W. Bush in 2000. The Republicans molded that non-entity into a winner with relative ease. Democrats had much more to work with in O’Malley.

Or, they could have rallied behind Elizabeth Warren. Admittedly, she wasn’t interested. Just think, though, of what could have happened had she been persuaded to run. For one thing, she quickly would have eclipsed Hillary as the frontrunner. Razor sharp, personable, with a blue-steel edge to her words, and resolute she likely would have delivered the Last Rites to Clinton by Super Tuesday.

And then imagine her against any of the Republicans hopefuls whose only chance of winning turns on Clinton’s negatives. A Warren Republican X contest, moreover, would have raised the prospect of a Democratic comeback across the board that is utterly beyond Clinton’s capabilities.

The principal reason the Democratic Establishment lined up behind Hillary Clinton in lockstep is their lack of conviction and a political timidity that arises from 1) capture by the big donors, and 2) past failures that have sapped self-confidence. Their uniform commitment to a flaccid orthodoxy has been evident for all to see these past few weeks as Hillary Clinton’s supporters hit the panic button. It has not been a pretty performance.

From the Editors of The New York Times and Paul Krugman (who now sees Hillary Clinton as the heir to Obama whom he hagiographically refers to as “one of the most consequential and successful Presidents in American history”) to the feminist brigade headed by Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, Democratic stalwarts have embarrassed themselves by their contrived and specious arguments for Clinton.

This is not to say that there isn’t a reasonable and logical case to be made for voting for her. It is the falsity of the presentation by those eminences that reveals the hollowness at the party’s core. Its leaders never miss an opportunity to display their political obtuseness and fearfulness about leaving their very narrow, personal comfort zone.

The blunt truth is that the Democratic leadership has been meek and fearful for decades. They can’t stand the sight of blood especially if it’s their opponents. It took Newt Gingrich in 2012 to make an issue of predatory hedge funds and private equity. Reluctantly picked up by Obama, it resonated well so well that a gaggle of Wall Street operatives led by Steven Ratner called the White House to express vehemently their displeasure. Obama pulled the ads. (Jane Meyer Dark Money).

Now it is Donald Trump who boldly steps forth to declare that the intervention in Iraq was based on lies, and that it is the source of our current troubles in the region. No Democrat, including Sanders, is ready to make that case with equal force. None has since 2008. One can go on and on. It’s a loser’s mentality. You don’t get to the White House by walking on eggshells.

In the end, Hillary Clinton in all likelihood will be the nominee. Equally true, she will arrive at the convention in Philadelphia D.O.A. That is to say, D.O.A. if the Republicans somehow free themselves from their adrenalin-soaked tantrum to nominate a sensible candidate. For the Democrats’ one hope is that the opposition continue on its suicidal track that runs parallel to their own. Such is the state of American politics.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Big Issue Is Big Money

The biggest falsehood of Hillary Clinton’s campaign is to call Bernie Sanders a “single-issue” candidate, since he has actually addressed many issues. But Michael Winship says there’s some truth in the charge because Sanders has identified Big Money as the root of many problems and that is true.

By Michael Winship

Maybe it’s that 50,000-year-old, Neanderthal DNA scientists say a lot of us possess, but this feels like the most brutal, vicious and mendacious political year since the days when politicians traded jugs of corn whiskey for votes, fought duels, and flagellated opponents to near death with canes.

In last Saturday night’s Republican debate, the words “lie,” “lying” and “liar” were fired off by the candidates against each other like volleys in a paintball tournament. On the other hand, statements that were, in fact, true were greeted with booing. Booing.

In one of his rare, stopped-watch-is-right-twice-a-day moments, Donald Trump said, “Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right? George Bush made a mistake, we can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty.” Who could argue with that? Boos.

Trump continued, “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.” More and louder boos.

Jeb Bush protested and Trump threw in, “The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign, remember that. That’s not keeping us safe.” The boos turned into roars of anger.

Even debate moderator John Dickerson came under attack. Just hours after Antonin Scalia’s death had been revealed, Ted Cruz claimed, “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year.” Dickerson corrected him, pointing out that Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed 28 years ago in an election year, 1988. The GOP crowd booed as if Dickerson had just announced that the national anthem was being changed to “Midnight at the Oasis.”

Have we so lost touch that the truth no longer sets us free but inspires braying derision? Have so-called “reality television,” and social media plagued with trolling and conspiracy theories so melted our brains that when facts get in the way of whatever nonsense we prefer to believe, we bellow like wounded beasts?

In comparison, two nights earlier, the Democratic debate co-sponsored by the PBS NewsHour was more Downton Abbey than Duck Dynasty. (Truth: While different members of the Duck Dynasty clan actually have endorsed Trump and Cruz, the aristocrats at Downton are still debating primogeniture and the three-field system.)

Although tempers flared between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and the discussion of Henry Kissinger’s role in U.S. diplomatic history veered toward Cloud Cuckooland, about as heated as it got was the moment Sanders told Clinton she had leveled “a low blow” when she accused him of not loving Barack Obama and his administration as much as she does.

“Last I heard we lived in a democratic society.” Sanders replied. “Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president, including a president who has done such an extraordinary job.” Not much was made of the derision Hillary and Bill Clinton cast toward Barack Obama during the 2008 primary campaign.

But the major falsehood of the evening happened at the very end of the debate in Hillary Clinton’s closing remarks. “You know,” she began, “we agree that we’ve got to get unaccountable money out of politics. We agree that Wall Street should never be allowed to wreck Main Street again.” So far, so good.

“But here’s the point I want to make tonight,” she continued. “I am not a single-issue candidate,” she declared, “and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.” She was accusing Sanders of ignoring all the other troubles facing America at home and abroad by fixating on Wall Street and money in politics.

Having tried it out on the debate stage, this has become Secretary Clinton’s campaign theme ever since; that Sanders’ vision is too tunnel-like for him to be president. But note first that she focuses that argument on Sanders’ desire to punish the financial industry while almost completely ignoring his position on the corrosive influence of money on all aspects of politics and government. Maybe because she is the beneficiary of so much of it.

In Nevada last Saturday she asked, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the L.G.B.T. community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

And in Harlem on Tuesday she declared, “I am absolutely committed to ensuring that no bank is too big to fail, and no executive too powerful to jail. But Flint reminds us, my friends, there’s a lot more going on in our country that we should be concerned about.”

To which Sanders replied, as he told reporters last weekend, “The American people understand that we are the only major nation on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care for all people. The American people understand that we have got to aggressively deal with climate change, in order to give our children and our grandchildren a planet that is healthy and habitable. The idea in terms of education that we must make public colleges and universities tuition free. We have got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. It’s not one issue.”

But in a way, it is, and Sanders sort of sells himself short when he argues too much in the other direction. For in fact, until the door is slammed shut on money in politics and until the banks are pummeled into line, most of our other problems aren’t going away any time soon. What’s more, everything stems from one bigger issue that affects and overwhelms all else.

First, let’s run through some of the aforementioned problems. Flint? Environmental and institutional racism to be sure, but perpetrated by the administration of Rick Snyder, a rich Republican governor, his election funded by his plutocrat pals, committed to cutting back government as he raised taxes on the poor and slashed corporate taxes by $1.7 billion a year.

“The tragedy in Flint was a choice,” United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard recently wrote at In These Times magazine. “This was a values decision about what was important. Giving a break to big business was the top priority for venture capitalist Snyder. Operating a shoddy government, over-taxing pensioners and poisoning Flint’s children was the result.”

Nor is real, significant progress going to be made on climate change until we do something about the $31.8 million given to candidates by energy and natural resource interests in 2015-16. (Top recipients: Ted Cruz, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.)

The notions of free college tuition (which Clinton opposes) and a living wage are fiercely fought against by lobbyists overseeing millions in campaign contributions. The growth of Hillary Clinton’s opposition to Medicare-for-all seems correlated to the cash donations received, David Sirota at International Business Times reports, “Clinton has vacuumed in roughly $13.2 million from sources in the health sector, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That includes $11.2 million from the sector when Clinton was a senator and $2 million from health industry sources during her 2016 presidential campaign.”

Even when discussing institutional racism, as happened on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC talk show Monday night, Clinton spokesperson Karen Finney started talking about “housing and redlining and access to capital” all things that are part of the stranglehold on financing for people of color perpetrated by the very financial institutions Bernie Sanders has pledged to punish.

Ultimately, deep down, no matter the candidate, the fact is there is only one true issue here in these United States. As a banker says in The Mark and the Void, Paul Murray’s recent novel, “What’s the one reliable area of growth in the twenty-first century? Inequality.”

Now let the booing commence.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story first appeared at]

Hillary Clinton and the Dogs of War

Former Secretary of State Clinton grudgingly admits her Iraq War vote was a “mistake,” but it was not a one-off misjudgment. Clinton has consistently stood for a war-like U.S. foreign policy that ignores international law and relies on brinkmanship and military force, writes Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

A poll taken in Iowa before the presidential caucus found that 70 percent of Democrats surveyed trusted Hillary Clinton on foreign policy more than Bernie Sanders. But her record as Secretary of State was very different from that of her successor, John Kerry, who has overseen groundbreaking diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran, Cuba and, in a more limited context, even with Russia and Syria.

In fact, Clinton’s use of the term “diplomacy” in talking about her own record is idiosyncratic in that it refers almost entirely to assembling “coalitions” to support U.S. threats, wars and sanctions against other countries, rather than to peacefully resolving international disputes without the threat or use of force, as normally understood by the word “diplomacy” and as required by the UN Charter.

There is another term for what Clinton means when she says “diplomacy,” and that is “brinksmanship,” which means threatening war to back up demands on other governments. In the real world, brinksmanship frequently leads to war when neither side will back down, at which point its only value or purpose is to provide a political narrative to justify aggression.

The two main “diplomatic” achievements Clinton gives herself credit for are: assembling the coalition of NATO and the Arab monarchies that bombed Libya into endless, intractable chaos; and imposing painful sanctions on the people of Iran over what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded by 2007 was a peaceful civilian nuclear program.

Clinton’s claim that her brinksmanship “brought Iran to the table” over its “nuclear weapons program” is particularly deceptive.  It was in fact Secretary Clinton and President Obama who refused to take “Yes” for an answer in 2010, after Iran agreed to what was originally a U.S. proposal relayed by Turkey and Brazil. Clinton and Obama chose instead to keep ratcheting up sanctions and U.S. and Israeli threats. This was a textbook case of dangerous brinksmanship that was finally resolved by real diplomacy (and real diplomats like Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif) before it led to war.

That Clinton can peddle such deceptive rhetoric to national prime-time television audiences and yet still be considered trustworthy on foreign policy by many Americans is a sad indictment of the U.S. corporate media’s coverage of foreign policy, including a willful failure to distinguish between diplomacy and brinksmanship.

But Michael Crowley, now the senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico, formerly with Time and the New Republic, has analyzed Clinton’s foreign policy record over the course of her career, and his research has shed light on her Iraq War vote, her personal influences and her underlying views of U.S. foreign policy, all of which deserve serious scrutiny from American voters.

The results of Crowley’s research reveal that Clinton believes firmly in the post-Cold War ambition to establish the U.S. threat or use of force as the ultimate arbiter of international affairs. She does not believe that the U.S. should be constrained by the UN Charter or other rules of international law from threatening or attacking other countries when it can make persuasive political arguments for doing so.

This places Clinton squarely in the “humanitarian interventionist” camp with her close friend and confidante Madeleine Albright, but also in underlying if unspoken agreement with the “neocons” who brought us the Iraq War and the self-fulfilling and ever-expanding “war on terror.”

Neoconservatism and humanitarian interventionism emerged in the 1990s as parallel ways to exploit the post-Cold War “power dividend,” each with its own approach to overcoming legal, diplomatic and political obstacles to the unbridled expansion of U.S. military power. In general, Democratic power brokers favored the humanitarian interventionist approach, while Republicans embraced neoconservatism, but their underlying goals were the same: to politically legitimize U.S. hegemony in the post-Cold War era.

The most self-serving ideologues, like Robert Kagan and his wife Victoria Nuland, soon mastered the nuances of both ideologies and have moved smoothly between administrations of both parties. Victoria Nuland, Dick Cheney’s deputy foreign policy adviser, became Secretary Clinton’s spokesperson and went on to plan the 2014 coup in Ukraine. Robert Kagan, who co-founded the neocon Project for the New American Century with William Kristol in 1997, was appointed by Clinton to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board in 2011.

Kagan wrote of Clinton in 2014, “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy. If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue, it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

In the Clinton White House

In her husband’s White House in the 1990s, Hillary Clinton was not an outsider to the foreign policy debates that laid the groundwork for these new ideologies of U.S. power, which have since unleashed such bloody and intractable conflicts across the world.

In 1993, at a meeting between Clinton’s transition team and Bush’s National Security Council, Madeleine Albright challenged then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell on his “Powell Doctrine” of limited war. Albright asked him, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Hillary Clinton found common ground with Albright, and has likewise derided the Powell doctrine for limiting U.S. military action to “splendid little wars” like the invasions of Grenada, Panama and Kuwait, apparently forgetting that these are the only wars the U.S. has actually won since 1945.

Hillary Clinton reportedly “insist(ed) on Albright’s nomination as Secretary of State in December 1996, and they met regularly at the State Department during Bill Clinton’s second term for in-depth foreign policy discussions aided by White House and State Department staff. Albright called their relationship “an unprecedented partnership.”

With Defense Secretary William Cohen, Albright oversaw the crystallization of America’s aggressive post-Cold War foreign policy in the late 1990s. As UN Ambassador, she maintained and justified sanctions on Iraq, even as they killed hundreds of thousands of children. As Secretary of State, she led the push for the illegal U.S. assault on Yugoslavia in 1999, which set the fateful precedent for further U.S. violations of the U.N. Charter in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria.

James Rubin, Albright’s State Department spokesman, remembers strained phone calls between Albright and U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook during the planning for the bombing of Yugoslavia. Cook told Albright the U.K. government was having problems “with its lawyers” because attacking Yugoslavia without authorization by the U.N. Security Council would violate the UN Charter. Albright told him the U.K. should “get new lawyers.”

Like Secretary Albright, Hillary Clinton strongly supported NATO’s illegal aggression against Yugoslavia. In fact, she later told Talk magazine that she called her husband from Africa to plead with him to order the use of force. “I urged him to bomb,” she said, “You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?”

After the U.S.-U.K. bombing and invasion, the NATO protectorate of Kosovo quickly descended into chaos and organized crime. Hashim Thaci, the gangster who the U.S. installed as its first prime minister, now faces indictment for the very war crimes that U.S. bombing enabled and supported in 1999, including credible allegations that he organized the extrajudicial execution of Serbs to harvest and sell their internal organs.

On Clinton’s holocaust reference, the U.S. and U.K. did carpet-bomb Germany at the height of the Nazi Holocaust, but bombing could not stop the genocide of European Jews any more than it can have a “humanitarian” impact today. The Western allies’ decision to rely mainly on bombing throughout 1942 and 1943 while the Red Army’s “boots on the ground” and the civilians in the concentration camps died in their millions cast a long shadow on today’s policy debates over Syria, Iraq and Libya.

War is always an atrocity and a crime, but relying on bombing and drones to avoid putting “boots on the ground” is uniquely dangerous because it gives politicians the illusion that they can wage war without political risk. In the longer term, from London in the Blitz to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to Islamic State and drone victims today, bombing has always been the surest way to provoke righteous anger, stiffen resistance and reap a whirlwind of blowback.

The 140,000 bombs and missiles the U.S. and its allies have rained down on at least seven countries since 2001 are the poisonous seeds of a harvest of intractable conflict that is still gathering strength after 14 years of war.

The Clinton administration formalized its illegal doctrine of unilateral military force in its 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, declaring, “When the interests at stake are vital we should do whatever it takes to defend them, including, when necessary, the unilateral use of military power. U.S. vital national interests include preventing the emergence of a hostile regional coalition (and) ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources.”

Arguments based on “vital interests” are dangerous precisely because they are politically persuasive to the citizens of any country. But this is precisely the justification for war that the U.N. Charter was designed to prohibit, as the U.K.’s senior legal adviser, Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice, explained to his government during the Suez crisis in 1956. He wrote, “The plea of vital interest, which has been one of the main justifications for wars in the past, is indeed the very one which the U.N. Charter was intended to exclude.”

Senator Clinton’s Iraq War Vote 

Sixteen years after the bombing of Yugoslavia, bombing to “prevent holocausts” and wars to “defend” ill-defined and virtually unlimited U.S. interests have succeeded only in launching a new holocaust that has killed at least 1.6 million people and plunged a dozen countries into intractable chaos.

As Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee wrote of his colleagues who voted to authorize war on Iraq in 2002, “Helping a rogue President start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment…”

As the results of that decision keep spinning farther out of control, it seems increasingly remarkable that U.S. officials who authorized a war based on lies with millions of lives in the balance still have careers in public policy. If it costs Clinton another presidential nomination, that is a small price to pay when weighed against the holocaust she helped to unleash on tens of millions of people.

But what if her vote for an illegal and devastating war was not a momentary “lapse of judgment”, but was in fact consistent with her views then and her views now?

As the Bush administration lobbied senators to support the Iraq AUMF in 2002, Senator Clinton had several private chats with Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, an old friend from Yale Law School. An unnamed Bush official, possibly Hadley, told Michael Crowley, “I was kind of pleasantly surprised by her attitude.”

But Albright’s former assistant James Rubin was not surprised by Clinton’s vote on Iraq. He found it consistent with the position of the Clinton administration and Albright’s State Department that U.S. “diplomacy” must be backed up by the threat of military force.

“I think there is a connection to her vote,” Rubin told Michael Crowley, “which is recognizing that the right combination of force and diplomacy (sic) can achieve America’s objectives. Sometimes, to get things done – like getting inspectors back into Iraq –  you do have to be prepared to threaten force.”

But this evades the critical question of U.S. obligations under the U.N. Charter, which prohibits the threat and use of force. Senator Levin introduced an amendment to the Iraq AUMF bill that would have only authorized the use of force if it was approved by the U.N. Security Council. Senator Clinton voted against that amendment, making it clear that she supported the threat and use of force against Iraq whether it was legal or not.

Clinton has defended her vote on the basis of providing a credible threat of force to back up the call for inspections, in keeping with her long-standing preference for threats and brinksmanship over diplomacy. But the problem with threats of force is that they often lead to the use of force, as we have now seen repeatedly since the U.S. has embraced this aggressive and illegal approach to international affairs.

This is exactly why the U.N. Charter prohibits the threat as well as the use of force. The absolute priority of world leaders in 1945 was peace, and so the U.N. Charter prohibited both the threat and use of force, based on bitter experience of how the one so easily leads to the other.

The fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy since the 1980s has been to renounce peace as an overriding priority and to politically legitimize U.S. war-making. The U.S. has therefore, without public debate, abandoned FDR’s post-WWII “permanent structure of peace” based on the U.N. Charter. The U.S. also withdrew from the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, after it found the U.S. guilty of aggression against Nicaragua in 1986, and it likewise rejects the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court.

U.S. government lawyers now pass off political arguments as legal cover for aggression, torture, killing civilians and other war crimes, secure in the knowledge that they will never be forced to defend their legally indefensible opinions in impartial courts.

When President George W. Bush unveiled his illegal “doctrine of preemption” in 2002, Sen. Edward Kennedy called it, “a call for Twenty-first Century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.”

But the same must be said of this entire decades-long effort by the Clintons, Bushes, Albright, Cheney and others to liberate the U.S. military industrial complex from the restraints placed upon it by the rule of international law.

Secretary of State – Iraq and Afghanistan

Hillary Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State were consistent with her role working with her husband and Madeleine Albright in the 1990s, and in the Senate with the Bush administration, to fundamentally corrupt U.S. foreign policy.

Robert Gates’s book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, has provided revealing insights into Clinton’s personal contributions to White House foreign policy debates on the vital issues of Obama’s first term, in which she was always the most hawkish of Obama’s senior advisers, more hawkish than his Republican Secretary of Defense.

gates-dutyAt Clinton’s first “town hall” with foreign service officers at the State Department, Steve Kashkett of the American Foreign Service Association asked Clinton how soon the State Department’s deployment of 1,200 staff to the massive U.S. occupation headquarters in Baghdad would be reduced “to that of a normal diplomatic mission” to ease critical understaffing at other U.S. embassies all over the world.

Clinton instead launched a “civilian surge,” doubling the already overweight State Department deployment in Baghdad to 2,400. When the Iraqi government refused to allow 3,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq to protect the embassy staff – and Clinton had wanted even more than that – she hired 7,000 heavily-armed mercenaries to do the job instead.

As Clinton doubled down on the failed U.S. effort to control a puppet government in Iraq whose courageous people’s resistance had already made U.S. military occupation unsustainable, she was also keen to put the lives of more U.S. troops on the line in the even longer-running quagmire in Afghanistan.

When President Obama took office, there were 34,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but only 645 had been killed in seven years of combat. A Pew poll found that only 18 percent of Afghans surveyed wanted more U.S. troops in their country.

Secretary Clinton backed Obama’s first decision to commit an additional 30,000 troops to the war. Then, in mid-2009, General Stanley McChrystal submitted a request for a second increase of 40,000 troops. He also submitted a classified assessment that a genuine campaign to defeat the Taliban and its allies would require 500,000 U.S. troops for five years, acknowledging that neither 65,000 nor 105,000 troops could possibly achieve that.

Clinton supported McChrystal’s request and was eager to match it with a State Department “civilian surge” like the one in Iraq. Among Obama’s other advisers, Vice President Joe Biden opposed any further escalation, while Secretary Gates recommended a smaller increase of 30,000 troops, which was what Obama ultimately approved.

When Obama and his aides debated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Clinton was again the most hawkish, arguing for no reduction in troop strength until 2013.  In a typically arbitrary political compromise, Obama split the difference between Clinton and the doves and ordered the first withdrawals to begin in September 2012.

By the time the U.S. “combat mission” ended in 2014, 2,356 U.S. troops had met their deaths in the “graveyard of empires.” In 2016, the Taliban and its allies control more of Afghanistan than at any time since 2001, as they fight to expel the 10,000 U.S. troops still deployed there.

A complete withdrawal of foreign troops has always been the Taliban’s first precondition for opening serious peace talks with the government, so the 2009-10 escalations, which Clinton backed to the hilt, served only to kill 1,711 more Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans, prolonging the war and undermining diplomacy in the futile hope of saving a corrupt regime of U.S.-backed warlords and drug-lords.

President Obama’s latest plan, to keep at least 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, ensures that the war will continue into the next administration, even as Islamic State begins to move into another failed state already devastated by more than 60,000 U.S. bombs and missiles.

Secretary of State – Libya and Syria

President Obama’s advisers were even more divided over launching a new war to overthrow the government of Libya. Despite Secretary Gates telling a Congressional hearing that the first phase of a “no-fly zone” would be a bombing campaign to destroy Libyan air defenses, a Pew poll found that, while 44 percent of the public supported a “no-fly zone,” only 16 percent supported “bombing Libyan air defenses.” Even after being caught with its pants down over Iraq, the U.S. corporate media has not lost its talent for confusing Americans into war.

Secretary Gates wrote in Duty that he was so opposed to U.S. intervention in Libya that he considered resigning.  President Obama was so undecided that he called his final decision a “51-49 call.”  The other advocates for bombing were U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Council staffers Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power, so Secretary Clinton was the most senior, and almost certainly the decisive voice in sealing the fate of Muammar Gaddafi and the people of Libya.

Despite a U.N. resolution that authorized military force only to “protect civilians,” the U.S. and its allies intervened to support forces who were explicitly fighting to overthrow the Libyan government. NATO and its Arab monarchist allies conducted 7,700 air strikes in seven months, while NATO warships shelled coastal cities. The rebel forces on the ground, including Islamist fundamentalists, were trained and led on the ground by Qatari, British, French and Jordanian special forces.

In their short-sighted triumphalism over Libya, NATO and Arab monarchist leaders thought they had finally found a model for regime change that worked. Seduced by the blood-drenched mirage in the Libyan desert, they made the cynical decision to double down on what they knew very well would be a longer, more complicated and bloodier proxy war in Syria.

Only a few months after a gleeful Secretary Clinton hailed the sodomy and assassination of Gaddafi, unmarked NATO planes were flying fighters and weapons from Libya to the “Free Syrian Army” training base at Iskenderum in Turkey, where British and French special forces provided more training and the CIA and JSOC infiltrated them into Syria.

Residents of Aleppo were shocked to find their city invaded, not by Syrian rebels, but by Islamist fighters from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt. Despite the already brutal repression of the Syrian government, a Qatari-funded YouGov poll in December 2011 found that 55 percent of Syrians still supported their government, understanding that the alternative could be much worse.

Secretary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy assembled the Orwellian “Friends of Syria” coalition that undermined Kofi Annan’s 2012 peace plan by committing more funding, arms and support to their proxy forces instead of pressuring them to honor Annan’s April 10th ceasefire and begin negotiations for a political transition.

When Annan finally got all the countries involved to sign on to the Geneva communique on June 30, 2012, providing for a new ceasefire and a political transition, he received assurances that it would quickly be formalized in a new U.N. Security Council resolution. Instead, Clinton and her allies revived their precondition that President Assad must resign before any transition could begin, the critical precondition they had set aside in Geneva. With no possibility of agreement in the Security Council, Annan resigned in despair.

Almost four years later, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed in an ever more convoluted and dangerous war, now involving the armed forces of 16 countries, each with their own interests and their own relationships with different proxy forces on the ground. In many areas, the U.S. supports and arms both sides.

Turkey, a NATO member and major U.S. arms buyer, is attacking the YPG Kurdish forces who have been the U.S.’s most effective ally on the ground against Islamic State.  And the sectarian government to whom the U.S. handed over the ruins of Iraq is sending U.S.-armed militias to fight U.S.-armed rebels in Syria.

Obama’s and Clinton’s doctrine of covert and proxy war, by which they still tout drone strikes, JSOC death squads, CIA coups and local proxy forces as politically safe “tools” to project U.S. power across the world without the deployment of U.S. “boots on the ground,” has destroyed Libya, Yemen, Syria and Ukraine, and left U.S. foreign policy in an unprecedented crisis.

Hanging over this escalating, out-of-control crisis is the existential danger of war between the U.S. and Russia, who together possess 14,700 nuclear weapons with the destructive power to end life on Earth as we know it.  With her demonstrated, deeply-held belief in the superiority of threats, brinksmanship and war over diplomacy and the rule of law, surely the last thing the world needs now is Hillary Clinton playing chicken with the Russians while the fate of life on Earth hangs in the balance.

Based on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ record in Congress, his prescient floor speech during the Iraq War debate in 2002 and his campaign’s position statement on “War and Peace”, he at least understands the most obvious lesson of U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era, that it is easier to unleash the dogs of war than to call them off once they have tasted blood. Incredibly, this makes him almost unique among U.S. leaders of this generation.

But there are real flaws in Sanders’s position statement. He cites “vital strategic interests” as a justification for war, dodging the thorny problem that international disputes typically involve “vital strategic interests” on both sides, which the U.N. Charter addresses by requiring them to be resolved peacefully without the threat or use of force.

And instead of pointing out that Clinton’s brinksmanship with Iran risked a second war in 10 years over non-existent WMDs, he repeats the canard that Iran was “developing nuclear weapons” before the signing of the JCPOA in 2015.

Sen. Sanders has launched an unprecedented campaign to challenge the way powerful vested interests have corrupted our elections, our political system and our economy. But the same interests have also corrupted our foreign policy, squandering our national wealth on weapons and war, killing millions of people and plunging country after country into war, ruin and chaos.

To succeed, the Sanders “revolution” must restore integrity to our country’s role in the world as well as to our political and economic system.

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

Which Democrat Stood for Civil Rights?

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton is more committed to the African-American community than Bernie Sanders and thus deserves the black vote but Clinton supported the drive toward mass incarceration, vowing to bring young “super-predators to heel,” as Marjorie Cohn recalls.

By Marjorie Cohn

Twenty years after the so-called “trial of the century,” FX is presenting the miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Like 100 million other people across the country, I watched the 1995 murder trial on television. I also was a legal commentator for CBS News and Court TV.

Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice, a book I co-authored with veteran CBS News correspondent David Dow, was based largely on the Simpson case. I use transcripts and examples from the trial in my evidence and criminal procedure classes at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. I am still convinced that race played a major role in the not-guilty verdict.

It is no surprise that the miniseries begins with the vicious 1991 beating of Rodney King and the riots that ensued after the 1992 acquittal of the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who assaulted King. The incident, which had been recorded on videotape, went viral.

The jurors in the Simpson trial were well aware of the King case. Nine of the jurors were African-American, and one was Latino. The case was tried in downtown Los Angeles. These jurors knew the LAPD was notorious for committing misconduct, especially against blacks, and they could well believe that the police had framed Simpson The prosecution made several strategic errors that enabled the jury to find reasonable doubt. Since the jurors were sequestered for nine months, they became a tight unit. It didn’t take them long to agree on the not-guilty verdict.

During the preliminary hearing, LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman denied that he had used the N-word in the previous 10 years. At trial, the defense presented two witnesses who testified that Fuhrman had recently used the expletive. Since the preliminary hearing was televised, these defense witnesses came forward after seeing Fuhrman’s testimony on TV. The issue shifted from Simpson’s guilt to Fuhrman’s racism.

As prosecutor Marcia Clark intoned during the trial, there was “a mountain of evidence” against Simpson. His blood was discovered at the crime scene in Brentwood, an affluent neighborhood of Los Angeles, and blood matching the victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, was found on a glove. Three different laboratories analyzed the DNA, but Simpson’s “dream team” of top lawyers challenged the collection of the blood evidence and raised the issue of possible contamination. The jury apparently believed that Fuhrman, a racist, could have planted the bloody glove on Simpson’s property.

Blacks and whites, by and large, reacted differently to the not-guilty verdict, according to a Los Angeles Times poll. While most white people thought Simpson was guilty, many African-Americans felt vindicated by the verdict. For blacks, Columbia professor John McWhorter wrote in The New York Times, “it was about the centrality of police brutality to black Americans’ very sense of self.”

Viewing the verdict 20 years later through the prism of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is not difficult to understand. We see unjustified killings of black men all too often. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and many others come to mind. “Talk to most black people about racism,” McWhorter noted, “and you need only count the seconds before the cops come up.”

The country’s polarization between “black lives matter” and “all lives matter” and the pundits’ divergent opinions on Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime performance parallel the racial divide we saw in the aftermath of the Simpson trial.

Many white people have tried to dilute the critical slogan “black lives matter” by saying, well, “all lives matter.” Of course they do, but the history of this country is permeated with institutional racism and prejudice. Beyoncé’s dancers were dressed as Black Panthers, and in her video for her newest single, “Formation,” released the day before the Super Bowl, she dramatized the racist response to the Katrina tragedy by lying on a New Orleans police car as it sank into floodwaters.

We have come a long way since the days of slavery and Jim Crow, and we do have a black president. But institutional racism is unfortunately alive and well in the United States. Mass incarceration, racial profiling, infant mortality and lack of access to quality education and health care all disproportionately affect African-Americans.

As we ponder whom to support in the presidential primaries, let us ask ourselves which candidate will passionately and tirelessly fight racism on the institutional level. That means creating jobs, implementing universal health care, ending the militarism of the police and advocating legislation to reduce the draconian sentences that disproportionately impact African-Americans.

It is commonly thought that Hillary Clinton is more committed to the black community than Bernie Sanders is. But in the 1980s, when Clinton was the first lady of Arkansas, she vilified public school teachers and their union. Many or most of them were African-American, and as legal scholar and The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander has pointed out, the U.S. prison population increased more under Bill Clinton than any other president. He supported racial disparity in sentencing and the heavy-handed “three strikes.”

When Hillary Clinton advocated for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which created 60 new death penalty offenses, provided $9.7 billion for prisons and eliminated inmate education programs, “she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals,” Alexander wrote in The Nation.

Clinton said at the time, “They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended that way, but first we have bring them to heel.” Bring them to heel. …

When civil rights icon John Lewis announced that the political action committee of the Congressional Black Caucus was endorsing Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, he said he had never encountered Bernie Sanders during the civil rights movement. But as Tim Murphy points out in Mother Jones, Sanders was very active in the movement at the University of Chicago. As president of the University of Chicago’s Congress of Racial Equality, Sanders organized pickets and sit-ins. He was arrested for resisting arrest when he protested segregation.

As Democrats make their choice for presidential nominee, all of us must ask which candidate would better serve the interests of all of us and work to end racism in every possible way.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, criminal defense attorney, and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is co-author (with David Dow) of “Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice.” See You can follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn. [This article first appeared on Truthdig []