A Day When Journalism Died

Exclusive: Dec. 9 has a grim meaning for the Republic, the date in 2004 when investigative reporter Gary Webb, driven to ruin by vindictive press colleagues for reviving the Contra-cocaine scandal, took his own life, a demarcation as the U.S. press went from protecting the people to shielding the corrupt, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Looking back over my four decades in the national news media, it’s hard to identify one moment when American journalism died. The process was a slow and ugly one, with incremental acts of cowardice accumulating until mainstream reporters were clearly part of the problem, not anything to do with a solution. But the date Dec. 9 has a special place in that sad progression.

It was on Dec. 9, 2004, when the mean-spirited mainstream media’s treatment of investigative journalist Gary Webb led him his career devastated, his family broken, his money gone and his life seemingly hopeless to commit suicide. It was a moment that should have shamed all the big-shot journalists who had a hand in Webb’s destruction, but it mostly didn’t.

Webb’s offense was to have revived the shocking story of the Reagan administration’s tolerance of cocaine smuggling by the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s. Though the scandal was real and had been partly exposed in real time the major newspapers had locked arms in defense of President Ronald Reagan and the CIA. The sordid scandal apparently was deemed “not good for the country,” so it was buried.

My Associated Press colleague, Brian Barger, and I had written the first story exposing the Contras’ involvement in cocaine smuggling in 1985, but our story was attacked by Reagan’s skillful propaganda team, which got The New York Times and other major news outlets to buy into the denials.

Later that decade, a gutsy investigation by then-Sen. John Kerry filled in some of the gaps showing how the Reagan administration’s collaboration with drug-tainted airlines and other parts of the Contras’ cocaine smuggling apparatus had functioned. But Kerry’s probe was also mocked by the major media. Sniffing out that conventional wisdom, Newsweek deemed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.”

Kerry’s brush with this near-political-death-experience over the Contra-cocaine scandal taught him some hard lessons about survival in Washington, which help explain why he was such a disappointing candidate during Election 2004 and why he has shown such timidity in challenging Official Washington’s “group thinks” as Secretary of State.

For both U.S. journalists and politicians, there was no upside to doing the hard work of exposing this kind of crime of state. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What’s the Matter with John Kerry.”]

Same Stonewall

In 1996, Gary Webb encountered the same stonewall when he stumbled onto evidence showing that some of the Contra cocaine, after being smuggled into the United States, had flowed into the production of “crack” cocaine in Los Angeles and contributed to the “crack epidemic” of the 1980s.

When he published his findings in a series for the San Jose Mercury News, the major newspapers had a choice: either admit that they had slinked away from one of the biggest scandals of the 1980s or redouble their efforts to discredit the story and to destroy anyone who dared touch it. They went with option two.

In a tag-team pummeling of Gary Webb, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times all denounced Webb and decried his reporting. Soon, Webb’s editors at the Mercury News were feeling the heat and rather than back their reporter, they sought to salvage their own careers. They sold Webb out and he was soon out of a job and unemployable in the mainstream media.

The bitter irony was that Webb’s reporting finally forced a relatively thorough and honest investigation by the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who concluded in 1998 that not only were the Contras involved in the drug trade from their start in 1980 and through the entire decade but that CIA officers were aware of the problem and helped cover it up, putting the goal of ousting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government ahead of blowing the whistle on these corrupt CIA clients.

Yet, even the CIA’s confession wasn’t enough to shame the major newspapers into admitting the truth and acknowledging their own culpability in the long-running cover-up. It remained easier to continue the demonization of Gary Webb.

At Consortiumnews, we were one of the few news outlets that examined the extraordinary admissions contained in the CIA’s two-volume report and in a corresponding Justice Department Inspector General’s report, which added more details about how criminal investigations of the Contras were thwarted. But, sadly, we lacked the reach and the clout of the major newspapers.

As the controversy bubbled in 1996, I also had joined with Webb in several speaking engagements on the West Coast. Though we sometimes spoke to large and enthusiastic crowds, the power of the Big Media overwhelmed everything, especially the truth. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]

Webb’s Demise

In the years after the Contra-cocaine story was buried once again, I lost touch with Webb who had landed a job with a California state legislative committee. So, I didn’t realize that after that job ended, Webb’s life was spiraling downward. Even modest-sized newspapers refused to consider hiring the “disgraced” reporter.

Webb’s marriage fell apart; he struggled to pay child-support and other bills; he was faced with a forced move out of a house near Sacramento, California, and in with his mother. Deeply depressed, according to his family members, Webb chose to end his life.

On Dec. 9, 2004, the 49-year-old Webb typed out suicide notes to his ex-wife and his three children; laid out a certificate for his cremation; and taped a note on the door telling movers, who were coming the next morning, to instead call 911.

Webb then took out his father’s pistol and shot himself in the head. The first shot was not lethal, so he fired once more. (Yes, I know that conspiracy theorists have seized on the two shots to insist that Webb was murdered by the CIA, but there is no proof of that and by pushing that baseless account, people simply let the real culprits the big newspapers off the hook.)

After Webb’s body was found, I received a call from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times who knew that I was one of Webb’s few journalistic colleagues who had defended him and his work. I told the reporter that American history owed a great debt to Gary Webb because he had forced out important facts about Reagan-era crimes. But I added that the Los Angeles Times would be hard-pressed to write an honest obituary because the newspaper had essentially ignored Hitz’s final report, which had largely vindicated Webb.

To my disappointment but not my surprise, I was correct. The Los Angeles Times ran a mean-spirited obituary that made no mention of either my defense of Webb, nor the CIA’s admissions in 1998. The obituary was republished in other newspapers, including The Washington Post.

Even though Webb’s reputation posthumously received some rehabilitation with a sympathetic portrayal of his ordeal in Jeremy Renner’s 2014 movie, “Kill the Messenger,” some news executives who aided the Contra-cocaine cover-up in the 1980s and abetted the destruction of Webb in the 1990s still won’t admit their complicity in suppressing one of the most important stories of that era, people such as The Washington Post’s Jeff Leen and Leonard Downie. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “WPost’s Slimy Attack on Gary Webb and “How the Washington Press Turned Bad.”]

A few journalists have continued to find nuggets of the Contra-cocaine scandal, including from accounts by former CIA contract pilot Robert “Tosh” Plumlee, who supplied details about his work ferrying guns and drugs for Reagan’s Contras, as reported by John McPhaul of The Tico Times, based in San Jose, Costa Rica. Even Fox News poked into the Contra-cocaine connection in an article about alleged CIA complicity in the 1985 torture-murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.

But the resistance from the major U.S. news media and the ferocity from Reagan’s acolytes whenever their hero’s legacy is challenged have left this very real scandal in the netherworld of doubt and uncertainty, a key chapter of America’s Lost History in which Dec. 9, 2004, conveys a baleful message.

[As part of our end-of-year fund drive, Consortiumnews is offering a DVD of “Kill the Messenger” and a CD of Webb and Parry speaking about the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996. For details on this special offer, click here.]

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




Why Syria’s Options Are So Bad

The incoherence of Western policy toward Syria goes back decades to Cold War covert schemes that thwarted a democratic turn — and to more recent neocon insistence on “regime change,” not negotiations. Those choices have now left the West with a set of unpalatable options, says Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

In Syria, the West finds itself stuck between the Islamic State and President Bashar al-Assad, fighting a war that the West doesn’t want either side to win. It fights the Islamic State enough to weaken it without a victorious Assad staying in power; it opposes Assad but not enough to take him and his forces out of the fight against the Islamic State. It is a war in which our “allies” fund and arm our “enemies,” and our “enemies” are our “allies.”

But it is worth remembering that it didn’t have to be this way. We didn’t have to get stuck with the choice of extremists or unfriendly dictator. Even leaving aside the contribution America’s war and post-war policies in Iraq made to the genesis of the Islamic State, the West didn’t have to be facing such a powerful network of extremists today.

As Vice President Joe Biden confessed during a 2014 talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School, “[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis.”

This financing and arming of extremist jihadis by our Mideast “allies” was not being done in secret, hidden from Washington by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other Sunni-ruled states. The Obama administration knew of it and tolerated it.

As David Ignatius of the Washington Post has reported, President Barack “Obama and the other US officials urged Gulf leaders who are funding the opposition to keep control of their clients so that a post-Assad regime isn’t controlled by extremists from Islamic State or al-Qaeda.” Obama did not order them to stop funding the rebels, but to keep them under just enough control that they can defeat Assad without accomplishing an outright victory for the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

By August 2012 at the latest, the U.S. government knew of the dominant influence of the Islamic State in the forces opposed to Assad but went on funding them. Former U.S. Special Forces chief and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Mike Flynn says that the US “totally blew it” in preventing the rise of the Islamic State “in the very beginning.”

He says that when he was the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S. was deliberately backing the extremists in the Syrian opposition. Since the Obama administration knew extremists were driving the opposition, Flynn calls supporting the extremists a “willful decision.” How does Flynn know that the Obama administration knew it was backing extremists? Because he’s the one who told them.

The Defense Intelligence Agency had written and widely circulated a classified report that clearly stated that “The salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq, later ISIS and the Islamic State] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”

It also clearly stated the seriousness of the Islamic State’s role: “If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared salafist principality in eastern Syria.” The report even goes on to warn that “ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

So the U.S. is stuck between extremists and an uncooperative dictator because of a “willful decision” it made regarding the extremists, fully aware of the possible consequences. But it is also stuck in this predicament because it rejected opportunities to develop better relations and even cooperation with the dictator.

The West’s current position is to eliminate the risk of Assad prevailing in a democratic vote by removing or disqualifying him before Syrians get a chance to participate in an internationally observed election. In contrast, the Russians want to let the Syrians decide for themselves and not have Assad’s removal imposed externally and inevitably.

Though President Obama has continued to insist on Assad’s removal as part of any negotiated peace agreement, Kerry recently indicated that there could be some flexibility on timing.

Historic U.S. Meddling

Syria may be a dictatorship today, but it didn’t necessarily have to be that way. Syria had a brief tryst with democracy in the early years of its independence from French colonial rule after World War II, but that experiment was quickly snuffed out by American interference.

In 1949, before the birth of the CIA, two U.S. secret agents, Stephen Meade and Miles Copeland, both later CIA officers, helped the Syrian military pull off a coup. That coup triggered a series of coups and countercoups, with the U.S. frequently changing sides.

Then in 1956, with Syria moving closer to Egypt and its president Gamal Abdel Nasser, with his ideas of neutralism and a pan-Arab United Arab Republic that Cold War America could not bear, President Dwight Eisenhower initiated Project Wakeful, an unsuccessful covert action for regime change in Syria, to be followed by Operation Wappen in 1957, which failed just as badly: the CIA agents were caught in the act and thrown out of Syria. [See John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA, p.163-4.]

So, the U.S. government played a role in preventing popular democracy from taking root in Syria. Instead, Syrian authoritarianism was preserved. However, even as a dictatorship, Syria could have become something of an ally. But Washington prevented that too.

For many years prior to the current civil war, Syria had been anxious to do everything the West wanted her to do in order to move closer to both the U.S. and Israel. According to Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, in 2000, Israel and Syria came very close to a peace agreement.

Upon succeeding his late father Hafez al-Assad in July 2000, Bashar al-Assad requested that those talks resume, but the Israelis and Americans turned him down. Later, in 2005, the Israelis and Syrians actually began drafting a peace treaty. Two years later, after the Israeli-Lebanese war, Israel asked the U.S. about resuming those talks, but the Americans said no.

Syria continued to solicit cooperation with Washington, but U.S. officials continued to spurn those solicitations. According to Zunes, as recently as 2007, the Bush administration continued to bar Israel from resuming peace negotiations with Syria.

Syria, Zunes says, was eager for international legitimacy and was willing to give security guarantees and full diplomatic relations to Israel in exchange for a peace agreement. But Zunes says President George W. Bush was more interested in changing the regime in Syria — as part of the neoconservative scheme for “regime change” in Mideast countries deemed troublesome — than in dealing with Assad’s government.

And Syria’s outreach didn’t stop in 2007. According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, prior to the war in Gaza, Syria and Israel with the help of Turkey “had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations.” Hersh says many issues had been resolved and that Israel and Syria had reached “agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations.”

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, told Hersh that “Syria is eager to engage with the West.”

Ironically, Hersh quotes then-Sen. John Kerry, who met with Assad on several occasions, as saying that Assad “wants to engage with the West . . . . Assad is willing to do the things he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States.”

According to Hersh, informal exchanges between Washington and Syria also took place under the Obama administration. But those talks, as is now apparent, failed.

When I asked Stephen Zunes why those talks failed, he did not blame the Syrians but “[t]he new hard-right Israeli government that consolidated power in 2009” under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nothing could happen, Zunes said, “without the return of the Golan, which Netanyahu refuses to do.”

So, the U.S. government had the opportunity to help Syria to transition from dictatorship to democracy after World War II and, later, to transition Syria from an unfriendly dictatorship to a friendly one, but chose instead different options that have paved the way to the current crisis.

Because of “willful decision[s],” America is now stuck with violent extremism on one side and an unfriendly dictatorship on the other. But history shows that it didn’t have to be that way.

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.




Translating Obama’s Speech into Candor

President Obama’s primetime speech on terrorism sought to calm a jittery nation, but by omitting relevant details, he left many thoughtful Americans scratching their heads. To clarify the unspoken parts of Obama’s speech, Norman Solomon has translated the speech into the language of candor.

By Norman Solomon

Here is a condensed version of President Obama’s speech from the Oval Office on Sunday night, unofficially translated into plain English:

I kind of realize we can’t kill our way out of this conflict with ISIL, but in the short term hopefully we can kill our way out of the danger of a Republican victory in the presidential race next year.

As a practical matter, the current hysteria needs guidance, not a sense of proportion along the lines of what the New York Times just mentioned in passing: “The death toll from jihadist terrorism on American soil since the Sept. 11 attacks — 45 people — is about the same as the 48 killed in terrorist attacks motivated by white supremacist and other right-wing extremist ideologies. … And both tolls are tiny compared with the tally of conventional murders, more than 200,000 over the same period.”

While I’m urging some gun control, that certainly doesn’t apply to the Pentagon. The Joint Chiefs and their underlings have passed all the background checks they need by virtue of getting to put on a uniform of the United States Armed Forces.

As much as we must denounce the use of any guns that point at us, we must continue to laud the brave men and women who point guns for us — and who fire missiles at terrorists and possible terrorists and sometimes unfortunately at wedding parties or misidentified vehicles or teenagers posthumously classified as “militants” after signature strikes or children who get in the way.

We can’t see ourselves in the folks we kill. But I know that we see ourselves with friends and co­workers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino. I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris.

Also I know we don’t see ourselves in the blameless individuals who have been beheaded by our ally Saudi Arabia, which has executed 150 people this year mostly by cutting off their heads with swords.

Nor should we bother to see ourselves in the people the Saudi government is slaughtering with airstrikes in Yemen on a daily basis. We sell the Saudis many billions of dollars worth of weapons that make the killings in San Bernardino look smaller than puny. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

I gave a lofty major speech a couple of years ago about how a democratic society can’t have perpetual war. I like to talk about such sugary ideals; a spoonful helps the doublethink medicine go down.

Let me now say a word about what we should not do. We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. The United States of America has colossal air power — and we’re going to use it. No muss, little fuss: except for people under the bombs, now being utilized at such a fast pace that the warhead supply chain is stretched thin.

Yes, we’re escalating a bit on the ground too, with hundreds of special operations forces going into Syria despite my numerous public statements — adding up to more than a dozen since August 2013 — that American troops would not be sent to Syria. Likewise we’ve got several thousand soldiers in Iraq, five years after I solemnly announced that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.”

But here’s the main thing: In the Middle East, the USA will be number one in dropping bombs and firing missiles. Lots of them! It’s true that we keep making enemies faster than we can possibly kill them, but that’s the nature of the beast.

In Afghanistan too. At the end of last year I ceremoniously proclaimed that “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion” and the United States “will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan.” But within 10 months I changed course and declared that 5,500 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan into 2017.

Midway through this fall — even before the terrorist attacks in Paris — the United States had launched an average of about 50 airstrikes per week in Syria during the previous year, and the New York Times reported that the U.S. military was preparing “to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State” on Syrian territory.

And according to official Pentagon figures, the U.S.-led aerial bombing in Iraq has topped 4,500 airstrikes in the last year — approaching an average rate of 100 per week.

Our military will hunt down terrorist plotters where they are plotting against us. In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out some of the latest ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure. I’ve got to tell you that these actions will defeat ISIL, but I’ve got to not tell you that the airstrikes will kill a lot of civilians while launching new cycles of what gave rise to ISIL in the first place — inflaming rage and grief while serving as a powerful recruitment tool for people to take up arms against us.

In the name of defeating terrorist forces, our air war has the effect of recruiting for them. Meanwhile, in Syria, our obsession with regime change has propelled us into closely aligning with extremist jihadi fighters. They sure appreciate the large quantities of our weapons that end up in their arsenals.

You don’t expect this policy to make a lot of sense, do you?

Norman Solomon is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.




The Incredible Shrinking President

Exclusive: Trying to soothe American fears about “terrorism,” President Obama glossed over the dangerous contradictions in his own policy, particularly the fact that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other “allies” have been helping Al Qaeda and ISIS, notes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

President Barack Obama came off well in his nationwide address on the San Bernardino shootings. He was lively and expressive and he even achieved a moment of pathos when he urged Americans not to “turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.”

But otherwise he was the incredible shrinking president. The problem was not so much his use of clichés the victims are “part of our American family founded upon a belief in human dignity let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional,” etc. rote phrases that are somehow meant to be reassuring and comforting.

Rather, it was the denials, half-truths and outright misstatements that leave no doubt that the man is clinging to a failed policy and that whatever changes he makes in the wake of the San Bernardino killings will only make matters worse.

As for half-truths and misstatements, perhaps the best place to begin is with the concept of terrorism. Although Obama spoke the T-word some two dozen times during the course of his address, he holds a selective view of what it means.

While everyone agrees that setting off a bomb on a crowded bus is terrorism, what about using an F-16 to deposit a bomb in the middle of a Yemeni wedding party is that terrorism too? If shooting up health workers is terrorism, then what about using an AC-130 gunship to bomb and strafe hospital workers in Afghanistan? What is the difference?

By any objective measure, there isn’t any. This is why Obama and others utter the word “terrorism” so incessantly because it is a highly-loaded term that serves as a smokescreen to disguise the true nature of their own activities. It allows them to get away with murder, but it also leaves them punching at the air.

By arbitrarily classifying certain groups as terrorist or non-terrorist merely because of which side they happen to be on at any given moment, Obama and other abusers of the T-word wind up not only fooling the public, but themselves as well.

Is Al Qaeda Still Terrorist?

This tendency toward self-deception was evident in Obama’s references to Al Qaeda and ISIL (also known as ISIS, Islamic State and Daesh).

“Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas,” he said, “disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership.”  But then, a few minutes later, he added:

“In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure. And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies including France, Germany and the United Kingdom have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign, which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.”

But wait what happened to Al Qaeda? Obama’s sleight of hand was designed to obscure the fact that, while bombing ISIS, the U.S. has been standing by as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two of its closest regional “allies,” have channeled money and arms to Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, via an Islamist umbrella group calling itself the Army of Conquest.

The Obama administration didn’t object when the Saudi-supplied Al Nusra Front and its principal “Army of Conquest” ally, another jihadi group called Ahrar al-Sham, used U.S.-made TOW missiles in an offensive to seize portions of Idlib province. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”

The administration didn’t even speak up when Al Nusra issued an Arabic-language video thanking the U.S.-backed and supposedly “moderate” Free Syrian Army for supplying it with advanced weaponry, according to a new Israeli-Arab news organization known as Al-Masdar.

So, while bragging about killing bin Laden (in 2011) and “decimating” Al Qaeda’s leadership, Obama forgot to mention that the U.S. is currently backing the same forces as they seek to topple the Assad government in Damascus or at least backing groups that cooperate with Al Qaeda.

Obama noted that “groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria” while also forgetting to mention growing reports that it is not only chaos that has allowed ISIS to grow, but donations from super-rich Arab gulf monarchies, which the U.S. government considers its “allies.”

“We’re working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria,” Obama added, when in fact Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu has already given the proposal the cold shoulder and Turkey’s alleged border-sealing effort is belied by evidence that giant convoys carrying ISIS oil have been routinely entering Turkey without resistance. At least until Russia essentially shamed the U.S. into joining in a bombing interdiction campaign last month.

Obama bragged that “sixty-five countries have joined an American-led coalition” against ISIS, an unconscious echo of George W. Bush’s claim that 48 nations had joined a “Coalition of the Willing”  to invade Iraq. But Obama neglected to note that the Saudis and other Gulf monarchies have all but abandoned the effort in order to concentrate on their sectarian war against Shi’ite Houthis in Yemen, where some 2,600 civilians have died since air strikes began in March.

Obama also forgot to mention Russia, whose warplanes are pounding ISIS, Al Nusra and other rebel forces. While promising to “continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground so that we take away their safe havens,” Obama said nothing about tens of thousands of Syrian army troops who have been battling ISIS, Al Nusra, and other Salafist groups since at least 2012, despite sanctions from the U.S. and other Western powers.

Obama also failed to mention Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even though overthrowing his government is clearly America’s prime goal. Somehow, Obama has gotten it into his head that the best way to combat ISIS is by ridding it of its foremost enemy, a case of self-deception raised to the nth degree.

The Saudi Brand of Islam

But Obama was perhaps at his most duplicitous in his comments about religion. The killers in San Bernardino “embrac[ed] a perverted interpretation of Islam,” he said.

But, Obama added, Islamic State “does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world, including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology.”

That is quite true. But then he went on to say:

“That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”

Yet, if Muslim leaders are to “continue” working to oppose such ideology, that assumes that they are doing so already. But the Saudis, the dominant power among the Arab Gulf states, is probably the most illiberal society on earth, one that bars all religions other than ultra-conservative Wahhabist Islam, arrests Christians for the “crime” of attending underground religious services, and savagely represses its own 15-percent Shi‘ite minority.

In 2006, Freedom House and the Institute for Gulf Affairs, both eminently conservative organizations, issued a joint report finding that Saudi textbooks instruct students to “hate” Christians, Jews, polytheists, and unbelievers; teach that the Crusades are still ongoing; advise students not to greet, befriend, imitate, or even be courteous to non-Wahhabists; and state that “the struggle between Muslims and Jews” will continue until judgment day and that “Muslims will triumph because they are right.”

What’s more, Obama knows this reality because the State Department completed its own comprehensive study of Saudi textbooks in 2012. Yet the administration opted to suppress the report for the same reason that it has suppressed a 28-page chapter in the joint congressional report on 9/11 dealing with the question of Saudi complicity because the alliance with Riyadh is sacrosanct and trumps other “minor” issues such as religious bigotry and the attack on the World Trade Center.

The Saudi Arabia also got a pass regarding its connection to the San Bernardino massacre. Obama promised in his speech to “put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to warzones.”

But Tashfeen Malik, the woman who reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS shortly before embarking on a killing spree with her husband Syed Rizwan Farook, did not travel to a warzone. She traveled and lived in Saudi Arabia.

Although Tashfeen Malik was of Pakistani origin, she spent most of her life in Saudi Arabia, where she and her father drank deeply from the well of Wahhabism. Relatives say her father emerged deeply conservatized from the experience while Tashfeen was so thoroughly Saudi in her outlook that when she returned to Pakistan to study pharmacology, she had difficulty adjusting even on a campus notorious for its fundamental Islamic influences.

“She told me, ‘My parents live in Saudi Arabia, and I am not getting along with my roommates and cannot adjust with them, so can you help me?’” one faculty member told The New York Times.  Yet no one thought to worry since both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are key U.S. “allies.”

Obama’s Bind

Barack Obama is thus a man caught in a bind. If his speech was rife with contradictions, it’s because he wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He supports Sunni extremists in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria, yet is shocked, shocked, when they unleash their violence on innocent bystanders in Paris or San Bernardino.

Obama claims to be at war with Al Qaeda, yet looks the other way when close friends supply the same group with money and arms. He cautions Americans not to give in to Islamophobia, but says nothing as Wahhabists rage against Christians, Jews and Shi‘ites.

The President is all in favor of secularism, yet is seeking to topple the secular Baathist regime in Damascus. Indeed, he is waging war against one of the few secular governments left standing in the Muslim world.

He promises that “the strategy that we are using now airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.”

But under his watch, Al Qaeda and ISIS have expanded from Bangladesh to Morocco, with the latter now in charge of a territory the size of Great Britain in northern Syria and Iraq. How many more such victories can the world take and how much longer can the U.S. government keep covering up for the Saudis?

If Marine Le Pen’s neo-fascist National Front emerged as the biggest winner in French regional elections this weekend and Donald Trump is now 20 points ahead of his Republican competitors, it’s because voters have lost confidence in their leaders’ ability to combat ISIS and Al Qaeda.

The only way they know how to respond is by closing U.S. borders and keeping out anyone who looks the least bit like a “terrorist.” If Obama’s gun-control message is failing to make headway, it is for the same reason. If the government can’t protect them against ISIS, growing numbers of Americans figure that the only solution is to protect themselves by arming to the hilt. Thus, fear of “terrorism” contributes to the street-level arms race that Obama is unable to contain.

Obama’s core contradiction is that he wants to battle ISIS while catering to ISIS’s co-thinkers in Riyadh. He wants to rein in ISIS savagery in Syria and Iraq while aiding Saudi savagery in Syria and Yemen. He wants to protect Americans while protecting those who allow money and weapons to flow to forces trying to kill Americans.

It’s not a policy destined for success.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).




Real Questions for President Obama

Part of Official Washington’s problem is that most journalists at least those called on at presidential news conferences represent the same “group think” that pervades the government, meaning President Obama doesn’t get asked truly probing questions, as William Blum notes at Anti-Empire Report.

By William Blum

Questions to ask President Barack Obama the next time (also the last time) you’re invited to one of his press conferences:

Which is most important to you destroying ISIS, overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or scoring points against Russia?

Do you think that if you pointed out to the American people that Assad has done much more to aid and rescue Christians in the Middle East conflicts than any other area leader that this would lessen the hostility the United States public and media feel toward him? Or do you share the view of the State Department spokesperson who declared in September that “The Assad regime frankly is the root of all evil”?

Why does the United States maintain crippling financial sanctions and a ban on military aid to Syria, Cuba, Iran and other countries but not to Saudi Arabia?

What does Saudi Arabia have to do to lose its strong American support? Increase its torture, beheadings, amputations, whippings, stonings, punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, or forced marriages and other oppression of women and girls? Increase its financial support for ISIS and other jihadist groups? Confess to its role in 9/11? Attack Israel?

What bothers you more: The Saudi bombing of the people of Yemen or the Syrian bombing of the people of Syria? Does the fact that ISIS never attacks Israel raise any question in your mind?

Does it concern you that Turkey appears to be more intent upon attacking the Kurds and the Russians than attacking ISIS? And provides medical care to wounded ISIS soldiers? Or that ISIS deals its oil on Turkish territory? Or that NATO-member Turkey has been a safe haven for terrorists from Libya, Chechnya, Qatar and elsewhere? Or that last year Vice President Joe Biden stated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime was backing ISIS with “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons”?

If NATO had never existed, what argument could you give today in favor of creating such an institution? Other than as some would say being a very useful handmaiden of U.S. foreign policy and providing American arms manufacturers with trillions of dollars of guaranteed sales.

Does the United States plan on releasing any of its alleged evidence to back up its repeated claims of Syrian bombing and chemical warfare against the Syrian people? Like clear photos or videos from the omnipresent American satellite cameras? Or any other credible evidence?

Does the United States plan on releasing any of its alleged evidence to back up its repeated claims of Russian invasions of Ukraine in the past year? Like clear photos or videos from the omnipresent American satellite cameras? Or any other credible evidence?

Do the numerous connections between the Ukrainian government and neo-Nazis have any effect upon America’s support of Ukraine? What do you imagine would have been the outcome in World War Two if the United States had opposed Soviet entry into the war because “Stalin must go”? Would you prefer that Russia played no military role at all in Syria?

Can the administration present in person a few of the Syrian opposition “moderates” we’ve heard so much about and allow the media to interview them? Have you considered honoring your promise of “No boots on the ground in Syria” by requiring all American troops to wear sneakers?

Don’t tell my mother I work at the State Department. She thinks I play the piano in a whore house.

[Somewhat more probing questions can be asked at non-presidential press briefings because more foreign reporters and some skeptical American journalists are allowed to participate.]

Excerpts from a State Department daily press briefing, Nov. 24, following the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian plane, conducted by Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson:

QUESTION: President Obama said he will reach out to President Erdogan over the next few days.

TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did not mention Putin. That really puts you squarely on Turkey’s side, doesn’t it?

QUESTION: You’re saying Turkey has the right to defend itself; President Obama said the same thing. What defense are you talking about? Does anyone think Russia was going to attack Turkey?

TONER: Again, I mean, this is

QUESTION: Do you think so?

TONER: Look, I don’t want to parse out this incident. I said very clearly that we don’t know all the facts yet, so for me to speak categorically about what happened is frankly, would be irresponsible.

QUESTION: Even if you accept the Turkish version that the plane traveled 1.3 miles inside Turkey and violated its airspace for 17 seconds that’s according to Turkey do you think shooting down the plane was the right thing to do?

TONER: Again, I’m not going to give you our assessment at this point. We’re still gathering the facts.

QUESTION: In 2012, Syria shot down a Turkish plane that reportedly strayed into its territory. Prime Minister Erdogan then said, “A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack.” Meanwhile, NATO has expressed its condemnation of Syria’s attack as well as strong support for Turkey. Do you see the inconsistency of NATO’s response on this?

TONER: As to what President Erdogan may have said after that incident, I would refer you to him.

QUESTION: Turkoman forces in Syria said they killed the two Russian pilots as they descended in parachutes.

TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Turkoman forces are supported by Turkey and are fighting against the Syrian Government, they are part of the rebel force there. Do you consider these rebels to be a moderate force in Syria?

QUESTION: I’m trying I mean, do you think that everybody has the right to defend themselves?

TONER: We’ve said very clearly that people have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION: Right? Including the Assad regime?

TONER: No.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report,  http://williamblum.org/ .]




Obama’s Credibility Crisis

Exclusive: Inside Official Washington’s bubble, the Important People believe their “group think” is the envy of the world, but the truth is that their credibility has collapsed to such a degree that their propaganda can’t even match up with the head-chopping videos of the Islamic State crazies, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Like the old story of the little boy who cried wolf, the U.S. government is finding out that just when its credibility is most needed it doesn’t have any. With all its “soft power” schemes of “perception management,” funding “citizen bloggers” and sticking with “narratives” long after they’ve been discredited, the U.S. government is losing the propaganda battle against ISIS.

That was the conclusion of outside experts who examined the State Department’s online campaigns to undercut ISIS, according to an article by The Washington Post’s Greg Miller who wrote that the review “cast new doubt on the U.S. government’s ability to serve as a credible voice against the terrorist group’s propaganda.”

In other words, even when the U.S. government competes with the creepy head-choppers of ISIS, the U.S. government comes in second. Of course, the State Department remains in denial about its collapse of credibility and typically won’t release the details of the critical study.

Instead, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel insisted that the State Department’s messaging operation “is trending upward,” although acknowledging that his team is facing a tough adversary in ISIS and must “be equally creative and innovative.” [For more on Stengel’s falsehoods, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Who’s the Propagandist: US or RT?”]

But the U.S. government’s problem is much deeper than its inability to counter ISIS propaganda. Increasingly, almost no one outside Official Washington believes what senior U.S. officials say about nearly anything and that loss of trust is exacerbating a wide range of dangers, from demagogy on the 2016 campaign trail to terrorism recruitment in the Middle East and in the West.

President Barack Obama seems to want so desperately to be one of the elite inhabitants of Official Washington’s bubble that he keeps pushing narratives that he knows aren’t true, all the better to demonstrate that he belongs in the in-crowd. It has reached the point that he speaks out so many sides of his mouth that no one can tell what his words actually mean.

Indeed, Obama arguably suffers from the worst “credibility gap” among the American people since Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon on the Vietnam War or at least since George W. Bush on the Iraq War. As eloquent as he can be, average folk in the U.S. and around the world tune him out.

White Rage

So, on the domestic side, when the President tells Americans that another trade deal this one with Asia is going to be good for them, does anyone outside the opinion pages of the elite newspapers and the big-shot think tanks believe him?

America now has a swelling underclass of formerly middle-class whites who know that they’ve been sold out as they face declining living standards and an unprecedented surge in dying rates. Yet, because they don’t trust Obama, these whites are easily convinced by demagogues that their plight stems from government programs designed to help blacks and other minorities.

This white rage has fueled the race-baiting and anti-immigrant campaigns of billionaire Donald Trump and other political outsiders in the Republican Party. Trump has soared to the top of the GOP presidential field because he says a few things that are true that rich people have bought up the political process and that trade deals have screwed the middle class giving him an aura of “authenticity” that then extends to his uglier comments.

Americans are so starving for a taste of honesty which they’re not getting from Obama or other members of the elite that they will believe a megalomaniacal huckster like Trump. After all, they know that what they get from Obama and his clique is manipulative spin, treating them like dummies to be tricked, not citizens of a Republic to be respected.

The hard truth is that the Great American Middle Class indeed has been sold out, often by fast-talking neo-liberals like President Bill Clinton who with the help of many centrists and conservatives pushed through trade deals and banking “reforms” that gussied up Wall Street while boarding up Main Street. The neo-liberals, working with Republicans, also promoted trade deals with Mexico and other low-wage countries that sent millions of U.S. jobs overseas.

From this experience, many Americans see “guv-mint” to blame for their plight, enticing them down the right-wing path that seeks to negate government power. What these Americans don’t grasp is that this Tea Party ideology is further selling them out to the corporatists and the speculators who will be put in an ever stronger position to gouge what’s left of the Middle Class.

In other words, at a time when Americans need their government to collectively represent their interests to provide for “the general Welfare” as the U.S. Constitution mandated they have no faith that the government is theirs or will protect their interests.

The Propaganda Imperative

A similar realization holds true with foreign policy. The U.S. government has so thoroughly bought into the concept of “perception management” and “strategic communications” blending psy-ops, propaganda and P.R. that the government has decoupled from facts. Information is just there to be exploited for geopolitical gain, usually to pin some offense on the latest “designated villain.”

We saw this in 2003 with the disinformation campaign about Iraq’s WMD, but it didn’t stop there. The U.S. government has used its control of important media levers to demonize a variety of world leaders who have gotten in the way of Official Washington’s desires. Meanwhile, equal or worse abuses by “our guys” are downplayed or ignored.

For instance, Libya’s secular dictator Muammar Gaddafi was mocked when he warned of Islamist terrorists rampaging in eastern Libya. Indeed, Gaddafi’s vow to fight them became the pretext used for a “regime change” operation under the “human rights” banner, “responsibility to protect.”

That operation promoted by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who gloated over Gaddafi’s murder (“We came, we saw, he died”) has transformed Libya into a land of anarchy with the Islamic State and other terror groups seizing ground and chopping off heads. But Clinton, like other architects of this disaster, won’t admit to a mistake.

Similarly, the Obama administration and the compliant mainstream U.S. media pushed a propaganda campaign against Syria’s secular leader Bashar al-Assad, blaming him for virtually all the violence that engulfed Syria despite the awareness of senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, about the key role played by Sunni jihadists and terror groups with the backing of Sunni-ruled Gulf states and Turkey.

So, when a lethal sarin gas attack struck a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, the Obama administration and key “human rights” groups blamed Assad’s forces although some U.S. intelligence analysts and independent observers quickly smelled a rat, the likelihood of a provocation sponsored by Al Qaeda operatives possibly aided by Turkish intelligence trying to induce the U.S. military to destroy Assad’s army and clear the way for a terrorist victory.

Though that “false flag” scenario became increasingly likely as the case against Assad’s forces essentially collapsed Obama and his administration have never corrected the record. They just left what now appears to be a false narrative on the record, so it can still be cited by neocon opinion leaders or “human rights” advocates and thus be used to mislead the American public.

Some people defend Obama for not admitting a mistake because to do so would undermine U.S. credibility, but I think the opposite holds true, that a frank admission that there was a misguided rush to judgment would be refreshing for Americans who are sick and tired of spin.

Similarly, there’s the case of the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, which the Obama administration pinned on ethnic Russian rebels and indirectly on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The case whipped up a frenzy of Russia-bashing across the West and thus became a valuable propaganda club.

But again, as U.S. intelligence analysts shifted through the evidence, some moved off in a different direction, blaming a rogue element of the Ukrainian government, according to a source briefed on these findings.

Yet, instead of either correcting the record or presenting evidence to buttress the initial judgment, the Obama administration has gone silent, refusing to make public any evidence that it possesses about the killing of 298 people. That has allowed the West’s mainstream media and some supposedly “independent” bloggers to continue to push the Russia-did-it line.

Shifting Blame

More recently, the Obama administration has reacted to overwhelming evidence that some of its Mideast “allies” have been aiding and abetting the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other violent jihadists by trying to shift the blame to the Syrian government and Russia.

In other words, we’re told not to blame the Saudis and the Qataris for funding and arming these jihadists (despite admissions from Vice President Biden, former Secretary of State Clinton and the Defense Intelligence Agency). Nor should we notice that the Islamic State has been shipping its illicit oil into Turkey in large truck convoys through Turkish border crossings which also allow jihadist fighters to go back and forth.

The evidentiary record of Turkey’s covert support for these radical jihadists is a long one, including many admissions from Turkish officials and reports from major Turkish media outlets. But we’re told to ignore all that evidence and trust that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing all he can to seal off his border and stop the terrorists.

Instead, though the Syrian and Russian governments have been delivering heavy blows to the jihadists, including Russia shaming the Obama administration into belatedly joining in the bombing of those ISIS oil convoys, we’re supposed to believe that Damascus and Moscow are actually in cahoots with ISIS. This storyline amounts to the U.S. government’s own crazy conspiracy theory.

We’re also supposed to believe that the Saudis, the Qataris and the Turks are seriously engaged in the grand U.S. “coalition” Obama has boasted of its 65 members to fight ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorists. But these “allies” are mostly just going through the motions.

The overall impact of the U.S. government’s years and even decades of public manipulation has been to “trifurcate” the American people into three groups: those who still believe the official line, those who are open to real evidence that goes against the official line, and those who believe in fact-free conspiracy theories positing that nothing from any official source can be true.

To say that such a division is not healthy for a democratic Republic is to state the obvious. Indeed, a democratic Republic cannot long survive if government officials insist on managing the people’s perceptions through propaganda and disinformation. Nor can it long survive if a significant part of the population believes the craziest of conspiracy theories.

Yet, it seems that President Obama and other senior officials simply can’t resist taking the easy route of deception to reach a compliant consensus, rather than engaging in the hard work of presenting clear evidence and engaging the American people in serious debate.

Or, perhaps Obama and his advisers are too deep into the lies and thus fear the consequences of admitting that many of their claims were false or misleading. That would be like Toto pulling the curtain away from the Wizard of Oz and the wizard immediately confessing. The instinct is to tell the populace to ignore that man behind the curtain.

The Impossible Speech

I have long advocated that Obama should go on television in the style of President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961, sitting in the Oval Office, hands-folded, none of Obama’s glitzy stage-craft, and simply level with the American people.

Before the speech, Obama could release the 28 pages from the congressional 9/11 report about Saudi support for the hijackers. He also could release other U.S. intelligence analyses on the role of the Saudis, Qataris and Turks in supporting Al Qaeda and ISIS. He could toss in what U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded about the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria and about the 2014 shoot-down of MH-17 in Ukraine.

To the degree that the U.S. government had misled the American people, the President could fess up. He could explain how he and other government officials were seduced by the siren song of the propagandists who promised to line up public opinion behind a policy with no muss or fuss. He could admit that such manipulation of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government is simply wrong.

Obama could explain that he now realizes that elitism in the pursuit of the people’s subservience is incompatible with the principles of a Republic in which the citizens are the sovereigns of the nation. He could ask our forgiveness and recommit himself to the government transparency that he promised during the 2008 election. (While at it, he could pardon and apologize to the whistleblowers whom he has prosecuted and imprisoned.)

Having reestablished a foundation of trust and repudiating the past decades of deception he could explain what has to be done in Syria. Most significantly he could demand that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries helping ISIS and Al Qaeda shut down that assistance immediately or face severe financial and other consequences, “allies” or not.

Then, he could promise that after reasonable stability is restored to Syria the people of Syria would be allowed to decide who they want as their leaders. Right now, the key obstacle to a new power-sharing government in Syria is the West’s insistence that Assad can’t compete in future democratic elections. Yet, if President Obama is so sure that most Syrians hate Assad, nothing could demonstrate that better than Assad’s resounding defeat at the polls. Why avoid that?

But it’s become painfully obvious that Obama does not have it in him to give that speech or take such actions. It would require defying Official Washington’s neocon-dominated insider community and “allies,” such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. To appease those forces, he will continue to play word games and to spin propaganda narratives. He is too much of an elitist to inform and empower the American people.

Thus, the Obama administration’s credibility gap won’t be closed. Indeed, it will widen into a chasm, with Official Washington sitting on one side and the vast majority of humanity on the other. The undeserving winners will include the terrorists of ISIS and Al Qaeda. There will be many losers who deserve better.

[Update: Obama’s Oval Office speech on Sunday night attempted to calm the fears of the American public and to defend his anti-ISIS strategy, but the President offered no new information about how U.S. “allies” — such Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey — have been implicated in the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS.]

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




Learning to Love the ‘Drone War’

The mainstream U.S. news media is so in the tank on the “war on terror” that it ignores critical information that the American people should know, such as the public complaint from four former Air Force drone operators that the lethal program is killing innocents and creating terrorists, writes John Hanrahan.

By John Hanrahan

The polls show it and commentators of all political stripes often cite the figures: Killer drone attacks by the U.S. military and the CIA in the Greater Middle East and Africa have strong U.S. public support.

According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent poll in May, 58 percent, up slightly from 56 percent in February 2013, approve of “missile strikes from drones to target extremists in such countries as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” The numbers of Americans disapproving of drone attacks actually increased from 26 percent to 35 percent over that two-year period, a hopeful sign, but still very much a minority view.

But how well informed can U.S. citizens be on this subject when the major news media time and again ignore or under-report drone-strike stories, as we have discussed here and here in recent weeks? Stories, such as The Intercept’s October series based on a trove of classified materials provided by a national security whistleblower, that would likely raise serious questions about the drone program in many more Americans’ minds if they were actually given the information?

And now, in the latest example of journalistic negligence, The New York TimesWashington Post and other mainstream news organizations in late November continued their apparent policy of no-bad-news-reporting-about-drones.

This time, the major media chose to ignore four former Air Force drone-war personnel who went public with an open letter to President Barack Obama. The letter urged the President to reconsider a program that killed “innocent civilians,” and which “only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruiting tool [for extremists] similar to Guantanamo Bay.”

In strong, dramatic language, the four men, in the letter and subsequent press appearances, challenged the official Obama White House/Pentagon/CIA public view that civilians are rarely killed by drones, and that drones make Americans safer and are helping defeat terrorists. Rather, they said that the U.S. drone war plays right into the hands of ISIS and other extremist groups by terrorizing local populations and killing innocent civilians, resulting in heightened anti-U.S. feeling and more recruits for ISIS.

Now it’s not every day that four former drone operators go public with their anguish-filled stories of the drone program killing innocent people and creating blowback against the United States.

In fact, there has not been any day like that. Until now, that has never happened. You would think that this would meet some textbook definition of news, something new, uncommon, dramatic and consequential. When President Obama or a proven liar about the drone program, CIA Director John Brennan, propagandize about drones and how wonderful and precise and well-nigh infallible they are in crushing extremists, not killing civilians and making us safe, that is what the mainstream media dutifully reports as news.

But when four drone whistleblowers, who sat at the very heart of the system guiding Hellfire missiles from Predator drones to human targets in Afghanistan and Iraq, come forward to undermine that tidy little story, those same news outlets turn their collective back.

Voicing such sharp criticism of a top-secret program with which they were all involved is an especially risky move given that the Obama administration has shown itself to be the most anti-whistleblower administration ever. Obama’s Justice Department has prosecuted more than twice as many whistleblowers under the Espionage Act as all previous presidents combined since the passage of the law in 1917.

The letter to Obama, also addressed to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and CIA Director Brennan, said that the Bush and Obama administrations “have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.” They expressed guilt, and are experiencing PTSD, as a result of “our roles in facilitating this systematic loss of innocent life.”

In a pointed reference to the Obama administration’s statements in support of the drone program, the letter stated: “We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country’s leaders lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program.”

And, drawing a link between the recent Paris attacks and drone killings creating more terrorists and blowback, the whistleblowers added: “We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home. Such silence would violate the very oaths we took to support and defend the Constitution.”

These former Air Force personnel, three former Predator sensor operators (Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant, Senior Airman Stephen Lewis and Senior Airman Michael Haas), and one former drone program infrastructure technician (Senior Airman Cian Westmoreland), had a combined 20-plus years of remotely operating drone strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

All had Afghanistan drone experience, and all but Westmoreland also had Iraq experience. This gave them special, first-hand insight into a program whose operators, in Haas’s words, viewed targeted human beings as “ants just black blobs on a screen” and considered children who came into view on their screens as “fun-sized terrorists.”

Haas and other whistleblowers expanded on the points in their letter in an interview with Guardian reporters, which resulted in two eye-opening articles by Ed Pilkington and Ewen MacAskill. This was followed by a lengthy appearance onDemocracy Now! and a news conference in connection with the premiere in New York of a new documentary, “Drone,” in which two of the whistleblowers (Bryant and Haas) make appearances. Agence France-Presse (AFP), Reuters and Newsweek all carried stories, as did The InterceptShadowproof and other online news sites.

Did you read about any of that whistleblower criticism in The New York Times or The Washington Post, or see a segment about it on television news? No, you did not. If you know about it at all, it’s probably because of The GuardianDemocracy Now!, and online political and progressive blogs and websites.

This marked the second time in just the last two months that mainstream news outlets have given a thumbs-down to a significant drone story. In October, The Washington Post ignored it and The New York Times ran two paragraphs at the end of a 25-paragraph piece about a series of significant drone articles posted in The Intercept. The articles were derived from documents, referred to as the “Drone Papers,” that were provided to The Intercept by an anonymous intelligence whistleblower. (We wrote about that here.)

As ExposeFacts has previously noted, mainstream news organizations make only occasional forays once or twice a year into reporting that is critical of the drone program (for example, this New York Times article from 2012 and one earlier this year).

What many Americans see or hear most of the time from the self-censoring mainstream media is superficial reporting on the latest drone strike that killed a certain number of what are almost always described in sketchy news stories as militants of one type or another. They also get frequent doses of propaganda and soothing assurances from the President and other Obama administration officials that the program of drones and other aerial bombardments is precise, takes special precaution not to kill civilians, but most importantly is making America safer by killing militants while keeping U.S. troops out of harm’s way.

Typical was Obama’s speech in May 2013 at the National Defense University, where he said this: “And before any [drone] strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured the highest standard we can set.” He said civilian deaths constituted “a risk that exists in all wars.”

But as Commander-in-Chief, he went on, “I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold.”

And who, if they were paying attention at the time, can ever forget major-league truth abuser John Brennan, when he was Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, saying in June 2011 that for almost a year, “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”

In reporting that whopper, The New York Times in August 2011 further reported this: “Other officials say that [Brennan’s] extraordinary claim still holds: since May 2010, C.I.A. officers believe, the drones have killed more than 600 militants including at least 20 in a strike reported Wednesday and not a single noncombatant.”

Given the Obama administration’s control of the drone narrative and the paucity of mainstream press coverage, the 35 percent opposition figure shown in the Pew Research Center’s poll in May is a bit surprising for being as high as it is. Especially given that so many Americans buy into the notion that the nation is in a war against terrorism, that drones make us safe, and that killing remotely by drones is preferable to sending U.S. soldiers into combat areas and risking their lives.

Curiously, that same Pew Research Center poll, in addition to showing 35 percent opposition, found that 48 percent said “they are very concerned that U.S. drone strikes endanger the lives of innocent civilians.” This higher figure suggests that even some Americans currently favoring drone attacks have doubts about how well civilians are protected, and thus might be open to opposing drone use if the mainstream media would let them know what the four whistleblowers said.

Or if the mainstream press would let them know what was contained in The Intercept’s “Drone Papers” articles, such as the revelation that during one five-month period of Operation Haymaker in northeastern Afghanistan, “nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. In Yemen and Somalia where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.”

It’s worth noting that The GuardianAFP and Reuters , outlets that did cover the four drone whistleblowers, are all headquartered outside the United States and are not part of the inside-the-Beltway media crowd that influence what is and isn’t news at the national and U.S. governmental level.

Also, because those news outlets all have high levels of newspaper and Internet-based circulation in numerous countries, what they report can make citizens of other countries better informed than Americans about certain aspects of U.S. life. This meant, for example, that Singapore readers of The Straits Times and the Dublin, Ireland readers of TheJournal.ie got to read about the four whistleblowers via an AFP article online. Meanwhile, sadly and ironically, readers of The New York Times and Washington Post were left in the dark.

Across the waters in the drone-deploying United Kingdom, public opinion on drone use appears to be the direct opposite of the United States. A Pew Research Center poll in July 2014 found that the U.K. public opposed the use of drones by a 59-33 percent margin.

With The Guardian and others providing more critical coverage of drones than U.S. mainstream media, and with the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism regularly pumping out information that challenges U.S. government claims about limited civilian drone-strike deaths, it’s a good bet that U.K. citizens are more exposed to criticisms of the drone programs than are their U.S. counterparts.

Additionally, many members of Parliament are much more critical of Britain’s drone policies than are members of Congress critical of U.S. policies, and they are often in the news with their criticisms and concerns. Not so in the United States where, with no serious congressional oversight or debate about drones, there is seldom any anti-drone news generated in the House or Senate, which means citizens hear nothing from the legislative branch to counter the White House views.

As long as major U.S. news organizations continue to ignore, downplay or under-report drone stories, much of the American public will remain under-informed or ill-informed about what our drone strikes are doing to the citizens of many other countries, while at the same time turning ever more people against the United States.

[Disclosure: The four drone whistleblowers are represented by attorney Jesselyn Radack, who is national security and human rights director of the ExposeFacts WHISPeR program.]

John Hanrahan, currently on the editorial board of ExposeFacts where this article first appeared, is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. He also has extensive experience as a legal investigator. Hanrahan is the author Government by Contract and co-author of Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska. He wrote extensively for NiemanWatchdog.org, a project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.




Global Angst over US Secrecy Fetish

With the reach of U.S. surveillance now global and with the U.S. military deployed all over the world anger at President Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers who disclose the U.S. government’s abuses and crimes has gone international, as this Norwegian opinion piece by Victor Wallis shows.

By Victor Wallis

The more extreme the crimes of state, the more the state seeks to shroud them in secrecy. The greater the secrecy and the accompanying lies, the more vital becomes the role of whistleblowers and the more vindictive becomes the state in its pursuit of them.

Whistleblowers are people who start out as loyal servants of the state. Their illusions about the state’s supposed moral agenda and the wholeheartedness of their own patriotic commitment make them all the more shocked when they discover evidence of the state’s wrongdoing.

Given the extreme concentration of weaponry (as well as surveillance capabilities) in the hands of the state, and given the disposition of the state to apply such resources even against nonviolent mass movements, the type of defection practiced by whistleblowers an option available to military and intelligence operatives at all levels is crucial to any eventual triumph of popular forces over the ruling class.

Whistleblowers thus not only embarrass the government, disrupt its policies, and (assuming adequate diffusion) educate the citizenry; they also are harbingers of a broader crumbling of the capitalist state and the order it defends. Acting largely in isolation and at great risk to themselves, they embody the conviction or at least the hope that basic decency has a more universal grounding than does any possible scheme of oppression.

Whistleblowing’s principal near-term function is educational. It demonstrates the undemocratic character of the regime whose secrets it lets out; it is thus an essential ingredient of investigative journalism. The documents it brings to light reach the public through those who practice such journalism, whom the government then threatens with prosecution unless they disclose their sources.

The novelty of Wikileaks is that it provided a new form of protection for the anonymity of sources. This, together with the facility of electronic transmission, has made the potential for disclosure greater than ever before. It accounts for the extraordinary fact that the U.S. government has been pursuing draconian charges against someone who not merely is only the recipient rather than the “leaker” of sensitive information, but someone who is not even a citizen or resident of the United States Julian Assange.

Disclosure is particularly embarrassing when it documents the fact that government officials have lied. The Director of Central Intelligence lied under oath to the U.S. Congress a felony for which he was never prosecuted when he denied that the National Security Agency monitors the communications of the entire U.S. population.

This lie was the culminating event in Edward Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle. As we all know, of course, it is Snowden who was then criminalized by the government. This parallels the experience of John Kiriakou, who publicly confirmed, on the basis of his first-hand knowledge, that the CIA practiced torture by waterboarding. Kiriakou then became the only government official to be prosecuted and imprisoned in connection with CIA and military practices of torture.

The debate over whistleblowers reached tens of millions of viewers when the presidential candidates of the Democratic Party were asked (on Oct. 13) their views about Snowden. Hillary Clinton falsely asserted that he could have used established channels to transmit his disclosures of excessive surveillance, presumably at no risk to himself.

This claim is refuted by the experience of previous whistleblowers who had taken just that approach. One of them, Thomas Drake, retold his story two days later, at a news conference ignored by most of the corporate media (video), which was organized on behalf of yet another whistleblower, Jeffrey Sterling, who recently began a 42-month prison term on a conviction of “espionage.”

What Sterling had done was report to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about a counterproductive CIA attempt (in 2000) to feed misleading technological data to Iranian scientists. What he was prosecuted for was his subsequent conversations with New York Times journalist James Risen, although no evidence was available as to the content of those conversations, since Risen refused to testify.

Sterling’s story is recounted in a letter from his wife, seeking presidential clemency from Obama. Sterling had been fired from the CIA in 2002 after filing a complaint against the agency for racial discrimination (an episode on which Risen wrote a news story). After Risen’s book State of War (2006) came out, the FBI raided Sterling’s home, but it was not until more than four years later under President Obama that he was arrested (2011).

The latest whistleblower, who documents the “normalization of assassination” via drone warfare, is wisely seeking to remain anonymous. The U.S. government will surely take all possible steps to track him down.

The work of whistleblowers, as well as their personal safety, is obviously an issue that cuts across national borders. Support for U.S. whistleblowers will need to be as global as the reach of the policies and the weapons that they expose.

Victor Wallis is managing editor of the journal Socialism and Democracy. [This is the original text of a column (written on Oct. 20) posted on the Norwegian website radikalportal.no.]




Facts Back Russia on Turkish Attack

Turkey claims its Nov. 24 shoot-down of a Russian warplane along the Syrian border was justified — and the Obama administration is publicly siding with its NATO ally — but a review of the evidence supports Russian accusations of an “ambush,” writes Gareth Porter for Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

The United States and its NATO allies offered a ritual of NATO unity after Turkish officials presented their case that the shoot-down of a Russian jet occurred after two planes had penetrated Turkish airspace. The Turkish representative reportedly played a recording of a series warning the Turkish F-16 pilots had issued to the Russian jets without a Russian response, and U.S. and other NATO member states endorsed Turkey’s right to defend its airspace.

U.S. Defense Department spokesman Colonel Steve Warren supported the Turkish claim that 10 warnings had been issued over a period of five minutes. The Obama administration apparently expressed less concern about whether Russian planes had actually crossed into Turkish airspace. Col. Warren admitted that U.S. officials have still yet to establish where the Russian aircraft was located when a Turkish missile hit the plane.

Although the Obama administration is not about to admit it, the data already available supports the Russian assertion that the Turkish shoot-down was, as Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted, an “ambush” that had been carefully prepared in advance. The central Turkish claim that its F-16 pilots had warned the two Russian aircraft 10 times during a period of five minutes actually is the primary clue that Turkey was not telling the truth about the shoot-down.

The Russian Su-24 “Fencer” jet fighter, which is comparable to the U.S. F-111, is capable of a speed of 960 miles per hour at high altitude, but at low altitude its cruising speed is around 870 mph, or about 13 miles per minute. The navigator of the second plane confirmed after his rescue that the Su-24s were flying at cruising speed during the flight.

Close analysis of both the Turkish and Russian images of the radar path of the Russian jets indicates that the earliest point at which either of the Russian planes was on a path that might have been interpreted as taking it into Turkish airspace was roughly 16 miles from the Turkish border meaning that it was only a minute and 20 seconds away from the border.

Furthermore according to both versions of the flight path, five minutes before the shoot-down the Russian planes would have been flying eastward – away from the Turkish border.

If the Turkish pilots actually began warning the Russian jets five minutes before the shoot-down, therefore, they were doing so long before the planes were even headed in the general direction of the small projection of the Turkish border in Northern Latakia province. In order to carry out the strike, in fact, the Turkish pilots would have had to be in the air already and prepared to strike as soon as they knew the Russian aircraft were airborne.

The evidence from the Turkish authorities themselves thus leaves little room for doubt that the decision to shoot down the Russian jet was made before the Russian jets even began their flight.

The motive for the strike was directly related to the Turkish role in supporting the anti-Assad forces in the vicinity of the border. In fact, the Erdogan government made no effort to hide its aim in the days before the strike. In a meeting with the Russian ambassador on Nov. 20, the foreign minister accused the Russians of “intensive bombing” of “civilian Turkmen villages” and said there might be “serious consequences” unless the Russians ended their operations immediately.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was even more explicit, declaring that Turkish security forces “have been instructed to retaliate against any development that would threaten Turkey’s border security.” Davutoglu further said: “If there is an attack that would lead to an intense influx of refugees to Turkey, required measures would be taken both inside Syria and Turkey.”

The Turkish threat to retaliate not against Russian penetration of its airspace but in response to very broadly defined circumstances on the border came amid the latest in a series of battles between the Syrian government and religious fighters.

The area where the plane was shot down is populated by the Turkmen minority. They have been far less important than foreign fighters and other forces who have carried out a series of offensives in the area since mid-2013 aimed at threatening President Bashar al-Assad’s main Alawite redoubt on the coast in Latakia province.

Charles Lister, the British specialist who was visiting Latakia province frequently in 2013, noted in an August 2013 interview, “Latakia, right up to the very northern tip [i.e. in the Turkmen Mountain area], has been a stronghold for foreign fighter-based groups for almost a year now.” He also observed that, after Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) had emerged in the north, al-Nusra Front and its allies in the area had “reached out” to ISIL and that one of the groups fighting in Latakia had “become a front group” for ISIL.

In March 2014, the religious rebels launched a major offensive with heavy Turkish logistical support to capture the Armenian town of Kessab on the Mediterranean coast of Latakia very close to the Turkish border. An Istanbul newspaper, Bagcilar, quoted a member of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee as reporting testimony from villagers living near the border that thousands of fighters had streamed across five different border points in cars with Syrian plates to participate in the offensive.

During that offensive, moreover, a Syrian jet responding to the offensive against Kessab was shot down by the Turkish air force in a remarkable parallel to the downing of the Russian jet. Turkey claimed that the jet had violated its airspace but made no pretence about having given any prior warning. The purpose of trying to deter Syria from using its airpower in defense of the town was obvious.

Now the battle in Latakia province has shifted to the Bayirbucak area, where the Syrian air force and ground forces have been trying to cut the supply lines between villages controlled by Nusra Front and its allies and the Turkish border for several months. The key village in the Nusra Front area of control is Salma, which has been in jihadist hands ever since 2012. The intervention of the Russian Air Force in the battle has given a new advantage to the Syrian army.

The Turkish shoot-down was thus in essence an effort to dissuade the Russians from continuing their operations in the area against al-Nusra Front and its allies, using not one but two distinct pretexts: on one hand a very dubious charge of a Russian border penetration for NATO allies, and on the other, a charge of bombing Turkmen civilians for the Turkish domestic audience.

The Obama administration’s reluctance to address the specific issue of where the plane was shot down indicates that it is well aware of that fact. But the administration is far too committed to its policy of working with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to force regime change in Syria to reveal the truth about the incident.

Obama’s response to the shoot-down blandly blamed the problem on the Russian military being in part of Syria. “They are operating very close to a Turkish border,” he declared, and if the Russians would only focus solely on Daesh, “some of these conflicts or potentials for mistakes or escalation are less likely to occur.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.[This article originally appeared at http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/real-turkeys-shoot-down-russian-jet-1615790737]

 




Hitting Saudi Arabia Where It Hurts

Exclusive: Though faced with a global terrorism crisis, Official Washington can’t get beyond its neocon-led “tough-guy-gal” rhetoric. But another option financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia might help finally shut down the covert supply of money and arms to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As the Islamic State and Al Qaeda enter a grim competition to see who can kill more civilians around the world, the fate of Western Civilization as we’ve known it arguably hangs in the balance. It will not take much more terror for the European Union to begin cracking up and for the United States to transform itself into a full-scale surveillance state.

Yet, in the face of this crisis, many of the same people who set us on this road to destruction continue to dominate and indeed frame the public debate. For instance, Official Washington’s neocons still insist on their recipe for “regime change” in countries that they targeted 20 years ago. They also demand a new Cold War with Russia in defense of a corrupt right-wing regime in Ukraine, further destabilizing Europe and disrupting U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria.

Given the stakes, you might think that someone in a position of power or one of the many candidates for U.S. president would offer some pragmatic and realistic ideas for addressing this extraordinary threat. But most Republicans from Marco Rubio to Carly Fiorina to Ted Cruz only offer more of “more of the same,” i.e. neocon belligerence on steroids. Arguably, Donald Trump and Rand Paul are exceptions to this particular hysteria, but neither has offered a coherent and comprehensive counter-analysis.

On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton wins praise from the neocon editors of The Washington Post for breaking with President Barack Obama’s hesitancy to fully invade Syria. Former Secretary of State Clinton wants an invasion to occupy parts of Syria as a “safe area” and to destroy Syrian (and presumably Russian) planes if they violate her “no-fly zone.”

Much like the disastrous U.S. invasions of Iraq and Libya, Clinton and her neocon allies are pitching the invasion of Syria as a humanitarian venture to remove a “brutal dictator” in this case, President Bashar al-Assad as well as to “destroy” the Islamic State, which Assad’s army and its Iranian-Russian allies have also been fighting. Assad’s military, Iranian troops and Russian planes have hit other jihadist groups, too, such as Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, which receives U.S. weapons as it fights side-by-side with Nusra in the Army of Conquest.

Clinton’s strategy likely would protect jihadists except for the Islamic State — and thus keep hope alive for “regime change” — explaining why the Post’s neocon editors, who were enthusiastic boosters of the Iraq War in 2003, hailed her hawkish approach toward Syria as “laudable.”

To Clinton’s left, Sen. Bernie Sanders has punted on the issue of what to do in either Syria or the Middle East, failing to offer any thoughtful ideas about what can be done to stabilize the region. He opted instead for a clever but vacuous talking point, arguing that the Saudis and other rich oil sheiks of the Persian Gulf should use their wealth and militaries to bring order to the region, to “get their hands dirty.”

The problem is that the Saudis, the Qataris and the Kuwaitis along with the Turks are a big part of the problem. They have used their considerable wealth to finance and arm Al Qaeda and its various allies and spinoffs, including the Islamic State. Their hands are already very dirty.

Saudi ‘Hard Power’

What we have seen in the Middle East since the 1980s is Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states creating “hard power” for their regional ambitions by assembling paramilitary forces that are willing and even eager to lash out at “enemies,” whether against Shiite rivals or Western powers.

While the wealthy Saudis, Qataris and other pampered princes don’t want to become soldiers themselves, they’re more than happy to exploit disaffected young Sunnis, turn them into jihadists and unleash them. Al Qaeda (dating back to the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s) and the Islamic State (emerging in resistance to the U.S.-installed Shiite regime in Iraq after 2003) are Saudi Arabia’s foot soldiers.

This reality is similar to how the Reagan administration supported right-wing paramilitary forces in Central America during the 1980s, including “death squads” in El Salvador and Guatemala and the drug-tainted “Contras” in Nicaragua. These extremists were willing to do the “dirty work” that Reagan’s CIA considered necessary to reverse the tide of leftist revolution in the region, but with “deniability” built in so Official Washington couldn’t be directly blamed for the slaughters.

Also, in the 1980s, the Reagan administration’s hardliners, including CIA Director William J. Casey, saw the value of using Islamic extremism to undermine the Soviet Union, with its official position of atheism. The CIA and the Saudis worked hand in hand in building the Afghan mujahedeen an Islamic fundamentalist movement to overthrow the Soviet-backed secular government in Kabul.

The “success” of that strategy included severe harm dealt to the struggling Soviet economy and the eventual ouster (and murder) of the Moscow-backed president, Najibullah. But the strategy also gave rise to the Taliban, which took power and installed a medieval regime, and Al Qaeda, which evolved from the Saudi and other foreign fighters (including Saudi Osama bin Laden) who had flocked to the Afghan jihad.

In effect, the Afghan experience created the modern jihadist movement and the Saudis, in particular, understood the value of this paramilitary force to punish governments and political groups that the Saudis and their oil-rich friends considered threats. Officially, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni oil states could claim that they weren’t behind the terrorists while letting money and arms slip through.

Though Al Qaeda and the other jihadists had their own agendas and could take independent action the Saudis and other sheiks could direct these paramilitary forces against the so-called “Shiite crescent,” from Iran through Syria to Lebanon (and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, against Iraq’s Shiite government as well).

At times, the jihadists also proved useful for the United States and Israel, striking at Hezbollah in Lebanon, fighting for “regime change” in Syria, collaborating in the 2011 ouster (and murder) of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, even joining forces with the U.S.-backed Ukrainian government to kill ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

Israeli Role

Since these Sunni jihadists were most adept at killing Shiites, they endeared themselves not only to their Saudi, Qatari and Kuwaiti benefactors, but also to Israel, which has identified Shiite-ruled Iran as its greatest strategic threat. Thus, the American neocons, who collaborate closely with Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had mixed attitudes toward the Sunni jihadists, too.

Plus, high-profile terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks, enabled the tough-talking neocons to consolidate their control over U.S. foreign policy, diverting American fury over Al Qaeda’s killing nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington to implement the neocons’ “regime change” agenda, first in Iraq though it had nothing to do with 9/11, with plans to move on to Syria and Iran.

As the Military-Industrial Complex made out like bandits with billions upon billions of dollars thrown at the “War on Terror,” grateful military contractors kicked back some profits to major think tanks where neocon thinkers were employed to develop more militaristic plans. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”]

But the downside of this coziness with the Sunni jihadists has been that Al Qaeda and its spinoff, the Islamic State, perceive the West as their ultimate enemy, drawing from both historic and current injustices inflicted on the Islamic world by Europe and the United States. The terrorist leaders cite this mistreatment to recruit young people from impoverished areas of the Middle East and the urban slums of Europe and get them to strap on suicide-belts.

Thus, Al Qaeda and now the Islamic State not only advance the neocon/Israeli/Saudi agenda by launching terror attacks in Syria against Assad’s government and in Lebanon against Hezbollah, but they strike out on their own against U.S. and European targets, even in Africa where Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for last week’s murderous assault on an upscale Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.

It also appears that Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have entered into a competition over who can stage the bloodiest attacks against Westerners as a way to bolster recruitment. The Bamako attack was an attempt by Al Qaeda to regain the spotlight from the Islamic State which boasted of a vicious string of attacks on Paris, Beirut and a Russian tourist flight in the Sinai.

The consequence of these murderous rampages has been to threaten the political and economic cohesion of Europe and to increase pressures for a strengthened surveillance state inside the United States. In other words, some of the most treasured features of Western civilization personal liberty and relative affluence are being endangered.

Yet, rather than explain the real reasons for this crisis and what the possible solutions might be no one in the U.S. mainstream political world or the major media seems able or willing to talk straight to the American people about how we got here.

Sanders’s Lost Opportunity

While you might have expected as much from most Republicans (who have surrounded themselves with neocon advisers) and from Hillary Clinton (who has cultivated her own ties to the neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks), you might have hoped that Sanders would have adopted a thoughtful critique of Official Washington’s neocon-dominated “group think.”

But instead he offers a simplistic and nonsensical prescription of demanding the Saudis do more when that would only inflict more death and destruction on the region and beyond. Arguably, the opposite would make much more sense impose tough financial sanctions against Saudi Arabia as punishment for its continued support for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Freezing or confiscating Saudi bank accounts around the world might finally impress on the spoiled princes of the Persian Gulf oil states that there is a real price to pay for dabbling in terrorism. Such an action against Saudi Arabia also would send a message to smaller Sunni sheikdoms that they could be next. Other pressures, including possible expulsion from NATO, could be brought to bear on Turkey.

If the West finally got serious about stopping this financial and military support for Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and their jihadist allies in Syria, the violence might finally abate. And, if the United States and Europe put pressure on the “moderate” Syrian opposition whatever there is of it to compromise, a political solution might be possible, too.

Right now, the biggest obstacle to a political agreement appears to be the U.S. insistence that President Assad be barred from elections once Syria achieves some stability. Yet, if President Obama is so certain that the Syrian people hate Assad, it seems crazy to let Assad’s presumed defeat at the polls obstruct such a crucial deal.

The only explanation for this U.S. stubbornness is that the neocons and the liberal hawks have made “regime change” in Syria such a key part of their agenda that they would lose face if Assad’s departure was not mandated. However, with the future of Western civilization in the balance, such obstinate behavior seems not only feckless but reckless.

From understanding how this mess was made, some U.S. politician could fashion an appeal that might have broad popular support across the political spectrum. If Sanders took up this torch for a rational plan for bringing relative peace to the Middle East, he also might shift the dynamics of the Democratic race.

Of course, to challenge Official Washington’s “group think” is always dangerous. If compromise and cooperation suddenly replaced “regime change” as the U.S. goal, the neocons and liberal hawks would flip out. But the stakes are extremely high for the planet’s future. Maybe saving Western civilization is worth the risk of facing down a neocon/liberal-hawk temper tantrum.

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