Colombia’s Peace Finally at Hand

Exclusive: In a world darkened by war and disorder, a rare glimmer of optimism broke through as Colombia’s government signed a long-delayed peace accord with the country’s primary guerrilla movement, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

With terrorist massacres hitting the news every few days, and financial markets reeling over the uncertain future of Europe, it’s no wonder pundits like Roger Cohen of the New York Times are warning that “the forces of disintegration are on the march” and “the foundations of the postwar world … are trembling.”

But the news media have given only glancing coverage to one of the most positive developments of our time: the end to 52 years of armed conflict between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

That bloody war took the lives of a quarter million people and displaced another 6.9 million, more even than in Syria. It produced countless crimes and atrocities against civilians, fed the international drug trade, and presented extraordinary challenges to the preservation of Colombia’s imperfect democracy.

On June 23, the same day Great Britain voted to exit the European Union, the shooting officially stopped in Colombia with the signing of a definitive, bilateral ceasefire in Havana, Cuba. (Hmm, could the key role of the Cuban government have had something to do with the American media’s disinterest?)

Already, United Nations observers — all from other Latin American nations — have arrived in Colombia to monitor the agreement. The Colombian government has dispatched 2,000 troops to the northern part of the country to safeguard the demobilization of 1,200 FARC guerrillas, the first of as many as 20,000 who will lay down their guns once a final peace deal is signed.

The troops will play an essential role in protecting the ex-guerrillas from violence by right-wing paramilitary groups, such as “Los Urabeños,” which have terrorized FARC sympathizers as well as peasants, union leaders, students and others who make up the political base of the Left in Colombia.

The ceasefire is a stunning achievement given the deep wounds left by unbridled violence on both sides. The talks took 3½ years, testing the patience not only of negotiators, but of the general public, which lost faith that the two sides could ever reach a settlement. (The smaller Marxist guerrilla group, ELN, has yet to reach a similar deal to lay down its arms.)

A Surprising Peacemaker

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who came to office with hardline credentials, surprised many by pursuing peace so relentlessly and at considerable expense to his popularity. But there was no mistaking his passionate conviction after the signing of the agreement:

“Today a new chapter opens, one that brings back hope and allows us to slowly heal our wounds, giving our children the possibility of not reliving the history that has caused our country so much harm. . .

“This is a critical step, a historic moment. However, the end of the conflict isn’t our final destination; the end of this conflict is our starting point so we can build together, united in our differences, a country where everyone has a place. Peace is possible, and more certain than ever. Let us build it now.”

The Cuban commentator Elio Delgado-Legon, applauding Colombia’s renewed hopes after more than half a century of war, asked, “Who could be against peace in Colombia?” His answer: only “the dim-witted and over-the-top reactionary minds, who have made war a lifestyle and who benefit from it in some way, without caring about the population’s suffering.”

The reality, however, is that former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, one of America’s staunchest allies — a favorite of both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. military aid — is spearheading mass protests against any “capitulation” to FARC.

Uribe, now a senator from the right-wing Democratic Center party, is leading a petition drive and other forms of “civil resistance” to defeat any peace settlement with FARC, whose fighters he brands — not entirely without justification — as “terrorists.”

At the beginning of April, he organized huge marches in Bogotá and Medellín, the country’s two largest cities, to protest the peace process and demand the resignation of President Santos. One of the country’s leading newspapers reported that Uribe’s protest was backed by Colombia’s largest paramilitary drug-trafficking organization, Los Urabeños, which managed to shut down much of the north of the country for 72 hours after assassinating a dozen policemen.

While one Colombian senator likened Uribe to Donald Trump, President Santos — Uribe’s former defense minister — simply termed Uribe’s anti-peace campaign “totally irrational.” Santos added, “I laugh when some go around trying to collect some signatures for . . . the war to continue . . . Because war is a factory of victims.”

Many ordinary Colombians are also concerned, however — not because they oppose peace, but because they have not been consulted by the government as to the future of guerrilla resettlement or land reform policies aimed at easing rural discontent.

American Support

To its credit, the Obama administration has given unambiguous support to the peace process. The White House lauded the ceasefire and praised the “courage and leadership” of President Santos in persevering with negotiations over nearly four years. It also committed funding to support implementation of a peace accord and to rid the country of land mines. (Colombia has the second highest number of landmine victims in the world behind Afghanistan.)

The cause of peace would be advanced if Hillary Clinton, Obama’s presumptive successor, went more clearly on record in support of Santos as well. That would mean breaking with Uribe, whose “legacy of great progress” she championed during an official visit to Colombia as Secretary of State in 2010 — against the advice of human rights campaigners who cited his administration’s responsibility for mass killings of civilians and ties to paramilitary drug traffickers.

The fact is, peace still needs all the help it can get in Colombia. In the famous words of one astute social observer: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War”; and “Israel Covets Golan’s Water and Now Oil.”]




When Free Speech Signifies Nothing

The United States touts its commitment to free speech but American discourse has degenerated into self-absorbed info-tainment and trivia, ignoring many of the most pressing issues of the day, writes Michael Brenner.

By Michael Brenner

Freedom of speech’s centrality in civil liberties is a public as well as a private matter. After all, the point is not simply to empower persons to sound off about whatever passes through their mind or heart. Societies, for the most part, aren’t interested in speech as ad hominen self-affirmation. They are concerned about communication. That is to say, speech aimed at an audience with some degree of intent to influence how they think and potentially might act.

The two aspects of free speech too readily get mingled. In today’s discourse, they also tend to get confused. However, the issues they raise are, in fact, quite different with consequences of different orders of magnitude.

At the end of the day, the hullabaloo on college campuses about “warning notices” in syllabi and “safe spaces” is not going to have a serious effect on our collective existence one way or another. “Charlie Hebdo” is another matter. People are being killed because of what newspapers and journals publish. Political attitudes, and perhaps actions, are being partially shaped by it.

In another sense, the debate at some universities (e.g. Berkeley) as to whether criticism of Israel should be scrutinized for anti-Semitic meanings, too, links free speech in the form of political commentary to issues of public policy. That should be made explicit rather than allowing a political agenda to masquerade as a defense against bigoted speech.

There a strong argument to be made that the truly big issue in America’s public life nowadays has to do not with speech per se – but its absence. The reason why such value was place on freedom of speech in the United States Constitution is its vital contribution to a healthy democratic polity. It is essential for the voicing of public opinion, for collective political action, for petitioning government, for ensuring full and open debate of important policy questions, and – above all – for holding accountable our government officials (elected and appointed).

To restrict speech is to dam the flow of discourse, which is the sine qua non of a working democratic polity.

Historically, the anxiety arises over attempts by government to impose those restrictions – by law, by regulation, or by coercion.

But is that, today, the major failing in our public communications?

Yes, there are legitimate concerns about the pernicious spread of the “secret/classified” state and its companion: the persecution of so-called “leakers.” Still, by any reasonable standard, we Americans remain free to say, print and communicate pretty much anything we feel like doing.

Moreover, the means for disseminating those thoughts, ideas, emotions and exhortations have grown exponentially. Yet, our public discourse is more impoverished than it ever was in the past. That is the tragic irony of our times.

There is much breast-beating at the moment about the grievances of those many Americans who have risen up to cast the great protest vote of the 2016 election. How they were overlooked, how the experience of the “real America” was neglected by our elites. That self-indictment is correct. What it misses, though, are the deeper sources of this phenomenon.

After all, this is not India where walking over and around the deformed and destitute is an historically ingrained habit. We have had all the numbers we need about shifts in income distribution and declining living standards. Everyone in contact with an American university has been fully aware what the country’s near abandonment of financial support for higher education has meant for both students’ access to and the experience of their education.

It didn’t take any special prescience to discern that globalization of the national economy had at its heart the purpose of exploiting cheap labor abroad at the expense of more expensive labor at home while devising ingenious financial mechanisms to avoid taxation. And our leaders responsible for the policies, and non-policies, that have facilitated these processes knew full well what the concrete implications would be.

Corrupted Speech

The silence of America’s political class is explicable in some readily understandable terms: the corrupting effect of money in politics; the corrupting effect of money in the media; the consequential muting of a healthy partisanship on socio-economic matters; the apoliticization of a society addicted to narcissistic entertainments and cheap thrills peddled to them by an assortment of unscrupulous pushers; and skillfully fostered fears like the GWOT that have drained away attention and passion.

All of this now looks self-evident. The missing factor in the equation is the irresponsible behavior of the many in all of the domains mentioned above who have known what was happening, were aware of the resulting damage being done, and may have had some qualms – but who nevertheless kept silent. They went with the flow for the sake of career, for the sake of personal status, for the sake of self-gratification.

Taking the course of least resistance seemed to carry no costs, no downside. Indeed, it didn’t and for the most part still doesn’t. Donald Trump can be seen as just another side-show carnival act.

Among those culpable of such behavior, the abrogation of the obligation as well as the right to free speech, an indictment should single out those who are paid to think and to communicate: The think tank denizens, the media journalists and commentators, the pundits of all sorts, and the academics.

Given the large number of such persons, given the years dedicated to their education and training, given the privileges they enjoy, given the unprecedented opportunities to communicate at their disposal – we might reasonably expect a rich and varied and energetic public discourse. Instead, we have a stale uniformity of thinking, a dedicated superficiality, an intellectual laziness, and an instinctive caution about doing anything that rocks any boats.

Yes, you might protest, what about LGBTQ rights, what about abortion, what about the Eighteenth Century slave trade controversy, what about immigration? Of course, there is a lot of sturm und drang freighted with emotion. They animate the nativist rebellion; they generate much passion. They are not unimportant.

Frankly, though, none of them – even in combination – are going to alter the structure and texture of American life in any fundamental way. One telling piece of evidence is the indifference to the outcome of those debates on the part of the powers that be in our multiple Establishments: financial, corporate, military, Intelligence, entertainment. They couldn’t care less whether transgenders  (still undefined) get designated bathrooms at Ivy League universities. They’re more interested in controlling what’s going on in business schools, engineering colleges, law schools, economic departments, and alumni offices.

Ignoring the Biggest Issues

Equally telling is the long list of cardinal issues where the dead hand of uniformity rests undisturbed. Many are in the international realm:

–Who calls into question the designation of Russia as the number 1 security threat to the United States and our military moves in its vicinity?

–Who queries when U.S. generals acquired the right to verbally declare war on foreign powers as has been done repeatedly by former NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove and his successor General Curtis Scaparrotti?

–Who points out that we have been aiding and abetting al-Qaeda in Syria for years – and asks ‘why?’

–How have we placed ourselves in the absurd position of the CIA facilitating the transfer of anti-aircraft ‘man-pads,’ and TOWs to al-Qaeda/al-Nusra while the U.S. Army is training and advising their Kurdish enemies in Northwestern Syria?

–Who asks why we have allowed the Islamic State to carry on a lucrative oil commerce to finance their operations without taking military action against it?

–Who examines in detail why we give Saudi Arabia and Turkey a free pass to succor both terrorist organizations?

–Who asks why have we participated tangibly in the destruction of Yemen while our enemies there – al-Qaeda and ISIL – exploit what we are doing to gain strength?

–Who demands that President Obama explain how he could declare the Afghan war over in a White House ceremony in December 2014 and now commit us to an open-ended fight on the ground?

–Who bothers to correct the record on our leaving Iraq in December 2011 to explain that we were told to leave by the duly constituted government of Mr. al-Maliki and had no choice?

–Who indicts the President for personally approving the CIA’s hacking into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee?

–Who has undertaken an investigation of the plotting that went into the secret drafting of the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty whose terms contravene principles of the Constitution?

–Who condemns the American orchestration of the coup in Ukraine?

–Who asks as to the American role in the Brazilian coup now revealed in published documents?

–Who strives to uncover why the Obama administration has committed us to spend $1 trillion on a massive upgrade of our nuclear arsenal when there is no stated or evident enemy and the logical implication is that “modernization” will produce a greater readiness to use the “bomb”?

This is for starters. The list of neglected domestic matters would be even longer. Engaging these issues ultimately is what free speech is all about.

We like to say that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Not so, though, if all we do is take selfies of ourselves brandishing it or use it as Suzuki pupils use a violin bow.

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




Trading Places: Neocons and Cockroaches

Exclusive: Neocons want a new Cold War – all the better to pick the U.S. taxpayers’  pockets – but this reckless talk and war profiteering could spark a nuclear war and leave the world to the cockroaches, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

If the human species extinguishes itself in a flash of thermonuclear craziness and the surviving cockroaches later develop the intellect to assess why humans committed this mass suicide, the cockroach historians may conclude that it was our failure to hold the neoconservatives accountable in the first two decades of the Twenty-first Century that led to our demise.

After the disastrous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq – an aggressive war justified under false premises – there rightly should have been a mass purging of the people responsible for the death, destruction and lies. Instead the culprits were largely left in place, indeed they were allowed to consolidate their control of the major Western news media and the foreign-policy establishments of the United States and its key allies.

Despite the Iraq catastrophe which destabilized the Middle East and eventually Europe, the neocons and their liberal interventionist chums still filled the opinion columns of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and virtually every other mainstream outlet. Across the American and European political systems and “think tanks,” the neocons and the liberal hawks stayed dominant, too, continuing to spin their war plans while facing no significant peace movement.

The cockroach historians might be amazed that at such a critical moment of existential danger, the human species – at least in the most advanced nations of the West – offered no significant critique of the forces leading mankind to its doom. It was as if the human species was unable to learn even the most obvious lessons needed for its own survival.

Despite the falsehoods of the Iraq War, the U.S. government was still widely believed whenever it came out with a new propaganda theme. Whether it was the sarin gas attack in Syria in 2013 or the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, U.S. government assertions blaming the Syrian government and the Russian government, respectively, were widely accepted without meaningful skepticism or simple demands for basic evidence.

Swallowing Propaganda

Just as with the Iraqi WMD case, the major Western media made no demands for proof. They just fell in line and marched closer to the edge of global war. Indeed, the learned cockroaches might observe that the supposed watchdogs in the American press had willingly leashed themselves to the U.S. government as the two institutions moved in unison toward catastrophe.

The few humans in the media who did express skepticism – largely found on something called the Internet – were dismissed as fill-in-the-blank “apologists,” much as occurred with the doubters against the Iraqi WMD case in 2002-2003. The people demanding real evidence were marginalized and those who accepted whatever the powerful said were elevated to positions of ever-greater influence.

If the cockroach historians could burrow deep enough into the radioactive ashes, they might discover that – on an individual level – people such as Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt wasn’t fired after swallowing the WMD lies whole and regurgitating them on the Post’s readership; that New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and dozens of similar opinion-leaders were not unceremoniously replaced; that Hillary Clinton, a neocon in the supposedly “liberal” Democratic Party, was rewarded with the party’s presidential nomination in 2016; and that the likes of Iraq War architect Robert Kagan remained the toast of the American capital with his opinions sought after and valued.

The cockroaches might observe that humans showed little ability to adapt amid very dangerous conditions, i.e., the bristling nuclear arsenals of eight or so countries. Instead, the humans pressed toward their own doom, tagging along after guides who had proven incompetent over and over again but were still followed toward a civilization-ending precipice.

These guides casually urged the masses toward the edge with sweet-sounding phrases like “democracy promotion,” “responsibility to protect,” and “humanitarian wars.” The same guides, who had sounded so confident about the wisdom of “shock and awe” in Iraq and then the “regime change” in Libya, pitched plans for a U.S. invasion of Syria, albeit presented as the establishment of “safe zones” and “no-fly zones.”

After orchestrating a coup in Russia’s neighbor Ukraine, overthrowing the elected president and then sponsoring an “anti-terrorism operation” to kill ethnic Russian Ukrainians who objected to the coup, Western politicians and policymakers saw only “Russian aggression” when Moscow gave these embattled people some assistance. When citizens in Crimea voted 96 percent to separate from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the West denounced the referendum as a “sham” and called it a “Russian invasion.” It didn’t matter that opinion polls repeatedly found similar overwhelming support among the Crimean people for the change. The false narrative, insisting that Russia had instigated the Ukraine crisis, was accepted with near-universal gullibility across the West.

A Moscow ‘Regime Change’

Behind this fog of propaganda, U.S. and other Western officials mounted a significant NATO military build-up on Russia’s border, complete with large-scale military exercises practicing the seizure of Russian territory.

Russian warnings against these operations were dismissed as hysterical and as further proof for the need to engineer another “regime change,” this time in Moscow. But first the Russian government had to be destabilized by making the economy scream. Then, the plan was for political disruptions and eventually a Ukraine-style coup to remove the thrice-elected President Vladimir Putin.

The wisdom of throwing a nuclear power into economic, political and social disorder – and risking that the nuclear codes might end up in truly dangerous hands – was barely discussed.

Even before the desired coup, the West’s neoconservatives advocated giving the Russians a bloody nose in Syria where Moscow’s forces had intervened at the Syrian government’s request to turn back Islamic jihadists who were fighting alongside Western-backed “moderate” rebels.

The neocon/liberal-hawk plans for “no-fly zones” and “safe zones” inside Syria required the U.S. military’s devastation of Syrian government forces and presumably the Russian air force personnel inside Syria with the Russians expected to simply take their beating and keep quiet.

The cockroach historians also might note that once the neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks decided on one of their strategic plans at some “think-tank” conference – or wrote it down in a report or an op-ed – they were single-minded in implementing it regardless of its impracticality or recklessness.

These hawks were highly skilled at spinning new propaganda themes to justify what they had decided to do. Since they dominated the major media outlets, that was fairly easy without anyone of note taking note that the talking points were simply word games. But the neocons and liberal hawks were very good at word games. Plus, these widely admired interventionists were never troubled with self-doubt whatever mayhem and death followed in their wake.

So, when the decision was made to invade Iraq, Libya and Syria or to stage a coup in Ukraine or to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia, the neocons and their friends never countenanced the possibility that something could go wrong.

And when setbacks and even catastrophes resulted, the messes were excused away as the failure of some politician to implement the neocon/liberal-hawk scheme to the precise letter. If only more force had been used, if only people on the ground were more competent, if only the few critics were silenced and prevented from sowing doubts about the wisdom of the plan, then it would have succeeded. It was never their fault.

As the West’s new foreign-policy establishment, the neocons and their liberal helpers validated their own thoughts as brilliant and infallible. And who was there to doubt them? Who had the necessary access to the West’s mass media and who had the courage to counter their clever arguments and suffer the predictable ridicule, insults and slurs? After all, there were so many esteemed people and prestigious institutions that stamped the neocon/liberal-hawk plans with gilded seals of approval.

Still, the cockroach historians might yet be puzzled by how thoroughly the world’s leadership failed the human species, particularly in the West, which prided itself in freedom of thought and diversity of opinion.

So, the pressures kept building, unchecked, until – perhaps accidentally amid excessive tensions or after some extreme nationalist had exploited Russia’s “regime change” chaos to seize power – the final line was crossed.

‘Extending American Power’

Though much of human information would likely have been lost in the nuclear firestorms that were unleashed, the cockroach historians could learn much if they could get their antennae around a 2016 report by a group called the Center for a New American Security, consisting of prominent neocons and liberal interventionists, including some expected to play high-level roles in a Hillary Clinton administration.

These “experts” included foreign-policy stars such as Robert Kagan (formerly of the Reagan administration’s State Department, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century – an early advocate for the Iraq War – and later a scholar at the Brookings Institution and a Washington Post columnist), James P. Rubin (who served in Bill Clinton’s State Department and made a name for himself as a TV commentator), Michele Flournoy (the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during Barack Obama’s first term and touted as Hillary Clinton’s favorite to be Secretary of Defense), Eric Edelman (who preceded Flournoy in her Obama job except he served under George W. Bush), Stephen J. Hadley (George W. Bush’s second-term national security advisor), and James Steinberg (a deputy national security advisor under Bill Clinton and Deputy Secretary of State under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).

In other words, this group, which included many other big names as well, was a who’s who of who’s important in Washington’s foreign-policy establishment. Their report was brazenly entitled “Extending American Power” and painted an idyllic picture of the world population living happily under U.S. domination in the seven decades since World War II.

“The world order created in the aftermath of World War II has produced immense benefits for peoples across the planet,” the report asserted, ignoring periodic slaughters carried out across the Third World, from Vietnam to Latin America to Africa to the Middle East, often inflicted by the massive application of U.S. firepower and other times by tribal or religious hatreds and rivalries exacerbated by big-power interference.

Also downplayed was the environmental devastation that has come with the progress of hyper-capitalism, threatening the long-term survival of human civilization via “global warming” – assuming that “nuclear winter” doesn’t intervene first.

Even though many of these benighted “experts” were complicit in gross violations of international law – including aggressive war in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere; lethal drone strikes in multiple countries; torture of “war on terror” detainees; and subversion of internationally recognized governments – they deluded themselves into believing that they stood for some legalistic global structure, declaring:

“United States still has the military, economic, and political power to play the leading role in protecting a stable rules-based international order.” Exactly what stability and what rules were left fuzzy.

In line with their underlying delusions, these “experts” called for feeding more money into the maw of the Military-Industrial Complex and flexing American military muscle: “An urgent first step is to significantly increase U.S. national security and defense spending and eliminate the budgetary strait-jacket of the Budget Control Act. A second and related step is to formulate policies that take advantage of the substantial military, economic, and diplomatic power Washington has available but has been reluctant to deploy in recent years.”

Battling Russia over Ukraine

The bipartisan group – representing what might be called Official Washington’s consensus – also urged a tough stand against Russia regarding Ukraine, including military assistance to help the post-coup Ukrainian regime crush ethnic Russian resistance in the east.

“The United States must provide Ukrainian armed forces with the training and equipment necessary to resist Russian-backed forces and Russian forces operating on Ukrainian territory,” the report said, adding as a recommendation: “Underwrite credible security guarantees to NATO allies on the frontlines with Russia. Given recent Russian behavior, it is no longer possible to ignore the possible challenge to NATO countries that border Russia. The Baltics in particular are vulnerable to both direct attack and the more complicated ‘hybrid’ warfare that Russia has displayed in Ukraine.

“To provide reassurance to U.S. allies and also to deter Russian efforts to destabilize these nations, it is necessary to build upon the European Reassurance Initiative and establish a more robust U.S. force presence in appropriate central and eastern Europe countries, which should include a mix of permanently stationed forces, rotationally deployed forces, prepositioned equipment, access arrangements and a more robust schedule of military training and exercises. …

“The United States should also work with both NATO and the EU to counter Russian influence-peddling and subversion using corruption and illegal financial manipulation.”

Apparently that last point about “influence-peddling” was a reference to the need to silence dissident voices in the West that object to the new Cold War and dispute U.S. propaganda aimed at justifying the increased tensions with Russia. The report’s Washington insiders clearly understand that their future career prospects are advanced by taking a belligerent approach toward Russia.

Regarding Syria, the bipartisan group of neocons and liberal hawks urged a U.S. military invasion with the goal of establishing a “no-fly zone” while building up insurgent forces capable of compelling “regime change” in Damascus, a strategy similar to those followed in Iraq and Libya to disastrous results.

“In our view, there can be no political solution to the Syrian civil war so long as the military balance continues to convince [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad he can remain in power. And as a result of Iran’s shock troops and military equipment deployed to Syria, and the modern aircraft and other conventional forces Russia has now deployed, the military balance tilts heavily in favor of the Assad regime,” the report said.

“At a minimum, the inadequate efforts hitherto to arm, train, and protect a substantial Syrian opposition force must be completely overhauled and made a much higher priority. In the meantime, and in light of this grim reality, the United States, together with France and other allies, must employ the necessary military power, including an appropriately designed no-fly zone, to create a safe space in which Syrians can relocate without fear of being killed by Assad’s forces and where moderate opposition militias can arm, train, and organize.”

How a U.S.-led invasion of a sovereign country and the arming of a military force to overthrow the government fit with the group’s enthusiasm for “a rule-based international order” is not explained. Clearly, the prescribed actions are in violation of the United Nations Charter and other international legal standards, but apparently the only real “rules” the group believes in are those that serve its purposes and change depending on the needs for “extending American power.”

Similar hypocrisy pervaded the group’s other recommendations, but the blind obedience to these double standards – indeed the inability to see or acknowledge the blatant contradictions – might be of interest to the cockroach historians because it could help them understand how the U.S. foreign policy establishment lost its mind and blundered into unnecessary conflicts that could easily escalate into strategic warfare, even thermonuclear conflagration.

A Steady Drumbeat

But this collection of neocons and liberal hawks wasn’t just an odd group of careerist “thinkers” trying to impress Hillary Clinton. Their double-thinking “group think” extended throughout the American establishment in the second decade of the Twenty-first Century.

For instance, The New York Times and other major publications were dominated by both neocon and liberal-hawk commentators, writers like Roger Cohen, who was one of the many pundits who swallowed the Iraq War lies whole and — despite the disaster — avoided any negative career consequences. So, in 2016, that left Cohen and his fellow Iraq War cheerleaders still pressing political leaders to expand the war in Syria and ratchet up tensions with Russia at every opportunity.

In a column about the mass shooting at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, on June 12 – in which the shooter was reported to have claimed allegiance to ISIS – Cohen tacked on a typically distorted account of President Obama’s approach to the Syrian conflict. Ignoring that Obama had the CIA and the Pentagon covertly train and arm rebel groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, Cohen wrote:

“Yes, to have actively done nothing in Syria over more than five years of war — so allowing part of the country to become an ISIS stronghold, contributing to a massive refugee crisis in Europe, acquiescing to slaughter and displacement on a devastating scale, undermining America’s word in the world, and granting open season for President Vladimir Putin to strut his stuff — amounts to the greatest foreign policy failure of the Obama administration. It has made the world far more dangerous.”

But Cohen did not acknowledge his own role as a brash supporter of the Iraq War in sparking the creation of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which later morphed into the Islamic State or ISIS. Nor did he address the fact that the United States and its allies, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have essentially kept the Syrian civil war going, a point even acknowledged by some supporters of Syrian “regime change.”

For instance, Thanassis Cambanis of the “progressive” Century Foundation produced a report entitled “The Case for a More Robust U.S. Intervention in Syria,” which acknowledged that “most of the armed opposition has survived only because of foreign intervention.” In other words, much of the death and destruction in Syria, which also has fueled political instability in Europe because of the massive refugee flow, resulted from intervention from the United States and its allies.

So, the cure to the mess created by these not-thought-through interventions, at least in the view of Cohen and other eager interventionists, is more intervention. It was just such obsessive and irrational thinking – embraced as Official Washington’s “conventional wisdom” – that pushed the world toward the eve of destruction in 2016.

Contemplating all this human foolishness, the cockroach historians might be left using one of their six legs to scratch their heads.

[For more on these topics, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War“; “Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill“; and “The State Department’s Collective Madness.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




The Brexit Rejection of Neoliberal Tyranny

With the Brexit repudiation of the E.U. — in defiance of Establishment scare tactics — British voters stood up for common people who face marginalization in the neoliberal scheme of global economics, explains John Pilger.

By John Pilger

The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied, intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and the media.

This was, in great part, a vote by those angered and demoralized by the sheer arrogance of the apologists for the “remain” campaign and the dismemberment of a socially just civil life in Britain.  The last bastion of the historic reforms of 1945, the National Health Service, has been so subverted by Tory and Labour-supported privateers it is fighting for its life.

A forewarning came when the Treasurer, George Osborne, the embodiment of both Britain’s ancient regime and the banking mafia in Europe, threatened to cut £30 billion from public services if people voted the wrong way; it was blackmail on a shocking scale.

Immigration was exploited in the campaign with consummate cynicism, not only by populist politicians from the lunar right, but by Labour politicians drawing on their own venerable tradition of promoting and nurturing racism, a symptom of corruption not at the bottom but at the top.

The reason millions of refugees have fled the Middle East – first Iraq, now Syria – are the invasions and imperial mayhem of Britain, the United States, France, the European Union and NATO. Before that, there was the willful destruction of Yugoslavia. Before that, there was the theft of Palestine and the imposition of Israel.

The pith helmets may have long gone, but the blood has never dried. A Nineteenth Century contempt for countries and peoples, depending on their degree of colonial usefulness, remains a centerpiece of modern “globalization,” with its perverse socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor: its freedom for capital and denial of freedom to labor; its perfidious politicians and politicized civil servants.

Saying ‘No More’ 

All this has now come home to Europe, enriching the likes of Tony Blair and impoverishing and disempowering millions. On June 23, the British said “no more.”

The most effective propagandists of the “European ideal” have not been the far Right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the Twenty-first Century zeitgeist, even “cool.” What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority.

In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the European Union profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as “neoliberalism.”

The aim of this extremism is to install a permanent, capitalist theocracy that ensures a two-thirds society, with the majority divided and indebted, managed by a corporate class, and a permanent working poor.

In Britain today, 63 per cent of poor children grow up in families where one member is working. For them, the trap has closed. More than 600,000 residents of Britain’s second city, Greater Manchester, are, reports a study, “experiencing the effects of extreme poverty” and 1.6 million are slipping into penury.

Little of this social catastrophe is acknowledged in the bourgeois-controlled media, notably the Oxbridge-dominated BBC. During the referendum campaign, almost no insightful analysis was allowed to intrude upon the clichéd hysteria about “leaving Europe,” as if Britain was about to be towed in hostile currents somewhere north of Iceland.

Dismissing ‘These People’ 

On the morning after the vote, a BBC radio reporter welcomed politicians to his studio as old chums. “Well,” he said to “Lord” Peter Mandelson, the disgraced architect of Blairism, “why do these people want it so badly?” The “these people” are the majority of Britons.

The wealthy war criminal Tony Blair remains a hero of the Mandelson “European” class, though few will say so these days. The Guardian once described Blair as “mystical” and has been true to his “project” of rapacious war. The day after the vote, the columnist Martin Kettle offered a Brechtian solution to the misuse of democracy by the masses.

“Now surely we can agree referendums are bad for Britain,” said the headline over his full-page piece. The “we” was unexplained but understood — just as “these people” is understood. “The referendum has conferred less legitimacy on politics, not more,” wrote Kettle, adding: “the verdict on referendums should be a ruthless one. Never again.”

The kind of ruthlessness for which Kettle longs is found in Greece, a country now airbrushed. There, they had a referendum against more austerity and the result was ignored. Like the Labour Party in Britain, the leaders of the Syriza government in Athens are the products of an affluent, highly privileged, educated middle class, groomed in the fakery and political treachery of post-modernism.

The Greek people courageously used the referendum to demand their government seek “better terms” with a venal status quo in Brussels that was crushing the life out of their country. They were betrayed, as the British would have been betrayed.

On Friday, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was asked by the BBC if he would pay tribute to the soon-to-be-departed Cameron, his comrade in the “remain” campaign. Corbyn fulsomely praised Cameron’s “dignity” and noted his backing for gay marriage and his apology to the Irish families of the dead of Bloody Sunday.

Corbyn said nothing about Cameron’s divisiveness, his brutal austerity policies, his lies about “protecting” the Health Service. Neither did he remind people of the warmongering of the Cameron government: the dispatch of British special forces to Libya and British bomb aimers to Saudi Arabia and, above all, the beckoning of World War Three.

Ignoring Russia’s Memories 

In the week of the referendum vote, no British politician and, to my knowledge, no journalist referred to Vladimir Putin’s speech in St. Petersburg commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.  The Soviet victory – at a cost of 27 million Soviet lives and the majority of all German forces – won the Second World War.

Putin likened the current frenzied build up of NATO troops and war materiel on Russia’s western borders to the Third Reich’s Operation Barbarossa. NATO’s exercises in Poland were the biggest since the Nazi invasion; Operation Anaconda had simulated an attack on Russia, presumably with nuclear weapons.

On the eve of the referendum, the quisling secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, warned Britons they would be endangering “peace and security” if they voted to leave the E.U. The millions who ignored him and Cameron, Osborne, Corbyn, Obama and the man who runs the Bank of England may, just may, have struck a blow for real peace and democracy in Europe.

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com, the films and journalism of John Pilger.




Intel Vets Call ‘Dissent Memo’ on Syria ‘Reckless’

A group of U.S. intelligence veterans urges President Obama to resist the “reckless” call for a wider Syrian war from 51 State Department officials in a recent “dissent memo.”

MEMORANDUM FOR:  Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Subject:  Beware Foggy Bottom Dissent

Dissent and disagreement within the foreign policy and national security bureaucracy only comes to the public’s attention when there are deep and fundamental differences of opinion about the execution and objectives of a U.S. policy.  Instances of dissent emerged during the war in Vietnam and have reappeared periodically, e.g., during the Contra War in Central America in the 1980s and the Cold War with the Soviets. We can now add Syria to this list.

The latest media buzz came with the leak that 51 “State Department Diplomats” signed a dissent letter advocating direct U.S. bombing as a tool to force Syria into submission to our government’s dictates.  U.S. Foreign Service Officers are a unique collection of highly educated people, who take great pride in having passed the Foreign Service Exam.  Yet even among such “bright people,” some succumb to the forces of careerism and the pressures to politicize intelligence.   

Unfortunately the dissent signers are calling for America to threaten, and if our bluff is called, commit acts of overt, aggressive war against the forces of a sovereign nation on its own territory. One whose supporters include Russia, the world’s other big nuclear power.

The line of thought — that it is America’s right and duty to employ large-scale death to enforce its leaders’ will on other peoples — adheres to the noxious notion that the U.S.A. enjoys uniquely privileged standing as the “sole indispensable country in the world.” If this was ever an arguably legitimate position, that time is long gone — and today demonstrably blinds its adherents to common sense.

Such thinking is not new. Theodore Roosevelt popularized it as we went to war to annex Spanish territories in the Philippines and Caribbean — at the cost of over half a million indigenous lives — more than a century ago. We saw it, in spades, with the “Best and the Brightest” — those responsible for destroying Vietnam.  Three million Vietnamese people died in that war (according to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara), and another two million or so in its Indochina spin-offs. After this slaughter and the deaths of scores of thousands of its own troops, the U.S. endured a complete and humiliating defeat, one affecting its foreign policy and domestic politics to this day. Their bright successors supported the attack on Iraq in 2003, the catalyst for an outbreak of violence that has brought death reaching into the millions — again — in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and other neighboring locales we’ll eventually read about. This aggression has created millions more traumatized refugees.

The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times (and Wall Street Journal), presumably by one of the State Department employees who authored it, claims American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria and calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”  Furthermore, per the NYT

“In the memo, the State Department officials wrote that the Assad government’s continuing violations of the partial cease-fire, officially known as a cessation of hostilities, will doom efforts to broker a political settlement because Mr. Assad will feel no pressure to negotiate with the moderate opposition or other factions fighting him. The government’s barrel bombing of civilians, it said, is the ‘root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.’ 

“The memo acknowledged that military action would have risks, not the least of which would be increased tension with Russia, which intervened in the war on Mr. Assad’s behalf last fall.  Russia subsequently helped negotiate the cease-fire. Those tensions increased on Thursday when, according to a senior Pentagon official, Russia conducted airstrikes in southern Syria against American-backed forces fighting the Islamic State.”

The dissenters were smart enough to insist they were not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia,” but rather a credible threat of military action “to keep Mr. Assad in line.” Easier said than done! The 51 are silent on this point of major importance. 

The foundational premise of their dissent is that Assad’s “barrel bombing” (followed by chemical attacks) on civilians provoked civil war in Syria. It’s true that the initial phase of the Syrian Spring seems to have been largely spontaneous. Facts show, however, that outside interveners — primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia — cooperated in lighting the match that brought the inferno of civil war. Covert funding and provision of weapons and other material support to opposition groups for strikes against the Syrian Government provoked a military reaction by Assad — which created a pretext for our enlarged support to the rebel groups.

 A large body of evidence also suggests that it was the U.S.-backed rebel forces that employed chemical weapons on civilians, and then blamed Assad, in a propaganda effort to advance international public support for overt American intervention.

U.S. actions against Syria have been widely perceived to be part of a broader proxy battle with Iran, being pursued to push back against its expanded influence in the Middle East. But Iran’s emergence as a regional power was not the result of a magical event. It was a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and our subsequent decision to eradicate every vestige of the Baathist party and to install Iraqi Shia leaders with close ties to Iran in the positions of leadership. 

We have thus helped start a war and then have the audacity to pretend to be shocked at the consequences of our own action. 

The State Department dissenters were not the first to land a blow in this new PR battle over the course of U.S. policy in Syria. The Department of Defense and CIA appear to have entered the fray two weeks ago. According to a report in The Daily Beast, DOD and CIA are in a “cat fight.”

Two Department of Defense officials told that media outlet that they are not eager to support rebels fighting in the city of Aleppo because they are believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda in Syria, or Jabhat al Nusra. The CIA, which supports those rebel groups, rejects that claim, saying alliances of convenience in the face of a mounting Russian-led offensive have created marriages of battlefield necessity, not ideology. 

“It is a strange thing that DOD hall chatter mimics Russian propaganda,” one U.S. official, who supports the intelligence community position, wryly noted about Pentagon claims that the opposition and Nusra are one in the same. 

The intelligence community, which backed opposition forces in Aleppo, believes ISIS cannot be defeated as long as Assad is in power. The terror group, they say, thrives in unstable territories. And only local forces — like the ones backed by the CIA — can mitigate that threat. 

“The status of the opposition is resilient in the face of horrendous attacks by the Syrian and Russian forces,” a U.S. intelligence official explained to The Daily Beast. “The defeat of Assad is a necessary precondition to ultimately defeat [ISIS]. As long as there is a failed leader in Damascus and a failed state in Syria, [ISIS] will have a place to operate from. You can’t deal with ISIS if you have a failed state,” the U.S. official observed. 

This unnamed official conveniently ignores the fact that the U.S. is working aggressively to facilitate Syria’s failure. We are astonished. After 15 years of strident rhetoric about waging a war on Al Qaeda, we have now come full circle to witness the CIA and a vocal bloc within the State Department advocate to arm and train an Al Qaeda affiliated group.   

It’s impossible to know whether or not the eruption of this dispute is a slap to the face of President Obama simply because the President appeared to support the overthrow of Assad but then backed away from the precipice of militarily taking him out.     

The influence of Saudi Arabia in helping push and promote “regime change” in Syria cannot be underestimated. The Saudis also have reportedly funneled significant money into key sectors of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and, it would appear, have obtained considerable influence over our national security policy. More evidence is coming to light that the Saudis have given significant amounts to the Clinton Foundation.


A recent report on the Petra News Agency site (which was subsequently taken down and claimed to have been a “hack”) raises some important concerns. On Sunday a report appeared on that website that included what were described as exclusive comments from Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The comments included a claim that Riyadh has provided 20 percent of the total funding to the prospective Democratic candidate’s campaign.  Although the report did not remain on the website for long, the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs later re-published an Arabic version of it, which quoted Prince Mohammed as having said Saudi Arabia had provided with “full enthusiasm” an undisclosed amount of money to Clinton. 

In light of Hillary Clinton’s strong advocacy for imposing a No Fly Zone in Syria, which would put us on track for stepped up intervention in Syria  and a military confrontation with the Russians, it is natural to wonder if Saudi donations had any influence over the direction of U.S. policy in Syria and support for rebel groups?

In sum, the latest memo from the 51 State Department officers is just one more alarming indication of disarray and failure within the U.S. foreign policy establishment.  Notably, most of their children and grandchildren will not be in the military ranks of those called on to fight this war. They are too smart and too “valuable” to engage in such ridiculous endeavors. So something called a “Volunteer Army” was assembled, populated by “volunteers” — mostly from the inner-cities and the small towns of our country, where jobs and education are elusive.   

This almost unprecedented dissent letter from 51 emboldened State Department hawks is an alarming new sign of the reckless direction that well-organized elements of the U.S. foreign policy establishment seek to take us. Thus, we appeal to you, as Assistant to the President for National Security, to help President Barack Obama stand firm against such institutional destructiveness and to sort out the disarray and bureaucratic contention among his “Team of Rivals.” If the 51 are sincere in their advocacy of a let’s-try-some-more-of-the-same-but-tougher policy, we would expect them to welcome the personal risks involved in being sent off to bash Bashar with “standoff” — or — “closer-quarter” weapons. This could provide them initially with a sense of affirmation — then later, an education.

(Also see earlier remarks by individual VIPS members: by Ann Wright, here, by Elizabeth Murray and Ray McGovern here; by Philip Giraldi, here.)

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Intelligence Officer, USAF (ret.); former Master SERE Instructor.

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003

Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.) 

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

J. Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret.); Foreign Service Officer (resigned in opposition to launching of Iraq War)




A ‘Brexit’ Blow to the Establishment

Exclusive: British voters turned a deaf ear to scary warnings about leaving the E.U. and struck a blow against an out-of-touch, self-interested and incompetent Western Establishment, a message to the U.S., too, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote may cause short-term economic pain and present long-term geopolitical risks, but it is a splash of ice water in the face of the West’s Establishment, which has grown more and more insular, elitist and unaccountable over recent decades.

The West’s powers-that-be, in both the United States and the European Union, too often display contempt for real democracy, maintaining only the façade of respecting the popular will, manipulating voters at election time with red-meat politics and empty promises – before getting back to the business of comforting the comfortable and letting the comfortable afflict the afflicted.

That has been the grim and tiresome reality with America’s two parties and with the E.U.’s bureaucrats. The average American and the average European have every reason to see themselves as a lesser concern to the politicians and the pundits than the special interests which pay the money and call the tune.

In the stunning “Brexit” vote – with 52 percent wanting to abandon the 28-nation European Union – U.K. voters rejected the West’s politics-as-usual despite dire warnings about the downsides of leaving. They voted, in effect, to assert their own nationalistic needs and aspirations over a commitment to continental unity and its more universal goals.

But, in the vote, there was also a recognition that the West’s Establishment has grown corrupt and arrogant, routinely imposing on the people “experts” who claim to be neutral technocrats or objective scholars but whose pockets are lined with fat pay checks from “prestigious” think tanks funded by the Military-Industrial Complex or by lucrative revolving-door trips to investment banks on Wall Street or The City.

Despite the Establishment’s self-image as a “meritocracy,” its corrupted experts and haughty bureaucrats don’t even demonstrate basic competence anymore. They have led Europe and the United States into catastrophe after catastrophe, both economically and geopolitically. And, there is another troubling feature of this Establishment: its lack of accountability.

In the United States, the rewards and punishments have been turned upside-down, with the benighted politicians and pundits who pushed for the Iraq War in 2003 still dominating the government and the media, from Hillary Clinton’s impending Democratic presidential nomination to the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

And, the Iraq War disaster was not a one-off affair. The neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks have their fingerprints on other “regime change” messes, from Libya to Ukraine to Syria (still in the works), with their predictable recommendations for more violence and more belligerence. Yet, they have impunity for their crimes and incompetence. They fail up.

Establishment Doesn’t Know Best

So, the West’s Establishment can’t even argue that it knows best anymore, which always had been its ace in the hole. The various insurgents could be painted as the dangerous option – and that is sometimes true as we’ve seen with Donald Trump – but it is arguably a toss-up as to whether Clinton or Trump would be the bigger risk to the world’s future.

Trump may be a blustering buffoon but he challenges the neocon “group thinks” about the wisdom of expanding the West’s war in Syria and launching a costly and existentially risky New Cold War against nuclear-armed Russia and China. Clinton surrounds herself with neocons and liberal hawks and shares their obsession with overthrowing the government of Syria and provoking Russia and China with military operations near their borders.

Trump and “Brexit” advocates also reject the Establishment’s neoliberal consensus on “free trade,” which has depressed (or eliminated) the wages of American and European workers while the benefits accrue mostly to financial and political elites. The Establishment’s embrace of the “winners” and its disdain for the “losers” have further enflamed today’s populism.

Yet, there are undeniably ugly features in the populist sentiment sweeping the U.S. and Europe. Some of it is driven by bigotry toward non-whites, especially immigrants. Some is inspired by wild conspiracy theories from a population that has understandably lost all faith in what it hears from Washington, Brussels and other capitals. Trump has espoused the scary know-nothing notion that the scientific evidence of global warming is “a hoax.”

There is always something unsettling when an incipient revolution takes shape and starts tearing down the old order. What follows is not always better.

In the end, the American election – like the “Brexit” referendum – may come down to whether voters feel more comfortable sticking with the status quo at least for a while longer or whether they want to blow up the Establishment and gamble on the consequences.

Right now, Clinton and the Democrats are carrying the banner of the Establishment, while Trump and his Republican insurgents fly the Jolly Roger. In a political year when the anti-establishment wave seems to be cresting, the Democrats may regret their choice of a legacy, status-quo candidate.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Two Corrupt Establishments”; “Democrats – Too Clever by Half on Clinton”; “The Coming Democratic Crack-up”; “Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill“; and “The State Department’s Collective Madness.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




The Long-Hidden Saudi 9/11 Connection

Almost 15 years ago, warnings of an Al Qaeda attack were flashing red amid evidence of Saudi complicity, but George W. Bush ignored the alarms and the 9/11 attacks changed history, a mystery that 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser continues to plumb.

By Kristen Breitweiser

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an article by Mark Mazzetti regarding Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks. The article describes some important facts and circumstances surrounding the support that two Saudis gave to two 9/11 hijackers (and recounts how Saudi consular official Fahad al-Thumairy stonewalled the 9/11 Commission by insisting that phone records and other evidence tying him to the hijackers must be wrong or fabricated).

However, there is more to the story. In addition to the reporting on Thumairy, there is also an FBI and CIA report that indicates that Khallad bin Attash (an Al Qaeda operative now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay) was in Los Angeles in June 2000 — compliments of “diplomatic arrangements” provided by Thumairy.

To understand the relevance of this key piece of information, it is necessary to have some context. In 1997, Saudi intelligence arrested Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi as they attempted to bring weapons into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. From that point on, the Kingdom monitored the activities of these known Al Qaeda operatives.

In other words, these two men were not just random young Saudis who had a passing interest in jihad. They were “known” Al Qaeda operatives who planned and participated in Al Qaeda attacks — and, more importantly, they were being closely watched by Saudi intelligence.

Also around that time, U.S. intelligence (and quite possibly their good friends at Saudi intelligence) came across the Yemen Switchboard. The Yemen Switchboard was a calling station where Al Qaeda operatives around the world checked in and passed information back and forth to one another — especially to Osama Bin Laden who was up in the hills of Afghanistan.

Essentially, if you listened to the conversations going back and forth on the Switchboard, you had the Rosetta Stone of Al Qaeda’s movements, activities and plans for terrorist attacks around the globe. Admittedly, some information might have been spoken in code; but nonetheless, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency discovered the mother lode when they started listening to the conversations on the Yemen Switchboard.

By eavesdropping on the switchboard, intelligence agencies discovered information regarding: the African Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the bombing of the USS Cole, the attempted bombing of the USS The Sullivans, and the 9/11 attacks. The problem, of course, with having the Rosetta Stone in their pocket, was not letting Al Qaeda and Bin Laden know that they had it.

Unfortunately, instances like this cause collateral damage. Much like in “The Imitation Game,” when the English cracked the German Code. In order for the Germans to not realize the English had cracked their Enigma code, the English had to allow some attacks to happen — innocent people had to be sacrificed for the greater cause.

For example, the German bombing of the quaint little town of Coventry that killed 600 innocent people, illustrates this harsh reality. So, too, do the possible 3,239 people killed and 10,539 people seriously injured as a result of the Embassy bombings, the USS Cole, and the 9/11 attacks.

Terrorist Summit

It was via their monitoring of the Yemen Switchboard that U.S. intelligence learned about the now infamous meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also known as the “terrorist summit,” held in January 2000. U.S. authorities tracked Mihdhar and Hazmi to this meeting when they traveled there with Al Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash.

U.S. intelligence agencies monitored this meeting with help from certain foreign friends, Malaysian intelligence, among them. Whether our good friends and allies over at Saudi intelligence were also involved in the surveillance of this meeting remains unknown. Also attending the Malaysia meeting were Al Qaeda operatives: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Ramzi bin al Shibh, and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri. At the meeting in Malaysia, the 9/11 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole were discussed and planned in great detail.

After the meeting wrapped up, Mihdhar and Hazmi flew to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Jan. 15, 2000 — and quite possibly, according to one FBI report, so did Attash. Recall that the period between December 1999 and January 2000 was a time of extreme high alert in Al Qaeda threat reporting and warnings because it was the Millennium period.

On Dec. 14, 1999, Al Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Ressam was arrested at a Seattle, Washington ferry crossing. Ressam was arrested with explosives found in his car, on his way to blow up LAX as part of al Qaeda’s Millennium attacks. Ressam — without the use of torture, I might add — immediately and completely cooperated with U.S. authorities, sharing vital information about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s attempts to attack the United States.

Indeed, several of the things detailed by Ressam were likely included in the Aug. 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” as well as the top-secret documents that Clinton National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, scandalously stole from the National Archives.

These highly classified and apparently very damning documents were permanently destroyed by Berger — so, we’ll never know what was so secretive and problematic in that Millennium after-action report that Berger stuffed in his socks. Perhaps a Saudi role? Who’s to say? Berger is dead, and he certainly didn’t leave any clues behind.

We do know, however, that some of Ressam’s information was used in the indictments of several Al Qaeda operatives who carried out the Embassy bombings, the USS Cole bombing, and the 9/11 attacks. Clearly, Ressam knew a lot. And, he shared that abundance of information openly and willingly with U.S. intelligence agencies — starting in December 1999.

Al Qaeda’s Connections

More notably to me, of course, is that Ressam detailed his connections to known Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. This is relevant because after 9/11, by Zubaydah’s own admission (albeit through torture), Zubaydah acknowledged having direct connections to Osama bin Laden, Saudi intelligence and the Saudi Royal Family.

So, let’s review what we have so far: the 1997 arrest of al Mihdhar and al Hazmi by Saudi intelligence (our allies); Saudi monitoring of the two Al Qaeda operatives from that point onwards; monitoring and eavesdropping of the Yemen Switchboard by U.S. intelligence and quite possibly Saudi intelligence; the Meeting in Malaysia where the USS Cole and 9/11 attacks were further planned and discussed; the arrest of Ressam in December 1999; the cooperation of Ressam and his sharing of boatloads of Al Qaeda information with U.S. intelligence; and the eventual arrival of Mihdhar, Hazmi, and potentially Attash into LAX on Jan. 15, 2000.

So now, let’s get back to Mazzetti’s article. In addition to the material Mazzetti discusses in his article is the curious evolution of facts surrounding the arrival of these 9/11 hijackers on Jan. 15, 2000, and precisely how, when and why Saudi agent Omar Bayoumi met them.

Right after Sept. 11, 2001, the media, the Joint Inquiry, and several well-respected authors routinely and regularly reported that Bayoumi met the hijackers on the day of their arrival at LAX. Indeed, to this day, the FBI’s official timeline of the 9/11 attacks, has the hijackers being met by Bayoumi and living with Bayoumi for the first two weeks of their stay in the United States.

The fact that Bayoumi met the hijackers at the airport on Jan. 15, 2000, has been, not surprisingly, softened, glossed over, and morphed by the Saudis and their allies into the notion that Bayoumi merely crossed paths with the hijackers by coincidence at some random, Middle-Eastern restaurant some two weeks after their arrival into the U.S. It is perhaps not a surprise that given the millions the Saudis have dropped on lobbyists, PR campaigns and gifts that this narrative is still being pressed by those who want to obscure the Saudi role on 9/11.

Hoping to leave a fantasy saleable to the U.S. public, the Saudis want us to believe that Bayoumi was just being a good Muslim when he “coincidentally” met the two operatives.

By the way, the frequent excuse and invocation of “just being a good Muslim” employed by Saudi agents and officials when it comes to their connections to the 9/11 hijackers needs to be properly addressed. Muslim culture does not entail offering your home, phone, and/or money to complete strangers. Nor does it call for Muslim Saudi royalty to randomly and wantonly write $150,000 checks to unknown acquaintances.

Typically, Muslim tradition entails some sort of introduction or connection being made first by a trusted intermediary or third party. So who “vouched” for the 9/11 hijackers? Apparently, no U.S. investigator wants to know.

The Saudi Consulate

Nevertheless, Bayoumi met Mihdhar and Hazmi after reportedly being at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. While at the Consulate, he met with a man who fits the description of Fahad al Thumairy.

Fahad al Thumairy was an accredited administrative officer and diplomat at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. Bayoumi and Thumairy had known each other prior to the hijackers arrival. After 9/11, U.S. authorities learned that Fahad al Thumairy had extensive contacts with Al Qaeda. Evidence now points to Bayoumi being tasked as the advance man for Mihdhar and Hazmi. His job was to provide financial and logistical support for the two terrorists since neither of them spoke English, nor had they ever lived in the United States.

As such, immediately after his meeting with Thumairy at the Saudi Consulate on Jan. 15, 2000, Bayoumi picked up Mihdhar and Hazmi and drove them back to his home in San Diego where they lived with him for two weeks. Mihdhar and Hazmi stayed as guests in Bayoumi’s home until Bayoumi found them an apartment next door to his own. On Feb. 5, 2000, Bayoumi appears as co-signor and guarantor for Hazmi and Mihdhar on their rental application. They listed Bayoumi’s home as their prior address.

Bayoumi recommended Hazmi and Mihdhar to the property manager and was the co-signor and guarantor for Hazmi and Mihdhar because they did not have established credit. Upon entering the lease agreement, Bayoumi paid the 9/11 terrorists’ first two months’ rent and security deposit. In addition, according to the apartment manager, Bayoumi occasionally paid other monthly rents for Hazmi and Mihdhar. After securing them a place to live, Bayoumi then helped the two 9/11 terrorists open a bank account at Bank of America with a $9,900 cash deposit (conveniently just slightly below the $10,000 threshold for suspicious activity).

In addition, Bayoumi gave a welcoming party for the two 9/11 terrorists to introduce them to the San Diego Muslim Community. Members of that community included radical Imam Anwar Awlaki who was killed by a drone strike in 2011 and was connected to nearly 25 terrorist attacks. According to intelligence reports, Al Qaeda operative Anwar Awlaki met on many occasions with the two 9/11 hijackers and Omar Bayoumi.

During the month of February, Bayoumi apparently shared his phone with the two 9/11 terrorists. According to FBI reports, phone calls from both the hijackers’ and Bayoumi’s phones included operational calls to Anwar Awlaki, the “Yemen Switchboard,” the Saudi Embassy, Fahad al Thumairy, and the Saudi Cultural Mission in Washington D.C.

For example, between January 2000 and May 2000, someone using Omar Bayoumi’s phone made 32 calls to the Saudi Embassy in Washington D.C., 37 calls to the Saudi Cultural Mission in Washington D.C., and 24 calls to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles.

Frequent Travel

Bayoumi also traveled often to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles, to the Saudi Consulate in Washington D.C., and to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during this same time frame. Exactly whom Bayoumi met during these trips remains a mystery since apparently no investigator has ever bothered to ask about or look into these trips.

Because of this frequent travel, Bayoumi arranged for the hijackers to have a “handler” for the times that he was away from them. This handler’s job was to help the two terrorists obtain social security cards, driver’s licenses, purchase a new car, and arrange for their flying lessons so they would eventually be able to fly AA Flight 77 into the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11.

Also of significance is Bayoumi’s connection to a Saudi named Osama Basnan. During the time that the hijackers were living in San Diego, Omar Bayoumi was in constant contact with his close friend and Saudi associate Osama Basnan. Like Bayoumi, Basnan has been alleged by U.S. intelligence agencies to be a Saudi agent.

Basnan lived in the same apartment complex as Bayoumi and the two 9/11 hijackers. From the time that the two 9/11 hijackers arrived at the apartment complex until the attacks, Basnan signed over to Bayoumi’s wife, checks totaling some $150,000 for the alleged support of the two hijackers.

Basnan received this $150,000 from Princess Haifa al Faisal, daughter of Saudi King Faisal, and wife of Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Bandar bin Sultan. Princess Haifa says that she was merely being a good Muslim princess and sending money to Basnan to help defray the costs of Basnan’s wife’s alleged thyroid ailment.

No investigator has asked or answered whether Basnan’s wife’s ailment was legitimate. But, in this case, don’t blame the intrepid investigator — she was fired before she had a chance to investigate and answer those questions.

On May 31, 2000, Mihdhar and Hazmi moved out of Bayoumi’s apartment complex and moved into the home of an FBI informant. The FBI informant denies knowing anything about the 9/11 attacks. During the time frame that the hijackers had contact with the FBI informant, Bayoumi paid regular visits to the hijackers and the FBI informant had regular meetings with his FBI handler.

Unfortunately, the FBI did not capitalize upon these opportunities. Mihdhar lived with the FBI informant for 10 days until he flew back overseas on June 10, 2000. Hazmi lived with the FBI informant for nearly six months until he moved to Phoenix to live with Hani Hanjour, another 9/11 hijacker and the pilot of AA Flight 77 that flew into the Pentagon.

Mini-Terrorist Summit

Another key piece of information is the “mini- terrorist summit” held on June 9, 2000, in Los Angeles. The mini-terrorist summit took place at a hotel near the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles and was held on Mihdhar’s last night in the United States. The meeting was attended by Mihdhar, Hazmi, and Khallad bin Attash.

According to CIA and FBI reports, this mini-terrorist summit might have been facilitated by Saudi Consulate official, Fahad Thumairy. This information is particularly damning since Attash was, at the time, a very well known, very well identified lethal Al Qaeda operative. In addition, Attash, Mihdhar and Hazmi had just traveled together (and been monitored by several intelligence agencies) five months earlier, in January 2000, when they attended the larger terrorist summit in Malaysia.

Recall that the 9/11 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole were planned at this larger terrorist summit in Malaysia — and, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind behind 9/11, and Ramzi Bin al Shibh, the bagman behind 9/11, were also at this meeting. So, the arrival of Attash into the United States should have set off HUGE alarm bells. It did not.

And, even more alarming, is the information “surmised” by the New York City FBI field office that Saudi Consulate official — likely Thumairy — escorted this known Al Qaeda operative into the United States to evade the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Customs procedures and protections.

According to the report, “certain diplomatic arrangements exist at various airports which allow diplomats to meet incoming foreign nationals at the baggage carousels — before entrance into Customs. New York FBI opined that it may have been possible that someone from the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles may have met Khallad at the airport and escorted him through customs.”

Clearly, this explains how a known Al Qaeda operative (and the alleged mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole), Khallad bin Attash was able to enter the U.S. without anyone knowing about it. It does not explain, however, why the bombing of the USS Cole was not interrupted and 17 innocent U.S. sailors were killed.

Incidentally, Mihdhar and Hazmi were also named as co-conspirators in the USS Cole attack. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Fahad Thumairy were not. What needs to be understood by anyone who looks at just these facts surrounding the Saudi connection to the 9/11 attacks and the USS Cole bombing is that the Saudis and their relationship to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have never been fully investigated — by anyone —either before or after 9/11.

The result of the failure to expose all these facts? Before 9/11, if there was behavior by Saudis that raised red flags or caused some concern, those questions and that investigation were shut down. Former Joint Terrorism Task Force Agent John O’Neill (who warned about the growing Al Qaeda threat and lost his life in the World Trade Center on 9/11) certainly knew how that felt.

And, on 9/11 and the days soon thereafter, what happened to questionable people, known associates, family members of Al Qaeda operatives and Osama bin Laden? They were quietly whisked out of the country, and warmly protected by the blanket of sovereign immunity — because the Saudis, though not perfect, are our “allies.”

And, in the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks? What has happened to the Saudis and their ties to the 9/11 attacks? Any real, unfettered investigation? Any genuine accountability? Any clear answers? Any truth? Not one bit.

So what’s left? The murder of more than 3,000 innocent people. Two wars. Thousands of U.S. military killed, and thousands more seriously injured. Countless innocent Afghans and Iraqis killed and injured. And, a burgeoning ISIS still hell-bent on killing Americans because of our values, our beliefs, and mostly our failed intelligence and foreign policies.

The bottom line is that it has been 15 long years and the 9/11 families, as well as the American public, are growing extremely tired of this endless battle to uncover the truth.

Kristen Breitweiser is a 9/11 widow and activist who – working with other 9/11 widows known collectively as the “Jersey Girls” – pressured the U.S. government to conduct a formal investigation into the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 9/11 widows Patty Casazza, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg, and Lorie Van Auken also sign their names to this blog, which previously appeared at HuffingtonPost and is reposted with permission, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-breitweiser/redacted-all-the-kingdoms_b_10573074.html= Follow Kristen Breitweiser on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kdbreitweiser .




US Bombing Syrian Troops Would Be Illegal

Exclusive: Secretary of State Kerry met with dissident State Department “diplomats” to hear their call for U.S. airstrikes on Syrian government troops, but the plan is both dangerous and illegal, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

In an internal “dissent channel cable,” 51 State Department officers called for “targeted military strikes” against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, a proposal that President Barack Obama has thus far resisted. However, were he to accept the cable’s advice, he would risk a dangerous – possibly catastrophic – confrontation with Russia. And, such a use of military force in Syria would violate U.S. and international law.

While the cable decries “the Russian and Iranian governments’ cynical and destabilizing deployment of significant military power to bolster the Assad regime,” the cable calls for the United States to protect and empower “the moderate Syrian opposition,” seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.

However, Assad’s government is the only legitimate government in Syria and, as the sovereign, has the legal right to seek international support as it has from Russia and Iran. There is no such legal right for the United States and other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to arm Syrian rebels to attack Assad’s government.

The dissent cable advocates what it calls “the judicious use of stand-off and air weapons,” which, the signatories write, “would undergird and drive a more focused and hardnosed US-led diplomatic process.”

Inside Syria, both the United States and Russia are battling the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) as ISIS and other jihadist groups seek to overthrow the Assad government. But while the U.S. is supporting rebel forces (including some fighting ISIS and some fighting Assad), Russia is backing Assad (and waging a broader fight against “terrorists,” including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front). Reuters reports the U.S. has about 300 special operations forces in Syria for its “counter-terrorism mission against Islamic State militants but is not targeting the Assad government.”

The policy outlined in the dissent cable would change that balance, by having the U.S. military bomb Syrian soldiers who have been at the forefront of the fight against both ISIS and Nusra. But that policy shift “would lead to a war with Russia, would kill greater numbers of civilians, would sunder the Geneva peace process, and would result in greater gains for the radical Sunni ‘rebels’ who are the principal opponents of the Assad regime,” analyst James Carden wrote at Consortiumnews.com.

Journalist Robert Parry added that the authors of the cable came from the State Department’s “den of armchair warriors possessed of imperial delusions,” looking toward a Hillary Clinton administration which will likely pursue “no-fly-zones” and “safe zones” leading to more slaughter in Syria and risking a confrontation with Russia.

As we should have learned from the “no-fly zone” that preceded the Libyan “regime change” that the U.S. government engineered in 2011, a similar strategy in Syria would create a vacuum in which ISIS and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front would flourish.

Violating U.S. and International Law

The strategy set forth in the cable would also violate both U.S. and international law.

Under the War Powers Resolution (WPR), the President can introduce U.S. troops into hostilities, or into situations “where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances,” only (1) after a Congressional declaration of war, (2) with “specific statutory authorization,” or (3) in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

None of three conditions that would allow the president to use military force in Syria is present at this time. First, Congress has not declared war. Second, neither the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which George W. Bush used to invade Afghanistan, nor the 2002 AUMF, which Bush used to invade Iraq would provide a legal basis for an attack on Syria at the present time. Third, there has been no attack on the United States or U.S. armed forces. Thus, an armed attack on Syria would violate the WPR.

Even if a military attack on Syria did not run afoul of the WPR, it would violate the United Nations Charter, a treaty the U.S. has ratified, making it part of U.S. law under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. Article 2(4) of the Charter says that states “shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

The Charter only allows a military attack on another country in the case of self-defense or when the Security Council authorizes it; neither has occurred in this case. Assad’s government has not attacked the United States, and the Council has not approved military strikes on Syria.

Indeed, Security Council Resolution 2254, to which the cable refers, nowhere authorizes the use of military force, and ends with the words, “[The Security Council] decides to remain actively seized of the matter.” This means that the Council has not delegated the power to attack Syria to any entity other than itself.

If the U.S. were to mount an armed attack on Syria, the Charter would give Assad a valid self-defense claim, and Russia could legally assist Assad in collective self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter. Moreover, forcible “regime change” would violate Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. has also ratified.

Although it’s true that the “dissent” cable eschews the use of U.S. “ground forces,” its recommendation that the U.S. should bomb Assad’s government would involve U.S. military personnel who would fly the bombers or fire off the missiles. And, such an operation would invariably necessitate at least a limited number of U.S. support troops on the ground.

Opposition to Violent ‘Regime Change’

Many commentators have warned of dangers from a U.S. military attack on Syria, risks that are either ignored or breezily dismissed by the “dissent” cable.

Jean Aziz cautions in Al-Monitor, “the recommendation of military strikes against the Syrian government – no matter how well intentioned – is, in the end, escalatory, and would likely result in more war, killing, refugees, less humanitarian aid reaching civilians, the empowerment of jihadis and so on.”

The United States is already empowering jihadis, “going out of its way to protect the interests of al-Qaeda’s closest and most powerful ally in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham,” Gareth Porter wrote in Truthout. Porter reported that Ahrar al-Sham, which works closely with the Nusra Front, “is believed to be the largest military force seeking to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, with at least 15,000 troops.”

So, in seeking Assad’s ouster, the U.S. has terrorist bedfellows. So much for the “global war on terror.”

As CIA Director John Brennan recently told the Senate Intelligence Committee, “Our efforts have not reduced [Islamic State’s] terrorism capability and global reach,” adding, “The branch in Libya is probably the most developed and the most dangerous.”

No wonder President Obama told Fox News “the worst mistake” of his presidency was not planning for the aftermath of U.S. regime change in Libya, although he stubbornly maintains that ousting President Muammar Gaddafi was “the right thing to do.”

The Center for Citizen Initiatives, a group of U.S. citizens currently on a delegation to Russia in order to increase understanding and reduce international tension and conflict, issued a statement in strong opposition to the “dissent” cable. Retired Col. Ann Wright, anti-war activist Kathy Kelly and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern are part of the group.

“It is not the right of the USA or any other foreign country to determine who should lead the Syrian government,” the statement says. “That decision should be made by the Syrian people.”

The statement urges the State Department “to seek non-military solutions in conformity with the UN Charter and international law.” It also urges the Obama administration to “stop funding and supplying weapons to armed ‘rebels’ in violation of international law and end the policy of forced ‘regime change’.” Finally, the statement calls for “an urgent nation-wide public debate on the U.S. policy of ‘regime change’.”

This is sage advice in light of the disasters created by the U.S. government’s forcible regime change in Iraq and Libya, which destabilized those countries, facilitating the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups. There is no reason to believe the situation in Syria would be any different.

Instead of saber-rattling against Assad, Russia and Iran, the Obama administration should include them all in pursuing diplomacy toward a political, non-military settlement to the Syrian crisis.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. A member of the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace, Cohn’s latest book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.




New Cold War Feeds War Machine

The apparent madness in the Obama administration starting a new Cold War with Russia and China makes sense if viewed from the perspective of the Military-Industrial Complex, which must justify ever-larger budgets, as Chuck Spinney explains.

By Chuck Spinney

Today, America’s foreign policy is a shambles. Its primary features are (1) a perpetual war on terror, and (2) the seemingly inevitable march into a new and unnecessary Cold War against Russia and China.

At the same time, President Obama is leaving his successor with a budget plan containing a front-loaded and political-engineered procurement bow wave that guarantees steeply rising defense expenditures well into the next decade and possibly beyond. Such long term increases in the defense budget can only be justified by a new cold war. [For explanations on loading and political engineering, see my 1990 pamphlet Defense Power Games]

Yet the United States now spends far more on the military than any other country. Add in the expenditures of our allies, and the spending advantage over any conceivable combination of adversaries becomes overwhelming. Nevertheless, U.S. citizens are more fearful than they were during the Cold War, and politicians and the yellow journalism of the mainstream media are hyping those fears to a greater extent than they did during the Cold War. What is going on?

Most pundits and policy-makers who debate this dismal state of affairs subscribe to the view that fixing foreign policy is the first step toward getting control of the Pentagon and ultimately reducing defense budgets. In their view, the top priority should be to re-define our foreign policy goals (hopefully in accordance with the criteria for a sensible grand strategy, although these criteria are seldom examined in a systematic way).

The redefined grand strategic goals would then form a basis for defining a rational military strategy to meet these goals. Once the strategy is settled upon by the policy elites, the drones in the Pentagon can define the force structure to meet the strategy. That force structure would then provide the template against which the budgeteers can define the budget decisions needed to build and maintain the forces necessary to execute the strategy. QED.

This neat comforting top-down viewpoint conveys the illusion of control. It plays well in the high-brow salons of Versailles on the Potomac, the halls of Congress, and among the elitist punditocracy in the mainstream media and the ivory tower think tanks of Washington. But history shows this logic does not work.

The logic has been repeated ad nauseam by policy wonks on the left and right since the dawn of the Cold War in 1950. Yet for all their handwringing about strategy-budget mismatches, the policy wonks refuse to recognize the obvious: Since 1962, the Pentagon’s formal planning system — the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS) — is a set of bureaucratic procedures designed precisely in accordance with their sacred top-down logic. Yet the PPBS has failed repeatedly to link budgets to forces and strategy (for reasons I explained here and here).

A Money-Eating Organism

The simple-minded idea that foreign policy (i.e., grand strategy) drives strategy and shapes force structures and budgets simply does not work in the real world. And the reason is fundamental: the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex (MICC) is not a top-down mechanistic phenomenon that responds predictably to this kind of naive control theory.

 

The MICC is more accurately thought of as a synthetic (bottom-up) living culture that creates its own political-economic ecology. Part of that ecology is the MICC’s corrupting effects on domestic politics. President Eisenhower’s prophetic warning about the rise of misplaced power hinted at but did not delve into the reasons for the living nature of this political-economic ecology.

It is now 54 years later, and the MICC has evolved into a deeply entrenched, bewildering variety of ever changing  goal-seeking factions, each fighting for money and power in a game of very messy domestic politics. These factions are loosely self-organized (via revolving doors, for example) into iron triangles that grow and decay over time.

These factions compete with each other or make temporary alliances of convenience in their efforts to acquire money and power (as I explained here, here, and here). Put another way, the MICC is fundamentally a bottom-up living, evolving political-economic organism, and it produces its own peculiar ecology.

It is made up of self-organizing factions in which the pursuit of each faction’s individual goals create combined effects that can be thought of as the MICC’s emergent properties. There is simply no way the sterile top-down logic described above can cope with the MICC’s ever-evolving power games and unpredictable work-arounds.

Or as Colonel John R. Boyd, a fighter pilot, aircraft designer and strategist, has observed: “People say the Pentagon does not have a strategy. They are wrong; the Pentagon does have a strategy. It is: Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”

Boyd’s quote pithily sums up the output of the game, and the MICCs players are now hell-bent on starting a new Cold War as the only way to achieve its factional ambitions. We will not fix this problem posed by the MICC until we come to grips with its elemental nature.

[For more on this topic, see a recent essay by my good friend Andrew Cockburn, who brilliantly elaborates on Boyd’s point and the apparent disconnect between strategy and budgets. I say “apparent disconnect” because the MICC has a real strategy, and like all effective strategies, it is not obvious.]

Chuck Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon who was famous for the “Spinney Report,” which criticized the Pentagon’s wasteful pursuit of costly and complex weapons systems.




How US Wars Have Bred Terrorism

The Reagan administration inadvertently created Al Qaeda by arming the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s, then George W. Bush’s Iraq War gave rise to ISIS. So, one might draw a lesson about overusing military force abroad, says Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

The mass shooting in Orlando, Florida at a gay nightclub, by a man pledging a seemingly last-minute allegiance to the ISIS terror group, leads to questions about whether the U.S. government has been adequately protecting its citizens.

Going back in time, the U.S. government inadvertently created Al Qaeda by encouraging, funding, and arming radical Islamist fighters against the Soviet Union in faraway Afghanistan during the 1980s. After the 9/11 attacks by that group, the U.S. government, by conducting an unrelated invasion of Iraq, then unintentionally created an even more brutal group called Al Qaeda in Iraq, which pledged allegiance to the main Al Qaeda group in Pakistan, and eventually morphed into the even more vicious ISIS. ISIS then took over large parts of Iraq and Syria, but began to attack Western targets only after a U.S.-led coalition began bombing the group in those countries.

Directly planned attacks by ISIS have occurred in Europe, but ISIS has had problems recruiting people in the United States to go to Syria for military training and return to the United States to attack, because its Muslim community has not been radicalized. Thus, the group has had to rely often on spontaneous and crude — but nevertheless sometimes deadly — attacks by relative amateurs “inspired” by the group, such as the incidents in San Bernardino and Orlando.

In the Orlando attack, the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, even may have been dressing up anti-gay bigotry by pledging allegiance to ISIS shortly after he began his dastardly act. Although the FBI had investigated his past statements and connection with one of the few Americans who joined an Al Qaeda affiliate and went to Syria in 2013 and 2014, respectively, they closed the investigation; Mateen’s father and ex-wife have both dismissed religion and instead pointed to anti-gay statements he had made. His father has even pointed out that the shooting may have been triggered by Mateen’s outrage at his three-year-old son recently observing two men kissing and touching.

Entrapping ‘Terrorists’

According to a recent investigation by The New York Times, in two-thirds of prosecutions of ISIS-related terrorism cases, the FBI is using once rare undercover sting operations, such as going on the Internet and encouraging bloviating and bragging individuals to do illegal things so that they can be arrested. Unbelievably, the reason for such a high percentage is that such intrusive undercover operations can be done without approval of judge, which is needed for searches and wiretaps. Thus, the Congress and the public are largely in the dark about such stings.

According to Michael German, a former undercover agent with the FBI, who was quoted in the Times, “They’re manufacturing terrorism cases. These people are five steps away from being a danger to the United States.”

Such furtive entrapment is good for the FBI, so that the agency can show that funding the agency results in arrests in terrorism cases, but is bad for the republic. Because talk is cheap and doesn’t necessarily coincide with action, the FBI (and other law enforcement agencies) likely may be egging people on to do things they wouldn’t do without such encouragement.

Even more important, the FBI may be wasting time arresting relatively harmless braggarts who have discovered ISIS on the Internet or on TV while ignoring others — ISIS-related or not — who may be more dangerous. Most important, such undercover operations alienate an otherwise cooperative American Muslim community, which could quit providing the FBI intelligence on any really dangerous people.

In the panic that ensued after the 9/11 attacks, the FBI was transformed to focus on terrorism cases rather than its traditional concentration on more “ordinary” federal crimes. And since the advent of ISIS, the agency seems to have focused like a laser on the group.

As the San Bernardino and Orlando incidents seem to show, even an “inspired” lone wolf can kill significant numbers of people, if not masses of people as on 9/11. Yet the school shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook have killed about as many, and anyone can now kill people for reasons of hate and simply dress up their motivations by pledging allegiance to ISIS, which the Orlando murderer may well have done.

Despite the hysteria that occurs when ISIS is somehow associated with incidents like San Bernardino and Orlando, Americans should keep in mind that their government inadvertently created the group in the first place and is now hyping the danger to get more resources for its agencies, such as the FBI and Department of Defense, to combat the problem.

The Orlando tragedy is horrendous, but Americans should put the threat from ISIS in perspective and not allow the security agencies to run rogue and either stir up more terrorism from overseas or undermine the republic by using entrapment techniques that are counterproductive to protecting the public.

Ivan Eland is senior fellow and director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA, and the author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.