America’s Dying Democracy

Democracy, as a noble principle of self-governance, is fading away in big ways and small, with special interests seizing control of both media and politicians and with the people increasingly manipulated and misinformed. In this impassioned appeal, Bill Moyers calls it “the fight of our lives.”

By Bill Moyers

In the fall of 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, as families grieved and the nation mourned, Washington swarmed with locusts of the human kind: wartime opportunists, lobbyists, lawyers, ex-members of Congress, bagmen for big donors: all of them determined to grab what they could for their corporate clients and rich donors while no one was looking.

Across the land, the faces of Americans of every stripe were stained with tears. Here in New York, we still were attending memorial services for our firemen and police. But in the nation’s capital, within sight of a smoldering Pentagon that had been struck by one of the hijacked planes, the predator class was hard at work pursuing private plunder at public expense, gold-diggers in the ashes of tragedy exploiting our fear, sorrow, and loss.

What did they want? The usual: tax cuts for the wealthy and big breaks for corporations. They even made an effort to repeal the alternative minimum tax that for 15 years had prevented companies from taking so many credits and deductions that they owed little if any taxes. And it wasn’t only repeal the mercenaries sought; they wanted those corporations to get back all the minimum tax they had ever been assessed.

They sought a special tax break for mighty General Electric, although you would never have heard about it if you were watching GE’s news divisions, NBC News, CNBC, or MSNBC, all made sure to look the other way. They wanted to give coal producers more freedom to pollute, open the Alaskan wilderness to drilling, empower the president to keep trade favors for corporations a secret while enabling many of those same corporations to run roughshod over local communities trying the protect the environment and their citizens’ health.

It was a disgusting bipartisan spectacle. With words reminding us of Harry Truman’s description of the GOP as “guardians of privilege,” the Republican majority leader of the House dared to declare that “it wouldn’t be commensurate with the American spirit” to provide unemployment and other benefits to laid-off airline workers. As for post 9/11 Democrats, their national committee used the crisis to call for widening the soft-money loophole in our election laws.

America had just endured a sneak attack that killed thousands of our citizens, was about to go to war against terror, and would soon send an invading army to the Middle East. If ever there was a moment for shared sacrifice, for putting patriotism over profits, this was it. But that fall, operating deep within the shadows of Washington’s Beltway, American business and political mercenaries wrapped themselves in red, white and blue and went about ripping off a country in crisis.

H.L. Mencken got it right: “Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.”

Fourteen years later, we can see more clearly the implications. After three decades of engineering a winner-take-all economy, and buying the political power to consummate their hold on the wealth created by the system they had rigged in their favor, they were taking the final and irrevocable step of separating themselves permanently from the common course of American life. They would occupy a gated stratosphere far above the madding crowd while their political hirelings below look after their earthly interests.

The $1.15 trillion spending bill passed by Congress last Friday and quickly signed by President Obama is just the latest triumph in the plutocratic management of politics that has accelerated since 9/11. As Michael Winship and I described here last Thursday, the bill is a bonanza for the donor class that powerful combine of corporate executives and super-rich individuals whose money drives our electoral process.

Within minutes of its passage, congressional leaders of both parties and the President rushed to the television cameras to praise each other for a bipartisan bill that they claimed signaled the end of dysfunction; proof that Washington can work.

Mainstream media (including public television and radio), especially the networks and cable channels owned and operated by the conglomerates, didn’t stop to ask: “Yes, but work for whom?” Instead, the anchors acted as amplifiers for official spin, repeating the mantra-of-the-hour that while this is not “a perfect bill,” it does a lot of good things. “But for whom? At what price?” went unasked.

Now we’re learning. Like the drip-drip-drip of a faucet, over the weekend other provisions in the more than 2,000-page bill began to leak. Many of the bad ones we mentioned on Thursday are there, those extended tax breaks for big business, more gratuities to the fossil fuel industry, the provision to forbid the Securities & Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose their political spending, even to their own shareholders.

That one’s a slap in the face even to Anthony Kennedy, the justice who wrote the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Citizens United. He said: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions.”

Over our dead body, Congress declared last Friday, proclaiming instead: Secrecy today. Secrecy tomorrow. Secrecy forever. They are determined that we not know who owns them.

The horrors mount. As Eric Lipton and Liz Moyer reported for The New York Times on Sunday, in the last days before the bill’s passage “lobbyists swooped in” to save, at least for now, a loophole worth more than $1 billion to Wall Street investors and the hotel, restaurant and gambling industries. Lobbyists even helped draft crucial language that the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid furtively inserted into the bill.

Lipton and Moyer wrote that, “The small changes, and the enormous windfall they generated, show the power of connected corporate lobbyists to alter a huge bill that is being put together with little time for lawmakers to consider. Throughout the legislation, there were thousands of other add-ons and hard to decipher tax changes.”

No surprise to read that “some executives at companies with the most at stake are also big campaign donors.” The Times reports that “the family of David Bonderman, a co-founder of TPG Capital, has donated $1.2 million since 2014 to the Senate Majority PAC, a campaign fund with close ties to Mr. Reid and other Senate Democrats.” Senator Reid, lest we forget, is from Nevada. As he approaches retirement at the end of 2016, perhaps he’s hedging his bets at taxpayer expense.

Consider just two other provisions: One, insisted upon by Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, directs the Coast Guard to build a $640 million National Security Cutter in Cochran’s home state of Mississippi, a ship that the Coast Guard says it does not need. The other: A demand by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins for an extra $1 billion for a Navy destroyer that probably will be built at her state’s Bath Iron Works again, a vessel our military says is unnecessary.

So it goes: The selling off of the Republic, piece by piece. What was it Mark Twain said? There is “no distinctive native American criminal class except Congress.”

Can we at least face the truth? The plutocrats and oligarchs are winning. The vast inequality they are creating is a death sentence for government by consent of the people at large. Did any voter in any district or state in the last Congressional election vote to give that billion-dollar loophole to a handful of billionaires? To allow corporations to hide their political contributions? To add $1.4 trillion to the national debt? Of course not.

It is now the game: Candidates ask citizens for their votes, then go to Washington to do the bidding of their donors. And since one expectation is that they will cut the taxes of those donors, we now have a permanent class that is afforded representation without taxation.

A plutocracy, says my old friend, the historian Bernard Weisberger, “has a natural instinct to perpetuate and enlarge its own powers and by doing so slams the door of opportunity to challengers and reduces elections to theatrical duels between politicians who are marionettes worked by invisible strings.” Where does it end?

By coincidence, this past weekend I watched the final episode of the British television series Secret State, a 2012 remake of an earlier version based on the popular novel A Very British Coup. This is white-knuckle political drama. Gabriel Byrne plays an accidental prime minister thrust into office by the death of the incumbent, only to discover himself facing something he never imagined: a shadowy coalition of forces, some within his own government, working against him.

With some of his own ministers secretly in the service of powerful corporations and bankers, his own party falling away from him, press lords daily maligning him, the opposition emboldened, and a public confused by misinformation, deceit, and vicious political rhetoric, the prime minister is told by Parliament to immediately invade Iran (on unproven, even false premises) or resign.

In the climactic scene, he defies the “Secret State” that is manipulating all this and confronts Parliament with this challenge: “Let’s forget party allegiance, forget vested interests, forget votes of confidence. Let each and every one of us think only of this: Is this war justified? Is it what the people of this country want? Is it going to achieve what we want it to achieve? And if not, then what next?

 “Well, I tell you what I think we should do. We should represent the people of this country. Not the lobby companies that wine and dine us. Or the banks and the big businesses that tell us how the world goes ‘round. Or the trade unions that try and call the shots. Not the civil servants nor the war-mongering generals or the security chiefs. Not the press magnates and multibillion dollar donors [We must return] democracy to this House and the country it represents.”

Do they? The movie doesn’t tell us. We are left to imagine how the crisis, the struggle for democracy, will end.

As we are reminded by this season, there is more to life than politics. There are families, friends, music, worship, sports, the arts, reading, conversation, laughter, celebrations of love and fellowship and partridges in pear trees. But without healthy democratic politics serving a moral order, all these are imperiled by the ferocious appetites of private power and greed.

So enjoy the holidays, including Star Wars. Then come back after New Year’s and find a place for yourself, at whatever level, wherever you are, in the struggle for democracy. This is the fight of our lives and how it ends is up to us.

 Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.




The Myth of ‘Taking Out’ ISIS

“Tough-guy-gal-ism” remains the dominant rhetoric of Official Washington as politicians and pundits compete to outdo each other in advocating bloody remedies for “taking out” the Islamic State. But the armchair warriors misunderstand the problem and offer no solution, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The perceptions and the politics in the United States regarding the use of military force against the so-called Islamic State or ISIS are now clear and well-established. The issue has become a classic case of those without the responsibilities of office seizing on a matter of public fear and concern and lambasting those with such responsibilities for not doing more, with the lambasters enjoying the luxury of not having to develop specific and well-thought-out measures and not having to consider the costs, risks, effectiveness and consequences of any such measures.

Thus we hear the Republican presidential candidates making a huge deal of what they describe as a grievous threat from ISIS and using bombastic language to let us believe that most of them would make quicker and more extensive use of military force against this group than is the supposedly reticent and weak-kneed incumbent in the White House.

But despite the volume and intensity of such rhetoric we hear very little about exactly how they would use force differently and even less about how any different measures should be expected to work. Even systematic efforts to catalog what candidates have said on the subject yield mostly spotty and vaguely phrased results.

The public mood being exploited is clear enough. A recent Monmouth University poll showed 78 percent of respondents believing ISIS to be “a major threat to U.S. security” and 68 percent saying that the U.S. Government is “not doing enough to defeat ISIS.” When asked whether ISIS can be stopped without U.S. troops, can be stopped only with U.S. troops, or cannot be stopped, a plurality (47 percent) said only with U.S. troops.

President Obama has felt it necessary to join in some of the public chorus on this topic. After a televised address from the Oval Office did not receive good enough reviews, the President a week later spoke from the Pentagon about the military side of anti-ISIS efforts, citing numbers of bombing sorties as if that were a good gauge of making progress on counterterrorism. Then a couple of days later he made another publicly covered appearance, with additional talk about the ISIS problem, at the National Counterterrorism Center.

When we see a strong association between politicians’ rhetoric and a pattern of public concern reflected in opinion polls, we need to be careful about what is cause and what is effect. Politicians exploit public beliefs, but segments of the public form many of their beliefs based on cues they get from political leaders whom they most support and political parties with which they most identify.

An event such a high-profile terrorist incident can trigger a shift in mood, but then the political rhetoric and exploitation have a snowball effect. If political leaders of both parties had been making public statements much more consistent with the actual interests of the nation and what threatens those interests most severely, poll results on questions about ISIS would have been significantly different.

Perhaps the single formulation in the presidential candidates’ rhetoric on this subject that has gotten most attention is Ted Cruz’s recommendation to use “carpet bombing.” As Major General Robert Scales, a military historian and former commandant of the Army War College, comments, carpet bombing “is just another one of those phrases that people with no military experience throw around.”

When Cruz is pressed on the subject, it becomes clear he does not know what he is talking about in his use of the terminology and doesn’t actually have a plan for use of air power that looks different from what the current administration is doing.

Max Boot, in a piece that gives Cruz far too much credit for having a serious proposal for use of air power rather than merely using carpet bombing as a term that sounds tough, gives good reasons why simply bombing ISIS will not defeat it.

Boot, who is a serious analyst in his own right but is identified in this article as a foreign policy adviser to Marco Rubio, ends up with a vaguely stated conclusion that U.S. ground troops will have to be sent against ISIS. Rubio’s own statements on this subject also have been vague, with some references to a need for using more special operations forces.

It has been left to also-ran candidates to be at all specific about numbers of U.S. ground troops they would favor using. Sen. Lindsey Graham has used the figure of 10,000 troops; Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have talked about 10,000 or more.

But as experience in other wars indicates and as analysis by Stephen Biddle and Jacob Shapiro concludes, one would need to add a zero and then some to get results on the ground that would be anything like what these politicians claim could be gotten through application of U.S. military force. Biddle and Shapiro write that “well over 100,000” troops would be needed in such a mission.

Meanwhile, back at the Oval Office, where the buck stops and where costs, risks, effectiveness and consequences do need to be seriously considered, President Obama, notwithstanding his felt need to join in some of the rhetorical highlighting of ISIS and of the role military force plays in dealing with it, has shown that he has a better grasp of the realities involved than the candidates who are trying to ride the issue into the White House.

The President laid out some of his thinking earlier this week in a discussion with some opinion writers that was supposed to be off the record but had much of its substance come out in a column by David Ignatius and through other participants. A fundamental basis of the President’s policy is the correct judgment that ISIS, though posing a significant security problem in several respects, is not an existential threat to the United States or anything close to it, as much of the American rhetoric about the group would suggest.

It thus is not worth the costs that a significantly expanded military campaign in the Middle East would entail. The President mentioned monthly costs to the United States, hypothetical but certainly plausible, of 100 dead, 500 injured, and $10 billion in expenditures.

One fundamental reason an expanded military campaign against ISIS therefore is not warranted is that to get any meaningful result it would entail far greater costs than what the politicians agitating for doing more are suggesting, and than what the American people would consider after the fact to have been a worthwhile expenditure.

But even if the American people were knowingly willing to assume such a burden, another fundamental reason such a campaign would not be warranted is that it still would not, despite the heavy costs, solve the main problems, involving terrorism and instability, it would be intended to solve. In important respects it would be counterproductive. President Obama has only touched on some aspects of this latter reason, lest he be seen to go too far from what has become the rhetorical mainstream about threats from ISIS and the need to confront it militarily.

Advocacy of larger and more direct use of U.S. military force against the group rests on a notion of ISIS as a discrete set of people, places and institutions that could be “taken out” with a concerted attack by the powerful U.S. military.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has mentioned the same figure of 10,000 troops as his friend Lindsey Graham, uses the “take out” concept. This is an incorrect image of ISIS. ISIS is not some discrete set of people; it is gaining and losing both leaders and recruits all the time. It is not some one place where we can play a game of capture the flag; it moves around and has been gaining and losing (more recently, mostly losing) territory throughout its history.

One of the biggest chapters of that history was its move out of Iraq and into Syria when it was able to take advantage of the disorder of a growing civil war there. If a U.S. or U.S.-led military campaign captured and held Raqqa and all other cities that ISIS now controls, that would not mark the end of the campaign but only its move into a new phase. A large insurgency, or several insurgencies, would continue.

“Taking out” ISIS with the capturing of cities and the occupation of territory and the driving of ISIS leaders out of whatever is their current domicile would no doubt give rise to the temptation to declare “mission accomplished” and to make celebratory flights to aircraft carriers, just as such an event once did after the invasion of Iraq. And the grounds for the celebration would be no stronger than they were in that earlier instance in Iraq.

U.S. or Western troops, even assuming the willingness of their publics to sustain the large costs of an indefinite occupation, will never be able to provide stability in the parts of Syria and Iraq they occupy. Only the locals, with suitable political will, can do that.

A huge unanswered question about notions of taking out ISIS with military force is what fills the void once it has been taken out, what, that is, other than an indefinite and costly foreign occupation. That question will have a satisfying answer only when peace-making diplomacy and political reconciliation have made much more progress than they have so far. Until that happens, the place of a taken-out ISIS will be taken by more of the conflict and chaos that violent extremists, whether they bear the ISIS name or some other label, are best able to exploit.

Even just limiting our purview to ISIS itself, there is nothing unique about the territory that it happens to control at the moment in Iraq and Syria. The group already is repeating some of the same pattern of decentralization as Al Qaeda, with pieces on the periphery possibly being more threatening than the original core. Libya, where there is much well-founded doubt about the impact of the recently announced agreement between the rival regimes there, is a prime place where we might wake up to find the most viable part of ISIS. Taking out the group in Iraq and Syria would be only a stage in more campaigns and occupations elsewhere in the Middle East.

As for the type of threat that most concerns Americans, terrorism inside the United States, the taking out of ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria simply does not translate into the removal of such a threat. Such terrorism, time and again, has not depended on some group’s control of real estate in the Middle East or South Asia.

The San Bernardino shootings certainly did not depend on it. Many incidents outside the Middle East have been described with some accuracy as “inspired” by ISIS. The state of the ISIS enclave in the Middle East, and whether it is advancing or shrinking, does have something to do with how much would-be terrorists elsewhere are inspired by it. But you cannot take out an inspiration. And people have long been inspired, some of them inspired to do very destructive things, by what is dead as well as what is living.

A major U.S. or U.S.-led military campaign in Syria and Iraq would play into the hands of ISIS in terms of ideology and messaging, which have at least as much to do with inspiration as control of real estate does. Such a campaign would be seen by many as confirming the ISIS narrative of this group standing up for Muslims against the attacks of the non-Muslim West.

More specifically it would be seen as confirming the group’s apocalyptic prophecy about armed confrontation between itself and the infidels. A substantially enlarged U.S. military campaign would be counterproductive partly by adding to the group’s credibility in this respect and thus to its power to inspire. It also would be counterproductive insofar as it added to the collateral damage, which there will be even without carpet bombing, that produces anger and resentment that in turn inspires still more anti-U.S. terrorism.

The exploitation of the ISIS issue in American politics no doubt will continue and continue loudly, but we should hope that its infection of U.S. policy will be kept to a minimum.

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




A Call for Proof on Syria-Sarin Attack

One reason why Official Washington continues to insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” is that he supposedly “gassed his own people” with sarin on Aug. 21, 2013, but the truth of that allegation has never been established and is in growing doubt, U.S. intelligence veterans point out. [Updated on Dec. 23 with new signers.]

MEMORANDUM FOR: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Sarin Attack at Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013

In a Memorandum of Oct. 1, 2013, we asked each of you to make public the intelligence upon which you based your differing conclusions on who was responsible for the sarin chemical attack at Ghouta, outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. On Dec. 10, 2015, Eren Erdem, a member of parliament in Turkey, citing official documents, blamed Turkey for facilitating the delivery of sarin to rebels in Syria.

Mr. Kerry, you had blamed the Syrian government. Mr. Lavrov, you had described the sarin as “homemade” and suggested anti-government rebels were responsible. Each of you claimed to have persuasive evidence to support your conclusion.

Neither of you responded directly to our appeal to make such evidence available to the public, although, Mr. Lavrov, you came close to doing so. In a speech

at the UN on Sept. 26, 2013, you made reference to the views we presented in our VIPS Memorandum, Is Syria a Trap?, sent to President Obama three weeks earlier.

Pointing to strong doubt among chemical weapons experts regarding the evidence adduced to blame the government of Syria for the sarin attack, you also referred to the “open letter sent to President Obama by former operatives of the CIA and the Pentagon,” in which we expressed similar doubt.

Mr. Kerry, on Aug. 30, 2013, you blamed the Syrian government, publicly and repeatedly, for the sarin attack. But you failed to produce the kind of “Intelligence Assessment” customarily used to back up such claims.

We believe that this odd lack of a formal “Intelligence Assessment” is explained by the fact that our former colleagues did not believe the evidence justified your charges and that, accordingly, they resisted pressure to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as was done to “justify” the attack on Iraq.

Intelligence analysts were telling us privately (and we told the President in our Memorandum of Sept. 6, 2013) that, contrary to what you claimed, “the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21.”

This principled dissent from these analysts apparently led the White House to create a new art form, a “Government Assessment,” to convey claims that the government in Damascus was behind the sarin attack. It was equally odd that the newly minted genre of report offered not one item of verifiable evidence.

(We note that you used this new art form “Government (not Intelligence) Assessment” a second time again apparently to circumvent intelligence analysts’ objections. On July 22, 2014, just five days after the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, after the media asked you to come up with evidence supporting the charges you leveled against “pro-Russian separatists” on the July 20 Sunday talk shows, you came up with the second, of only two, “Government Assessment.” Like the one on the chemical attack in Syria, the assessment provided meager fare when it comes to verifiable evidence.)

Claims and Counterclaims

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2013, President Obama asserted: “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the [Syrian] regime carried out this attack [at Ghouta].”

Mr. Lavrov, that same day you publicly complained that U.S. officials kept claiming “’the Syrian regime,’ as they call it, is guilty of the use of chemical weapons, without providing comprehensive proof.” Two days later you told the U.N. General Assembly you had given Mr. Kerry “the latest compilation of evidence, which was an analysis of publicly available information.” You also told the Washington Post, “This evidence is not something revolutionary. It’s available on the Internet.”

On the Internet? Mr. Kerry, if your staff avoided calling your attention to Internet reports about Turkish complicity in the sarin attack of Aug. 21, 2013, because they lacked confirmation, we believe you can now consider them largely confirmed.

Documentary Evidence

Addressing fellow members of parliament on Dec. 10, 2015, Turkish MP Eren Erdem from the Republican People’s Party (a reasonably responsible opposition group) confronted the Turkish government on this key issue. Waving a copy of “Criminal Case Number 2013/120,” Erdem referred to official reports and electronic evidence documenting a smuggling operation with Turkish government complicity.

In an interview with RT four days later, Erdem said Turkish authorities had acquired evidence of sarin gas shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them.

The General Prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana opened a criminal case, and an indictment stated “chemical weapons components” from Europe “were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.” Erdem cited evidence implicating the Turkish Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin.

The Operation

According to Erdem, the 13 suspects arrested in raids carried out against the plotters were released just a week after they were indicted, and the case was closed — shut down by higher authority. Erdem told RT that the sarin attack at Ghouta took place shortly after the criminal case was closed and that the attack probably was carried out by jihadists with sarin gas smuggled through Turkey.

Small wonder President Erdogan has accused Erdem of “treason.” It was not Erdem’s first “offense.” Earlier, he exposed corruption by Erdogan family members, for which a government newspaper branded him an “American puppet, Israeli agent, a supporter of the terrorist PKK and the instigator of a coup.”

In our Sept. 6, 2013 Memorandum for the President, we reported that coordination meetings had taken place just weeks before the sarin attack at a Turkish military garrison in Antakya just 15 miles from the Syrian border with Syria and 55 miles from its largest city, Aleppo.

In Antakya, senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials were said to be coordinating plans with Western-sponsored rebels, who were told to expect an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development.” This, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria, and rebel commanders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Assad government.

A year before, the New York Times reported that the Antakya area had become a “magnet for foreign jihadis, who are flocking into Turkey to fight holy war in Syria.” The Times quoted a Syrian opposition member based in Antakya, saying the Turkish police were patrolling this border area “with their eyes closed.”

And, Mr. Lavrov, while the account given by Eren Erdem before the Turkish Parliament puts his charges on the official record, a simple Google search including “Antakya” shows that you were correct in stating the Internet contains a wealth of contemporaneous detail supporting Erdem’s disclosures.

Mr. Kerry, while in Moscow on Dec. 15, you said to a Russian interviewer that Syrian President Assad “has gassed his people I mean, gas hasn’t been used in warfare formally for years for and gas is outlawed, but Assad used it.”

Three days later The Washington Post dutifully repeated the charge about Assad’s supposed killing “his own people with chemical weapons.” U.S. media have made this the conventional wisdom. The American people are not fully informed. There has been no mainstream media reporting on Turkish MP Erdem’s disclosures.

Renewed Appeal

We ask you again, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, to set the record straight on this important issue. The two of you have demonstrated an ability to work together on important matters the Iran nuclear deal, for example and have acknowledged a shared interest in defeating ISIS, which clearly is not Turkish President Erdogan’s highest priority. Indeed, his aims are at cross-purposes to those wishing to tamp down the violence in Syria.

After the shoot-down of Russia’s bomber on Nov. 24, President Vladimir Putin put Russian forces in position to retaliate the next time, and told top defense officials, “Any targets threatening our [military] group or land infrastructure must be immediately destroyed.” We believe that warning should be taken seriously. What matters, though, is what Erdogan believes.

There is a good chance Erdogan will be dismissive of Putin’s warning, as long as the Turkish president believes he can depend on NATO always to react in the supportive way it did after the shoot-down.

One concrete way to disabuse him of the notion that he has carte blanche to create incidents that could put not only Turkey, but also the U.S., on the verge of armed conflict with Russia, would be for the U.S. Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister to coordinate a statement on what we believe was a classic false-flag chemical attack on Aug. 21, 2013, facilitated by the Turks and aimed at mousetrapping President Obama into a major attack on Syria.

One of our colleagues, a seasoned analyst of Turkish affairs, put it this way: “Erdogan is even more dangerous if he thinks that he now has NATO license to bait Russia, as he did with the shoot-down. I don’t think NATO is willing to give him that broader license, but he is a loose cannon.”

FOR THE STEERING GROUP, VETERAN INTELLIGENCE PROFESSIONALS FOR SANITY

Graham E. Fuller, Vice-Chair, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

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 the Near East, National Intelligence Council (ret)

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

Scott Ritter, former Maj., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

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

Robert David Steele, former CIA Operations Officer

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

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

Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret.); Foreign Service Officer (resigned)




Trump Schools ABC-TV Host on Reality

Exclusive: The spectacle of clueless U.S. media personalities, like George Stephanopoulos, chastising Donald Trump for getting facts wrong would be funny if it weren’t indicative of a political-media system failing the American people and what’s left of the democratic Republic, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Mainstream media and politicians are fond of denouncing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for trafficking in conspiracy theories and playing fast and loose with the facts, but some of them slide into the same patterns in attacking Trump or other demonized leaders, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

For instance, on ABC-TV’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos deployed a favorite “conspiracy theory” technique to accuse Putin of murdering journalists and then demanded that Trump explain why he would welcome praise from such a nefarious character. The technique was to cite a sizable number of “mysterious deaths” as proof that the conspiracy-theory target was guilty, even if there was no specific evidence in any individual case.

Stephanopoulos challenged Trump by asking: “When you were pressed about [Putin’s] killing of journalists, you said, ‘I think our country does plenty of killing too.’ What were you thinking about there? What killing sanctioned by the U.S. government is like killing journalists?”

Trump responded that “in all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been — you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t’ seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”

Stephanopoulos then backed up his murder charge against Putin by saying: “here’s what Mitt Romney tweeted about that. He said, there’s an important distinction here. Thug Putin kills journalists and opponents. Our presidents kill terrorists and enemy combatants.”

Trump answered back, “Does he [Romney] know for a fact that he [Putin] kills the reporters? I don’t know — I don’t think anybody knows that. It’s possible that he does. But I don’t think it’s been proven. Has anybody proven that he’s killed reporters? And I’m not trying to stick up for anybody.”

Stephanopoulos: “There have been many allegations that he was behind the killing of (INAUDIBLE) and …”

Trump: “No, no, allegations. There are allegations. Yes, sure, there are allegations. I’ve read those allegations over the years, but nobody’s proven that he’s killed anybody as far as I’m concerned. He hasn’t killed reporters that it’s been proven. Now, if he has”

Stephanopoulos’s next rejoinder was perhaps even more startling: “But what killing has the United States government done?”

Sadly, such cluelessness is now typical of the mainstream U.S. news media as if these “journalists” have been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years if not much longer. But back to the aspect of Stephanopoulos’s charge against Putin that just because there are lots of allegations even without supporting evidence we must accept a person’s guilt.

Clinton’s ‘Mysterious Deaths’

That “conspiracy theory” technique should be familiar to Stephanopoulos since he was an aide to President Bill Clinton when right-wing enemies compiled a list of “Clinton’s mysterious deaths,” which included anyone who had even tangential contact with Arkansas Gov. Clinton and then died in some “suspicious” manner.

The best known of these cases was deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster who became distraught over becoming the subject of other scandal-mongering and committed suicide on July 20, 1993, but the “strength” of the “murder” allegations against Clinton was in the lengthy list of “mysterious deaths.”

At the time, a longtime conservative source faxed me the list, marveling at the number and saying that if even a few were true that would be “a big story.” I responded that if even one were true that a sitting U.S. president had murdered a single political opponent “that would be a big story, but there’s got to be proof.”

Many of the cases on the list were murky old tales from Arkansas, but I noticed one fairly recent one with a local angle. A federal bureaucrat who had some minor connection to the investigation of Clinton’s Whitewater real-estate investment had died from a fall out of a new apartment high-rise in Arlington, Virginia.

But it really wasn’t much of a mystery. My investigation quickly determined that the man was suffering from AIDS and was faced with a grim prognosis. So, he traveled from his home in Washington D.C. to Arlington, asked a real-estate agent to show him a top-floor apartment, went to the balcony, asked the startled young woman if what he was about to do would hurt, and jumped to his death. (I even interviewed the poor woman.)

President Clinton had nothing to do with this tragedy, a fact that I imparted to my conservative source who was in touch with the makers of the list. Yet, several months later when an updated list was sent my way, the same “mystery” was still there.

In other words, the list creators were not interested in fairness toward Clinton or the merits of any one case. They understood that it was the cumulative number of cases that sent the desired propaganda message, building up a suspicion that Clinton was a murderer. Then, anyone who challenged the methodology and pointed to the absence of any real proof could be dismissed as a “Clinton apologist.”

Stephanopoulos saw these tactics up close in the 1990s. I even met with him once at his White House office to discuss this pattern of right-wing conspiracy-mongering. But now he is practicing the same tactics against Putin and Trump.

The WMD Scam

In the early 2000s, a similar technique was used to trick the U.S. intelligence community into buying into the falsehoods about Iraq’s Saddam Hussein hiding stockpiles of WMD and reviving a nuclear-weapons program. Then, it was a case of the Iraqi National Congress funneling a series of Iraqi “defectors” into the CIA with well-rehearsed tales about supposed first-hand knowledge of Hussein’s trickery.

As at least 19 “defectors” walked in, the CIA analysts succeeded in debunking some of them, but the sheer number combined with heavy White House pressure to find “proof” of its WMD claims led the analysts to begin accepting the allegations as true. Only after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 did the CIA analysts realize that they had been had by an organized effort at fabrication. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Chalabi’s Legacy of Lies.”]

Given the U.S.-inflicted havoc on Iraq, Afghanistan and a wide variety of other countries including a large number of civilian deaths the rest of Stephanopoulos’s tirade toward Trump on Sunday was instructive about other deep-seated biases of Official Washington and its compliant mainstream media.

Though a key principle of journalism is objectivity, Stephanopoulos made it clear that he was part of Official Washington’s team, decrying Putin “when he backs our adversaries like [Syrian President] Bashar Assad, when he backs Iran, when he invades Ukraine.” He then asked Trump, “Is it wise to be praising our adversaries and alienating our allies?”

Stephanopoulos added, “you said, ‘I think our country does plenty of killing too.’ What killing are you talking about there, ordered by the United States government?”

Trump answered: “Well, take a look at what we’re doing in the Middle East. We went into Iraq. We shouldn’t have. You know that I was opposed to going into Iraq many years ago. In 2003/2004 there were headlines in Reuters that Trump is opposed to the war, because you’re going to destabilize the Middle East.

“I said, if you do this, you’ll destabilize the Middle East and Iran will take over. Very simple, Iran will take over Iraq. That’s exactly what’s happening. And on top of that we have ISIS, which is another problem and another complicating factor. Now, we should have never gone into Iraq. When we left, we made a mistake.

“We made a big mistake with Libya. We’ve destabilized all these places. We now have a migration with thousands and hundreds of thousands and even millions of people that don’t know where they’re going. I mean it’s a terrible thing. We have been run by incompetent people, incompetent politicians. They don’t know — and that’s probably why I’m leading so high in the polls because people are tired of seeing very, very stupid and very, very incompetent people running our country into the ground.

“In the meantime, we owe $19 trillion, soon going to be $21 trillion and we better get our act together fast, George, because our country is going down if we don’t.”

‘Moral Equivalence’

In stunned disbelief, Stephanopoulos shot back with the old “moral equivalence” argument that was developed by CIA propagandists and neoconservatives during the Reagan administration to justify U.S.-backed slaughters in Central America and elsewhere: “Your comments seem to suggest some moral equivalence for the United States and Russia. Is that what you believe?”

Trump: “I’m not saying anything. I’m saying, when you say a man [Putin] has killed reporters, I’d like you to prove it. And I’m — I’m saying it would be a terrible thing if it were true, but I have never seen any information or any proof that he killed reporters, George. You’re just saying, he killed reporters. You and other people tell me he killed reporters. I don’t know that he killed reporters. I haven’t seen it. If he did, I think it’s despicable. I think it would be horrible. But you’re making these accusations and I don’t — I don’t see any proof. And, by the way, he totally denies that he kills reporters. He totally denied it.”

Stephanopoulos: “I’m still waiting for the evidence that we’ve been directly involved in killing people as well. You made your points about Iraq. But I do want to move on.”

As hard as it may be to believe, Stephanopoulos presenting himself as a leading American journalist pretends to be unaware of the killings associated with the brutal interrogations of “war on terror” and Iraq War detainees, the targeted drone killings that both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama have signed off on, the mass slaughter of citizens in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities bombarded by the U.S. military, the more recent killings of doctors and patients at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, and relevant to the issue of journalists the killings of Al Jazeera, Reuters and other reporters in Iraq.

One could go back through history and remind Stephanopoulos of many other examples of the U.S. government slaughtering large numbers of civilians either directly in places such as Vietnam or indirectly through proxies in regions such as Central and South America. But the stance of a “respectable” American “journalist” apparently must be that none of that ever happened or, if it did happen, it was all an unintended mistake.

Though Trump is regularly accused of getting his facts wrong, he responded to Stephanopoulos with incredulity: “Excuse me, take a look at the rampage all over the place. And you know what we’ve gotten for Iraq? We’ve spent $2 trillion, OK? We’ve — thousands, hundreds of thousands of people killed. We’ve lost thousands and thousands of our great young people, soldiers.

“So, $2 trillion, deaths, wounded warriors, we have nothing, and Iran is now taking over Iraq with the second largest oil reserves in the world. We’re run by people that don’t have a clue.”

But Stephanopoulos apparently did not realize that Donald Trump of all people had just taken him to school on the question of who had a better grasp of reality. So, the ABC-TV “newsman” lamely shot back with a non-sequitur: “And Iran has been backed by Vladimir Putin.”

While much of what Trump says can be fairly criticized for inaccuracies and exaggerations as well as for offensive and divisive rhetoric the sad reality is that the mainstream media personalities who pose as “truth-tellers” are often more detached from facts and more beholden to delusions than he is.

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).




Neocons Object to Syrian Democracy

Exclusive: President Obama has infuriated Official Washington’s neocons by accepting the Russian stance that the Syrian people should select their own future leaders through free elections, rather than the neocon insistence on a foreign-imposed “regime change,” reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Washington Post’s editorial board is livid that President Barack Obama appears to have accepted the Russian position that the Syrian people should decide for themselves who their future leaders should be when the Post seems to prefer that the choice be made by neoconservative think tanks in Washington or other outsiders.

So, in a furious editorial on Friday, the Post castigated Secretary of State John Kerry for saying after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that the Obama administration and Russia see the political solution to Syria “in fundamentally the same way,” meaning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could stand for election in the future.

The Post wrote: “Unfortunately, that increasingly appears to be the case, and not because Mr. Putin has altered his position. For four years, President Obama demanded the departure of Mr. Assad, who has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people with chemical weapons, ‘barrel bombs,’ torture and other hideous acts. Yet in its zeal to come to terms with Mr. Putin, the Obama administration has been slowly retreating from that position.”

The Russian position, which Obama finally seems to be accepting, is that the Syrian people should be allowed to choose their own leaders through fair, internationally organized elections, rather than have outside powers dictate who can and who can’t compete in a democratic process. Obama’s previous stance was that Assad must be prevented from running in an election.

But that meant the Syrian bloodshed and resulting chaos now spreading across Europe and into the U.S. political process would continue indefinitely as the United States took the curious position of opposing democracy in favor of an insistence that “Assad must go,” a demand favored by U.S. neocons and liberal interventionists, Israel and regional Sunni “allies,” such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

To the chagrin of the Post’s editors, Obama finally ceded to the more democratically defensible position that the Syrian people should pick their own leaders. After all, if Obama is right about how much the Syrian people hate Assad, elections would empower them to implement their own “regime change” through the ballot box. But that uncertain outcome is not what the Post’s editors want. They want a predetermined result — Assad’s ouster — regardless of the Syrian people’s wishes.

And regarding the editorial, you also should note the reference to Assad killing “his own people with chemical weapons,” an apparent allusion to the now-discredited but still widely accepted (inside Official Washington at least) claim that Assad was behind a lethal sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

To this day, the U.S. government (or, for that matter, the Washington Post) has not presented any verifiable evidence to support the Assad-did-it allegation, but it nevertheless has become an Everyone-Knows-It-To-Be-True “group think” based on endless repetition, much as Official Washington concluded that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had WMD stockpiles, based on the fact that it was stated as flat fact by lots of Important People, including the Post’s editorial writers.

Official Washington’s epistemology seems to be that if enough Important People say something is true, then it becomes true regardless of where the actual evidence leads. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

Hypocritical Outrage

Other parts of the Post’s attacks are equally dubious in that the Post’s editors — who were all-in for the “shock and awe” bombing of Iraq and wouldn’t think of sharing blame for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed as a result of President George W. Bush’s Washington Post-endorsed invasion — are now outraged over Syria’s homemade “barrel bombs” and blame Assad for all the deaths, even though many of the dead were Syrian soldiers killed by Islamic jihadists, armed and financed by U.S. “allies,” Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others.

And, by the way, some torture blamed on Syria was carried out in coordination with the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program as part of the “global war on terror.” For instance, Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was seized by the U.S. government at New York’s Kennedy International Airport in September 2002 while  on his way home to Canada, was shipped to Syria as a suspected Al Qaeda member. Arar was tortured in Syria before being cleared of suspicions by both Syria and Canada, according to a later Canadian investigation.

But, hey, you don’t expect The Washington Post’s neocon editors to give you any honest context, do you?

The more immediate issue is the Post’s fury over the prospect that the Syrian people would be allowed to vote on Assad’s future rather than have it dictated by neocon think tanks, Islamic jihadist rebels and their Turkish-Saudi-Qatari-Israeli-CIA backers.

The Post’s editors wrote, “On Tuesday in Moscow, Mr. Kerry took another big step backward: ‘The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,’ he said. He added that a demand by a broad opposition front that Mr. Assad step down immediately was a ‘non-starting position’, because the United States already agreed that Mr. Assad could stay at least for the first few months of a ‘transition process.’”

Kerry “now agrees with Mr. Putin that the country’s future leadership must be left to Syrians to work out,” the Post’s outraged editors wrote. Yes, you read that correctly.

Though the Post predicted on Friday morning that the notion of the Syrian people being allowed to decide their future leaders was “a likely recipe for an impasse,” later on Friday the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a roadmap for a cease-fire in Syria, negotiations on a transitional government and elections within 18 months after the start of talks.

The agreement makes no reference as to whether Assad can or cannot run in the new U.N.-organized elections, meaning apparently that he will be able to participate surely to the additional dismay of the Post’s editors.

Many Obstacles

Obviously, the U.N. plan faces many obstacles, especially the continued insistence on “regime change” from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Sunni-led regional governments, which disdain Assad who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Further condemning Assad in their eyes, he seeks to maintain a secular government that protects Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other minorities.

The Saudis, Turks and Qataris have been among the leaders in supporting violent Sunni jihadists, including Ahrar al-Sham and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which operate under the Saudi umbrella called the Army of Conquest, which has received hundreds of sophisticated U.S.-made TOW missiles that have proved devastating in killing Syrian government troops. Israel also has provided some support to these jihadists operating along the Golan Heights.

While Turkey, a member of NATO, denies assisting terrorists, its intelligence services have been implicated in helping Nusra Front operatives carry out the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus, with the goal of pinning the blame on Assad and tricking Obama into ordering a devastating series of air strikes against Syrian government forces. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria Sarin Attack?”]

Turkey also has allowed the hyper-brutal Islamic State to transit through nearly 100 kilometers of openings on the Syrian-Turkish border, including passage of vast truck convoys of Islamic State oil into Turkey for resale, a reality that Obama recently raised with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has long promised but failed to seal the border. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Blind Eye Toward Turkey’s Crimes.”]

At home, President Obama also faces political difficulties from Israel and from Official Washington’s alliance of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who have made Assad’s ouster a cause célèbre despite the disastrous experiences overthrowing other secular regimes in Iraq and Libya.

In the past, Obama has been highly sensitive to criticism from this group, including nasty comments on the Post’s editorial page. But the Post’s ire on Friday suggests that at least for the moment Obama is putting pragmatism (i.e., the need to stop the Syrian killing and the global insecurity that it is causing) ahead of neocon/liberal-hawk ideological desires.

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).




A GOP Split on Neocon Orthodoxy

The mainstream U.S. media remains focused on the acrimony of the GOP presidential race while less noticed is a growing split among top candidates over the neocon foreign policy prescription of regime change and more regime change. Several hopefuls are deviating from that orthodoxy, notes James W Carden.

By James W Carden

On Tuesday night, the Republican Party clown car deposited its passengers onto the main stage of the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for the troupe’s final performance of 2015. Because Donald Trump remains the GOP front runner by as much as 27 points, the Venetian was an apt location: a tawdry setting with fake Venetian landmarks for a faux debate.

The debate didn’t produce the fireworks CNN was clearly hoping for. Relations between Trump and his main rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, remained downright cordial, while the moderator’s several attempts to goad Jeb Bush into attacking Trump failed to elicit much in the way of a response from the Donald, aside from facial contortions.

Along with CNN, another disappointed party must have been the owner of the Venetian, Sheldon Adeslon. The casino mogul, a longtime bankroller of neoconservative candidates and causes, could not have been pleased that the so-called “national security” debate turned into an argument over the merits of “regime change” in the Middle East.

While five of the nine candidates (Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie) parroted the standard neocon talking points, four of them, including Trump and current Iowa frontrunner Ted Cruz, pushed back on the idea that the U.S. has been well served by toppling the regimes of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

Early on, Marco Rubio came in for a heavy drubbing by both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz for his endorsement of the National Security Agency’s bulk metadata collection program. Later on, a question over whether or not we would be “better off” with dictators ruling the Middle East touched off the evening’s most edifying exchange.

Kentucky Sen. Paul noted that the administration’s decision to try and overthrow Bashar al-Assad by sending 600 tons of weapons to the “moderate” Syrian opposition helped give rise to ISIS. Cruz said that democracy promotion was “a distraction” and called for an “America first” foreign policy, while Trump called President George W. Bush’s Iraq War a “tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East but to humanity.”

Whether or not Trump will take a moment to consider whether his own proposals, such as the targeting of innocent civilians and instituting a religious test to gain entry into the U.S., do much to further the cause of “humanity” remains to be seen.

Throughout the night the unhinged militarism of the Republican Party’s establishment candidates constantly bubbled up to the surface. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s performance surely gave him a boost in the so-called Adelson primary. When asked how he would defeat ISIS, Kasich said he would “go in massively.” Later on, the Ohio governor and former member of the House Armed Services committee said that he believes it is time we “punch the Russians in the nose.”

Not to be outdone, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called President Barack Obama, whose leadership he so effusively praised in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a “feckless weakling.” Christie also said that he would enforce a “no-fly zone” over Syria and that he would shoot down any Russian aircraft that dared violate it. Jeb Bush also reiterated his support for a “no-fly zone” over Syria without seeming to notice, or care, that that airspace is firmly under Russian control.

If many of the soon-to-be second-tier candidates were positively bloodthirsty, some of the others seemed to be on autopilot. Trump lazily (so much for “high energy”) repeated lines from his standard stump speech, while Christie continued to channel 2008 presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani by shamelessly invoking 9/11 whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Rubio also stuck closely to his favorite themes and in so doing reminded this viewer of Alden Pyle, the “quiet American” of Graham Greene’s creation who was “impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance.” Like Pyle, Rubio exudes a kind of boyish earnestness that serves to mask a white-hot fanaticism.

Rubio defended his support for NATO’s intervention in Libya by claiming Gaddafi was “going to go one way or another.” He darkly warned that the West is losing “the propaganda war” with ISIS, and also attacked Cruz for repeatedly voting against Defense Authorization Acts which, according to Rubio, fund “important programs” like the Iron Dome. Pointing out that the Iron Dome enhances Israeli, not American, security would surely doom one’s chances of success in the Adelson primary. So no one did.

Overall, however, the tenor of the debate must have come as something of a rude shock to Adelson, who has long sought to parlay his largess into influence, particularly with regard to American Middle East policy. In spite of all of those millions he has lavished on Republicans, nearly half the candidates signaled that they were ready, in some limited respects anyway, to move past the failed neoconservative foreign policies that have been on offer by the GOP for the past three election cycles.

James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.  




Challenging US Overseas Military Bases

Though the U.S. government denies that it runs an empire, it maintains a bristling global network of military bases unprecedented in world history, including some where the population strenuously protests the presence, as retired Col. Ann Wright noted in a speech on Dec. 15 in Okinawa.

By Ann Wright

I am honored to speak at this symposium in Okinawa about the need to abolish United States military bases around the world, and particularly here in Okinawa where you have been subjected to these bases for over 70 years following World War II.

From the beginning, let me state that I apologize for the continuing presence of some many U.S. bases on Okinawa and the trauma they have caused to the people of Okinawa.

I worked for nearly 40 years in the United States government. I served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  I was also a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.

However, in March 2003, I was one of three U.S. government employees who resigned in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq.  Since then, I, as well as everyone on our Veterans for Peace delegation, have been publicly challenging policies of the Bush and Obama administrations on a variety of international and domestic issues including extraordinary rendition, unlawful imprisonment, torture, assassin drones, police brutality, mass incarceration, and U.S. military bases around the world, including of course, the U.S. military bases here on Okinawa

I was last here on Okinawa in 2007 with a delegation from the Japan chapter of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, a delegation that went first to Guam to witness the U.S. military build-up on that island and then here to Okinawa to join with the citizen protest against the U.S. proposal to build the runway of the U.S. Marine Base into the South China Sea.

Today I want to speak about the need to abolish foreign military bases around the world.

I returned two weeks ago from an international conference called “Abolition of Foreign Military Bases” in Guantanamo, Cuba.  As you may know, the oldest foreign military base in the world is the U. S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba.  The U.S. has maintained control of this military base for 112 years and claims the rights to the land in “perpetuity” through a lease obtained from a U.S. puppet government.  The U.S. sends a check for $4,085 per year for this lease, checks that the Cuban government has never cashed.

U.S. Military bases on soil other than the United States, provides the U.S. the cover to conduct illegal and criminal actions on those bases that violate U.S. law using the excuse that U.S. law does not apply.

The sordid history of the past 14 years of the United States imprisoning  779 persons from 48 countries on a U.S. military base in Cuba as a part of its “global war on terror” reflects the mentality of those who govern the United States global intervention for political or economic reasons, invasion, occupation other countries and leaving its military bases in those countries for decades.

The infamous U.S. prison on the U.S. Naval Base has imprisoned detainees beginning in January 2002.  After nearly 14 years of imprisonment in Guantanamo prison, 107 prisoners remain, 47 of them were cleared for release years ago and are still held, and incomprehensibly, the U.S. maintains that another 46 will be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial. Only 8 have been convicted of any crime.

(Because of U.S. government secrecy, precise numbers and details regarding Guantanamo prisoners have been hard to nail down. On Thursday, the White House said 48 of the remaining 107 prisoners can be “safely transferred,” but declined to comment on reports that the transfer of 17 may be imminent.)

Let me assure you, we in the United States continue our struggle demanding a trial for all prisoners, the closing of the prison in Guantanamo and the return of the land to the people of Cuba. The U.S. military base is of no strategic importance to the United States, but instead is used as the symbol of U.S. imperialism to the revolution of Cuba and the U.S. attempts over the past 60 years to overthrow the revolution.

Over the past 100 years, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Grenada, Haiti, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Somalia, Djibouti, Diego Garcia have had the presence of U.S. military in their countries.

Today, the United States empire has over 800 U.S. military installations around the world. In his excellent, recently released book Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, David Vine documents that even after hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan have been closed, the U.S. still has bases ranging in size from mega “Little Americas” to small radar facilities in more than 80 countries.

The United States has 95 percent of the world’s foreign bases. Although few Americans realize it, but certainly people outside the U.S. do, the United States likely has more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation or empire in history. Currently, the United States has about half as many bases as it had in 1989, but the number of countries with U.S. bases has roughly doubled from 40 to 80.

When the Cold War temporarily ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were 300,000 U.S. military personnel in Europe alone, and about 1,600 U.S. bases worldwide. In the 1990s, the U.S. military closed about 60 percent of its overseas bases in the 1990s, yet the overall base infrastructure stayed relatively intact. Despite additional base closures in Europe and to a lesser extent in East Asia over the last decade and despite the absence of a superpower adversary, nearly 250,000 military personnel are still deployed on installations worldwide.

Other countries have a combined total of about 30 foreign bases. Great Britain has seven bases and France five bases in their former colonies. Russia has eight military bases in the former Soviet republics and one in Syria.

You here in Okinawa already know that for the first time since World War II, Japan’s “Self-Defense Forces” have a foreign base — in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as does the U.S. and France. South Korea has a military base in the UAE; India has a base in the Andaman Islands; Chile has a base in Antarctica; Turkey and Israel reportedly have access to air bases in Azerbaijan.

There are also reports that China may be seeking its first base overseas, also in Djibouti, as it builds bases on manmade islands in disputed atolls in the South China Sea, logically in response to the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia.

According to U.S. Department of Defense records, 70 years after World War II and 62 years after the Korean War, there are still 174 U.S. “base sites” in Germany, 113 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea.  The U.S. has hundreds of smaller military installations in over 80 countries including Aruba and Australia, Bahrain and Bulgaria, Colombia, Kenya, and Qatar, among many other places.

The United States has built permanent base infrastructure in every Persian Gulf country except one Iran. The U.S. government gets agreements with undemocratic and often despotic states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain to build bases and in return remains silent to their human rights violations.

U.S. military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia have contributed greatly to increases in the radicalization of youth in those countries. Osama Bin Laden cited the U.S. bases near Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia as a reason al-Qaeda attacked U.S. embassies in East Africa, the Kobar towers in Saudi Arabia, the USS Cole warship in Yemen and the Twin Towers in New York City.

The smaller bases are known as “lily pads” (or more formally as “cooperative security locations”) now found in Africa and Eastern Europe and which may provide a base for drones, surveillance aircraft, or pre-positioned weaponry and supplies.

U.S. military ports and airfields, repair complexes, training areas, nuclear weapons installations, missile testing sites, arsenals, warehouses, barracks, military schools, listening and communications posts, and drone bases, military hospitals and prisons, rehabilitation facilities, CIA paramilitary bases, and intelligence facilities (including former CIA “black site” prisons) are key parts of the U.S. government presence in other countries.

There are U.S. military personnel in about 160 countries, including Marines who guard U.S. embassies and deployments of trainers and advisors in many countries each year, including 10,000 U.S. trainers still in Afghanistan and 3,500 in Iraq.

Additionally, the United States is capable of moving a large mobile presence to any country with a shoreline. The U.S. Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers are a floating military base of 5,000 personnel, dozens of aircraft, helicopters and landing craft.

As you know so well, President Obama’s “Pacific pivot” has included convincing the South Korean government, which already has 83 U.S. military bases, to construct a naval base in the pristine waters off Jeju Island, South Korea, to homeport destroyers carrying the U.S. Aegis missile system, despite huge continuous citizens protests.

Your struggle here in Okinawa which has 7 percent of the 113 U.S. military bases in Japan to stop the U.S. construction of a runway at Henoko into coral heads in the waters off Okinawa, is an epic citizen struggle in which our Veterans for Peace organization joins.

The cost to the U.S. taxpayer for installations and military personnel overseas in 2014 was at least $85 billion which is more than the discretionary budget of every government agency except the Defense Department itself. Adding the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. spends over $156 billion in overseas programs.

You well know that here in Japan, you the taxpayers pay for the majority of U.S. forces stationed in Japan. As you know so well after 70 years of U.S. military bases, these bases bring into a community weapons of killing and destruction, and the mentality to use them. With that mentality comes increased rates of domestic violence with all too many families enduring a mentality of violence within the home brought back from the battlefield.

That violence is seen in the numbers of victims of sexual assault in the community as well as on the military base. On Okinawa, the incidence of rape of Okinawan girls and women has brought tens of thousands of citizens out to protest the U.S. military presence. During their time in the military, an incredible 30 percent of women in the U.S. military are sexually assaulted by fellow service members. Additionally, prostitution around U.S. military bases is rampant.

Besides violence toward humans, military bases contribute strongly to violence toward our planet. Military weapons and vehicles are the most environmentally dangerous systems in the world with their toxic leaks, accidents, and deliberate dumping of hazardous materials and dependence on fossil fuels.

Our Veterans for Peace delegation appreciates the opportunity to be here in Okinawa with you. We have been inspired by the citizen activists who daily go to Camp Schwab, Futenma and Takae to challenge the Japanese and United States governments.

We are deeply concerned about U.S. military bases here in Okinawa and we pledge our continued efforts to stop the U.S. construction of the runway at Henoko into the South China Sea, and to abolish U.S. military bases around the world.

Ann Wright served in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a Colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and resigned in 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She is the co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.




America’s Unpredictable Imbalance

A shrinking middle class and excessive fear of terrorism have combined to destabilize the American political system, opening avenues for an authoritarian demagogue like Donald Trump and but also for a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Converging avenues of fear are eroding the political and social status quo in the democratic West. Healthy democracies strive to maintain an equitable balance of forces within their political, economic and social spheres. Balance is a salve that induces comfort and confidence. Fear and uncertainty, on the other hand, are irritants that can quickly throw things out of balance. It seems that, at present, fear has the upper hand.

The scenarios that are increasing popular fears reflect issues of economics and public safety. The economic policies that have prevailed in the West since the 2008 financial crisis have not been corrective and have allowed for an ever deepening divide between the wealthiest strata of society and everyone else.

In the case of the United States, a Pew Research Center study announced on Dec. 9 that the “middle class” has shrunk to the point that it no longer represents a majority of the American people. “After more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it,” the Pew study said, adding that this trend “could signal a tipping point” in which the middle class will shrink even more.

From 1971 to 2015, the study said, “the nation’s aggregate household income has substantially shifted from middle-income to upper-income households, driven by the growing size of the upper-income tier and more rapid gains in income at the top. Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.

“And middle-income Americans have fallen further behind financially in the new century. In 2014, the median income of these households was 4% less than in 2000. Moreover, because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001 to 2013.”

The exalted “American Dream” is centered around a belief that all citizens can attain middle class or better economic status. The Pew report calls that possibility into question for most Americans and, as this slowly dawns on the public, the resulting economic fear and anxiety becomes a politically and socially destabilizing factor.

A similar scenario can be found in Europe’s Euro Zone nations. Another Pew Research Center report on a poll conducted in this region during summer 2015, and reported by the New York Times on Dec. 11, found “extraordinary gloom about the state of their economies.”

Simultaneously, a second avenue of fear and anxiety has been created by an ongoing series of terrorist attacks, the latest in Paris, France, and San Bernardino, California. These attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists and the media on both side of the Atlantic have exaggerated the threat they represent. This, in turn, has given rise to a growing Islamophobia.

Indeed, we have gotten to the point where, in the mind of the public, the term “terrorism,” now means the violent actions of extremist Muslims. Yet this is a dangerously restrictive definition. For instance, in the United States, similar and much more frequent violence carried on by non-Muslims is often not labeled terrorism.

The truth is that throughout the West the violence carried on by a small number of fanatics identified with the Middle East has become an obsession with a growing number of citizens. According to the Times article, 19 percent of adult Americans define “Islamic terrorism” as the “top issue facing the country.” Their number is sure to grow. Muslims have become the scapegoats of our age.

The Role Model Demagogue 

These two converging fears, over failing economic security and threatened public safety, have created the most unstable socio-political environment since the interwar years of the Twentieth Century. Historically, it is at such times that the political parties of the “center” – the more moderate parties – begin to appear weak and the capacity of their leaders to control and improve conditions becomes suspect.

It is under these conditions that more and more people are attracted to the campaigning of demagogues, warmongers, and authoritarian opportunists. Policy proposals which, in more settled times would never be taken seriously, now begin to appear reasonable to increasing numbers of citizens. And, this is exactly the trend we now see in both the U.S. and Europe.

The role model “leader” here seems to be the American presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Trump is a billionaire real estate tycoon and “reality show” star. For Trump, who has no political experience, all problems have simple and direct answers which are to be presented to the public, not so much as policy suggestions, as orders.

And, as befits a businessman with an authoritarian personality, Trump has displayed real talent for this sort of behavior. What is Trump’s answer to the exaggerated problem of Islamic terrorism? Declaring that we are at war, Trump promises to defeat ISIS “big league” – a non-answer which allows for anything from the invasion of Syria to the use of nuclear weapons.

Trump would ban Muslims from coming into the country (while at the same time deporting millions of immigrants from South and Central America), and set up internment camps for those already here. He would also kill the families of identified Muslim terrorists.

That such policies, if actually implemented, would mire the nation in continuous war in the Middle East, spark a conflict with Russia, and leave constitutional law and protections in shreds, seems not to matter at all to Donald Trump. And, his supporters don’t seem to mind such consequences either. According to the Times article, Trump currently has the support of “40% of Republican primary voters without a college degree and 26% of those who have a degree.”

When it comes to alleviating economic anxieties, Trump simply relies on the fact that he is a rich businessman to suggest that he can deal with such problems. This seems to suffice even though the problems come from the unregulated greed of big business people just like Trump. In times of trouble, image “trumps” reality (pun intended).

Europe, too, has its Trump equivalents ranging from France’s Marine Le Pen to Viktor Orban in Hungary. There is the Freedom Party in Austria and the Golden Dawn in Greece. And this is just a short list. All of these people and parties are presenting the kind of quick and direct actions that are much more dangerous and liable to get out of control, running roughshod over laws and constitutions, than the problems they purport to solve.

Cycles of Fear

Fears and anxieties are amorphous emotions which seem to come upon societies in an historically cyclical fashion. In the realm of economics this attests to the allure of power and riches that both individuals and groups, in the form of special interests and other factions, seem unable to resist. Without effective regulation capitalism is unstable and there is always exploitation leading to repeated recessions or worse.

Likewise, in a world of competing powers and ideologies insecurity seems forever just around the corner. This too comes in historical cycles. And, if such insecurity becomes deep enough and widespread enough, it can threaten finely balanced democratic political systems as citizens forget about constitutional rights, which support peace and stability at home, and go looking for “strong leaders.”

In a country such as the United States, it is the political right that always benefits in such situations. Thus, Republican right-wing “populism” can support an array of warmongering, xenophobic and simple-minded presidential candidates among whom Donald Trump is just the tip of the iceberg.

The same fears and anxieties, mostly of the economic category, have kept afloat only one candidate who can be described as being on the political left, the relatively benign Bernie Sanders. Sen. Sanders’s ability to contest the Democratic presidential nomination is surprising in a country that has vilified the political left for much of its history. However, his success comes out the same present quest for new leaders and new answers.

Though I speak of historical cycles of fear and anxiety I don’t mean to imply that they are inevitable. In principle, human beings can learn from history and improve their lot. Think of history, both personal and societal, as an undertow capable of driving one into potentially dangerous channels. Within these channels lie the demagogues and militarists who would drown us all. We know this is true because it has repeatedly happened before – the product of cycles of converging fears left unchecked.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Rethinking Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s freewheeling and narcissistic presidential campaign has earned the consensus contempt of the mainstream media and establishment politicians, but that’s partly because he has dared challenge dangerous orthodoxies, like the neocon/liberal-hawk mania for “regime change,” writes Sam Husseini.

By Sam Husseini

The Establishment so wants everyone to unfriend Donald Trump’s supporters on Facebook, there’s even an app to block them. That’ll teach them!

Yes, Trump plays a bully boy as he appeals to populist (good) as well as nativist, xenophobic and racist (bad) sentiments. The bad need to be meaningfully addressed and engaged rather than dismissed by self-styled sophisticates, noses raised. The good should be recognized and encouraged.

Focusing on the negative aspects of his campaign has blinded many people to what’s good in it and I don’t mean good like “Oh, the Democrat can beat this guy!” I mean good like it’s good that some important issues like the militarized role of the U.S. in the world are getting aired.

Trump is appealing to nativist sentiments as Pat Buchanan did in the 1992 campaign but along with Buchanan’s “America First” arguments came a distrust of imperial adventures. Similarly, Trump recently said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “killed hundreds of thousands of people with her stupidity. … The Middle East is a total disaster under her.”

Now, I think that’s pretty accurate, though U.S. policy in my view may be more Machiavellian than stupid, but the remark is a breath of fresh air on the national stage. So, at times, Trump is a truth-teller, including when he says politicians sell themselves to rich donors and when he calls out “free-trade” deals for costing American workers their middle-class jobs.

But the mainstream meme about Trump is that he’s a total liar. The New York Times recently purported to grade the veracity of presidential candidates. By the Times’ accounting, Trump was off the scales lying. But I never saw anyone fact-check his assertion about former Secretary Clinton’s record of bringing bloody chaos to Libya, Syria and other Mideast countries. That’s not an argument that establishment media wants to have.

Of course, a few sentences after Trump’s comment about Clinton’s death toll, he turned to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the CIA station in Benghazi, causing Salon to dismiss him as embracing “conspiracies,” which is all that many people will hear, not the fuller context.

Shouldn’t someone who at times articulates truly inconvenient truths be credited for breaking “politically correct” taboos, such as acknowledging the obvious disasters of U.S. interventionism across the Mideast? Trump speaks such truths, as he did during the Las Vegas debate about U.S. wars:

“We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.”

Frankly, that is a stronger critique of military spending than we’ve heard from Sen. Bernie Sanders of late. But Trump’s — or Sen. Rand Paul’s — remarks about U.S. policies of “regime change” and bombings are often ignored. It’s more convenient to focus on U.S. kindness in letting a few thousand refugees in than to examine how millions of displaced people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somali and other countries lost their homes as a result of U.S. government policies.

A Long-Ignored Constitution

Some critics say Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants is unconstitutional (although that argument is debatable as a matter of law regardless of what one thinks of the morality and practicality of his idea).

But there’s also the question of how frequently recent presidents have violated the Constitution in recent years with hardly a peep from the mainstream media. News flash: the sitting Democratic president has bombed seven countries without a declaration of war. We’ve effectively flushed the Constitution down the toilet. Does that justify violating it more? No. But the pretend moral outrage on this score is hollow.

And there’s some logic to the nativist Muslim bashing. It’s obviously wrong on many levels, but it’s understandable given the skewed information the public is given. Since virtually no one on the national stage is seriously and systematically criticizing U.S. policy in the Middle East, such as the multiple U.S. “regime change” invasions and the longstanding U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, it makes sense to say that we’ve got to change something and that something is separating from Muslims.

Some sophisticates also slammed Trump for acting in the Las Vegas debate like he didn’t know what the nuclear triad is (the Cold War-era strategy of delivering nuclear bombs by land-based missiles, strategic bombers and submarine launches).

Well, I have no idea if he knows what the nuclear triad is or if he was just acting that way. But I’m rather glad he didn’t adopt the administration’s position of saying it’s a good idea to spend a trillion dollars to “modernize” the U.S. nuclear arsenal so we can efficiently threaten the planet for another generation.

People may recall that for all the rhetoric from President Barack Obama about ending nuclear weapons, it was President Ronald Reagan, after all his bluster about the Evil Empire and basing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, who almost rose to the occasion when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev proposed eliminating nuclear arsenals.

For today’s mainstream journalists, it’s just easier to go with the flow and hate Trump, as all the major media outlets want us to do. After all, much of our political culture lives off hate. Apparently hate is what gets people to do what you want them to do. So you scare them by building up villainous bogeymen, such as Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin.

People were so encouraged to hate Hussein that many backed the disastrous invasion of Iraq. They were propagandized into hating Assad so much that U.S. policy helped give rise to ISIS. Putin has been transformed into such a comic-book villain that people who should know better talk casually about shooting down Russian planes and seeking “regime change” in Moscow.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the supposedly “reasonable” Republican “moderate,” says “it’s time that we punched the Russians in the nose.” Who cares about risking nuclear war? Don’t we all just hate Putin?

Now, many Americans Republicans and Democrats alike are demonizing Trump. Whatever he says is put in the most negative context with no expectation of balance. He has become the focus of hate, hate, hate. He’s a black-hatted, black-hearted villain. But why can’t we just view people for who they are, seeing both the good and bad in them?

Asking Why the Hate 

Trump calls for a cutoff of immigration of Muslims “until we can figure out what the hell is going on” — which, given our political culture’s seeming propensity of never figuring out much of anything might be forever, but the comment actually raises a serious question: why are people in the Mideast angry at U.S. policy?

Says Trump: “There’s tremendous hatred [among Muslims toward the United States]. Where it comes from, I don’t know.” But Trump — unlike virtually anyone else with a megaphone — is actually raising the issue about why there’s so much resentment against the U.S. in the Mideast.

Virtually the only other person on the national stage stating such things is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, though his articulations have also been uneven and have been a pale copy of what his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has said.

Of course, what should be said is: If we don’t know “what the hell is going on!” — then maybe we should stop bombing. But that doesn’t get processed because the general public lives under the illusion that Barack Obama is a pacifistic patsy. The reality is that Obama has been bombing more countries than any president since World War II by his own count seven Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

Half of what Trump says may be borderline deranged and false. But he also says true things — and critically, important things that no one else with any media or political access is saying.

At this week’s Las Vegas debate, Trump said: “When you had the World Trade Center go, people were put into planes that were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia.”

Granted, Trump’s comment was mangled and imprecise he may have been referring to President George W. Bush’s extraordinary decision to let rich Saudis, including bin Laden family members, onto the first civilian planes allowed back into the air after 9/11 so they could avoid intensive FBI questioning and possible hostility from the American people but Trump’s remark raises the legitimate question of Saudi Arabia’s relation to 9/11.

Yes, Trump says he’ll bomb the hell out of Syria, as does virtually every other Republican candidate. (Sen. Ted Cruz wants to see if “sand can glow in the dark,” phrasing usually associated with nuclear war.) But Obama’s already is bombing Syria and Iraq albeit without much media fanfare. So people think it’s not happening and thus believe that Obama’s passivity is the problem.

What Americans are right in sensing is that President Obama, former President Bush and the rest of the Establishment are playing endless geopolitical games and keeping them in the dark. As citizens in what is supposed to be a democratic Republic, they’re right to be sick of it. Many of the people supporting or sympathizing with Trump seem to sense that he may be the only one ready to tip over the furniture and make a fuss.

Trump, the Anti-Imperialist?

Trump touts his alleged opposition to the Iraq War, although I don’t recall him attending any of the anti-war rallies in 2002-03. But he apparently made a few critical remarks in 2003-04. Certainly nothing great or courageous. But it’s good that someone with the biggest megaphone is saying the Iraq War was bad.

People who are getting behind Trump thus may be reachable regarding the U.S. government’s proclivity toward endless war. And think for a minute about what a Trump-Clinton race would be like, given that she voted for the invasion of Iraq — and then promoted violent “regime change” in Libya and Syria. Trump might end up as the anti-imperialist candidate.

At least, Trump conveys the impression that he would act like a normal nationalist and not a conniving globalist. And much of the U.S. public seems to want that. And, if that’s true, it’s a good thing. It’s also a positive that Trump is energizing some people who had given up on politics.

Trump — apparently alone among Republican presidential candidates — is saying that he will talk to Russian President Putin. Having some sense that the job of a president is to attempt to have reasonable relations with the other major nuclear state is a serious plus in my book. He conveys the image of being a die-hard nationalist, but — unlike most of our recent leaders — not hell-bent on global domination. People who want a better world could use that.

No prominent Democrat has called for a serious reexamination of how the United States conducts its foreign policy. Hillary Clinton wins praise from arch-neocon Robert Kagan for what he calls her “liberal interventionism,” which he correctly assesses as virtually the same as neo-conservatism. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy ‘Weakness.’”]

Though Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq War, he has displayed little interest or sophistication about who’s fueling much of the extremist violence in the Middle East. He wants the Saudis to “get their hands dirty” when they have already done so by financing and arming brutal Sunni jihadist forces, including those tied to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Sanders doesn’t seem to understand that the Sunni jihadists are, in effect, paramilitary forces that the Saudis have supported since the 1980s when Afghan fundamentalist mujahedeen were funded and armed to overthrow the Soviet-backed secular regime in Kabul. That conflict gave rise to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the modern jihadist movement.

A Missed Opportunity

During a Democratic debate right after the Paris terror attacks of Nov. 13, Sanders had a historic opportunity to address these issues in a serious way. He could have pointed out the contradiction between U.S. alliances with nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the “war on terror.” He could have explained the fallacy of seeking “regime change” against secular governments as with Iraq, Libya and Syria when that only invites chaos, bloodshed and extremism.

Sanders could have stressed how perpetual war not only is doomed to failure as a strategy against terrorism but is incompatible with the investments that he hopes to make in education, health care, infrastructure, the environment and other domestic priorities. He could have called for a thorough reappraisal of these misguided policies and energized the Democratic base.

But Sanders refused to engage in a thoughtful way on foreign policy, reverting back to his preferred topic: income inequality. Now he’s complaining about a lack of media coverage. Yes, the mainstream media is unfair toward progressive candidates, but you don’t do any good by refusing to engage in what is arguably the great, defining debate of our time.

The only significant candidate on the national stage who has seriously challenged the interventionist impulse was Rep. Ron Paul, who was demonized in 2008 in ways similar to what’s being done to Trump now. It’s true that the comparison is imprecise: Trump has provided few specifics on how he would approach the world differently from either President Obama or his Republican rivals. Many of his comments have been elliptical about his skills as a negotiator rather detailed about policies and he has sounded bellicose when talking about the Islamic State.

If he got into office, Trump might be little different from other recent presidents after all the State Department and Pentagon are staffed with bureaucrats who have risen through the ranks by toeing the establishment lines of neoconservatism and liberal interventionism. But Trump, as a world-wide deal-maker, might be more pragmatic than ideological.

In terms of economics, Trump is alone in the Republican field in defending a progressive tax and he has praised Social Security. Tom Ferguson has noted: “lower income voters seem to like him about twice as much as the upper income voters who like him in the Republican poll.” Trump has “even dumped on some issues that are virtually sacred to the Republicans, notably the carried interest tax deduction for the super rich.”

Trump has been blunt about the corruption in American politics. Writes Lee Fang: “Donald Trump Says He Can Buy Politicians, None of His Rivals Disagree.”

Is There Good in Trump?

So, can progressives pause for a moment and note that it may be a good thing that many discouraged voters fed up with politics as usual are finding someone who speaks to both their fears and their hopes, albeit in ways that are often confused and even offensive.

It’s important to stress: I have no idea what Trump actually believes. Backing him for president is probably akin to guessing what’s behind a door on “The Price is Right.” His political philosophy if that’s the right word is a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas. He could be even more authoritarian than what we’ve seen so far. But, in some ways, he is a welcome break from the Establishment’s ugly orthodoxy.

It’s also possible that he’s just putting on an act to lure the Republican anti-establishment wing and would revert to old establishment policies if he were to get into office much like Obama has done especially on foreign policy. After all, Trump says, “I was a member of the Establishment seven months ago.”

By the way, I have no personal love for Trump. I lived in one of his buildings when I was growing up in Queens. His flamboyance as my dad and I were scraping by in a one-bedroom apartment sickened me. I remember seeing the luxurious Trump Tower in Manhattan as a teen with my father. My dad joked that he’d own one square inch for the monthly rent checks he wrote to Trump for years.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of votepact.org — which urges left-right cooperation. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.




Twisting the Facts on Iran Nukes

Part of the credibility crisis afflicting the world’s officialdom is the tendency to issue reports that start with the politically desired conclusion and then twist words and facts accordingly, a problem apparent in a U.N. report on Iran’s alleged nuclear program, as Gareth Porter explains.

By Gareth Porter

Many government reports The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessment has cleared the way for the board of governors to end the Agency’s extraordinary investigation into accusations of Iran’s past nuclear weapons work. But a closer examination of the document reveals much more about the political role that the Agency has played in managing the Iran file.

Contrary to the supposed neutral and technical role that Director General Yukiya Amano has constantly invoked and the news media has long accepted without question, the Agency has actually been serving as prosecutor for the United States in making a case that Iran has had a nuclear weapons program.

The first signs of such an IAEA role appeared in 2008 after the George W. Bush administration insisted that the Agency make a mysterious collection of intelligence documents on a purported Iranian nuclear weapons research program the centerpiece of its Iran inquiry.

The Agency’s partisan role was fully developed, however, only after Amano took charge in late 2009. Amano got U.S. political support for the top position in 2009 because he had enthusiastically supported the Bush administration’s pressure on Mohammed ElBaradei on those documents when Amano was Japan’s permanent representative to the IAEA in 2008.

Amano delivered the Agency’s November 2011 report just when the Obama administration needed additional impetus for its campaign to line up international support for “crippling sanctions” on Iran. He continued to defend that hardline position and accuse Iran of failing to cooperate as the Obama administration sought to maximize the pressure on Iran from 2012 to 2015.

When the Obama administration’s interests shifted from pressuring Iran to ensuring that the nuclear agreement with Iran would be completed and fully implemented, Amano’s role suddenly shifted as well. In late June, according to Iranian officials involved in the Vienna negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry reached agreement with both the Iranians and Amano that the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) issue would be resolved through a report by Amano before the end of the year.

Based on that agreement, Amano would write a report that would reach no definitive conclusion about the accusations of nuclear weapons work but nevertheless bring the PMD inquiry to an end. The report was still far from even-handed. It could not be, because Amano had embraced the intelligence documents that the United States and Israel had provided to the IAEA, around which the entire investigation had been organized.

Dodgy Intelligence Documents

Iran had insisted from the beginning that the intelligence documents given to the IAEA were fraudulent, and ElBaradei had repeatedly stated publicly from late 2005 through 2009 that the documents had not been authenticated. ElBaradei observes in his 2011 memoirs that he could never get a straight answer from the Bush administration about how the documents had been acquired.

Different cover stories had been leaked to the media over the years suggesting that either an Iranian scientist involved in the alleged weapons program or a German spy had managed to get the documents out of Iran.

But in 2013, former senior German foreign office official Karsten Voigt revealed to me in an interview that German intelligence had obtained the documents in 2004 from a sometime source whom they knew to be a member of the Mujahideen E-Khalq (MEK). A cult-like Iranian exile terrorist group, MEK had once carried out terror operations for the Saddam Hussein regime but later developed a patron-client relationship with Israeli intelligence.

Quite apart from the unsavory truth about the origins of the documents, the burden of proof in the IAEA inquiry should have been on the United States to make the case for their authenticity. There is a good reason why U.S. judicial rules of evidence require that “the proponent must produce evidence sufficient to support a finding that the item is what the proponent claims it is.”

But instead Amano has required Iran, in effect, to prove the negative. Since it is logically impossible for Iran to do so, that de facto demand has systematically skewed the entire IAEA investigation toward the conclusion that Iran is guilty of the covert activities charged in the intelligence documents.

And the Agency has reinforced that distorted frame in its final assessment by constantly making the point that Iran possesses technology that could have been used for the development of a nuclear weapon. Every time Iran produced evidence that a technology that the IAEA had suggested was being used for the development of nuclear weapons was actually for non-nuclear applications, the Agency cast that evidence in a suspicious light by arguing that it bore some characteristics that are “consistent with” or “relevant to” work on nuclear weapons.

The “final assessment” uses that same tactic to frame not only Iranian development of various technologies but its organizations, facilities and research activities as inherently suspicious regardless of evidence provided by Iran that they were for other purposes.

Another tactic the IAEA had used in the past to attack Iran’s credibility is the suggestion that the government actually made a partial confession. In May 2008, the IAEA had claimed in a quarterly report that Iran “did not dispute that some of the information contained in the documents was factually accurate but said the events and activities concerned involved civil or conventional military applications.”

That statement had clearly conveyed the impression that Iran has admitted to details about activities shown in the documents. But in fact Iran had only confirmed information that was already publicly known, such as certain names, organizations and official addresses, as the IAEA itself acknowledged in 2011. Furthermore, Iran had also submitted a 117-page paper in which it had pointed out that “some of the organizations and individuals named in those documents were nonexistent.”

The IAEA resorted to the same kind of deceptive tactic in the final assessment’s discussion of “organizational structure.” It stated, “A significant proportion of the information available to the Agency on the existence of organizational structures was confirmed by Iran during implementation of the Road-map.”

That sentence implied that Iran had acknowledged facts about the organizations that supported the purported intelligence claims of a nuclear weapons research program. But it actually meant only that Iran confirmed the same kind of publicly available information as it had in 2008.

On the issue of whether an Iranian organization to carry out nuclear-weapons research and development had existed, the final assessment again uses suggestive but ultimately meaningless language: “[B]efore the end of 2003, an organizational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Similar language implying accusation without actually stating it directly can be found in most of the assessments in the document. In the section on “procurement activities,” the report refers to “indications of procurements and attempted procurements of items with relevance, inter alia, to the development of a nuclear device.”

That language actually means nothing more than that Iranians had sought to purchase dual-use items, but it preserves the illusion that the procurement is inherently suspicious.

EBW and MIP

The use of “relevance” language was, in fact, the IAEA’s favorite tactic for obscuring the fact that it had no real evidence of nuclear weapons work. On the issue of the purported intelligence documents showing that Iran had developed and experimented with Exploding Bridge-Wire (EBW) technology for the detonation of a nuclear weapon, Iran had gone to great lengths to prove that its work on EBW technology was clearly focused on non-nuclear applications.

It provided detailed information about its development of the technology, including videos of activities it had carried out, to show that for the objective of the work was to develop safer conventional explosives.

The IAEA responded by saying “that the EBW detonators developed by Iran have characteristics relevant to a nuclear device.” By that same logic, of course, a prosecutor could name an individual as a suspect in a crime simply because his behavior showed “characteristics relevant” to that crime.

A similar tactic appears in the assessment of the “initiation of high explosives” issue. The 2011 IAEA report had recorded the intelligence passed on by the Israelis that Iran had done an experiment with a high explosives detonation technology called multipoint initiation (MIP) that the Agency said was “consistent with” a publication by a “foreign expert” who had worked in Iran.

That was a reference to the Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, but he was an expert on producing nanodiamonds through explosives, not on nuclear weapons development. And the open-source publication by Danilenko was not about experiments related to nuclear weapons but only about measuring shock waves from explosions using fiber optic cables.

The 2011 report also had referred to “information” from an unnamed member state that Iran had carried out the “large scale high explosives experiments” in question in the “region of Marivan.” In its final assessment, the Agency says it now believes that those experiments were carried out in a “location called ‘Marivan’,” rather than in the “region of Marivan.”

But although Iran has offered repeatedly to allow the IAEA to visit Marivan to determine whether such experiments were carried out, the IAEA has refused to carry out such an inspection and has offered no explanation for its refusal.

The Agency relies on its standard evasive language to cover its climb-down from the 2011 assessment. “The Agency assesses that the MPI technology developed by Iran has characteristics relevant to a nuclear device,” it said, “as well as to a small number of alternative applications.”

That wording, combined with its refusal to make any effort to check on the one specific claim of Iranian experiments at Marivan, makes it clear that the Agency knows very well that it has no real evidence of the alleged experiments but is unwilling to say so straightforwardly.

The Agency did the same thing in regard to the alleged “integration into a missile delivery system.” A key set of purported intelligence documents had shown a series of efforts to integrate a “new spherical payload” into the existing payload chamber of the Shahab-3 missile.

The final assessment avoids mention of the technical errors in those studies, which were so significant that Sandia National Laboratories found through computer simulations that not a single one of the proposed redesign efforts would have worked. And it later became apparent that Iran had begun redesigning the entire missile system, including an entirely different reentry vehicle shape from the one shown in the drawings, well before the start date of the purported nuclear weapons work.

But the IAEA was only interested in whether the workshops portrayed in the purported intelligence were in fact workshops used by the Iranian government. Iran allowed the Agency to visit two of the workshops, and the final assessment declares that it has “verified that the workshops are those described in the alleged studies documentation” and that “the workshop’s features and capabilities are consistent with those described in the alleged studies documentation.”

Flawed Computer Modeling

One of the most egregious cover-ups in the assessment is its treatment of the alleged computer modeling of nuclear explosions. The agency recalled that it had “received information from Member States” that Iran had done modeling of “nuclear explosive configurations based on implosion technology.”

Unfortunately for the credibility of that “information,” soon after that 2011 report was published someone leaked a graph of one of the alleged computer modeling efforts attributed to Iran to Associated Press reporter George Jahn. The graph was so similar to one published in a scholarly journal in January 2009 that Scott Kemp, an assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said he suspected the graph had been “adapted from the open literature.”

Furthermore the information in the graph turned out to be inaccurate by four orders of magnitude. In response to that revelation, a senior IAEA official told Jahn that the Agency knew that the graph was “flawed” as soon as it had obtained it but that IAEA officials “believe it remains important as a clue to Iranian intentions.”

In fact, the official revealed to Jahn that the Agency had come up with a bizarre theory that Iranian scientists deliberately falsified the diagram to sell the idea to government officials of a nuclear explosion far larger than any by the United States or Russia.

That episode surely marks the apogee of the IAEA’s contorted rationalizations of the highly suspect “information” the Agency had been fed by the Israelis. In the final report, the Agency ignores that embarrassing episode and “assesses that Iran conducted computer modeling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009,” even though it describes the modeling, enigmatically, as “incomplete and fragmentary.”

The assessment further “notes some similarity between the Iranian open source publications and the studies featured in the information from Member States, in terms of textual matches, and certain dimensional and other parameters used.”

Unless the Agency received the “information” from the unidentified states before the dates of the open-source publications, which one would expect to be noted if true, such similarities could be evidence of fraudulent intelligence rather than of Iranian wrongdoing. But the assessment provides no clarification of the issue.

Nuclear Material

On the issue it calls “nuclear material acquisition,” however, the Agency makes a startling retreat from its previous position that has far-reaching implications for the entire collection of intelligence documents. In its 2011 report, the IAEA had presented a one-page flow sheet showing a process for converting “yellow cake” into “green salt” (i.e., uranium that can be enriched) as a scheme to “secure a source of uranium suitable for use in an undisclosed enrichment program.”

But the final assessment explicitly rejects that conclusion, pronouncing the process design in question “technically flawed” and “of low quality in comparison with what was available to Iran as part of its declared nuclear fuel cycle.”

In other words, Iran would have had no rational reason to try to seek an entirely new conversion process and then turn the project over to incompetent engineers. Those were precisely the arguments that Iran had made in 2008 to buttress its case that the documents were fabricated.

The assessment carefully avoids the obvious implication of these new findings, that the anomalies surrounding the “green salt” documents make it very likely that they have were fabricated. To acknowledge that fact would cast doubt on the entire collection. But the surprising backtracking on the “green salt’ evidence underlines just how far the IAEA has gone in the past to cover up awkward questions about the intelligence at the center of the case.

Now that the Obama administration has settled on a nuclear agreement with Iran, the IAEA will no longer have to find contorted language to discuss Iran’s past and present nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the Agency remains a highly political actor, and its role in monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the agreement may bring more occasions for official assessments that reflect the political interest of the U.S.-led dominant coalition in the IAEA board of governors rather than the objective reality of the issue under review.

Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. “national security” policy and was the recipient of the Gellhorn Prize for journalism in 2012. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published by Just World Books in 2014. [This story first appeared at LobeLog.]