Why Syria’s Options Are So Bad

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

By Ted Snider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historic U.S. Meddling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Incredible Shrinking President

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

By Daniel Lazare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Al Qaeda Still Terrorist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Saudi Brand of Islam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama’s Bind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not a policy destined for success.

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




The Tricky Definition of ‘Terrorism’

The classic definition of terrorism as violence against civilians to make a political point may make sense but the term’s elastic use even applied to attacks on U.S. soldiers operating in foreign lands has transformed the word into an epithet that depends on one’s preferred bias, writes John V. Whitbeck.

By John V. Whitbeck

The Western world has reacted to the “terrorist” shooting spree in Paris with near-hysteria, immediately intensifying its own lethal violence in the Middle East. Israel is branding as a wave of “terrorism” the continuing suicidal attacks by hope-deprived Palestinian children armed only with knives and scissors.

In the new “peace process” for Syria, Jordan has accepted the thankless task of deciding which of the many armed groups in Syria are “terrorists” and, as such, are to be excluded from the process and bombed.

And Americans have been fiercely debating whether the latest in a long line of domestic gun rampages, carried out by a Muslim married couple in San Bernardino, California, deserves to be deemed an act of “terrorism,” as President Barack Obama termed it during his nationally televised speech on Sunday night.

In this context, it may be enlightening to recall the last international effort to define this indefinable word. At the UN’s 60th anniversary summit in September 2005, the 191 member states tried but failed to agree on a convention defining the word “terrorism.” Some commentators actually sounded surprised, even saying that there had been a failure “even” to agree on a definition. No one should have been surprised.

The definition being proposed by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan would have defined “terrorism” as “any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to carry out or to abstain from any act.”

A fair and reasonable definition, surely. Read it again. Think about it. What are the odds that the United States would ever have permitted “terrorism” to be so defined?

For starters, if this proposed definition had been accepted and if George W. Bush and Tony Blair were correct in their repeated assertions that the motivations behind the 9/11 attacks and the 2005 London bombings were “because they hate our freedoms” or some other form of blind, mindless malevolence or sick desire to kill innocent people for the sake of it, then the term “terrorism” could not properly be applied to these events.

To make the label fit, Bush and Blair would have had to admit that the motivations were fundamentally political to intimidate their populations or governments into carrying out major changes in their Middle East policies.

Perhaps more significantly, this proposed definition was not limited to acts by “non-state actors.” It would have applied not only to the low-technology violence of the weak but also to the high-technology violence of the strong, which has always been vastly more destructive and deadly.

Further, if this proposed definition had been accepted, the attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and Al-Khobar in 1983 and 1996 and on the USS Cole in Aden harbor in 2000, as well as any and all attacks against American and Israeli military forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine or elsewhere, would clearly not constitute acts of “terrorism.”

On the other hand, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki would clearly have constituted “terrorism” on a massive scale. Indeed, in the Twenty-first Century, the American and Israeli governments would have been and would still be among the world’s leading practitioners of “terrorism.”

If this proposed definition had been accepted, even the United Nations itself would have spent the 12 years between the two wars against Iraq as a “terrorist” organization. How could it be characterized otherwise in light of the “genocidal” sanctions regime against Iraq (so called by two successive coordinators of the UN’s “humanitarian” program in Iraq), which, by UNICEF’s own calculation, had killed half a million Iraqi children under the age of five by 1996 yet which, on the insistence of the United States and Britain and in full knowledge of the deadly consequences in the relevant “context,” was maintained until their 2003 invasion?

The ostensible “purpose” of these deadly sanctions was clearly to “intimidate a population or compel a government … to carry out or abstain from [an] act” specifically, to give up the “weapons of mass destruction” which Iraq did not possess.

The word “terrorism” has always been the ultimate subjective epithet, and the popularity and utility of the word for all its users and abusers around the world has been based largely on this subjectivity. Until the world is of one mind as to what constitutes good and evil, right and wrong and justice and injustice, it is inconceivable that the world could agree on a precise and legally binding definition of what actions are always, in all circumstances, under all conditions, on any grounds and regardless of who is doing it to whom, unjustifiable, impermissible and criminal.

However, the lack of a definition for “terrorism” did not stop the expansion of the word’s use at the 2005 UN summit. In what the BBC then trumpeted as a major success, Tony Blair did get the Security Council to adopt unanimously a resolution urging all states to pass laws making “incitement to terrorism” a crime.

Since every state remained free to define “terrorism” as it pleased, so as to demonize whatever behavior or ideas its government disliked, while “incitement” is simply a pejorative synonym for “advocacy,” if this resolution proved to be of any relevance at all, it could only have been to provide a cover of international legitimacy for the worldwide trend (even in countries like Britain and America which once enjoyed high standards of civil liberties) toward restricting (indeed, toward criminalizing) freedom of speech and toward the totalitarianization of societies.

Actually, it cannot have been very difficult to achieve unanimous agreement on this resolution. People may not be able to agree on what “terrorism” is, but, whatever it may be, politicians readily recognize that it is risky to appear less than resolute in opposing this ultimate evil. It’s also not hard to get governments to agree that they should silence and quash their critics and opponents as they see fit.

Since the term has been so widely abused, the word “terrorism” does not enhance understanding. It stifles rational thought and discussion and, all too often, is used to excuse one’s own illegal and immoral behavior.

Perhaps, rather than seeking an international convention agreeing on what the overused word “terrorism” should mean, it would have been more constructive ten years ago and would be more constructive today to seek an international convention obligating governments, government officials and media to stop using the word entirely, to focus rationally on the nature and causes of violent behavior by both the strong and the weak, and to work toward reducing all forms of violent behavior and reversing the accelerating trend toward a more vicious, less free and increasingly fear-infested world.

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who writes frequently on the Middle East.




Obama’s Credibility Crisis

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

By Robert Parry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Rage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Propaganda Imperative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifting Blame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Impossible Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




PBS Joins the MSM’s Syria-Russia Bias

Mainstream U.S. media systematically excludes points of view on world affairs that deviate from Official Washington’s “group think.” With no lessons learned from the Iraq-WMD debacle, the MSM only lets on establishment or right-wing pundits with conformist points of view on crises with Syria and Russia, notes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

PBS Newshour is considered high-quality journalism by many North Americans. But is it? A test case is their report on Nov. 24 when a Russian jet was shot down and one pilot killed as he descended by parachute. This was a significant international event and the situation is still dangerous. The conflict in Syria could get even worse. PBS Newshour presented a discussion/analysis of the event with two guests: Nicholas Burns and Angela Stent. The PBS Newshour host was Judy Woodruff.

This critique applies to that one PBS Newshour broadcast but the essential points are true for much of what you see on the program (and across the mainstream U.S. news media). Assumptions and bias regarding the Syrian conflict are pervasive and persistent. So, how can U.S. foreign policy change (or even show some nuance) if the public is continually fed biased and false information from one point of view? Here are specific points:

pbslogo

PBS Newshour selected two analysts with essentially the same viewpoint, representing the U.S. government and military/security establishment:

Nicholas Burns is a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. In early 2003 he urged the “unity” of NATO as some NATO allies expressed doubts about the U.S. the invasion of Iraq. In 2006, he urged punishing sanctions on Iran. In 2011, Burn wrote, “President Obama was surely right to commit the United States, however reluctantly, to the NATO campaign [to overthrow Libyan President Gaddafi].” Burns has a track record supporting Western aggression against other countries. He evidently has learned nothing from the resulting chaos, devastation and death.

Angela Stent is associated with conservative think tanks and a former State Department and National Intelligence Officer. She is also author of the 2015 book “The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the 21st Century.” Written in non-academic prose, the book explores what she considers four efforts by the U.S. to reset or start new relations with Russia following the Cold War.

Unfortunately the bias of the author is apparent and inconvenient history is not mentioned. For example, the Project for a New American Century and aggressive U.S. foreign policy under its influence have been “disappeared.” She presents a biased history which ignores or whitewashes examples of U.S. collusion and support of violent coups – from Venezuela to Honduras to Ukraine and Libya.

–The analysts make false or exaggerated claims: Burns said the Russians “did violate Turkish air space” but he offers no evidence and it now appears the Russian jet was shot down over Syrian air space. Both Burns and Stent claim the Russians violated Turkish air space “several” times or “repeatedly.” Woodruff refers to them as “invasions.” Contrary to the allegations, the only confirmed Russian violation of Turkish air space was on Sept. 3 in bad weather at the beginning of Russia’s anti-terrorist bombing campaign inside Syria.

The analysts failed to include relevant information, such as: Air space violations occur frequently and Turkey is a major offender. The normal practice is to usher an intruding plane out of the air space, not shoot it down.

–The analysts are hypocritical about air space violations. Burns claims that Russia’s alleged 17-second violation of Turkish air space “is clearly illegal under international law.” Yet the analysts say nothing about the frequent, much longer and intentional violations of Syrian air space by American jets and bombers that have NOT been authorized by the Syrian government.

–The program fails to consider Putin’s comments that the action was “a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists.” Why wasn’t this comment discussed? A Columbia University researcher lists proof of Turkish collaboration with ISIS here. Another lengthy list is here. American Lebanese journalist Serena Shim documented Turkey’s pivotal role in this video. She was killed the day after publicly expressing fear of the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT). Why did the guests not mention any of this?

The analysts also ignore Turkey’s economic support of ISIS. For example, Bilal Erdogan, the son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been implicated in purchasing ISIS oil from Syria, mixing it with Iraqi Kurdish oil and shipping it abroad. Bilal Erdogan is co-owner of BMZ oil and chemicals shipping company which has been buying additional ships. Burns talks about the importance of “history and context” but he leaves out essential facts and history about the conflict.

The analysts distort facts to support their biases. Analyst Burns claims “The Russians have been bombing Syrian Turkmen, ethnic Turkmen villages.” Evidence indicates the Russians are not bombing random villages; they are bombing specific terrorist groups in the area. We know that terrorists are in the area because they have been raining missiles into Latakia city, killing 23 students and civilians on Nov. 10. We know the terrorists are there because they video recorded themselves. Other video shows the downing of the aircraft, the pilots descending, the “rebels” shooting at the parachutists, and then the captured dead Russian pilot. Article 42 of Geneva Convention says, “No person parachuting from a plane in distress shall be made the object of attack during his descent.” Why should Russia and Syria be criticized for attacking these terrorists? It has since emerged that the most vocal “rebel” leader in the video is a Turkish citizen.

–Burns conflates a sectarian extremist fringe with an entire religious branch. When he refers to “Sunni” groups he actually means the Wahabi/Takfiri opposition such as Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham, ISIS, etc. Most Sunni Muslims in the world oppose the bastardization of their religious faith by the fanatic Wahabi element. Characterizing the jihadis as being “Sunni groups” is comparable to identifying the Ku Klux Klan as representing the “Christian group.” It’s additionally false and misleading because the majority of Syrian Army soldiers are Sunni.

The analysts ignore the fact that Syria has been the victim of severe violations of international law for over four years. Turkey, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France and the United Kingdom have been training armed opposition groups and supplying them with weapons, logistics and salaries with the goal of violently overthrowing the Syrian government. As confirmed by the International Court at The Hague in their ruling filed by Nicaragua against the United States, this is in breach of international law.

–The analysts convey the confusion and contradiction of Western policy toward Syria. Stent says, “We disagree with the Russians on the fate of Assad and we disagree on who the enemy is.” In short: Stent and Burns think the West should be able to dictate who can be President of Syria; they also think Russia should refrain from bombing any group except ISIS. They want Russia to refrain from bombing Nusra/Al Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham and other terrorist groups. It is a duplicitous strategy.

The Russian position is much more logical. They have been clear from the start: They are there to oppose sectarian terrorists threatening the Syrian people and state. ISIS is one of these groups but there are many others. What is common among them is sectarianism and reliance on outside funding. One group consists of Uighurs of Chinese nationality. They are part of the “Army of Conquest” that made a big advance in northern Syria in spring 2015.

The idea that these sectarian terrorist groups should be allowed to roam free is illogical if your goal is to overcome terrorism. There are tens of thousands of sectarian fighters who are not in ISIS. Some of these groups threaten major population areas including Latakia and government-controlled sections of Aleppo. Other groups control border zones which allow for inflow of more weapons and jihadis. It is logical that the Russian Air Force and Syrian Army would prioritize attacks on these groups near major population centers and controlling border zones.

Regarding the “fate of Assad,” the Russians believe the Syrian Presidency should be determined by Syrians not foreigners. They have indicated they would accept internationally supervised elections. That policy is in keeping with international law. The policy of the West trying to dictate who can or cannot be President of Syria is a violation of the United Nations Charter and International Law.

–Stent engages is amateur psychology instead of policy analysis. She speculates that Russia is intervening in the Syrian conflict because “they want the U.S. to come to them, they want to be the leader. … There is some reckless behavior obviously.” It’s a silly analysis that ignores serious issues such as the U.S. policy of “regime change,” the historic links between Syria and Russia, and the credible belief that the attack on Syria is a step toward attacking Iran.

–Analyst Burns concludes with call for war via “No Fly Zone.” He says, “If the Russians don’t restrain the Syrian government from firing barrel bombs into civilian neighborhoods the U.S. ought to consider a No Flight (sic) Zone with Turkey and other countries to shut down the Syrian Air Force. That’s what Secretary [Hillary] Clinton has been advocating and I think she’s right. … The way to save civilians and reduce the number of refugees is to shut down air traffic in the northern part of Syria. That’s an idea that the administration has to consider now given these events.”

Thus Ambassador Burns goes from criticizing Russia for an alleged 17-second intrusion into Turkish air space to calling for Turkey, the United States and other countries to take over northern Syrian air space. It’s a call for more war masquerading as a call for peace.

We can see where his call would lead by looking at consequences of the “No Fly Zone” in Libya. This “humanitarian” effort became a cover for “regime change” that has resulted in vastly more conflict, deaths, displaced persons and refugees. Since the NATO-driven “regime change” in Libya, terrorism has exploded across Libya and into neighboring countries.

Does Burns really want to take the U.S. into a potential war with Syria and Russia by trying to take over northern Syria? What is wrong with following international law and letting the Syrian people determine their leader?

With Russian air support the Syrian Army is advancing on nearly all fronts. Is that what Turkey and other enemies of Syria are really concerned about?

The U.S. has been invading or surreptitiously overthrowing governments around the globe for the past 65 years. This U.S. aggression has usually ended badly, especially for the target country but also for the U.S. economy and population. Why do these wars keep happening? To some extent it is media failure to expose what’s going on and encourage serious debate.

The PBS Newshour program on Nov. 24 is an example of why the U.S. public is so confused about Syria. PBS Newshour could have presented one of the analysts, Burns or Stent, along with an analyst with a different viewpoint who could have challenged the biased perspective. For instance, it could have been someone from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity like Ray McGovern or someone representing Russia or Syria, perhaps the Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations.

Instead we had another propaganda presentation, biased and misleading. PBS Newshour is failing the public. If you agree, consider letting the PBS ombudsman know. His email and phone contact is at www.pbs.org/ombudsman/home/

Rick Sterling is a writer and organizer with Syria Solidarity Movement, Task Force on the Americas and Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center. 




Who Wants to Weaponize Outer Space?

U.S. military hardliners are pushing for military dominance of outer space and U.S. diplomats are blocking international efforts to ban its weaponization but the Obama administration pretends that Russia and China are the problem, as Sam Husseini explains.

By Sam Husseini

The recent box-office hit “The Martian” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon depicts crucial coordination between the U.S. and Chinese space programs, but that’s not the way it’s playing out in the real world.

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James on Wednesday at the National Press Club responded to a question about the U.S. blocking efforts by Russia, China and over 100 other countries to ensure the disarmament of outer space by alleging that China and Russia are engaging in activities in space that are “worrisome.”

Secretary James stated “we don’t have weapons in space in the United States.” She then added: “Now what has been very worrisome in recent years is that some other countries around the world, notably China and Russia, are investing and they’re testing in different types of capabilities which could shoot satellites out of orbit, and do other things to our capabilities and the capabilities of allies in space, which is worrisome.” [Question at 54:00, video of event.]

James’s comments were in response to a question that I submitted citing a United Nations vote last month which was 122 in favor to 4 against disarmament of outer space. The U.S. was one of the nations voting against the resolution.

John Hughes, the president of the National Press Club and moderator of the event, in his introduction of James, noted that she was recently made “the principal space adviser with expanded responsibilities of all Pentagon space activities.” Yet, Secretary James stated that she was “not familiar” with the UN vote.

Alice Slater, who is with Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Abolition 2000 coordinating committee and is a leading activist on disarmament, said: “It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Secretary of the Air Force is unaware of the U.S. military program to ‘dominate and control the military use of space’ as set forth in Pentagon documents such as Vision 2020 [PDF] or that the U.S. also has tested anti-satellite weapons in space.”

Summarizing UN votes on the military use of outer space, the UN’s website states: “The text, entitled ‘No first placement of weapons in outer space,’ reaffirmed the importance and urgency of the objective to prevent an outer space arms race and the willingness of States to contribute to that common goal.” The UN summary references a “draft treaty, introduced by China and the Russian Federation. … The draft was approved by a recorded vote of 122 in favour to 4 against (Israel, Ukraine, United States, Georgia), with 47 abstentions.” Yet, James, in her National Press Club remarks, painted Russia and China as the aggressors.

But consider Secretary James’s exact words. While she says “we don’t have weapons in space,” she sets a different standard when talking about Russia and China, which “are investing and they’re testing in different types of capabilities which could shoot satellites out of orbit,” which the U.S. obviously is doing as well.

There is a race to weaponize space though it would seem Russia, China and most other nations are making moves through the UN to stop it while the U.S. government appears to be hindering that effort.

In addition to Vision 2020, the influential neoconservative Project for a New American Century also called for U.S. control of space as one of its goals: “CONTROL THE NEW ‘INTERNATIONAL COMMONS’ OF SPACE AND ‘CYBERSPACE,’ and pave the way for the creation of a new military service — U.S. Space Forces — with the mission of space control.” [archived PDF]

Slater added: “It is common knowledge that when [the Cold War was nearing its end, Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev and [U.S. President Ronald] Reagan met in Reykjavik and were prepared to negotiate the total elimination of nuclear weapons, except the negotiations were aborted because Reagan refused to give up his dream of a U.S. military shield in space, commonly referred to at the time as Star Wars.

“Less well known, but nevertheless true, is that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin offered [U.S. President Bill] Clinton a deal to cut our arsenals of 16,000 nuclear weapons to 1,000 weapons each and call all the parties to the table to negotiate for nuclear abolition if the U.S. would cease its plans to put missile bases in Eastern Europe. Clinton refused and Putin backed out of his offer. Shortly thereafter, [President George W.] Bush actually walked out of the 1972 Anti-Balllistic Missile Treaty and put U.S. missiles and bases in Turkey, Romania and Poland. …

“In 2008, Russia and China proposed a draft treaty to ban space weapons which the U.S. blocked from going forward in the consensus-bound committee on disarmament in Geneva. This year, the U.S. voted to abstain from a Russian proposal to ban weapons in space at the UN First Committee of the General Assembly, joining only Israel and Palau, in not going forward to support the ban.”

Here is background material relating to the questions posed to Secretary James:

I submitted in writing a couple of other questions about air wars and killer drones which were not posed to James, though several questions were asked about drones, including one about killing of civilians. Here were the questions I submitted in writing before the event:

Q: airwars.org estimates that the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria over the last 482 days has leveled about 8,600 strikes and killed 682 to 2,104 civilians. Do you have an estimate for the number of civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes?

Q: The Guardian reports on four former drone pilots who recently wrote an impassioned plea to the Obama administration, calling for a rethink of a military tactic that they say has “fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like Isis, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantánamo Bay … We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home.” Do you have any information on the long term consequences of the US government’s killer drone program? Can you tell us what countries US drones operate in? How do you respond to their letter from the former drone pilot whistleblowers — these are people who left lucrative careers operating drones because they concluded it was morally contemptible to continue.

Neither was asked, though the moderator, Hughes, did ask a number of questions about drones and raised the issue of civilian deaths in this question:

Q: “You talked about the effort to minimize collateral damage, or civilian deaths, in this effort how satisfied are you that you’ve been able to minimize civilian deaths in this campaign? And as you step up this effort now, will the risk of more civilian deaths rise?”

Deborah Lee James: “I am satisfied that our combined efforts and the way we are approaching this campaign is unprecedented in the history of warfare in terms of the care that we take to do everything possible to try to avoid civilian casualties. Is it 100 percent? No, because there are, from time to time, terrible tragedies. But with the thousands of sorties [a deployment or dispatch of one military unit, be it an aircraft, ship, or troops, from a strongpoint] that have been flown, the fact that there have only been a handful of these incidents, I think, is almost a miracle. So I am convinced we’re doing a good job, I saw some of it in action myself when I was in the CAOC [Combined Air and Space Operations Center] and the CGOC [Company Grade Officer’s Council], and enormous care is taken.”

Here’s the full question about weaponization of space:

Q: “This questioner says, ‘One month ago at the UN there was a vote for disarmament in space. The vote was 122 for and 4 against, the U.S. was one of the four against. Why is the U.S. against disarmament in space?”

Deborah Lee James: “Well, I’m not familiar with that vote, but what I will tell you about space and the proposition of space is this — number one, we don’t have weapons in space in the United States. Number two, we’re very focused on not creating debris in space. So to back up for just a minute, if you go back 20, 30 years there were relatively few countries, and few companies for that matter, who even could get themselves to space, but flash forward to the present day and there are many more countries and many more companies. Plus there is debris in space, there is space junk. So you’ve got thousands of these pieces of material whirling around at 40 or 50 thousand miles per hour and even a small piece of debris can do some serious damage to a billion dollar satellite. So debris is bad and we want to make sure that we minimize that at all costs. Now what has been very worrisome in recent years is that some other countries around the world, notably China and Russia are investing and they’re testing in different types of capabilities which could shoot satellites out of orbit, and do other things to our capabilities and the capabilities of allies in space- which is worrisome. And so what we have said is we need to focus more attention on space, we need to invest more in space, the resiliency of space, and we need to at all times get this point across- –particularly to some of these other countries that are investing and testing in these ways — that debris is bad, that debris hurts all of us.”

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.




Learning to Love the ‘Drone War’

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

By John Hanrahan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




When Mass Killings Aren’t ‘News’

The 24/7 coverage of the San Bernardino mass killing, perpetrated by a Muslim husband and wife, has alarmed and frightened Americans, but there is next to no mainstream interest in disclosures about far worse mayhem carried out by the U.S. government’s lethal drone program, writes David Swanson.

By David Swanson

We now know this. A young man who had successfully killed on a large scale went to his religious leader with doubts and was told that mass killing was part of God’s plan. The young man continued killing until he had participated in killing sprees that took 1,626 lives — men, women, and children.

I repeat: his death count was not the 16 or 9 or 22 lives that make top news stories, but 1,626 dead and mutilated bodies. Do such things bother you?

What if you learned that this young man’s name was Brandon Bryant, and that he killed as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and that he was presented with a certificate for his 1,626 kills and congratulated on a job well done by the United States of America? What if you learned that his religious leader was a Christian chaplain? Do such things still bother you?

What if you learned that most of the people killed by U.S. drones are civilians? That the pilots “double-tap,” meaning that they send a missile into a wedding party or a house and then wait for people to try to help the injured and send a second missile into them? That as a result one hears the injured screaming for hours until they die, as no one comes to help? That a drone pilot sent a missile into a group of children from which three children survived who recognized their dead brothers but had no idea that various pieces of flesh were what was left of their Mom and Dad and consequently cried out for those now gone-forever individuals? Is this troubling?

What if President Obama’s claim of few or no civilian deaths was proven false by well-documented reporting? And by the fact that most victims are targeted without even knowing their names?

What if a leading candidate for president in the past week were to both declare that the way to win a war is to start killing whole families, and stage a public Christian prayer session in order to win over a certain demographic of voters? Is that bothering?

What if it became clear that police officers in the United States have been murdering people at a higher rate than drone pilots? Would you want to see police videos of their killings? Would you want to see drone videos of their killings? We have thus far gained limited access to the former and none to the latter.

What if it were discovered that gun murders in San Bernardino are almost routine. Would they all be equally tragic?

My point is not to cease caring about the tragedy that the television stations tell you to care about. I wish everyone would care 1,000 times more, and even better do something to take away the guns and the hatred and the culture of violence and the economic injustice and the alienation.

My point is that there are other tragedies that go unmentioned, including larger ones. And exploiting one tragedy to fuel hatred toward a large segment of the human population of earth is madness.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. You can follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook. [This article first appeared at http://warisacrime.org/content/do-mass-killings-bother-you]




Obama Ignores Russian Terror Victims

Exclusive: President Obama has displayed a stunning lack of sympathy for the Russian civilians killed in an ISIS plane bombing in Egypt and for two Russian military men slain as victims of U.S. weapons systems in Syria, putting insults toward President Putin ahead of human decency, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Normally, when a country is hit by an act of terrorism, there is universal sympathy even if the country has engaged in actions that may have made it a target of the terrorists. After 9/11, for instance, any discussion of whether U.S. violent meddling in the Middle East may have precipitated the attack was ruled out of the public debate.

Similarly, the 7/7 attacks against London’s Underground in 2005 were not excused because the United Kingdom had joined in President George W. Bush’s aggressive war in Iraq. The same with the more recent terror strikes in Paris. No respectable politician or pundit gloated about the French getting what they deserved for their long history of imperialism in the Muslim world.

But a different set of rules apply to Russia. Along with other prominent Americans, President Barack Obama and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman have expressed smug satisfaction over the murder of 224 people aboard a Russian charter flight blown up over the Sinai and in the slaying of a Russian pilot who had been shot down by a Turkish warplane and the killing of a Russian marine on a rescue mission.

Apparently, the political imperative to display disdain for Russian President Vladimir Putin trumps any normal sense of humanity. Both Obama on Tuesday and Friedman on Wednesday treated those Russian deaths at the hands of the Islamic State or other jihadists as Putin’s comeuppance for intervening against terrorist/jihadist gains in Syria.

At a news conference in Paris, Obama expressed his lack of sympathy as part of a bizarre comment in which he faulted Putin for somehow not turning around the Syrian conflict during the past month when Obama and his allies have been floundering in their “war” against the Islamic State and its parent, Al Qaeda, for years, if not decades.

“The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly,” Obama said. “In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet.  You’ve seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel.  And I think Mr. Putin understands that, with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he’s looking for.”

In examining that one paragraph, a “fair-minded” reporter could find a great deal to dispute. Indeed, the comments suggest that President Obama has crossed some line into either believing his own propaganda or thinking that everyone who listens to him is an idiot and will believe whatever he says.

But what was perhaps most disturbing was Obama’s graceless manner of discussing the tragedy of the Sinai bombing, followed by his seeming pleasure over Turkey shooting down a Russian SU-24 last week, leading to the killing of two Russian military men, one the pilot who was targeted while parachuting to the ground and the other a marine after his search-and-rescue helicopter was downed by a TOW missile.

Even more troubling, the key weapon systems used the Turkish F-16 fighter jet and the TOW missile were U.S.-manufactured and apparently U.S. supplied, in the case of the TOW missile either directly or indirectly to Sunni jihadists deemed “moderate” by the Obama administration.

The Ever-Smug Friedman

Columnist Friedman was equally unfeeling about the Russian deaths. In a column entitled “Putin’s Great Syrian Adventure,” Friedman offered a mocking assessment of Russia’s intervention against Sunni jihadists and terrorists seeking to take control of Syria.

While ridiculing anyone who praised Putin’s initiative or who just thought the Russian president was “crazy like a fox,” Friedman wrote: “Some of us thought he was just crazy.

“Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-ISIS militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him.”

Ha-ha, very funny! And, by the way, it has not been established that the Russian SU-24 did stray into Turkish air space but if it did, according to the Turkish account, it passed over a sliver of Turkish territory for all of 17 seconds.

The evidence is quite clear that the SU-24 was ambushed in a reckless act by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been collaborating with Syrian and foreign jihadists for the past four years to overthrow Syria’s secular government. And the murder of the pilot after he bailed out of the plane is not some reason to smirk; it is a war crime.

Even uglier is the lack of any sympathy or outrage over the terrorist bombing that killed 224 innocent people, mostly tourists, aboard a Russian charter flight in Egypt. If the victims had been American and a similar callous reaction had come from President Putin and a columnist for a major Russian newspaper, one can only imagine the outrage. However, in Official Washington, any recognition of a common humanity with Russians makes you a “Moscow stooge.”

The other wacky part of both Obama’s comments and Friedman’s echoes of the same themes is this quick assessment that the Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government has been some abject failure as if the U.S.-led coalition has been doing so wonderfully.

First, as a “fair-minded” reporter, I would say that it appears the Russian-backed Syrian offensive has at least stopped the advances of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its jihadist allies, including Ahrar al-Sham (which technically separates itself from Al Qaeda and thus qualifies for U.S.-supplied weaponry even though it fights side-by-side with Nusra in the Saudi-backed Army of Conquest).

The Afghan Memories

Obama’s reference to Afghanistan was also startling. He was suggesting that Putin should have learned a lesson from Moscow’s intervention in the 1980s in support of a secular, pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, which came under attack by CIA-organized-and-armed Islamic jihadists known then as mujahedeen.

Wielding sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and benefiting from $1 billion a year in Saudi-U.S.-supplied weapons, the Afghan fundamentalist mujahedeen and their allies, including Saudi Osama bin Laden, eventually drove Soviet troops out in 1989 and several years later behind the Taliban completed the reversion of Afghanistan back to the Seventh Century. Women in Kabul went from dressing any way they liked in public, including wearing mini-skirts, to being covered in chadors and kept at home.

Obama’s bringing up Afghanistan in the Syrian context and Putin’s supposed one-month Syrian failure was ironic in another way. After Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of bin Laden and has been bogged down in a quagmire there for 14 years, including nearly seven years under Obama.

So, Obama may not be on the firmest ground when he suggests that Putin recall Moscow’s experience in Afghanistan a few decades ago. After all, Obama has many more recent memories.

Further, what is different about Putin’s Syrian strategy compared with Obama’s is that the Russians are targeting all the terrorists and jihadists, not just the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh). While U.S. propaganda tries to present the non-ISIS jihadists as “moderates” (somehow pretending that Al Qaeda is no longer a terrorist organization), there is, in reality, very little distinction between ISIS and the alliance of Nusra/Ahrar al-Sham.

And, as for Official Washington’s new “group think” about the Syrian government’s lack of progress in the war, there is the discordant news that the last of rebel forces have agreed to abandon the central city of Homs, which had been dubbed the “capital of the revolution.” The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that “thousands of insurgents will leave the last opposition-held neighborhood in” Homs, with the withdrawal beginning next week.

Al-Jazeera added the additional fact that the remaining 4,000 insurgents are “from al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army.” In other words, the “moderate” Free Syrian Army was operating in collusion with Al Qaeda’s affiliate and its major jihadist partner.

While it’s hard to get reliable up-to-date information from inside Syria, one intelligence source familiar with the military situation told me that the Syrian government offensive, backed by Iranian troops and Russian air power, had been surprisingly successful in putting the jihadists, including ISIS and Nusra, on the defensive, with additional gains around the key city of Aleppo.

The Belated Oil Bombings

Also, in the past week, Putin shamed Obama into joining in a bombing operation to destroy hundreds of trucks carrying ISIS oil to Turkey. Why that valuable business was allowed to continue during the U.S.-led war on ISIS since summer 2014 has not been adequately explained. It apparently was being protected by Turkish President Erdogan.

Another irony of Obama’s (and Friedman’s) critical assessment of Putin’s one-month military campaign came in Obama’s recounting of his meeting during the Paris climate summit with Erdogan. Obama said he was still appealing to Erdogan to close the Turkish-Syrian border although radical jihadists have been crossing it since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

“With respect to Turkey, I have had repeated conversations with President Erdogan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria,” Obama said. “We’ve seen some serious progress on that front, but there are still some gaps.  In particular, there’s about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters, ISIL shipping out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities.”

In other words, all these years into the conflict and about 1½ years since Obama specifically targeted ISIS Turkey has not closed its borders to prevent ISIS from reinforcing itself with foreign fighters and trafficking in illicit oil sales to fund its terror operations. One might suspect that Erdogan has no intention of really stopping the Sunni jihadists from ravaging Syria.

Erdogan still seems set on violent “regime change” in Syria after allowing his intelligence services to provide extensive help to ISIS, Al Qaeda’s Nusra and other extremists. The Russians claim that politically well-connected Turkish businessmen also have been profiting off the ISIS oil sales.

But Obama’s acknowledgement that he has not even been able to get NATO “ally” Turkey to seal its border and that ISIS still remains a potent fighting force makes a mockery of his mocking Putin for not “significantly” changing the situation on the ground in Syria in one month.

Obama also slid into propaganda speak when he blamed Assad for all the deaths that have occurred during the Syrian conflict. “I consider somebody who kills hundreds of thousands of his own people illegitimate,” Obama said.

But again Obama is applying double standards. For instance, he would not blame President George W. Bush for the hundreds of thousands (possibly more than a million) dead Iraqis, yet Bush was arguably more responsible for those deaths by launching an unprovoked invasion of Iraq than Assad was in battling a jihadist-led insurgency.

Plus, the death toll of Syrians, estimated to exceed a quarter million, includes many soldiers and police as well as armed jihadists. That does not excuse Assad or his regime for excessively heavy-handed tactics that have inflicted civilian casualties, but Obama and his predecessor both have plenty of innocent blood on their hands, too.

After watching Obama’s news conference, one perhaps can hope that he is just speaking out of multiple sides of his mouth as he is wont to do. Maybe, he’s playing his usual game of “above-the-table/below-the-table,” praising Erdogan above the table while chastising him below the table and disparaging Putin in public while cooperating with the Russian president in private.

Or maybe President Obama has simply lost touch with reality and with common human decency.

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




Global Angst over US Secrecy Fetish

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

By Victor Wallis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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