New McCarthyism Targets Trump

Official Washington’s New McCarthyism is painting President-elect Trump as almost a “traitor” for seeking détente with Russia, a moment when peace-oriented Americans face a complex choice, says John V. Walsh.

By John V. Walsh

When President Obama expelled Russian diplomats over the hysterical and unproven accusation of Russia “hacking the election,” Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to be drawn into a petty squabble, saying he would delay any response until Donald Trump assumed office. Instead Putin invited American diplomats and their families in Moscow to join the official holiday celebrations in the Kremlin.

Then came the shock that shook Official Washington: President-elect Trump, in the form of a tweet heard round the world, wrote: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”

And just to be sure that everyone saw it, Trump “pinned” the tweet which means it is the first thing seen by viewers of his account. This was a first use of “pinning” for Trump. And to be doubly sure, he posted it on Instagram as well. This was no spontaneous midnight outburst but a very deliberate action taken on Friday noon, Dec. 30, the day after Obama had issued his retaliation order.

The implications of this move are, arguably, breathtaking. Trump treated Putin as his ally, not as a hated adversary. And he treated Obama and the bipartisan foreign policy elite of Washington as his adversaries, not his allies – a move that makes perfect sense if Trump’s desire is to rein in the War Party’s New Cold War and to strive for a New Détente with Russia.

If the main enemy is those who are stoking the New Cold War and risking worse, then Trump has placed himself squarely against these war hawks. And stop to consider for a moment who these folks are. Besides President Obama and Hillary Clinton, they represent a full-blown armchair army: neocons, liberal interventionists, the mainstream media, various Soros-funded “non-governmental organizations,” virtually all the important think tanks, the leadership of both major parties, and the CIA and the other U.S. intelligence agencies. This array of Official Washington’s power elite has been working 24/7 at demonizing Putin and stoking tensions with nuclear-armed Russia. Trump took on all of them on with his tweet!

Putin as Ally Against the War Party

As Trump looks for new allies in pursuit of a New Détente and a relaxation of U.S.-Russian tensions, Putin is foremost among them. Thus, in the struggle for peace, Trump has drawn new lines, and they cross national borders. Not since Ronald Reagan embraced Mikhail Gorbachev or Richard Nixon went to China have we seen a development like this. In this new battle to reduce tensions between nuclear powers, Trump has shown considerable courage, taking on a wide range of attackers.

Later that afternoon, Maya Kosoff writing for Vanity Fair put out an article entitled “Twitter Melts Down over ‘Treason’ After Trump Praises Putin.” The first batch of such tweets came from “journalists and other foreign policy experts,” the next from Evan McMullin, the former CIA officer who tried to draw off Republican votes from Trump in the general election, who tweeted: “To be clear, @realDonaldTrump is siding with America’s greatest adversary even as it attacks our democracy. Never grow desensitized to this.”

Finally came the predictable rash of tweets calling Trump’s words “treasonous” or “seditious.” In response, Team Trump refused to issue a “clarification,” saying instead that Trump’s words spoke for themselves.

As stunning as Trump’s tweet was in many ways, it was in other ways entirely predictable. Despite the mainstream media’s scorn and Hillary Clinton’s mocking him as Putin’s “puppet,” Trump has held firm to his promise that he will seek peace with Russia and look for areas of cooperation such as fighting terrorism.

So, even when Trump’s Russia comments appeared to cost him politically, he stuck with them, suggesting that he believes that this détente is important. The rule of thumb is that if a politician says something that will win votes, you do not know whether it is conviction or opportunism. But if a politician says something that should lose her or him votes, then you can bet it is heartfelt.

Trump was bashed over his resistance to the New Cold War both during the Republican primaries when many GOP leaders were extremely hawkish on Russia and during the general election when the Clinton campaign sought to paint him as some sort of Manchurian Candidate. Even his vice presidential candidate Mike Pence staked out a more hawkish position than Trump.

Trump stood by his more dovish attitude though it presented few electoral advantages and many negatives. By that test, he appears to be sincere. So, his latest opening to Putin was entirely predictable.

A Choice of Peace or War

What is troubling, however, is that some Americans who favor peace hate Trump so much that they recoil from speaking out in his defense over his “treasonous” tweet though they may privately agree with it. Some progressives are uncomfortable with the mainstream’s descent into crude McCarthyism but don’t want to say anything favorable about Trump.

After all, a vote for President is either thumbs up or thumbs down – nothing in between – though voters may like or dislike some policy prescriptions of one candidate and other positions of another candidate. And progressives could list many reasons to not vote for Trump.

But a presidential administration is multi-issued – not all or none. One can disagree with a president on some issues and agree on others. For instance, many progressives are outraged over Trump’s harsh immigration policies but agree with him on scrapping the TPP trade deal.

In other words, there is no reason why those who claim to be for peace should not back Trump on his more peaceful approach toward Putin and Russia, even if they disdain his tough talk about fighting terrorism. That is the reality of politics.

What I’ve discovered is that many progressives – as well as many on the Right – who oppose endless war and disdain empire will tell you in whispers that they do support Trump’s attempt at Détente 2.0, though they doubt he will succeed. In the meantime, they are keeping their heads down and staying quiet.

But clearly Trump’s success depends on how much support he gets – as weighed against how much grief he gets. By lacking the courage to defend Trump’s “treasonous tweet,” those who want to rein in the warmongers may be missing a rare opportunity. If those who agree with Trump on this issue stay silent, it may be a lost opportunity as well.

John V. Walsh, an anti-war activist, can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com




Anti-Trump Coalition Shows Cracks

When national Democrats are not blaming Vladimir Putin for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, they’re pointing fingers at anti-war Democrats and Greens who found Clinton’s hawkishness and corporatism unacceptable, notes Nat Parry.

By Nat Parry

Somewhat surprisingly, a genuine grassroots, broad-based movement has emerged to oppose the incoming Trump administration, but perhaps less surprisingly – given the American left’s self-marginalizing tendencies – the nascent efforts may already be descending into sectarianism, finger-pointing and divisive identity-based politics.

One early sign of the anti-Trump coalition’s fracturing came when a group of women decided after Hillary Clinton’s defeat that they would organize a “Million Women March” to commiserate the first major-party female presidential nominee’s electoral loss to Donald Trump, a misogynist.

The day after the election, a Hawaii woman named Teresa Shook created a Facebook event and invited a few dozen of her friends to march on Washington on Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration. The idea was picked up by a Hillary Clinton Facebook fan page called Pantsuit Nation, with more than three million members, and suddenly there were multiple event pages with thousands of women signing up.

The original name of the march, however, was hastily dropped after the organizers were accused of “cultural appropriation.” Apparently the organizers hadn’t considered that the name “Million Woman March” was already used in 1997 by a demonstration organized for black women.

As one critic wrote on Facebook, “I take issue with white feminists taking the name of something that Black people started to address our struggles. … I will not even consider supporting this until the organizers are intersectional, original and come up with a different name.”

Other concerns were raised about whether an event organized primarily by white women would properly address issues of class and race, but some of those fears now seem to have been allayed. The “national co-chairs” of the event include women of color Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour, with notable credentials in civil rights and social justice activism on their resumes.

Mallory, for example, is “nationally recognized as a fiery and outspoken champion for social justice who has worked closely with the Obama Administration as an advocate for civil rights issues,” according to the event’s website. Perez “has dedicated 20 years to advocating for many of today’s important civil rights issues, including mass incarceration, gender equality, violence prevention, racial healing and community policing.”

The event’s partner organizations include both established mainstream organizations such as the National Organization for Women and Oxfam, and upstarts further to the left such as Code Pink and Center for Popular Democracy. While Democratic Party-affiliated groups, such as the Indian American Democratic Club, have endorsed, so too have alternative parties such as the Baltimore County Greens.

Tactical Differences

But although many Democrats have gotten behind the women’s march, they seem to be keeping other counter-inaugural efforts at arm’s length. While Greens and anti-capitalists are uniting to take a stand on Jan. 20 in opposition to Trump’s swearing-in ceremonies, Democratic Party-affiliated groups are nowhere to be seen in the lists of endorsements for Inauguration Day protests.

For example, an “Occupy Inauguration” effort has been endorsed by the U.S. Green Party and Socialist Alternative, but no Democrats. The DC Welcoming Committee, “a collective of experienced local activists and out-of-work gravediggers,” is spearheading #DisruptJ20, which aims to “shut down the Inauguration,” while other events are taking place in spite of Democrats across the country.

Democratic Party efforts, on the other hand, include a “Boycott Trump” campaign initiated by the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which claims to be “directly countering Donald Trump” through grassroots action, advertising and opposition research. The organization, comprised of Democratic elected officials, party chairs, delegates, grassroots leaders and activists in all 50 states, pledges to build “a movement to stop Trump,” although has not endorsed counter-inaugural activities.

“There is an effort by Clinton supporters and the Democratic Party machine to keep the message safe,” said Sara Flounders, co-coordinator of the International Action Center, which plans to protest on Jan. 20. “But people who believed in the current electoral system just days ago are changing. They feel betrayed.”

Although at the moment, the Democratic Party and more left-wing elements seem to share common goals of “resisting the Trump regime,” many on the Democratic side still blame supporters of the Green Party’s presidential nominee Jill Stein for allegedly costing Clinton the election.

Under this logic, people who support parties in competition with Democrats still somehow owe their votes to the Democratic nominee on election day. It doesn’t seem to matter to Democratic partisans that Greens and other third party supporters have opted out of the two-party system in favor of building alternatives.

As Slate staff writer Jim Newell described the strange thinking in a column last month, “Democrats are still in the business of blaming people who are not Democrats for Hillary Clinton losing a presidential election.” Since third parties exist and don’t seem to be going anywhere, Newell notes that rather than bashing their supporters, Democrats might be better served by changing their campaign strategies “to limit defections to third parties, like they did in the previous two presidential elections.”

Blaming Progressives

This, however, is not what Democrats are doing. Instead, they seem intent on vilifying people on the left for not uniting behind their candidate, Hillary Clinton, who many could not support due to her pro-war policies and the backing she enjoyed from Wall Street.

On social media, Democratic partisans are issuing such attacks as “@DrJillStein HRC was the most qualified presidential candidate, and you ruined EVERYTHING,” and “you are a major reason why 2016 was the worst year ever.” Some have even accused Stein supporters of “caus[ing] the apocalypse.”

Beyond bashing Green Party supporters, some Democrats continue to lay the blame for Clinton’s historic loss at the feet of Bernie Sanders supporters. At Mother Jones magazine, Kevin Drum writes that “Republicans would have twisted [Sanders] up like a wet rag and tossed him down the drain.”

Drum also blames millennials for Clinton’s defeat, saying that young people “abandoned [her] for third-party candidates.”

This follows similar arguments made by Prof. Gil Troy, who wrote at Time Magazine on Nov. 14 that “Senator Bernie Sanders earned the 2016 ‘Ralph Nader Award’ for the Leftist Most Responsible for Helping Republicans Win the Presidency.”

By forcing her to express support for some progressive policies during the primaries, such as eliminating tuition at in-state colleges and universities, she was unable to mount “an effective re-centering in the fall,” Troy wrote. (This “effective re-centering” might have been further hampered when Wikileaks published excerpts from a paid speech Clinton gave in 2013, in which she acknowledged that on certain policy issues, she holds “both a public and a private position.”)

Troy further asserted that “just as Ralph Nader siphoned tens of thousands of votes on Election Day 2000 in Florida from Al Gore, causing the deadlock and George W. Bush’s victory, Bernie Sanders’ similar vampire effect enfeebled Hillary Clinton.”

According to this view, even running a progressive primary election challenge – much less a third party campaign – is unacceptably dangerous, creating a so-called “vampire effect” that “siphons votes” that rightfully belong to someone else.

So, discouragingly to those who may have hoped for effective opposition to Trump and the Republicans, even with common ground being sought at the moment between progressives and mainstream Democrats, recriminations continue, and unless a genuine effort at promoting understanding is made, the nascent alliance between leftists and moderates will most likely fizzle out after Jan. 20 – if it lasts that long.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. [This article first appeared at

https://essentialopinion.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/nascent-anti-trump-coalition-already-fracturing/ ]




Danger in Democrats Demonizing Putin

With the Clintons’ corporate money machine floundering after a devastating election defeat, Democrats are desperate to find someone to blame and have dangerously settled on Vladimir Putin, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

Many top Democrats are stoking a political firestorm. We keep hearing that Russia attacked democracy by hacking into Democratic officials’ emails and undermining Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Instead of candidly assessing key factors such as longtime fealty to Wall Street that made it impossible for her to ride a populist wave, the party line has increasingly circled around blaming Vladimir Putin for her defeat.

Of course partisan spinners aren’t big on self-examination, especially if they’re aligned with the Democratic Party’s dominant corporate wing. And the option of continually fingering the Kremlin as the main villain of a 2016 morality play is clearly too juicy for functionary Democrats to pass up — even if that means scorching civil liberties and escalating a new cold war that could turn radioactively hot.

Much of the current fuel for the blame-Russia blaze has to do with the horrifying reality that Donald Trump will soon become president. Big media outlets are blowing oxygen into the inferno. But the flames are also being fanned by people who should know better.

Consider the Boston Globe article that John Shattuck — a former Washington legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union — wrote in mid-December. “A specter of treason hovers over Donald Trump,” the civil libertarian wrote. “He has brought it on himself by dismissing a bipartisan call for an investigation of Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee as a ‘ridiculous’ political attack on the legitimacy of his election as president.”

As quickly pointed out by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University, raising the specter of treason “is simply wrong” — and “its wrongness matters, not just because hyperbole always weakens argument, but because the carefully restricted definition of the crime of treason is essential to protecting free speech and the freedom of association.”

A Liberal Zeitgeist

Is Shattuck’s piece a mere outlier? Sadly, no. Although full of gaping holes, it reflects a substantial portion of the current liberal zeitgeist. And so the argument that Shattuck made was carried forward into the new year by Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, who approvingly quoted Shattuck’s article in a Jan. 1 piece that flatly declared: “In his dalliance with Vladimir Putin, Trump’s actions are skirting treason.”

The momentum of fully justified loathing for Trump has drawn some normally level-headed people into untenable — and dangerous — positions. (The “treason” approach that Shattuck and Kuttner have embraced is particularly ironic and misplaced, given that Trump’s current course will soon make him legally deserving of impeachment due to extreme conflicts of interest that are set to violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.)

Among the admirable progressives who supported Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign but have succumbed to Russia-baiting of Trump are former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Congressman Keith Ellison, who is a candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Last week, in a widely circulated post on his Facebook page, Reich wrote: “Evidence continues to mount that Trump is on Putin’s side.” But Reich’s list of “evidence” hardly made the case that Trump “is on Putin’s side,” whatever that means.

A day later, when Trump tweeted a favorable comment about Putin, Rep. Ellison quickly echoed Democratic Party orthodoxy with a tweet: “Praising a foreign leader for undermining our democracy is a slap in the face to all who have served our country.”

Some of Putin’s policies are abhorrent, and criticizing his regime should be fair game as much as criticizing any other. At the same time, “do as we say, not as we do” isn’t apt to put the United States on high moral ground. The U.S. government has used a wide repertoire of regime change tactics including direct meddling in elections, and Uncle Sam has led the world in cyberattacks.

Intervention in the election of another country is categorically wrong. It’s also true that — contrary to conventional U.S. wisdom at this point — we don’t know much about a Russian role in last year’s election. We should not forget the long history of claims from agencies such as the CIA that turned out to be misleading or downright false.

Late last week, when the Obama administration released a drum-rolled report on the alleged Russian hacking, Democratic partisans and mainline journalists took it as something akin to gospel. But the editor of ConsortiumNews.com, former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter Robert Parry, wrote an assessment concluding that the latest report “again failed to demonstrate that there is any proof behind U.S. allegations that Russia both hacked into Democratic emails and distributed them via WikiLeaks to the American people.”

Key Questions

Even if the Russian government did intervene in the U.S. election by hacking emails and publicizing them, key questions remain. Such as:

–Do we really want to escalate a new cold war with a country that has thousands of nuclear weapons?

–Do we really want a witch-hunting environment here at home, targeting people with views that have some overlap with Kremlin positions?

–Can the president of Russia truly “undermine our democracy” — or aren’t the deficits of democracy in the United States overwhelmingly self-inflicted from within the U.S. borders?

It’s so much easier to fixate on Putin as a villainous plotter against our democracy instead of directly taking on our country’s racist and class biases, its structural mechanisms that relentlessly favor white and affluent voters, its subservience to obscene wealth and corporate power.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about refusing to normalize the Trump presidency. And that’s crucial. Yet we should also push back against normalizing the deflection of outrage at the U.S. political system’s chronic injustices and horrendous results — deflection that situates the crux of the problem in a foreign capital instead of our own.

We should reject the guidance of politicians and commentators who are all too willing to throw basic tenets of civil liberties overboard, while heightening the risks of brinkmanship that could end with the two biggest nuclear powers blowing up the world.

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




WPost’s New ‘Fake News’ on Russian ‘Hack’

Exclusive: The Washington Post’s latest folly – falsely reporting a Russian “hack” into Vermont’s electric grid – reflects the paper’s steep decline from the days of Watergate, reports ex-British intelligence officer Annie Machon.

By Annie Machon

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been hacked – cue a national American trauma, allegations of dirty tricks, fears that democracy has been subverted, all leading to what the next U.S. president would call “our long national nightmare.”

But, no, I am not talking about the current Russo-phobic hysteria currently engulfing the mainstream U.S. media, replete with claims about “fake news,” expelled Russian diplomats, and a lack of skepticism about the evidence-lite hacking allegations.

Instead, I am dipping back into history – the old Watergate scandal – when Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” stole information the old-fashioned way; they broke into the DNC offices, rifled the files and planted listening devices. On June 17, 1972, when police captured five burglars inside the DNC offices at the Watergate building in Washington, the case slowly unfolded over the next two years until President Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, and was replaced by Vice President Gerald Ford who declared “our long national nightmare is over.”

During those two years, The Washington Post became internationally and justifiably famous for breaking the story about Nixon’s role in the Watergate cover-up and – since then – generations of cub reporters have dreamed of being the next Woodward and Bernstein. Besides leading to the downfall of the mendacious and paranoid Nixon, the scandal contributed to the reining in of an out-of-control intelligence establishment culminating in the Church Committee hearings of 1975.

What followed was greater, if unfortunately temporary, control of the U.S. intelligence agencies and at least an apparent respect for the rights of American citizens under the terms of the U.S. Constitution. The work of The Washington Post then was indeed relevant and world-changing.

The movie depiction of the Post’s investigation, “All the President’s Men” celebrated this exposé and confirmed in Western minds that our wonderful free press spoke truth to power. And perhaps, in this case, the press did (although I have to say that I preferred the meltdown scene in the prophetic movie, “The Network,” which envisioned the slide of the news media into ratings-driven madness).

Lost Credibility

But – regarding The Washington Post – how the mighty have fallen. Over the past couple of months, the Post has blown what was left of its journalistic reputation out of the water.

First it unblushingly reported the PropOrNot “blacklist” of “fake news” Internet sites that were allegedly working at the Kremlin’s command to swing the U.S. election to Donald Trump, except that the list encompassed many of the most reputable independent (i.e., not U.S. corporate-owned) English-language international news sites (including Consortiumnews.com). Threatened with angry writs from some of the sites, the paper quickly printed a disclaimer distancing itself from the anonymous people behind PropOrNot, but still not apologizing for the McCarthyistic smear.

Then, last Friday, the newspaper was at it again – breathlessly reporting that the Vermont energy grid was apparently hacked by the scapegoat du jour, Russia. Although there should have been obvious questions asked: Why Vermont? What has that state ever done to Russia? Well, not much as it turns out; nor Russia to Vermont.

Yet again the Post has revised its reporting down to the fact that a laptop, completely unconnected to the grid, according to the energy provider’s statement, had been infected by malware. In other words, there was no Russian hacking into the Vermont power grid.

And yet, because it’s The Washington Post, this fake breaking “news” was taken seriously and metastasized through the body politic of America and beyond. This Russian hacking became a “post-truth” reality, no matter how fact-free the original story. (I hereby propose a #factfreediet for us all on Twitter for January, so we can highlight this phenomenon.)

Explaining Why

But here are the obvious next questions: Why did this non-story appear in The Washington Post and why now? Has The Washington Post suddenly fallen prey to a revamped Operation Mockingbird, its editorial staff stuffed to the gills with CIA agents of influence?

As I have written before, the CIA and its associates within the Deep State appear to be hell bent on undermining the legitimacy of the Trump election result and this hyping of Russian hacking is one of the key weapons in this struggle. So perhaps the Deep State players are (re)activating a few agents of influence in the mainstream American media?

But there may possibly be a more tangential explanation for The Washington Post’s plunge into fiction: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and one of the wealthiest people in the world. Amazon is not only the favorite purveyor of all goods online, but also suspected (at least in the U.K.) of massive tax avoidance scams as well as abusive employment practices in the same country.

Bezos is also, since 2013, the proud owner of The Washington Post, a purchase that heralded his unexpected business swerve into the old mainstream media. The deal to buy the newspaper was reported in the business press to have cost him $250 million.

Interestingly in the same year Amazon cut a deal to develop a cloud-based service for the CIA – a deal worth a reported $600 million over ten years. It also appears that this service has expanded across all 17 of America’s intelligence agencies, so who can tell what it might be worth to Amazon now and in the future?

It is no doubt just an interesting coincidence that the Bezos-owned Washington Post is the fount of the current stream of CIA assertions that the Russians are hacking key U.S. institutions, starting with the DNC – which then somehow became “hacking the election” – and now the utility grid. Bezos himself has asserted that he exerts no direct control over the editorial decisions of the newspaper, and he has left in place many of the neoconservative editors who preceded his stewardship, so there may not be any need for direct orders.

Of course, all state-level players, including the Russians and certainly the Americans, are going to be probing the basic systems underpinning all our countries for vulnerabilities. That is what intelligence agencies do, and it is also what mercenary spy companies do on behalf of their corporate clients, and what hackers (either of the criminal flavor or the socially-minded hacktivists) do too. The dodgy malware, the code, and the vulnerabilities are all out there, often for sale or squirreled away by the national spy agencies for potential future advantage.

Whatever the truth about the DNC hacking allegations, The Washington Post sadly seems uninterested in properly pursuing it – indeed it seems interested in little beyond pursuing the specific political agenda of fanning a dangerous distrust of Russia and undermining the legitimacy of President-elect Trump.

If such a compliant corporate culture had existed back in 1972 at the time of the first DNC “hack,” the Watergate scandal would surely never have been exposed. And the old media still wonders why it is no longer trusted?

Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service (the U.S. counterpart is the FBI).




Kerry’s Belated Israel Truth-telling

After four years of getting “played” by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary of State Kerry told some truths about Israel-Palestine that raised hackles among Netanyahu’s acolytes, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech last week on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an excellent statement of the realities that are inescapable aspects of this conflict and that anyone who claims to deal with the dispute seriously must understand.

Most of those realities the secretary described with admirable clarity and directness. A few others, at least as important, come through between the lines, although the hand of political correctness on matters involving Israel still weighs so heavily that even a Secretary of State with less than a month to go before becoming a private citizen does not feel free to state them directly.

Important points that the Secretary made explicitly, and that should be takeaways from the speech for everyone, include these:

For U.S. policymakers dealing with this conflict, U.S. interests must come first. The United States should not, any more than any other outside party claiming to want to resolve the conflict, act as lawyer for one side or the other. U.S. presidents and secretaries of state are paid to advance the interests of their own country, not those of any foreign government or entity.

As Kerry put it near the outset of his speech, “My job, above all, is to defend the United States of America – to stand up for and defend our values and our interests in the world. And if we were to stand idly by and know that in doing so we are allowing a dangerous dynamic to take hold which promises greater conflict and instability to a region in which we have vital interests, we would be derelict in our own responsibilities.”

A two-state solution, notwithstanding how much out of reach it seems to become each day, is still the only outcome that can provide lasting peace and enable Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state. For the Palestinians, indefinite denial of their own nation-state means indefinite denial of the aspirations for self-determination felt by any other people, and indefinite subjugation, discontent and the inevitable violence that results from such denial. For Israelis, the basic demographic and geographic facts that frame the national choice remain the same as they have always been with regard to being a Jewish state, being democratic, and being in control of all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.  Israel can be any two of those things, but it is impossible to be all three.

To those inclined to discard the idea of a two-state solution right now and to speak of one state, Kerry asked this: “So if there is only one state, you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education, and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of the most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have. And nobody can explain how that works. Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American accept living that way? Will the world accept it?”

Impediments to Peace

Israeli settlements are not the only impediment to a peace settlement, but they are one of the biggest impediments. Apologists for Israeli policies routinely argue in a monocausal way about troubles in the Middle East, saying that if X doesn’t explain everything then we should behave as if it explains nothing. West Bank settlements have often been the X in this mode of argumentation. Kerry went into considerable detail in his speech with facts and figures about how the settlement program is, as a straightforward matter of geography, making a viable Palestinian state less and less of a possibility.  

He observed, “If more and more settlers are moving into the middle of Palestinian areas, it’s going to be just that much harder to separate, that much harder to imagine transferring sovereignty, and that is exactly the outcome that some are purposefully accelerating.”

Condoning expansion of some settlements but not others is not a solution. This is a favorite pseudo-solution to the settlements problem among those who want to appear reasonable while tilting heavily toward Israel and the settlement movement. The underlying presumption is that most of the biggest and oldest settlement blocs will become part of Israel in a final agreement, so we should be cool with new construction there and limit our displeasure to newer settlements that are even deeper in the West Bank.

Such a formula flouts the principle of international law that prohibits any colonization by the conqueror of militarily conquered territory. It also flouts the concept—repeatedly voiced at least as much by the Israeli government as by anyone else—that the terms of a final agreement should be determined in direct negotiations between the parties and not predetermined, including by outsiders.

Kerry aptly described the problem as being that “the decision of what constitutes a bloc is being made unilaterally by the Israeli Government, without consultation, without the consent of the Palestinians, and without granting the Palestinians a reciprocal right to build in what will be, by most accounts, part of Palestine.”

Settlements do not contribute to Israeli security, and instead detract from it. Kerry noted how many settlements “actually increase the security burden on the Israeli Defense Forces.” He also could have mentioned how prominently the Israeli occupation, including the colonization through settlements, has figured as a cause célèbre for extremist violence.

Unsustainable Occupation

It’s not only the colonization through settlements, but also other aspects of the occupation, that are unsustainable. They also are a form of oppression and denial of rights to an entire population. Kerry spoke of visiting West Bank communities where he “met Palestinians struggling for basic freedom and dignity amidst the occupation, passed by military checkpoints that can make even the most routine daily trips to work or school an ordeal, and heard from business leaders who could not get the permits that they needed to get their products to the market and families who have struggled to secure permission just to travel for needed medical care.”

The position of the international community on the issue of the occupation has been one of overwhelming consensus (except for the United States and Israel) and consistency. The resolution passed by the Security Council last month was not a departure, despite contentions that it was. The distinction drawn between Israel and the territory it occupies is consistent with the consensus view that Israel is a full and legitimate member of the community of nations while its occupation of Palestinian territory is illegitimate.

Neither is there anything new in the resolution involving East Jerusalem — which is just as much a part of militarily conquered territory as the rest of the West Bank and just as much subject to negotiation to determine final status, rather than having that status determined by unilateral and expansive line-drawing by one of the parties.

The characteristics of a lasting and fair peace have been well known for some time. The terms still must be determined through negotiations between the parties, but this is not as if there were doubt about what the overall shape would have to be to constitute a lasting peace, or doubt about it being possible to construct a workable two-state solution — at least until and unless continued Israeli colonization through settlements extinguishes that possibility altogether. Kerry described the necessary characteristics by laying out six general principles for any agreement — principles that many different international statesmen could have expressed in very similar terms in previous years, and that many have in fact expressed.

In addition to these realities, the dedication of this Secretary of State, and the president under whom he serves, to work for outcomes that would serve the security and well-being of Israel as well as other concerned parties comes through strongly.

Thomas Friedman captures this well when he writes, “Barack Obama and John Kerry admire and want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. I have covered this issue my entire adult life and have never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy.”

President Obama bestowed on Israel the biggest aid package that the United States has ever given to anyone, and before last month he was the only U.S. president who, using the U.S. veto power, had never allowed the United Nations Security Council to pass any resolution critical of Israel. Against this background, the calumnies being thrown at Mr. Obama by the Israeli government and those who follow its lead are offensive and inexcusable.

Between the Lines

Secretary Kerry’s speech reflected some additional realities in a more subtle and indirect way, including the following.

The current Israeli government rejects a two-state solution. By now, not only the deeds but even the words of this government and its senior members have made obvious how much of a smokescreen have been Prime Minister Netanyahu’s occasional utterances, intended for international audiences, ostensibly accepting the idea of a Palestinian state. Power in Israel has moved toward members of the hard right who are unabashed about openly rejecting the concept of such a state and openly calling for annexation of occupied territory. It takes two negotiating partners to make a deal. Right now there is no such partner on the Israeli side. There will not be until and unless there is a major political redirection in Israel.

There is huge asymmetry in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Secretary Kerry — although striving to observe the usual convention about casting comparable blame on both sides, and devoting a significant part of his speech to offenses and shortcomings on the Palestinian side — touched on this lightly at a couple of points in his speech, such as in quoting the pertinent observation of Shimon Peres: “The original mandate gave the Palestinians 48 percent, now it’s down to 22 percent. I think 78 percent is enough for us.”

The asymmetry is patently huge regarding the instruments of power, including instruments to inflict armed violence. It is fundamentally huge in the sense that one side is the occupier and the other side is the occupied. It is within the power of an occupier, but not the occupied, to end an occupation.

This asymmetry sheds light on the attitudes of each side toward negotiations and who does or does not want to negotiate in good faith, a subject on which there have been many accusations with little regard for the historical record. One can cut through the cloud of accusations by reflecting on what each side would have to gain from not negotiating in good faith.

Most Israelis currently don’t have it all that bad with continuation of the status quo, and their rightist leaders evidently think they can keep a good thing going indefinitely despite the aforementioned demographic and geographic facts. The Palestinians, by contrast, are obviously the big losers in a continuation of the status quo: no state, no self-determination, no end to their subjugation, and no unilateral means to end any of this. They have ample reason to negotiate seriously, because they know a negotiated peace is the only way out of their current predicament.

The asymmetry also gives perspective to Israeli complaints, a crescendo of which followed last week’s Security Council resolution, about being singled out for criticisms not directed at others. As a reading of this resolution suggests, if Israel receives criticism that others don’t, it is because Israel is doing things that others don’t.

There is no doubt that if Palestinians or other Arabs were colonizing land that they had seized through military force from Israel, such colonization would be every bit as much the target of critical Security Council resolutions. But Palestinians aren’t colonizing seized land, and as Kerry noted, they are being kept from building even on land that is supposed to be theirs.

Different Interests

U.S. interests differ substantially from Israeli interests, especially as the latter are defined by the current Israeli government. A cottage industry has grown up over the past couple of years devoted to highlighting bad chemistry between Obama and Netanyahu, but personalities and chemistry between leaders have little to do with strain in U.S.-Israeli relations. Sure, dealing with the likes of Netanyahu tends to stimulate personal irritation, but that is hardly specific to Obama. It was Bill Clinton who, after his first meeting with the importunate Israeli prime minister, said with exasperation, “Who’s the f***ing superpower here?”

The main strands of Israeli policy — and certainly almost everything having to do with the settlement program and occupation policies in general, which constitute a very large part of what Israeli policy is about — are not only incongruent with U.S. interests but directly opposed to them. This will be true as long as those policies continue, even if the prime minister were to get a personality transplant.

There is every reason to believe that the United States and Israel can be good friends, especially when bearing in mind that the current right-wing government represents only one part of what is a spectrum of diverse views within Israel. And friends don’t let friends drive drunk.

As Friedman observes, it’s unfortunate that President-elect Trump is “passing Israel another bottle of wine.” Or as Secretary Kerry put it, “Regrettably, some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles – even after urging again and again that the policy must change. Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

Commentary often seen in the opinion pages that seems to assume a perfectly harmonious no-daylight-between-us relationship as what should be normal in U.S.-Israel relations, and that searches for missteps by the U.S. administration of the day as the reason the relationship is not perfectly harmonious, disregards the serious underlying conflict of interests. This conflict of interests routinely gets disguised with the term “ally” — a term that usually refers to mutually beneficial cooperation and commitment but in this case is applied to a one-way relationship in which enormous largesse in one direction is met in the other direction by such behavior as undermining the patron’s foreign policy initiatives and interfering in its internal politics.

Netanyahu’s government seems to go out of its way to poke a stick in the eye of its benefactor, with the settlement program one of its favorite sticks. Neither incorrect use of a term not tweets about how harmony will break out on January 20 can hide such realities.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.) 




The War Against Alternative Information

The U.S. government is creating a new $160 million bureaucracy to shut down information that doesn’t conform to U.S. propaganda narratives, building on the strategy that sold the bloody Syrian “regime change” war, writes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

The U.S. establishment is not content simply to have domination over the media narratives on critical foreign policy issues, such as Syria, Ukraine and Russia. It wants total domination. Thus we now have the “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act” that President Obama signed into law on Dec. 23 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, setting aside $160 million to combat any “propaganda” that challenges Official Washington’s version of reality.

The new law mandates the U.S. Secretary of State to collaborate with the Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence and other federal agencies to create a Global Engagement Center “to lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.” The law directs the Center to be formed in 180 days and to share expertise among agencies and to “coordinate with allied nations.”

The legislation was initiated in March 2016, as the demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia was already underway and was enacted amid the allegations of “Russian hacking” around the U.S. presidential election and the mainstream media’s furor over supposedly “fake news.” Defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for the bill: “It’s imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy, and innocent lives.”

The new law is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least because it merges a new McCarthyism about purported dissemination of Russian “propaganda” on the Internet with a new Orwellianism by creating a kind of Ministry of Truth – or Global Engagement Center – to protect the American people from “foreign propaganda and disinformation.”

As part of the effort to detect and defeat these unwanted narratives, the law authorizes the Center to: “Facilitate the use of a wide range of technologies and techniques by sharing expertise among Federal departments and agencies, seeking expertise from external sources, and implementing best practices.” (This section is an apparent reference to proposals that Google, Facebook and other technology companies find ways to block or brand certain Internet sites as purveyors of “Russian propaganda” or “fake news.”)

Justifying this new bureaucracy, the bill’s sponsors argued that the existing agencies for “strategic communications” and “public diplomacy” were not enough, that the information threat required “a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power.”

The law also is rife with irony since the U.S. government and related agencies are among the world’s biggest purveyors of propaganda and disinformation – or what you might call evidence-free claims, such as the recent accusations of Russia hacking into Democratic emails to “influence” the U.S. election.

Despite these accusations — leaked by the Obama administration and embraced as true by the mainstream U.S. news media — there is little or no public evidence to support the charges. There is also a contradictory analysis by veteran U.S. intelligence professionals as well as statements by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and an associate, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, that the Russians were not the source of the leaks. Yet, the mainstream U.S. media has virtually ignored this counter-evidence, appearing eager to collaborate with the new “Global Engagement Center” even before it is officially formed.

Of course, there is a long history of U.S. disinformation and propaganda. Former CIA agents Philip Agee and John Stockwell documented how it was done decades ago, secretly planting “black propaganda” and covertly funding media outlets to influence events around the world, with much of the fake news blowing back into the American media.

In more recent decades, the U.S. government has adopted an Internet-era version of that formula with an emphasis on having the State Department or the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy supply, train and pay “activists” and “citizen journalists” to create and distribute propaganda and false stories via “social media” and via contacts with the mainstream media. The U.S. government’s strategy also seeks to undermine and discredit journalists who challenge this orthodoxy. The new legislation escalates this information war by tossing another $160 million into the pot.

Propaganda and Disinformation on Syria

Syria is a good case study in the modern application of information warfare. In her memoir Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote that the U.S. provided “support for (Syrian) civilian opposition groups, including satellite-linked computers, telephones, cameras, and training for more than a thousand activists, students and independent journalists.”

Indeed, a huge amount of money has gone to “activists” and “civil society” groups in Syria and other countries that have been targeted for “regime change.” A lot of the money also goes to parent organizations that are based in the United States and Europe, so these efforts do not only support on-the-ground efforts to undermine the targeted countries, but perhaps even more importantly, the money influences and manipulates public opinion in the West.

In North America, representatives from the Syrian “Local Coordination Committees” (LCC) were frequent guests on popular media programs such as “DemocracyNow.” The message was clear: there is a “revolution” in Syria against a “brutal regime” personified in Bashar al-Assad. It was not mentioned that the “Local Coordination Committees” have been primarily funded by the West, specifically the Office for Syrian Opposition Support, which was founded by the U.S. State Department and the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

More recently, news and analysis about Syria has been conveyed through the filter of the White Helmets, also known as Syrian Civil Defense. In the Western news media, the White Helmets are described as neutral, non-partisan, civilian volunteers courageously carrying out rescue work in the war zone. In fact, the group is none of the above. It was initiated by the U.S. and U.K. using a British military contractor and Brooklyn-based marketing company.

While they may have performed some genuine rescue operations, the White Helmets are primarily a media organization with a political goal: to promote NATO intervention in Syria. (The manipulation of public opinion using the White Helmets and promoted by the New York Times and Avaaz petition for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria is documented here.)

The White Helmets hoax continues to be widely believed and receives uncritical promotion though it has increasingly been exposed at alternative media outlets as the creation of a “shady PR firm.” During critical times in the conflict in Aleppo, White Helmet individuals have been used as the source for important news stories despite a track record of deception.

Recent Propaganda: Blatant Lies?

As the armed groups in east Aleppo recently lost ground and then collapsed, Western governments and allied media went into a frenzy of accusations against Syria and Russia based on reports from sources connected with the armed opposition. CNN host Wolf Blitzer described Aleppo as “falling” in a “slaughter of these women and children” while CNN host Jake Tapper referred to “genocide by another name.”

The Daily Beast published the claims of the Aleppo Siege Media Center under the title “Doomsday is held in Aleppo” and amid accusations that the Syrian army was executing civilians, burning them alive and “20 women committed suicide in order not to be raped.” These sensational claims were widely broadcast without verification. However, this “news” on CNN and throughout Western media came from highly biased sources and many of the claims – lacking anything approaching independent corroboration – could be accurately described as propaganda and disinformation.

Ironically, some of the supposedly “Russian propaganda” sites, such as RT, have provided first-hand on-the-ground reporting from the war zones with verifiable information that contradicts the Western narrative and thus has received almost no attention in the U.S. news media. For instance, some of these non-Western outlets have shown videos of popular celebrations over the “liberation of Aleppo.”

There has been further corroboration of these realities from peace activists, such as Jan Oberg of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research who published a photo essay of his eyewitness observations in Aleppo including the happiness of civilians from east Aleppo reaching the government-controlled areas of west Aleppo, finally freed from areas that had been controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and its jihadist allies in Ahrar al-Sham.

Dr. Nabil Antaki, a medical doctor from Aleppo, described the liberation of Aleppo in an interview titled “Aleppo is Celebrating, Free from Terrorists, the Western Media Misinformed.” The first Christmas celebrations in Aleppo in four years are shown here, replete with marching band members in Santa Claus outfits. Journalist Vanessa Beeley has published testimonies of civilians from east Aleppo. The happiness of civilians at their liberation is clear.

Whether or not you wish to accept these depictions of the reality in Aleppo, at a minimum, they reflect another side of the story that you have been denied while being persistently force-fed the version favored by the U.S. State Department. The goal of the new Global Engagement Center to counter “foreign propaganda” is to ensure that you never get to hear this alternative narrative to the Western propaganda line.

Even much earlier, contrary to the Western mythology of rebel “liberated zones,” there was strong evidence that the armed groups were never popular in Aleppo. American journalist James Foley described the situation in 2012 like this:

“Aleppo, a city of about 3 million people, was once the financial heart of Syria. As it continues to deteriorate, many civilians here are losing patience with the increasingly violent and unrecognizable opposition — one that is hampered by infighting and a lack of structure, and deeply infiltrated by both foreign fighters and terrorist groups. The rebels in Aleppo are predominantly from the countryside, further alienating them from the urban crowd that once lived here peacefully, in relative economic comfort and with little interference from the authoritarian government of President Bashar al-Assad.”

On Nov. 22, 2012, Foley was kidnapped in northwestern Syria and held by Islamic State terrorists before his beheading in August 2014.

The Overall Narrative on Syria

Analysis of the Syrian conflict boils down to two competing narratives. One narrative is that the conflict is a fight for freedom and democracy against a brutal regime, a storyline promoted in the West and the Gulf states, which have been fueling the conflict from the start. This narrative is also favored by some self-styled “anti-imperialists” who want a “Syrian revolution.”

The other narrative is that the conflict is essentially a war of aggression against a sovereign state, with the aggressors including NATO countries, Gulf monarchies, Israel and Jordan. Domination of the Western media by these powerful interests is so thorough that one almost never gets access to this second narrative, which is essentially banned from not only the mainstream but also much of the liberal and progressive media.

For example, listeners and viewers of the generally progressive TV and radio program “DemocracyNow” have rarely if ever heard the second narrative described in any detail. Instead, the program frequently broadcasts the statements of Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and others associated with the U.S. position. Rarely do you hear the viewpoint of the Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations, the Syrian Foreign Minister or analysts inside Syria and around the world who have written about and follow events there closely.

“DemocracyNow” also has done repeated interviews with proponents of the “Syrian revolution” while ignoring analysts who call the conflict a war of aggression sponsored by the West and the Gulf monarchies. This blackout of the second narrative continues despite the fact that many prominent international figures see it as such. For example, the former Foreign Minister of Nicaragua and former President of the UN General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto, has said, “What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.”

In many areas of politics, “DemocracyNow” is excellent and challenges mainstream media. However in this area, coverage of the Syrian conflict, the broadcast is biased, one-sided and echoes the news and analysis of mainstream Western corporate media, showing the extent of control over foreign policy news that already exists in the United States and Europe.

Suppressing and Censoring Challenges

Despite the widespread censorship of alternative analyses on Syria and other foreign hotspots that already exists in the West, the U.S. government’s new “Global Engagement Center” will seek to ensure that the censorship is even more complete with its goal to “counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation.” We can expect even more aggressive and better-financed assaults on the few voices daring to challenge the West’s “group thinks” – smear campaigns that are already quite extensive.

In an article titled “Controlling the Narrative on Syria”, Louis Allday describes the criticisms and attacks on journalists Rania Khalek and Max Blumenthal for straying from the “approved” Western narrative on Syria. Some of the bullying and abuse has come from precisely those people, such as Robin Yassin-Kassab, who have been frequent guests in liberal Western media.

Reporters who have returned from Syria with accounts that challenge the propaganda themes that have permeated the Western media also have come under attack. For instance, Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett recently returned to North America after being in Syria and Aleppo, conveying a very different image and critical of the West’s biased media coverage. Bartlett appeared at a United Nations press conference and then did numerous interviews across the country during a speaking tour. During the course of her talks and presentation, Bartlett criticized the White Helmets and questioned whether it was true that Al Quds Hospital in opposition-held East Aleppo was attacked and destroyed as claimed.

Bartlett’s recounting of this information made her a target of Snopes, which has been a mostly useful website exposing urban legends and false rumors but has come under criticism itself for some internal challenges and has been inconsistent in its investigations. In one report entitled “White Helmet Hearsay,” Snopes’ writer Bethania Palmer says claims the White Helmets are “linked to terrorists” is “unproven,” but she overlooks numerous videos, photos, and other reports showing White Helmet members celebrating a Nusra/Al Qaeda battle victory, picking up the bodies of civilians executed by a Nusra executioner, and having a member who alternatively appears as a rebel/terrorist fighter with a weapon and later wearing a White Helmet uniform. The “fact check” barely scrapes the surface of public evidence.

The same writer did another shallow “investigation” titled “victim blaming” regarding Bartlett’s critique of White Helmet videos and what happened at the Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo. Bartlett suggests that some White Helmet videos may be fabricated and may feature the same child at different times, i.e., photographs that appear to show the same girl being rescued by White Helmet workers at different places and times. While it is uncertain whether this is the same girl, the similarity is clear. 

The Snopes writer goes on to criticize Bartlett for her comments about the reported bombing of Al Quds Hospital in east Aleppo in April 2016. A statement at the website of Doctors Without Borders says the building was “destroyed and reduced to rubble,” but this was clearly false since photos show the building with unclear damage. Five months later, the September 2016 report by Doctors Without Borders says the top two floors of the building were destroyed and the ground floor Emergency Room damaged yet they re-opened in two weeks.

The many inconsistencies and contradictions in the statements of Doctors Without Borders resulted in an open letter to them. In their last report, Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF) acknowledges that “MSF staff did not directly witness the attack and has not visited Al Quds Hospital since 2014.”

Bartlett referenced satellite images taken before and after the reported attack on the hospital. The images do not show severe damage and it is unclear whether or not there is any damage to the roof, the basis for Bartlett’s statement. In the past week, independent journalists have visited the scene of Al Quds Hospital and report that that the top floors of the building are still there and damage is unclear.

The Snopes’ investigation criticizing Bartlett was superficial and ignored the broader issues of accuracy and integrity in the Western media’s depiction of the Syrian conflict. Instead the article appeared to be an effort to discredit the eyewitness observations and analysis of a journalist who dared challenge the mainstream narrative.

U.S. propaganda and disinformation on Syria has been extremely effective in misleading much of the American population. Thus, most Americans are unaware how many billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on yet another “regime change” project. The propaganda campaign – having learned from the successful demonizations of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and other targeted leaders – has been so masterful regarding Syria that many liberal and progressive news outlets were pulled in. It has been left to RT and some Internet outlets to challenge the U.S. government and the mainstream media.

But the U.S. government’s near total control of the message doesn’t appear to be enough. Apparently even a few voices of dissent are a few voices too many.

The enactment of HR5181, “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation,” suggests that the ruling powers seek to escalate suppression of news and analyses that run counter to the official narrative. Backed by a new infusion of $160 million, the plan is to further squelch skeptical voices with operation for “countering” and “refuting” what the U.S. government deems to be propaganda and disinformation.

As part of the $160 million package, funds can be used to hire or reward “civil society groups, media content providers, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions.”

Among the tasks that these private entities can be hired to perform is to identify and investigate both print and online sources of news that are deemed to be distributing “disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda directed at the United States and its allies and partners.”

In other words, we are about to see an escalation of the information war.

Rick Sterling is an independent investigative journalist. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached at rsterling1@gmail.com




Trump and Revenge of the ‘Realists’

Henry Kissinger’s potential role as an intermediary between President-elect Trump and Russian President Putin suggests a comeback by the old-line “realists” versus the neocons and liberal interventionists, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

During a holiday getaway to India, I picked up the local newspaper, The Times of India, and encountered an article entitled “From Russia with Love” by Indian political observer Swagato Ganguly with the subtitle: “A rapprochement between Putin and Trump could transform the world in 2017.”

The author set this prediction within the broader context of a possible return to the “Westphalian principle of sovereignty, which bars intervention in another state’s domestic affairs.” The article goes on to ask: “What If Trump were to repeat Nixon’s rapprochement in reverse? President Nixon’s handshake with Chairman Mao in 1972 may have decisively tilted the Cold War in America’s favour, as it broke the Chinese away from the Soviet bloc. Today China, rather than Russia is America’s principal strategic rival.”

This Indian international affairs prognosis was based on Henry Kissinger’s identification of the Peace of Westphalia principles as the key to Realpolitik and on implementation of his signature strategy from the past even if Kissinger was not mentioned. Kissinger’s strategy was to ensure that Washington was closer to Beijing and to Moscow than either of the two was to one another, a relevant point again given Kissinger’s reappearance on the political scene in recent days.

The question of Henry Kissinger’s possible designation as a foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump and specifically as intermediary between Trump and Vladimir Putin for normalization of relations arose after the 93-year-old Kissinger gave a series of interviews to the German newspaper Bild and other media in the days before Christmas.

In the less serious media outlets, we heard about Kissinger’s special rapport with Putin with whom, we are told, he has met often. These same gossips tell us that in Moscow Kissinger’s expertise and experience are held in high regard. All of these glib statements are deeply flawed, however. They are more appropriate to society pages or People magazine than to serious discussion of where former Secretary of State Kissinger can and should fit into the evolving foreign policy team that President-elect Trump is assembling, and to what that foreign policy should reasonably resemble.

The superficial comments also ignore the record of Henry Kissinger’s policy recommendations on Russia in the decades since the end of the Cold War, which place him squarely among those responsible for getting us into the confrontation with Russia that reached its climax under Barack Obama. And, these comments miss how the times and the challenges we face today are so very different from the late 1960s and early 1970s when Kissinger and Nixon made their very important changes to the architecture of international relations.

Real Positives

But there are some real positives in Henry Kissinger’s emergence among Trump’s advisers. Kissinger brings an aura of intellectual rigor to the Trump camp as America’s best-known thinker and practitioner of the Realist School of international affairs, meaning a foreign policy based on national interest. That is a more accurate and less aggressive packaging than the “America First” slogan, which Donald Trump used during his electoral campaign, though the intent of both terms is identical.

Even Harvard Professor Ernest May, a severe critic of Kissinger over Vietnam War policies, wrote of him in letters published in The New York Times in 1994: “Mr. Kissinger’s scholarly credentials and public stature give his name on the title page the quality of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”

At the same time, beginning in the 1990s, Henry Kissinger modified his message of realism to accommodate the then-dominant American school of idealism, or values-based foreign policy. This mixed message resulted from Kissinger’s defending himself from the ridicule of the triumphant neoconservatives who criticized his détente policies of the 1970s for seeking merely to manage relations with the Soviet Union when the overthrow of the “Evil Empire” was entirely possible, as later events had seemingly proven through the uncompromising “promotion of democracy” as practiced by Ronald Reagan.

Thus, the updated Kissinger line was that universal moral principles serve as the ultimate objective of foreign policy, but realism must guide the day-to-day management of international affairs. Lest this seem to be a neat division between tactics and strategy, the two become confused in Kissinger’s public stance given that he always has placed primary emphasis on achieving a “balance of power” in the international community, which alone can keep the peace and safeguard the vital interests of all parties.

Thus, it would be fair to say that Kissinger is a realist who at times uses idealist vocabulary to meet the expectations of and to motivate the general public, which is unmoved by considerations of balance of power and realism.

Finally, in speaking of the gravitas that Kissinger may bring to the Trump team, he is correctly perceived as a champion of the art of diplomacy, which is another word for compromise and deal-making. It is precisely diplomacy that has been sorely lacking in the U.S. government in recent decades. Under both Republican and Democratic presidents, ideology has held sway at the State Department and in the White House.

Some Negatives

The most severe negative one can say about Kissinger and Russia goes back to the fateful year 1994. In 1993, Boris Yeltsin had made an important visit to Warsaw during which he withdrew all Russian objections to Poland’s joining NATO. The clearly understood quid pro quo, which the Kremlin expected for this major concession to U.S. and Polish wishes, was that Russia be named next in line for membership in the club. Indeed, during 1994, the Clinton Administration was weighing that very possibility. At this point, in Congressional testimony, Henry Kissinger delivered strong objections and played a significant role in the defeat of Russia’s candidacy.

We get a fairly good idea of Kissinger’s reasoning back then in the passages relating to American policy on Russia in the last chapter of his 1994 master work Diplomacy. A realistic approach to Russia meant America had to look at the respective foreign policy interests and national traditions, and to pay less attention to domestic Russian politics and the personalities of its leaders.

Kissinger said this meant taking into account Russia’s long tradition of expansionism, as evidenced by military bases in the former Soviet republics and interventionism in their “near abroad.” And as if to drive a stake through the heart of unnecessary chumminess with Moscow, Kissinger reminded his readers that Russia had always stood apart from the Western world. It had no democratic traditions or familiarity with modern market economics. In his words, it did not partake of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Age of Discovery.

Indeed, Kissinger’s thinking about Russian history is so clear one might imagine he knows what he is talking about. The question is of key importance because the Realist School is built upon the assumption that one can accurately appraise the strengths of all players and that one has a solid knowledge of the history and traditions of the players. In this it distinguishes itself from idealism, with its focus on universal values and disinterest in regional knowledge.

From Kissinger’s own academic career in studying European diplomacy in the Nineteenth Century, Russia should have been on his plate, given that the country was one of the three decisive players in the first half of the century (Holy Alliance) and one of the five or six decisive players in the second half of the century. However, that was manifestly not the case.

Kissinger is widely reputed to be a voracious reader. Yet, it is obvious that Russia has never and does not now figure among the topics he reads. In Diplomacy, for his analysis of Russia, he relied on the very dated Nineteenth Century classics of Russian history like Vasily Klyuchevsky that he read in translation during his graduate student days at Harvard.

Klyuchevsky is unquestionably a good starting point for students of Russian history. He was the father of the historiography that came down to Kissinger in the person of Michael Karpovich, the founder of Russian studies at Harvard. But his notion of Russia’s manifest destiny of borders moving out across the Eurasian land mass was part of a Liberal and anti-tsarist historiography. By today’s standards, reading Klyuchevsky has mainly curiosity value. To put the issue in terms closer to an American reader, it is as if Kissinger were using de Tocqueville as the key source for writing about contemporary America.

Among the main Twentieth Century works on Russia cited in Kissinger are those by his comrade in realism, George Kennan. Notwithstanding Kennan’s generally high reputation in Washington, his choice of sources and interpretation of Russia is tendentious in ways that Kissinger was unable to judge, and that is why it is regrettable Kissinger did not read other sources.

Kissinger’s argument in Diplomacy for the separateness of Russian history may be no more than the conventional wisdom of his times. He speaks of Russia as a paradox, an obvious allusion to Winston Churchill’s witticism that Russia was “a riddle wrapped in an enigma.” But then Churchill was not a serious scholar and Kissinger is assumed to be one. The notion of separateness is, in fact, misleading if not fallacious.

Kissinger’s prescription for a policy vis-à-vis Russia after the Cold War assumed that “imperial expansionism” was the country’s defining national tradition. But then the same was true of all the key world powers. Kissinger indulges in tired mystification of Russia drawing on the Nineteenth Century nationalist movement and writers such as Dostoevsky. Such smoke and mirrors writing would be seen as unduly psychological and irrelevant to foreign relations if someone served them up as a description of Germany, for instance. Thus, we read in Kissinger: “The paradox of Russian history lies in the continuing ambivalence between messianic drive and a pervasive sense of insecurity. In its ultimate aberration, this ambivalence generated a fear that, unless the empire expanded, it would implode.”

It is rather sad to consider that one of America’s great scholar-statesmen of the Twentieth Century was taken in by mystical tripe when formulating and implementing the nation’s policies towards its chief nuclear adversary. This puts into question the validity of attention to history and local specifics, which Kissinger says are distinguishing features of realism versus idealism, which operates amid universalistic over-simplifications.

Russian Uniqueness?

Henry Kissinger’s later writings offering foreign policy recommendations for the world at large and specific major countries in particular display the same wrong footing when dealing with Russia. His 2001 opus facetiously entitled Does America Need a Foreign Policy? is a case in point. Kissinger breaks the international community into regional groupings and Russia is placed among the “great powers of Asia.”

Once again Kissinger tells us “Russia has always been sui generis – especially when compared with its European neighbors” – a fancy way of saying Russia is not like the others. His highlighting the “mystical” Russian Orthodox Church and autocracy suggests a trite approach to this complex nation. We hear again of Russia’s “creeping expansionism” as a returning theme of Russian history.

Kissinger rightfully faults American policy to Russia for excessive personalization of relations at the expense of sober reflections on respective interests and institutions to drive and implement any rapprochement. But then he falls prey to personalization himself. He characterizes the then new Russian President Vladimir Putin as a KGB operative whose secret police background presupposed a strong national commitment: “It leads to a foreign policy comparable to that during the tsarist centuries, grounding popular support in a sense of Russian mission and seeking to dominate neighbors where they cannot be subjugated.”

If this argumentation, this jumping to conclusions, were delivered by anyone other than Henry Kissinger, one might dismiss it offhandedly. What we have here is the soft underbelly of Realpolitik: realism can be only as useful as the expertise and judgment of its practitioner.

At the same time, Kissinger’s bark was more fearsome than his bite. In his specific remarks on how America should conduct its foreign policy towards Russia, he urged moderation, continued readiness to assist the country with its transition to democracy and free markets, and attentiveness to Russia’s voice in international forums.

Note especially his comment on prospective NATO expansion into the Baltic States, which Kissinger believed in 2001 would be provocative, saying it would put NATO forces within 30 miles of St Petersburg, one of Russia’s largest population centers. He correctly foresaw that  “Advancing the NATO integrated command this close to key centers of Russia might mortgage the possibilities of relating Russia to the emerging world order as a constructive member.”

But it is curious that in his 2001 book Kissinger was unable to offer any serious incentives for Russia to behave nobly. He derided even the watered down affiliation of Russia with NATO in the NATO-Russia Council. He believed it gave the Russians too much say and was “not the wisest solution.”

Finally, he dropped all pretense at diplomatic niceties, telling his readers that “NATO is basically a military alliance, part of whose purpose is the protection of Europe against a reimperializing Russia. … To couple NATO expansion with even partial Russian membership in NATO was, in a sense, merging two contradictory courses of action … [As] Russia becomes a de facto NATO member, NATO ceases to be an alliance, or becomes a vague collective security instrument.”

Rethinking the Group Think

Having participated actively in keeping Russia out of the security architecture of Europe, Kissinger became alarmed in recent years by the consequences of such exclusion as Russia and the U.S.-led West slid into mutual recriminations and confrontation. From this point on, Henry Kissinger began to play a clearly constructive role in the midst of each successive crisis in relations that threatened war.

The first case was in 2008-09 when bilateral relations hit bottom during and after the Russian-Georgian War. The second has come in 2013 to the present, when in the context of the developments in and around Ukraine, Russia and the U.S. became actively engaged in what is a proxy war, entailing as well economic and information wars.

For instance, in November 2014, Kissinger was one of the few prominent Westerners who dared question the prevailing narrative blaming Putin and Russia almost exclusively for the crisis in Ukraine. Kissinger said, in an interview with the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, that the West was exaggerating the significance of the Crimean annexation given the peninsula’s long historic ties to Russia.

“The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest,” Kissinger said. “It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia” as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others suggested.

Kissinger noted that prior to the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, Putin had no intention getting involved in a crisis in Ukraine, saying:

“Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.”

Instead Kissinger argued that the West with its strategy of pulling Ukraine into the orbit of the European Union was responsible for the crisis by failing to understand Russian sensitivity over Ukraine and making the grave mistake of quickly pushing the confrontation beyond dialogue.

But Kissinger also faulted Putin for his reaction to the crisis. “This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate,” Kissinger said.

Still, Kissinger told Der Spiegel, “a resumption of the Cold War would be a historic tragedy. If a conflict is avoidable, on a basis reflecting morality and security, one should try to avoid it. We have to remember that Russia is an important part of the international system, and therefore useful in solving all sorts of other crises, for example in the agreement on nuclear proliferation with Iran or over Syria. This has to have preference over a tactical escalation in a specific case.”

Kissinger could well bring such a practical perspective to the incoming Trump administration and have the gravitas to force Official Washington to undertake a rethinking of its current Russia-bashing “group think.”

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 20, 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016

 




Hypocrisy Over Alleged Russian ‘Hacking’

As Official Washington rages over alleged Russian hacking of Democratic emails, a forgotten back story is how the U.S. government pioneered the tactics of cyber-war and attacked unsuspecting countries, recalls Michael Brenner.

By Michael Brenner

The psychodrama over the alleged but unsubstantiated Russian hacking of Democratic emails to influence the U.S. presidential election has yet to reach its climax. Already, though, it has earned nomination as the most surreal and passionate work of fiction of the Twenty-first Century.

In all the excitement, it is easy to lose perspective. Perhaps the biggest piece of the untold story is the United States government’s pioneering role in electronic surveillance and hacking. We seem to have forgotten that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency eavesdropped on heads of state in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Iraq, Venezuela – and, at last count, several score other capitals. Also, the United Nations Secretary General, the President of the European Union Commission, the European Central Bank and God knows whom else.

This was not coincidental. It was part of a calculated strategy approved by two successive Presidents to monitor all electronic communications around the globe. Author James Bamford and other knowledgeable experts have provided us with a detailed history of the program.

Yet, the U.S. — as presented to us by the mainstream media and most commentators reflecting Official Washington –is portrayed as the innocent among the main protagonists. The plot line represents America as the victim of unprovoked cyber aggression by the Russians and, in other circumstances, the Chinese – these attacks coming out of the blue, an aggressive blow in an assumed contest for global dominance between the powers.

Is any of this true? Frankly, we haven’t even seen the proof. But let’s assume that there is an element of truth to it (leaving apart the nonsense about a Kremlin plot to manipulate and then destroy American democracy).

On the Offensive

Let us recall that it was the United States that launched the first cyber attacks – some years ago by the NSA. This history is detailed in the Snowden documents whose authenticity never has been questioned. We succeeded in trespassing on the computer networks of several Chinese government agencies and individuals. We boasted about our success in intra-governmental communications. Those occurred at a time when related documents now in the public realm revealed the NSA’s ambition to tap into every electronic communications network in the world and laid out a program for achieving that goal.

Simultaneously, the United States was launching offensive assaults on Iran. The targets there included not just their nuclear research facilities but also critical centers for the oil and gas industry. These are acts of war. Yet there was never a mandate from any international body for doing so, nor a casus belli. We did it in collaboration with the Israelis because we made the unilateral judgment that aggression was in our national interest. Now we are outraged that others are doing what we have done. This is rank hypocrisy. It also is not very bright. For the initial actions made the casual assumptions that the U.S. would always have an advantage; therefore, the setting of norms and rules was unnecessary and undesirable. The same logic operated in regard to drones and targeted assassinations.

Conditions now have changed and the now U.S. is vulnerable to attack. The option of negotiating international rules of the road and perhaps formal regulations is slipping away. We will have to live with the chaotic mess that we have created.

Whatever thinking the NSA did on the subject (and perhaps other agencies) bears an uncanny resemblance to Air Force General Curtis LeMay’s attitude toward nuclear strategy: An emphasis on offense because it played to our advantage; defense only in the form of “massive retaliation” which – for Lemay – was the strategic cover for massive first strike; and a conviction that this was an unavoidable zero-sum game played for the highest stakes. In other words, cowboy strategy. And it is cowboy strategic thinking that has ruled in the NSA.

Cyber Army

The most revealing article on this appeared in WIRED in July 2014 by James Bamford. Army General Keith Alexander, who was NSA director from 2005 to 2014, revealed the full scope of his ambition. Here are some of the article’s more noteworthy quotes: “For years, U.S. General Keith Alexander has been amassing a secret cyber army. Now it’s ready to attack. … Alexander’s forces are formidable – thousands of NSA spies, plus 14,000 cyber troops. … Endgame hunts for hidden security weaknesses that are ripe for exploitation.”

Plans included a “launch on warning” doctrine calling for a massive cyber-retaliation against anyone who launched a strategic attack on sensitive U.S. computers. Its code name was “MonsterMind.” But preparations for the Great Cyber War evidently left no time to keep track of smaller attacks (such as the alleged hacking of Democratic emails) or else its radar was badly defective.

[Also see THE INTERCEPT of Oct. 10, 2014, “Core Secrets: NSA Saboteurs in China and Germany” by Peter Maass and Laura Poitras.]

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




Details Still Lacking on Russian ‘Hack’

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. media is all atwitter about Russia having to pay a price for hacking into Democratic emails and supposedly tilting the U.S. election to Donald Trump, but the evidence still is lacking, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Amid more promises of real evidence to come, the Obama administration released a report that again failed to demonstrate that there is any proof behind U.S. allegations that Russia both hacked into Democratic emails and distributed them via WikiLeaks to the American people.

The New York Times, which has been busy flogging the latest reasons to hate Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, asserted, “The F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security released a report on Thursday detailing the ways that Russia acted to influence the American election through cyberespionage.”

But the actual report fell far short of “detailing” much at all about how the disclosures of the Democratic National Committee’s manipulation of the primaries to hobble Sen. Bernie Sanders and the contents of Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches ended up at WikiLeaks and ultimately became available to American voters.

Most of the 13-page FBI/DHS report was devoted to suggestions on how Internet users can protect their emails from malware, but there was little new that proved that the Russians were the source of the Democratic emails given to WikiLeaks.

The tip-off to how little proof was being offered came in the report’s statement that “The U.S. government assesses that information was leaked to the press and publicly disclosed.” When you read a phrase like “the U.S. government assesses,” it really means the U.S. government is guessing – and the report notably uses a passive tense that doesn’t even assert that the Russians did the leaking.

A well-placed intelligence source told me that there’s little doubt that elements of Russian intelligence penetrated the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, but the Russians were far from alone. Indeed, placing various forms of malware on computers is a common practice, as average folks who periodically take their laptops to an I.T. professional can attest. There’s always some kind of “spyware” or other malicious code to be discovered.

The source said the more debatable issue is whether Russian intelligence then turned over the emails to WikiLeaks, especially given that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and an associate, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, have stated that the material did not come from the Russian government. Murray has suggested that there were two separate sources, the DNC material coming from a disgruntled Democrat and the Podesta emails coming from possibly a U.S. intelligence source, since the Podesta Group represents Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments.

Future ‘Details’

So, The New York Times misled its readers by claiming that the FBI/DHS report released Thursday was “detailing” how the Russians carried out the operation, and a separate Times article essentially acknowledged that the details were still to come.

“A more detailed report on the intelligence, ordered by President Obama, will be published in the next three weeks, though much of the detail — especially evidence collected from ‘implants’ in Russian computer systems, tapped conversations and spies — is expected to remain classified.”

In other words, the FBI/DHS report really didn’t have much in the way of details and the “more detailed report” – due out before President Obama leaves office on Jan. 20 – will still be hiding “much of the detail” to justify Obama’s retaliation against Russia including new sanctions and expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats or intelligence officers from the United States.

But the Times article does inadvertently make the interesting admission that the U.S. government has penetrated Russian computers, much as the U.S. government accuses Russia of doing to U.S. computers.

But the data purloined by these U.S. “implants” and other clandestinely obtained evidence – assuming there really is any – won’t be something that the American people will get to see.

The shell game will continue up to the start of the Trump administration with the apparent goal to hem in President Trump from trying to reach out to Russia to avert a costly and dangerous New Cold War.

But the evidence so far released by the Obama administration still amounts to “trust us.”

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Escalating the Risky Fight with Russia” and “Summing Up Russia’s Real Nuclear Fears.”]

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).




Summing Up Russia’s Real Nuclear Fears

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. media’s relentless Russia-bashing has obscured Moscow’s legitimate fears about Washington’s provocative nuclear-missile strategies, which could lead to Armageddon, explains Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

The conflicts between Washington and Moscow keep on growing: Ukraine and Syria, rival war games, “hybrid” wars and “cyber-wars.” Talk of a new Cold War doesn’t do justice to the stakes.

“My bottom line is that the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than it was during the Cold War,” declares former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry.

If a new Trump administration wants to peacefully reset relations with Russia, there’s no better way to start than by canceling the deployment of costly new ballistic missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. One such system went live in Romania this May; another is slated to go live in Poland in 2018. Few U.S. actions have riled President Putin as much as this threat to erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Only last month, at a meeting in Sochi with Russian military leaders to discuss advanced new weapons technology, Putin vowed, “We will continue to do all we need to ensure the strategic balance of forces. We view any attempts to change or dismantle it, as extremely dangerous. Our task is to effectively neutralize any military threats to Russia’s security, including those posed by the newly-deployed strategic missile defense systems.”

Putin accused unnamed countries — obviously led by the United States — of “nullifying” international agreements on missile defense “in an effort to gain unilateral advantages.”

Moscow has reacted to this perceived threat with more than mere words. It is developing new and deadlier nuclear missiles, including the SS-30, to counter U.S. defenses. It has rebuffed new arms control negotiations. And it has provocatively stationed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to “target . . . the facilities that . . . start posing a threat to us,” as Putin put it last month.

If a new arms race is underway, it’s not for lack of warning. The Russians have voiced their concerns about missile defenses for years and years, without any serious acknowledgment from Washington. From their vantage point, the apparent bad faith of successive U.S. administrations, Democratic as well as Republican, is a flashing red light to which they had to respond.

Russia’s Nightmare

From the earliest days of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense (“Star Wars”) Initiative to make ballistic missiles “impotent and obsolete,” an alarmed Moscow has viewed U.S. efforts to build a missile shield as a long-term threat to their nuclear deterrent.

In 2002, President Bush one-upped Reagan and unilaterally canceled the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. He did so after Russia’s foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, publicly pleaded with Washington not to terminate this landmark arms control agreement.

Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Ivanov warned that such a move would set back recent progress in Russian-U.S. relations and destroy “30 years of efforts by the world community” to reduce the danger of nuclear war. Russia would be forced, against its desire for international cooperation, to build up its own forces in response. The arms race would be back in full force — leaving the United States less secure, not more.

But with Russia still reeling from the neoliberal “shock therapy” that it suffered through during the 1990s, the neoconservatives (then in charge of U.S foreign policy) were confident of winning such an arms race. In 2002, President Bush adopted a National Security Strategy that explicitly called for U.S military superiority over every other power. To that end, he called on the Pentagon to develop a ground-based missile defense system within two years.

Since then, that program has lined the pockets of major U.S. military contractors without achieving any notable successes. Critics – including the U.S. General Accountability Office, National Academy of Sciences and Union of Concerned Scientists – have blasted the program for failing more than half of its operational tests. Today, after the expenditure of more than $40 billion, it enjoys bipartisan support mainly as a jobs program.

Russia fears, however, that it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. perfects its missile shield technology enough to erode the deterrent capabilities of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

Promoting U.S. Nuclear Primacy

That specter was highlighted in 2006 when two U.S. strategic arms experts declared in the pages of the establishment-oriented Foreign Affairs that the age of nuclear deterrence “is nearing an end. Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. . . . Unless they reverse course rapidly, Russia’s vulnerability will only increase over time.”

The authors, Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, added, “Washington’s pursuit of nuclear primacy helps explain its missile defense strategy.” Missile defense, they pointed out, is not the same as population defense. No conceivable defense could truly protect American cities against an all-out attack by Russia, or even China. Rather, a leaky shield “would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one — as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a standalone shield.”

“If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China),” they explained, “the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal — if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes, because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left.”

As if to make that scenario a reality, the Bush administration soon announced plans to install an anti-missile base in Poland and a radar control center in the Czech Republic — ostensibly to counter a nuclear threat from Iran. No matter that Iran had neither nuclear weapons nor long-range ballistic missiles — or that Washington had rebuffed Russia’s offer to cooperate on building missile defenses closer to Iran. No, Moscow was supposed to believe President Bush’s assurance that “Russia is not the enemy.”

Republican hawks in Congress didn’t get the message. Said Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, “This is not just about missile defense; this is about demonstrating to Russia that America is still a nation of resolve . . . and we’re not going to let Russian expansionism intimidate everyone.”

Yet when Russian officials reacted with alarm, and warned of the potential for a “new Cold War,” American news accounts accused them of being “bellicose.”

Obama Blows Up the Reset Button

Taking office in 2009, President Obama promised a new era of nuclear sanity. Again, the Russians pleaded for an end to the missile defense program in Eastern Europe. Privately, they expressed a new and genuine concern — that a future U.S. administration could secretly fit interceptor rockets with nuclear warheads and use them to “decapitate” Russia’s top leadership with “virtually no warning time.” Russia’s response: retaliate at the first sign of an incoming strike, without hesitating to check if it’s a false alarm.

Obama and his team didn’t heed the warnings. Instead, they snubbed Putin — and the entire Russian leadership — by marching ahead with the missile shield deployment in Eastern Europe, still insulting Moscow’s intelligence with the pretense that it was a defense against Iran.

Obama’s “reset button” was the first casualty of his nuclear policy. In 2011, a despairing President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia would have no choice but to respond exactly as Putin has done, by upgrading the offensive capabilities of Russian nuclear missiles and deploying Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. Still to come may be a Russian withdrawal from the New START treaty, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed as her greatest accomplishment in the field of arms control.

President Obama never intended to expand his limited missile defense program into an existential threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent, but he opened that door. Exactly as Moscow has long feared, hawks in Congress now are chomping at the bit to spend what it takes to build an all-out missile defense system, which former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned would be “enormously destabilizing not to mention unbelievably expensive.”

One 2003 study pegged the possible cost of a full defensive shield covering the United States at more than $1 trillion. But that’s a small price compared to what could happen if a jittery Russian military command, armed to the teeth with nuclear missiles set on hair-trigger alert to counter a successful U.S. first strike, receives a false warning of just such an attack. Such a scenario has happened more than once.

One of these days such a mistake may prompt an all-out Russian nuclear launch — and then, not even a full missile defense will spare the United States, and much of the world, from devastation.

Jonathan Marshall is author of many recent articles on arms issues, including “How World War III Could Start,” “NATO’s ProvocativeAnti-Russian Moves,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” “Ticking Closer to Midnight,” and “Turkey’s Nukes: A Sum of All Fears.”