George W. Bush’s Horrific Legacy

As part of the drive to drive President Trump from the White House, some “never-Trumpers” are rehabilitating George W. Bush as a relative “moderate” and thus whitewashing his war crimes, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

There is an ongoing reality that is destroying hundreds of thousands of lives in the Middle East. And though most Americans are ignorant of the fact, and many of those who should be in the know would deny it, the suffering flows directly from decisions taken by Washington over the last 27 years.

Some of the facts of the matter have just been presented by the first Global Conflict Medicine Congress held at the American University of Beirut (AUB) earlier this month (May 11-14, 2017). It has drawn attention to two dire consequences of the war policies Americans have carried on in the region: cancer-causing munition material and drug-resistant bacteria.

Cancer-causing munition material: Materials such as tungsten and mercury are found in the casing of penetrating bombs used in the first and second Gulf wars. These have had long-term effects on survivors, especially those who have been wounded by these munitions. Iraqi-trained and Harvard-educated Dr. Omar Dewachi, a medical anthropologist at AUB fears that “the base line of cancers [appearing in those exposed to these materials] has become very aggressive. … When a young woman of 30, with no family history of cancer, has two different primary cancers – in the breast and in the oesophagus – you have to ask what is happening.” To this can be added that doctors are now “overwhelmed by the sheer number of [war] wounded patients in the Middle East.”

Drug-resistant bacteria: According to Glasgow-trained Professor Ghassan Abu-Sittah, head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at AUB Medical Center, drug resistance was not a problem during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. However, after the fiasco of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, things began to change. In the period after 1990, Iraq suffered under a vicious sanctions regime imposed by the United Nations at U.S. insistence. During the next 12 years “Iraqis were allowed to use only three antibiotics” and bacterial resistance quickly evolved. Those resistant bacteria spread throughout the region, particularly after the American invasion of the country in 2003.

Today, according to a Medecins Sans Frontieres analysis, “multidrug resistant [MDR] bacteria now accounts for most war wound infections across the Middle East, yet most medical facilities in the region do not even have the laboratory capacity to diagnose MDR, leading to significant delays and clinical mismanagement of festering wounds.”

Insofar as these developments go, it is not that there aren’t contributing factors stemming from local causes such as factional fighting. However, the major triggers for these horrors were set in motion in Washington. As far as I know, no American holding a senior official post has ever accepted any responsibility for this ongoing suffering.

Hiding Reality

As the cancers and untreatable infections grow in number in the Middle East, there is here in the United States a distressing effort to rehabilitate George W. Bush, the American president whose decisions and policies contributed mightily to this ongoing disaster. It is this Bush who launched the unjustified 2003 invasion of Iraq and thereby — to use the words of the Arab League — “opened the gates of hell.”

His rehabilitation effort began in ernest in April 2013, and coincided with the opening of his presidential library. In an interview given at that time, Bush set the stage for his second coming with an act of self-exoneration. He said he remained “comfortable with the decision making process” that led to the invasion of Iraq — the one that saw him fudging the intelligence when it did not tell him what he wanted to hear — and so also “comfortable” with the ultimate determination to launch the invasion.

“There’s no need to defend myself. I did what I did and ultimately history will judge,” he said.

The frivolous assertion that “history will judge” is often used by people of suspect character. “History” stands for a vague future time. Its alleged inevitable coming allows the protagonist to fantasize about achieving personal glory unchallenged by present, usually significant, ethical concerns.

Those seeking George W. Bush’s rehabilitation now like to contrast him to Donald Trump. One imagines they thereby hope to present him as a “moderate” Republican. They claim that Bush was and is really a very smart and analytical fellow rather than the simpleton most of us suspect him to be.

In other words, despite launching an unnecessary and subsequently catastrophic war, he was never as ignorant and dangerous as Trump. He and his supporters also depict him as a great defender of a free press, again in contrast to Donald Trump. However, when he was president, Bush described the media as an aider and abettor of the nation’s enemies. This certainly can be read as a position that parallels Trump’s description of the media as the “enemy of the American people.”

But all of this is part of a public relations campaign and speaks to the power of reputation remodeling — the creation of a facade that hides reality. In order to do this you have to “control the evidence” — in this case by ignoring it. In this endeavor George W. Bush and his boosters have the cooperation of much of the mainstream media. No sweat here: the press has done this before.

Except for the odd editorial the mainstream media also contributed to Richard Nixon’s rehabilitation back in the mid 1980s. These sorts of sleights-of-hand are only possible against the background of pervasive public ignorance.

Closed Information Environments

Local happenings are open to relatively close investigation. We usually have a more or less accurate understanding of the local context in which events play out, and this allows for the possibility of making a critical judgment. As we move further away, both in space and time, information becomes less reliable, if for no other reason than it comes to us through the auspices of others who may or may not know what they are talking about.

As a society, we have little or no knowledge of the context for foreign events, and thus it is easy for those reporting on them to apply filters according to any number of criteria. What we are left with is news that is customized — stories designed to fit preexisting political or ideological biases. In this way millions upon millions of minds are restricted to closed information environments on subjects which often touch on, among other important topics, war and its consequences.

So what is likely to be more influential with the locally oriented American public: George W. Bush’s rehabilitated image reported on repeatedly in the nation’s mainstream media, or the foreign-based, horror-strewn consequences of his deeds reported upon infrequently?

This dilemma is not uniquely American, nor is it original to our time. But its dangerous consequences are a very good argument against the ubiquitous ignorance that allows political criminals to be rehabilitated even as their crimes condemn others to continuing suffering.

If reputation remodelers can do this for George W. Bush, then there is little doubt that someday it will be done for Donald Trump. Life, so full of suffering, is also full of such absurdities.

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

Trump’s Need for Scapegoats

President Trump’s use of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s credibility to cover for the clumsy firing of FBI Director Comey has echoes of President Bush’s bogus WMD claims about Iraq, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came into his present job with bipartisan support and a positive reputation as an apolitical prosecutor who had served ably as a U.S. attorney under both the previous two administrations. Now many are asking how someone like that could allow himself to become a tool of Donald Trump in one of the messiest and most controversial firings ever of a senior official.

Much of the dysfunction, ruthlessness, and ineptitude associated with the sacking of James Comey as FBI director is specific to Trump and his presidency, but we have seen before the exploitation for blame-shifting purposes of the work of honest and earnest public servants.

We don’t know exactly what transpired in conversation among the President, Attorney General, and Deputy Attorney General about the FBI directorship. Maybe there is a recording that someday will tell us that. But given what we know from the characteristics of the personages involved and other indications, it is easy to reconstruct a plausible way such a conversation went.

The President summons the Justice Department officials to discuss problems involving the FBI director. The conversation addresses some of Comey’s missteps in handling the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Rosenstein, an experienced prosecutor attuned to the details of correct relations between prosecutors and investigators, had already developed thoughts on this subject, some of which he conveys to the President in the conversation.

The President instructs Rosenstein to put down on paper a more thorough rendering of ways in which Comey did not properly observe roles and rules regarding the FBI and the Justice Department. The conversation ends, and Rosenstein goes away with his writing assignment.

The White House then uses the resulting memorandum as supposed justification in announcing the firing of Comey, with the initial White House version being that the President was acting on the recommendation of the Justice Department leadership — which primarily meant Rosenstein, given that his memo was the main piece of paper released as justification, and given that the President and whoever else in the White House may have been influencing him on this were eager to exploit Rosenstein’s reputation as an upstanding and nonpartisan player with pure motivations.

Rosenstein’s Surprise

But Rosenstein did not recommend that Comey be fired. His memo does not say so, and given that it doesn’t, it is unlikely that he made any such recommendation orally either. It thus is not surprising to read reports that Rosenstein was so upset about the White House portraying him as responsible for firing Comey that Rosenstein was on the verge of resigning. He has a right to be upset.

Possibly the prospect of a Rosenstein resignation over this issue was part of what led Trump then to offer a much different explanation, in which Trump admitted that he had already decided to fire Comey no matter what the Justice Department leaders said and that what was on his mind in doing so was the FBI’s Russia investigation.

Set aside for the moment all the other inconsistencies and falsehoods that define the Trump presidency, and there are two important takeaways from this episode and specifically Rosenstein’s role in it. One is that it is erroneous to treat confirmation that a problem exists, or has existed, as if such confirmation constitutes a case for taking a specific drastic action in the name of correcting that problem — especially if the action involved is apt to have other untoward and costly consequences.

Certifying that James Comey exceeded his role or made other mistakes in handling a case last year does not constitute a case for firing him this year. There is nothing inconsistent in being sharply critical of some of Comey’s earlier actions and also being opposed to cutting short what is supposed to be a ten-year term for FBI directors, a term established by law partly to try to insulate the bureau from the vicissitudes of politics. (The only other FBI director to be fired short of term, William Sessions, was dismissed for specific ethical violations involving use of public resources for private purposes.)

The other takeaway is that an honest public servant, doing his best to respect rules and assigned roles, and trying to perform his own role with objective judgment and insight, has been used by his political masters as a scapegoat for their own controversial actions. The temptation for political masters to do this sort of thing can be great, and not just for a Donald Trump.

The nonpolitical bureaucracy, or a nonpolitical individual who rises as high as Rosenstein has risen, offers a stamp of nonpartisanship, objectivity, and often expert authority that can deflect attention from less commendable motives or methods that the political masters used in arriving at their decision.

The WMD Precedent

Now roll the tape back a decade and a half, as the George W. Bush administration was mounting its big sales campaign for launching a war in Iraq. The war was something neocons had long sought, and the sudden change in public mood after 9/11 finally brought their ambition politically within reach. But remaking the politics and economics of the Middle East according to the neocon dream would not work as the basis for selling to the American public a step as drastic as initiating the first major offensive war the United States had begun in over a century.

So the war-makers came up with a sales pitch about the horror of dictators giving weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to terrorists. Because dictators, unconventional weapons, and terrorism were all things that the U.S. intelligence community routinely follows, there was an opportunity to pick out portions of what the community says and to use that output to get the sought-after stamp of nonpartisanship, objectivity, and expert authority. That’s what was done with the topic of weapons of mass destruction.

The WMD issue was not the reason the Bush administration launched the Iraq War. I have discussed at length elsewhere the whole story of why and how it was not the reason.

Some of the key facts include the longstanding prior neoconservative ambition to start exactly this war, the orders by the President to prepare war plans well before the intelligence community had even begun work on the estimate that would become pointed to most often as a rationale for the war decision, the disinterest of the administration in the intelligence except for the tidbits that could be used publicly as part of the sales campaign, and the fact that even the notorious intelligence estimate included the judgment that Saddam Hussein was unlikely to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. interests or to give them to terrorists except in the extreme situation of an invasion of his country with the intention of overthrowing his regime by force.

As avid war promoter Paul Wolfowitz later admitted in an unguarded comment in an interview, the WMD issue was just a convenient topic on which people could agree, not the reason the war was fought.

Perhaps most important, the presumed existence of unconventional weapons in the hands of a nasty regime does not imply that it is wise to launch an offensive war to topple that regime. If it were, we should have invaded North Korea years ago. The Iraq War was another case of erroneously treating presumed confirmation of a problem as a case for taking a specific drastic action in the name of addressing that problem.

Making Scapegoats

The Iraq War also was another instance of public servants — in this case those working in the intelligence community — being used by their political masters as scapegoats for the masters’ own controversial decisions. The intelligence agencies certainly did not advocate launching the war, and it would not have been their role to opine on that. With no policy process leading to Bush’s decision, there was no opportunity for them to offer any such opinion even if they wanted to.

The intelligence judgments on the other major part of the sales pitch — the supposed alliance between Saddam’s regime and al-Qaeda — were contrary to the assertions in the pitch. And as for what turned out to be far more important than any of the themes in the sales campaign, pre-war intelligence community analysis correctly anticipated most of the costly political and security mess and internal strife to which Iraq succumbed, and with which U.S. forces had to deal, after the invasion.

When the output of public servants is used — or rather, misused — in the way it was in these two cases, the use is not predicated on that output being accurate. Whether Rosenstein was correct, as a matter of either fact or judgment, in what he said in his memorandum about Comey had no bearing on the Trump White House’s decision to use him and his memo as a public rationale for firing the FBI director. Whether the intelligence community was correct or not about the various aspects of Iraqi weapons programs did not determine how the Bush administration used the intelligence output on the subject as a public rationale for launching the war.

There also usually is not much relevance to costs and outcomes. Whatever happens in investigating connections between Trump and Russia, the investigation will not depend, with or without Comey, on how Comey handled the question of Hillary Clinton’s emails. And even if every word that the intelligence agencies issued about Iraqi unconventional weapons had been correct, post-invasion Iraq still would have been just as much of a bloody mess and the U.S. occupation would have been just as much of a costly quagmire. If anything, the existence of WMD would have made the war even more bloody and costly than it actually was.

Distrust of Trump

One difference between these two cases is that the fallacy associated with the blame-shifting has endured in one case but already been shot down in the other. One still hears, especially but not only from the war promoters in the Bush administration, that the United States went to war because of faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. But the notion that James Comey was fired because of something Rod Rosenstein said didn’t last a week.

It probably would not have lasted even if Trump himself had not soon contradicted that rationale. The political milieu, in the partisan sense, has much to do, of course, with which beliefs endure and which do not. In the case of the invasion of Iraq, Democrats who supported going to war have been just as happy as their Republican colleagues to shift blame for their own mistake to an unpopular bureaucracy.

Supporters of Trump’s move regarding the FBI director tried to generate a similar dynamic by reminding people of how unhappy many Democrats have been about Comey’s handling of the Clinton email matter, but this attempt to win Democratic support did not stick.

Probably the main reason for the difference is that the themes in the Bush administration’s war-selling campaign were relentlessly sustained for more than a year. The impact of this sheer repetition was reflected in how even where a theme was not supported by the intelligence community’s judgments, as was the case regarding terrorist connections, the administration won many believers, including ones led to believe that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. The Trump White House, by contrast, has shown that it has difficulty sustaining a theme for a week, never mind a year.

These comparisons raise a larger question of how Trump’s presidency is in a league by itself regarding lack of credibility. Less than four months into this administration, much of the media and other observers already have learned not to trust anything this President and his surrogates say. This explains much of why version 1.0 of the White House’s explanation for why Comey was fired was immediately met with widespread incredulity.

But it’s not as if all the outrageous things this President does are wholly without precedent. It is individual statements and actions, not any one person, that can be extreme and beyond the pale. The Bush administration did an extreme thing by starting a major offensive war under false pretenses and then not owning up to the responsibility and instead shifting blame for the calamitous result. But in most other respects that administration was more of an ordinary presidency and not Trump-like. So it was better able than Trump to hoodwink people when it did do an extreme thing.

The cascade of falsehoods and other excesses that characterize Trump’s presidency still has the major cost of being a self-lowering bar as far as standards of conduct are concerned, with the country’s sense of propriety being dulled and with many things that would cause outrage or scandal in another presidency instead eliciting a ho-hum “that’s Trump being Trump” reaction. But at least in some instances, the incredulity and suspicion that Trump has understandably generated enable the country to smell a rat more quickly than it otherwise would.

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.) 

Making Trump an Endless War President

A politically embattled President Trump is under pressure to reverse his campaign promise to finally bring U.S. troops home and instead commit to open-ended wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, writes Gareth Porter for Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

The two top national security officials in the Trump administration – Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – are trying to secure long-term U.S. ground and air combat roles in the three long-running wars in the greater Middle East – Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Proposals for each of the three countries are still being developed, and there is no consensus, even between Mattis and McMaster, on the details of the plans. They will be submitted to Trump separately, with the plan for Afghanistan coming sometime before a NATO summit in Brussels on May 25.

But if this power play succeeds in one or more of the three, it could guarantee the extension of permanent U.S. ground combat in the greater Middle East for many years to come – and would represent a culmination of the “generational war” first announced by the George W. Bush administration.

It remains to be seen whether President Trump will approve the proposals that Mattis and McMaster have pushed in recent weeks. Judging from his position during the campaign and his recent remarks, Trump may well balk at the plans now being pushed by his advisers.

The plans for the three countries now being developed within the Trump administration encompass long-term stationing of troops, access to bases and the authority to wage war in these three countries. These are the primordial interests of the Pentagon and the U.S. military leadership, and they have pursued those interests more successfully in the Middle East (bureaucratically at least) than anywhere else on the globe.

U.S. military officials aren’t talking about “permanent” stationing of troops and bases in these countries, referring instead to the “open-ended commitment” of troops. But they clearly want precisely that in all three.

Shifting Timetables

The George W. Bush administration and the Barack Obama administration both denied officially that they sought “permanent bases” in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. But the subtext in both cases told a different story. A Defense Department official testifying before Congress at the time admitted that the term had no real meaning, because the Pentagon had never defined it officially.

In fact, at the beginning of the negotiations with Iraq on the U.S. military presence in 2008, the U.S. sought access to bases in Iraq without any time limit. But the al-Maliki government rebuffed that demand and the U.S. was forced to agree to withdraw all combat forces in a strict timetable.

Despite efforts by the Pentagon and the military brass, including Gen. David Petraeus, to get the Obama administration to renegotiate the deal with the Iraqi government to allow tens of thousands of combat troops to stay in the country, the Iraqis refused U.S. demands for immunity from prosecution in Iraq, and the U.S. had to withdraw all its troops.

Now the regional context has shifted dramatically in favor of the U.S. military’s ambitions. On one hand, the war against Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is coming to a climax in both Iraq and Syria, and the Iraq government recognizes the need for more U.S. troops to ensure that ISIS can’t rise again; and in Syria, the division of the country into zones of control that depend on foreign powers is an overriding fact.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, growing Taliban power and control across the country is being cited as the rationale for a proposal to reverse the withdrawals of U.S. and NATO troops in recent years and to allow a limited return by U.S. forces to combat.

Now that Islamic State forces are being pushed out of Mosul, both the Trump administration and the Iraqi government are beginning to focus on how to ensure that the terrorists do not return. They are now negotiating on an agreement that would station U.S. forces in Iraq indefinitely. And the troops would not be there merely to defeat ISIS, but to carry out what the war bureaucracies call “stabilization operations” – getting involved in building local political and military institutions.

Plans for Syria

The question of what to do about Syria is apparently the subject of in-fighting between Mattis and the Pentagon, on one hand, and McMaster at the National Security Council, on the other. The initial plan for the defeat of ISIS in Syria, submitted to Trump in February, called for an increase in the size of U.S. ground forces beyond the present level of 1,000.

But a group of officers who have worked closely with Gen. Petraeus on Iraq and Afghanistan, which includes McMaster, has been pushing a much more ambitious plan, in which thousands – and perhaps many thousands – of U.S. ground troops would lead a coalition of Sunni Arab troops to destroy Islamic State’s forces in Syria rather than relying on Kurdish forces to do the job.

Both the original plan and the one advanced by McMaster for Syria would also involve U.S. troops in “stabilization operations” for many years across a wide expanse of eastern Syria that would require large numbers of troops for many years. Both in its reliance on Sunni Arab allies and in its envisioning a large U.S. military zone of control in Syria, the plan bears striking resemblance to the one developed for Hillary Clinton by the Center for New American Security when she was viewed as the president-in-waiting.

Reversing Obama’s Afghan Policy

The Pentagon proposal on Afghanistan, which had not been formally submitted by Mattis as of this week, calls for increasing the present level of 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan by 1,500 to 5,000, both to train Afghan forces and to fight the Taliban. It also calls for resuming full-scale U.S. air strikes against the Taliban. Both policy shifts would reverse decisions made by the Obama administration.

Five past U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, including Petraeus, have publicly caIled for the U.S. to commit itself to an “enduring partnership” with the Afghan government. That means, according to their joint statement, ending the practice of periodic reassessments as the basis for determining whether the U.S. should continue to be involved militarily in the war, an idea that is likely part of the package now being formulated by Mattis.

But the problem with such a plan is that the U.S. military and its Afghan client government have now been trying to suppress the Taliban for 16 years. The longer they have tried, the stronger the Taliban have become. The U.S. and NATO were not able to pressure the Taliban to negotiate with the government even when they had more than 100,000 troops in the country.

Committing the U.S. to endless war in Afghanistan would only reinforce the corruption, abuses of power and culture of impunity that Gen. Stanley A. McChystal acknowledged in 2009 were the primary obstacles to reducing support for the Taliban. Only the knowledge that the U.S. will let the Afghans themselves determine the country’s future could shock the political elite sufficiently to change its ways.

Most political and national security elites as well as the corporate news media support the push to formalize a permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan, despite the fact that national polls indicate that it is the most unpopular war in U.S. history with 80 percent of those surveyed in a CNN poll in 2013 opposing its continuation.

There are signs that Trump may reject at least the plans for Afghanistan and Syria. Only days after his approval of the missile strike on a Russian-Syrian airbase, Trump told Fox Business in an interview, “We’re not going into Syria.”

And White House spokesman Sean Spicer seemed to suggest this week that Trump was not enamored with the plan to spend many more years trying to “transform” Afghanistan. “There is a difference between Afghanistan proper and our effort to defeat ISIS,” Spicer said

Despite Trump’s love for the military brass, the process of deciding on the series of new initiatives aimed at committing the U.S. more deeply to three wars in the greater Middle East is bound to pose conflicts between the political interests of the White House and the institutional interests of the Pentagon and military leaders.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye at]

The Glorious Return of Condi Rice

Exclusive: The failure to impose meaningful accountability on the Iraq War’s architects allows them to return as “wise” advisers to be consulted by media outlets and today’s politicians, as with Condoleezza Rice, notes James W Carden.

By James W Carden

Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser at the time of the Iraq invasion and then President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, has returned to the public eye, out promoting her new book, entitled Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom.

In late March, Rice met at the White House with President Donald J. Trump, who she previously had said “should not be president.” Rice’s return to the public eye would seem to prove the truth of Professor Stephen Walt’s axiom that being a neocon means never having to say your sorry.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but there was a time when Rice’s star was ascendant. An August 1999 profile of Rice in National Review dubbed Rice as “George Bush’s foreign policy czarina” and described her in rapturous terms. Rice, according to the NR’s Jay Nordlinger, was the “very picture of American overachievement”; “If she becomes secretary of state or even something lesser, she will be big. Rock-star big”; “She is, all agree, an immensely appealing person: poised, gracious, humbly smart”; “Her television appearances have prompted marriage proposals”; “And she is very much a jock.”

Nordlinger was also of the opinion that Rice was on the cusp of becoming “A major cultural figure, adorning the bedroom walls of innumerable kids and the covers of innumerable magazines.”

But it was not to be. By the end of the Bush years, Rice’s reputation lay largely in tatters. “There was a time when,” New York Times correspondent Helene Cooper wrote in September 2007, “perhaps more than Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice seemed to have the best shot at becoming the first woman or the first African-American to be president.”

Accounts of the early Bush years, particularly following 9/11, showed that Rice was an incompetent manager of the National Security Council process, unable or unwilling to withstand the onslaught of wondrously reckless and short-sighted advice provided by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

Seeking Redemption

Rice’s new book would seem to be (yet another) shot at redemption. (Rice had previously toured the country in support of her memoir, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington.)

Writing in the New York Times, Walter Russell Meade, the editor of the neoconservative American Interest, called Rice’s Democracy an “important new book.”

“Her faith in the benefits and strategic importance of democracy promotion,” writes Meade “is as strong as, or stronger than, it was when she joined the George W. Bush administration in 2001.” Meade, a sympathetic reviewer who shares many of Rice’s assumptions about the beneficent power of the U.S. military, approvingly observes that her new book is an “attempt to hammer home the idea of democracy promotion as a key goal for American foreign policy.”

A child of segregated Alabama, Rice says that her foreign policy views are shaped by the ideals that animated the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. For Rice, U.S. foreign policy should be a continuation that movement, i.e., the U.S. should use its power to advance a global struggle for human and civil rights. It’s an idea that has intuitive appeal, yet when put into practice, the results have been little short of disastrous.

A Devastating Death Toll

The period of the last 18 years – from NATO’s ill-conceived intervention on behalf of Kosovar Muslims in Serbia in 1999 through to the present day – has been marked by an optimistic and at times unshakable faith on the part of the American political establishment in its duty and right to intervene in foreign civil conflicts under democratic or humanitarian pretexts.

The intellectual framework for this “golden age of intervention” was set forth not by an American, but by a young, dynamic British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, during the course of NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. In April of that year, Blair traveled to Chicago and attempted to justify the war on humanitarian grounds. In some ways, Blair’s speech heralded the era of humanitarian intervention and global democracy promotion in which we still find ourselves.

Blair declared that “We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not. …We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure.” The Prime Minister continued, stating his belief that “if we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too.”

Initially, Rice was slow to sign on to such a transformational project; after all, according to the author James Mann, Rice “had risen to prominence as heir to the foreign policy traditions of Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. At Stanford and during the first Bush administration, she had been an avowed proponent of the doctrine of realism.”

In an essay entitled “Promoting the National Interest” in Foreign Affairs in January 2000, Rice wrote presciently that “an overly broad definition of America’s national interest is bound to backfire.” As late as 2002, her Stanford colleague and fellow Russia specialist Michael McFaul (who served as Ambassador to Russia under President Obama) said of Rice, “She believes in realpolitik, that the main driving force of international relations is balance of power politics and that what happens internally [sic] inside a country should not be part of foreign policy.”

Creeping Neoconservatism

Yet even before 9/11 and the emergence of George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda,” Rice had slowly been inching away from the realism of her mentor Scowcroft towards a conception of international affairs not markedly different from that of Tony Blair or the neoconservatives like William Kristol who once distrusted her.

It was during the period between 9/11 and commencement of the Iraq war that Rice’s transformation from realist to a kind of “soft” neoconservative became complete. Thereafter, she became, like Bush, Blair, Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power, an emblematic figure of the age of intervention.

By mid-2003, Rice had become a true believer. In a speech in London that June, Rice asked “Why would anyone who shares the values of freedom seek to put a check on those values? Democratic institutions themselves are a check on the excesses of power.” “Power in the service of freedom,” said Rice, “is to be welcomed.”

A valedictory piece in Foreign Affairs in July 2008, showed what a long way she traveled in eight years, from warning, on the eve of Bush’s presidency, that an “overly broad definition of America’s national interest is bound to backfire” to now expressing her belief that “cooperation with our democratic allies … should not be judged simply by how we relate to one another. It should be judged by the work we do together to defeat terrorism and extremism, meet global challenges, defend human rights and dignity, and support new democracies.”

For Rice, “Democratic state-building is now an urgent component of our national interest.” Indeed, it is “America’s job to change the world, and in its own image.”

Today, when Rice talks about Iraq, or foreign policy in general, as she did recently with NPR’s Rachel Martin, she is given a respectful hearing. Apparently it would be a breach of decorum or the rules of the game to ask Rice whether she was concerned, embarrassed (or aware) that the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was ultimately responsible for the rise of ISIS.

Unchallenged, Rice is allowed to paint the war and its aftermath in the most anodyne of terms. Today, according to Rice, Iraq “has a legislature that tries to function. It has a prime minister who is accountable. … They have a very free and functioning press.” In her telling, Iraq is in many ways better now because “it’s not an authoritarian state any longer, and it’s not a totalitarian state in the way that it was under Saddam Hussein.”

And in perhaps the most astoundingly obtuse statement since Gary Johnson’s “what’s an Aleppo?” Rice told the apparently somnolent Martin that “It’s very different to be Iraqi today than to be Syrian.” Tell that to the residents of Mosul, the Iraqi city that was overrun by Islamic State extremists in 2014 and is now the scene of a bloody assault by Iraqi forces backed by U.S. and allied airstrikes.

The point here is that Rice shouldn’t be let off the hook so easily; after all, the costs of Bush’s Middle East adventures have been staggering. Ten years after the 2003 invasion, Brown University’s Cost of War project estimated that the war had killed roughly 190,000 people and cost $2.2 trillion. By 2016, the costs of the combined military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan had grown. According to the latest figures from the project:

“  Over 370,000 people have died due to direct war violence, and at least 800,000 more indirectly

–200,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict

–10.1 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons

–The US federal price tag for the Iraq war is about 4.8 trillion dollars”

Excusing Wars of Supremacy

Through the years – from her time as a NSC staffer for Bush the Elder, through her disastrous tenure as NSC adviser (followed by a marginally less-bad tenure as Secretary of State) during the administration of Bush the Lesser – Rice has developed what I have called a “soft-neoconservatism” which attempts to disguise and excuse the American will to global supremacy by camouflaging it in the “soft” language of human rights.

Her approach to global affairs marries a credulous belief in the power of “democracy promotion” with a belief in the efficacy of U.S. military power. Rice’s embrace of “democracy promotion” is no doubt wholehearted and genuine. But it is all the more troubling and dangerous because of it.

One wonders: is there really any difference between the vacuous, happy pieties of “soft-neoconservatism” of which Rice, Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright are such ardent adepts, or the “hard” neoconservatism of Beltway Caesars like Sen. Tom Cotton, Robert Kagan and Elliot Abrams, or the outright militarism of the current crop of Trump appointees like Defense Secretary James Mattis and NSC adviser H.R. McMaster?

An equally urgent question as concerns Rice in particular and the Bush crowd generally: why have they suffered no serious consequences for the disastrous decisions that were made on their watch?

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

The Existential Question of Whom to Trust

Special Report: An existential question facing humankind is whom can be trusted to describe the world and its conflicts, especially since mainstream experts have surrendered to careerism, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The looming threat of World War III, a potential extermination event for the human species, is made more likely because the world’s public can’t count on supposedly objective experts to ascertain and evaluate facts. Instead, careerism is the order of the day among journalists, intelligence analysts and international monitors – meaning that almost no one who might normally be relied on to tell the truth can be trusted.

The dangerous reality is that this careerism, which often is expressed by a smug certainty about whatever the prevailing groupthink is, pervades not just the political world, where lies seem to be the common currency, but also the worlds of journalism, intelligence and international oversight, including United Nations agencies that are often granted greater credibility because they are perceived as less beholden to specific governments but in reality have become deeply corrupted, too.

In other words, many professionals who are counted on for digging out the facts and speaking truth to power have sold themselves to those same powerful interests in order to keep high-paying jobs and to not get tossed out onto the street. Many of these self-aggrandizing professionals – caught up in the many accouterments of success – don’t even seem to recognize how far they’ve drifted from principled professionalism.

A good example was Saturday night’s spectacle of national journalists preening in their tuxedos and gowns at the White House Correspondents Dinner, sporting First Amendment pins as if they were some brave victims of persecution. They seemed oblivious to how removed they are from Middle America and how unlikely any of them would risk their careers by challenging one of the Establishment’s favored groupthinks. Instead, these national journalists take easy shots at President Trump’s buffoonish behavior and his serial falsehoods — and count themselves as endangered heroes for the effort.

Foils for Trump

Ironically, though, these pompous journalists gave Trump what was arguably his best moment in his first 100 days by serving as foils for the President as he traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Saturday and basked in the adulation of blue-collar Americans who view the mainstream media as just one more appendage of a corrupt ruling elite.

Breaking with tradition by snubbing the annual press gala, Trump delighted the Harrisburg crowd by saying: “A large group of Hollywood celebrities and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom” and adding: “I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from [the] Washington swamp … with much, much better people.” The crowd booed references to the elites and cheered Trump’s choice to be with the common folk.

Trump’s rejection of the dinner and his frequent criticism of the mainstream media brought a defensive response from Jeff Mason, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, who complained: “We are not fake news. We are not failing news organizations. And we are not the enemy of the American people.” That brought the black-tie-and-gown gathering to its feet in a standing ovation.

Perhaps the assembled media elite had forgotten that it was the mainstream U.S. media – particularly The Washington Post and The New York Times – that popularized the phrase “fake news” and directed it blunderbuss-style not only at the few Web sites that intentionally invent stories to increase their clicks but at independent-minded journalism outlets that have dared question the elite’s groupthinks on issues of war, peace and globalization.

The Black List

Professional journalistic skepticism toward official claims by the U.S. government — what you should expect from reporters — became conflated with “fake news.” The Post even gave front-page attention to an anonymous group called PropOrNot that published a black list of 200 Internet sites, including and other independent-minded journalism sites, to be shunned.

But the mainstream media stars didn’t like it when Trump began throwing the “fake news” slur back at them. Thus, the First Amendment lapel pins and the standing ovation for Jeff Mason’s repudiation of the “fake news” label.

Yet, as the glitzy White House Correspondents Dinner demonstrated, mainstream journalists get the goodies of prestige and money while the real truth-tellers are almost always outspent, outgunned and cast out of the mainstream. Indeed, this dwindling band of honest people who are both knowledgeable and in position to expose unpleasant truths is often under mainstream attack, sometimes for unrelated personal failings and other times just for rubbing the powers-that-be the wrong way.

Perhaps, the clearest case study of this up-is-down rewards-and-punishments reality was the Iraq War’s WMD rationale. Nearly across the board, the American political/media system – from U.S. intelligence analysts to the deliberative body of the U.S. Senate to the major U.S. news organizations – failed to ascertain the truth and indeed actively helped disseminate the falsehoods about Iraq hiding WMDs and even suggested nuclear weapons development. (Arguably, the “most trusted” U.S. government official at the time, Secretary of State Colin Powell, played a key role in selling the false allegations as “truth.”)

Not only did the supposed American “gold standard” for assessing information – the U.S. political, media and intelligence structure – fail miserably in the face of fraudulent claims often from self-interested Iraqi opposition figures and their neoconservative American backers, but there was minimal accountability afterwards for the “professionals” who failed to protect the public from lies and deceptions.

Profiting from Failure

Indeed, many of the main culprits remain “respected” members of the journalistic establishment. For instance, The New York Times’ Pentagon correspondent Michael R. Gordon, who was the lead writer on the infamous “aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges” story which got the ball rolling for the Bush administration’s rollout of its invade-Iraq advertising campaign in September 2002, still covers national security for the Times – and still serves as a conveyor belt for U.S. government propaganda.

The Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, who repeatedly informed the Post’s readers that Iraq’s secret possession of WMD was a “flat-fact,” is still the Post’s editorial page editor, one of the most influential positions in American journalism.

Hiatt’s editorial page led a years-long assault on the character of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson for the offense of debunking one of President George W. Bush’s claims about Iraq seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger. Wilson had alerted the CIA to the bogus claim before the invasion of Iraq and went public with the news afterwards, but the Post treated Wilson as the real culprit, dismissing him as “a blowhard” and trivializing the Bush administration’s destruction of his wife’s CIA career by outing her (Valerie Plame) in order to discredit Wilson’s Niger investigation.

At the end of the Post’s savaging of Wilson’s reputation and in the wake of the newspaper’s accessory role in destroying Plame’s career, Wilson and Plame decamped from Washington to New Mexico. Meanwhile, Hiatt never suffered a whit – and remains a “respected” Washington media figure to this day.

Careerist Lesson

The lesson that any careerist would draw from the Iraq case is that there is almost no downside risk in running with the pack on a national security issue. Even if you’re horrifically wrong — even if you contribute to the deaths of some 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — your paycheck is almost surely safe.

The same holds true if you work for an international agency that is responsible for monitoring issues like chemical weapons. Again, the Iraq example offers a good case study. In April 2002, as President Bush was clearing away the few obstacles to his Iraq invasion plans, Jose Mauricio Bustani, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW], sought to persuade Iraq to join the Chemical Weapons Convention so inspectors could verify Iraq’s claims that it had destroyed its stockpiles.

The Bush administration called that idea an “ill-considered initiative” – after all, it could have stripped away the preferred propaganda rationale for the invasion if the OPCW verified that Iraq had destroyed its chemical weapons. So, Bush’s Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, a neocon advocate for the invasion of Iraq, pushed to have Bustani deposed. The Bush administration threatened to withhold dues to the OPCW if Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat, remained.

It now appears obvious that Bush and Bolton viewed Bustani’s real offense as interfering with their invasion scheme, but Bustani was ultimately taken down over accusations of mismanagement, although he was only a year into a new five-year term after having been reelected unanimously. The OPCW member states chose to sacrifice Bustani to save the organization from the loss of U.S. funds, but – in so doing – they compromised its integrity, making it just another agency that would bend to big-power pressure.

“By dismissing me,” Bustani said, “an international precedent will have been established whereby any duly elected head of any international organization would at any point during his or her tenure remain vulnerable to the whims of one or a few major contributors.” He added that if the United States succeeded in removing him, “genuine multilateralism” would succumb to “unilateralism in a multilateral disguise.”

The Iran Nuclear Scam

Something similar happened regarding the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2009 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the neocons were lusting for another confrontation with Iran over its alleged plans to build a nuclear bomb.

According to U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, American diplomats in 2009 were cheering the prospect that Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano would advance U.S. interests in ways that outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wouldn’t; Amano credited his election to U.S. government support; Amano signaled he would side with the United States in its confrontation with Iran; and he stuck out his hand for more U.S. money.

In a July 9, 2009, cable, American chargé Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. “Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive,” the cable said.

The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director-general, he would take a different “approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei” and he “saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council] Board resolutions,” i.e. U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.

Amano also discussed how to restructure the senior ranks of the IAEA, including elimination of one top official and the retention of another. “We wholly agree with Amano’s assessment of these two advisors and see these decisions as positive first signs,” Pyatt commented.

In return, Pyatt made clear that Amano could expect strong U.S. financial assistance, stating that “the United States would do everything possible to support his successful tenure as Director General and, to that end, anticipated that continued U.S. voluntary contributions to the IAEA would be forthcoming. Amano offered that a ‘reasonable increase’ in the regular budget would be helpful.”

What Pyatt made clear in his cable was that one IAEA official who was not onboard with U.S. demands had been fired while another who was onboard kept his job.

Pandering to Israel

Pyatt learned, too, that Amano had consulted with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli “immediately after his appointment” and that Michaeli “was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues.” Michaeli added that he discounted some of Amano’s public remarks about there being “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” as just words that Amano felt he had to say “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality.’”

In private, Amano agreed to “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. (It is ironic indeed that Amano would have secret contacts with Israeli officials about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, which never yielded a single bomb, when Israel possesses a large and undeclared nuclear arsenal.)

In a subsequent cable dated Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission in Vienna said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

“More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain ‘constructive ambiguity’ about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December” 2009.

In other words, Amano was a bureaucrat eager to bend in directions favored by the United States and Israel regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Amano’s behavior surely contrasted with how the more independent-minded ElBaradei resisted some of Bush’s key claims about Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapons program, correctly denouncing some documents as forgeries.

The world’s public got its insight into the Amano scam only because the U.S. embassy cables were among those given to WikiLeaks by Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, for which Manning received a 35-year prison sentence (which was finally commuted by President Obama before leaving office, with Manning now scheduled to be released in May – having served nearly seven years in prison).

It also is significant that Geoffrey Pyatt was rewarded for his work lining up the IAEA behind the anti-Iranian propaganda campaign by being made U.S. ambassador to Ukraine where he helped engineer the Feb. 22, 2014 coup that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych. Pyatt was on the infamous “fuck the E.U.” call with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland weeks before the coup as Nuland handpicked Ukraine’s new leaders and Pyatt pondered how “to midwife this thing.”

Rewards and Punishments

The existing rewards-and-punishments system, which punishes truth-tellers and rewards those who deceive the public, has left behind a thoroughly corrupted information structure in the United States and in the West, in general.

Across the mainstream of politics and media, there are no longer the checks and balances that have protected democracy for generations. Those safeguards have been washed away by the flood of careerism.

The situation is made even more dangerous because there also exists a rapidly expanding cadre of skilled propagandists and psychological operations practitioners, sometimes operating under the umbrella of “strategic communications.” Under trendy theories of “smart power,” information has become simply another weapon in the geopolitical arsenal, with “strategic communications” sometimes praised as the preferable option to “hard power,” i.e. military force.

The thinking goes that if the United States can overthrow a troublesome government by exploiting media/propaganda assets, deploying trained activists and spreading selective stories about “corruption” or other misconduct, isn’t that better than sending in the Marines?

While that argument has the superficial appeal of humanitarianism – i.e., the avoidance of armed conflict – it ignores the corrosiveness of lies and smears, hollowing out the foundations of democracy, a structure that rests ultimately on an informed electorate. Plus, the clever use of propaganda to oust disfavored governments often leads to violence and war, as we have seen in targeted countries, such as Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

Wider War

Regional conflicts also carry the risk of wider war, a danger compounded by the fact that the American public is fed a steady diet of dubious narratives designed to rile up the population and to give politicians an incentive to “do something.” Since these American narratives often deviate far from a reality that is well known to the people in the targeted countries, the contrasting storylines make the finding of common ground almost impossible.

If, for instance, you buy into the Western narrative that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gleefully gases “beautiful babies,” you would tend to support the “regime change” plans of the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists. If, however, you reject that mainstream narrative – and believe that Al Qaeda and its friendly regional powers may be staging chemical attacks to bring the U.S. military in on their “regime change” project – you might favor a political settlement that leaves Assad’s fate to the later judgment of the Syrian people.

Similarly, if you accept the West’s storyline about Russia invading Ukraine and subjugating the people of Crimea by force – while also shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 for no particular reason – you might support aggressive countermoves against “Russian aggression,” even if that means risking nuclear war.

If, on the other hand, you know about the Nuland-Pyatt scheme for ousting Ukraine’s elected president in 2014 and realize that much of the other anti-Russian narrative is propaganda or disinformation – and that MH-17 might well have been shot down by some element of Ukrainian government forces and then blamed on the Russians [see here and here] – you might look for ways to avoid a new and dangerous Cold War.

Who to Trust?

But the question is: whom to trust? And this is no longer some rhetorical or philosophical point about whether one can ever know the complete truth. It is now a very practical question of life or death, not just for us as individuals but as a species and as a planet.

The existential issue before us is whether – blinded by propaganda and disinformation – we will stumble into a nuclear conflict between superpowers that could exterminate all life on earth or perhaps leave behind a radiated hulk of a planet suitable only for cockroaches and other hardy life forms.

You might think that with the stakes so high, the people in positions to head off such a catastrophe would behave more responsibly and professionally. But then there are events like Saturday night’s White House Correspondents Dinner with self-important media stars puffing about with their First Amendment pins. And there’s President Trump’s realization that by launching missiles and talking tough he can buy himself some political space from the Establishment (even as he sells out average Americans and kills some innocent foreigners). Those realities show that seriousness is the farthest thing from the minds of Washington’s insiders.

It’s just too much fun – and too profitable in the short-term – to keep playing the game and hauling in the goodies. If and when the mushroom clouds appear, these careerists can turn to the cameras and blame someone else.

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

Intel Vets Voice Doubts on Syrian Crisis

Two dozen former U.S. intelligence professionals are urging the American people to demand clear evidence that the Syrian government was behind the April 4 chemical incident before President Trump dives deeper into another war.


From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Subject: Mattis ‘No Doubt’ Stance on Alleged Syrian CW Smacks of Politicized Intelligence

Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, during a recent trip to Israel, commented on the issue of Syria’s retention and use of chemical weapons in violation of its obligations to dispose of the totality of its declared chemical weapons capability in accordance with the provisions of both the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“There can be no doubt,” Secretary Mattis said during a April 21, 2017 joint news conference with his Israeli counterpart, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, “in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all.” To the contrary, Mattis noted, “I can say authoritatively they have retained some.”

Lieberman joined Mattis in his assessment, noting that Israel had “100 percent information that [the] Assad regime used chemical weapons against [Syrian] rebels.”

Both Mattis and Lieberman seemed to be channeling assessments offered to reporters two days prior, on April 19, 2017, by anonymous Israeli defense officials that the April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack on the Syrian village of Khan Shaykhun was ordered by Syrian military commanders, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s personal knowledge, and that Syria retained a stock of “between one and three tons” of chemical weapons.

The Israeli intelligence followed on the heels of an April 13, 2017 speech given by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that, once information had come in about a chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, the CIA had been able to “develop several hypothesis around that, and then to begin to develop fact patterns which either supported or suggested that the hypothesis wasn’t right.” The CIA, Pompeo said, was “in relatively short order able to deliver to [President Trump] a high-confidence assessment that, in fact, it was the Syrian regime that had launched chemical strikes against its own people in [Khan Shaykhun.]”

The speed in which this assessment was made is of some concern. Both Director Pompeo, during his CSIS remarks, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, during comments to the press on April 6, 2017, note that President Trump turned to the intelligence community early on in the crisis to understand better “the circumstances of the attack and who was responsible.” McMaster indicated that the U.S. Intelligence Community, working with allied partners, was able to determine with “a very high degree of confidence” where the attack originated.

Both McMaster and Pompeo spoke of the importance of open source imagery in confirming that a chemical attack had taken place, along with evidence collected from the victims themselves – presumably blood samples – that confirmed the type of agent that was used in the attack. This initial assessment drove the decision to use military force – McMaster goes on to discuss a series of National Security Council meetings where military options were discussed and decided upon; the discussion about the intelligence underpinning the decision to strike Syria was over.

The danger of this rush toward an intelligence decision by Director Pompeo and National Security Advisor McMaster is that once the President and his top national security advisors have endorsed an intelligence-based conclusion, and authorized military action based upon that conclusion, it becomes virtually impossible for that conclusion to change. Intelligence assessments from that point forward will embrace facts that sustain this conclusion, and reject those that don’t; it is the definition of politicized intelligence, even if those involved disagree.

A similar “no doubt” moment had occurred nearly 15 years ago when, in August 2002, Vice President Cheney delivered a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Cheney declared. “There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.” The message Cheney was sending to the Intelligence Community was clear: Saddam Hussein had WMD; there was no need to answer that question anymore.

The CIA vehemently denies that either Vice President Cheney or anyone at the White House put pressure on its analysts to alter their assessments. This may very well be true, but if it is, then the record of certainty – and arrogance – that existed in the mindset of senior intelligence managers and analysts only further erodes public confidence in the assessments produced by the CIA, especially when, as is the case with Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction – the agency was found so lacking. Stuart Cohen, a veteran CIA intelligence analyst who served as the acting Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, oversaw the production of the 2002 Iraq National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to make case for Iraq possessing WMD that was used to justify war.

According to Mr. Cohen, he had four National Intelligence Officers with “over 100 years’ collective work experience on weapons of mass destruction issues” backed up by hundreds of analysts with “thousands of man-years invested in studying these issues.”

On the basis of this commitment of talent alone, Mr. Cohen assessed that “no reasonable person could have viewed the totality of the information that the Intelligence Community had at its disposal … and reached any conclusion or alternative views that were profoundly different from those that we reached,” namely that – judged with high confidence – “Iraq had chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of the 150 kilometer limit imposed by the UN Security Council.”

Two facts emerge from this expression of intellectual hubris. First, the U.S. Intelligence Community was, in fact, wrong in its estimate on Iraq’s WMD capability, throwing into question the standards used to assign “high confidence” ratings to official assessments. Second, the “reasonable person” standard cited by Cohen must be reassessed, perhaps based upon a benchmark derived from a history of analytical accuracy rather than time spent behind a desk.

The major lesson learned here, however, is that the U.S. Intelligence Community, and in particular the CIA, more often than not hides behind self-generated platitudes (“high confidence”, “reasonable person”) to disguise a process of intelligence analysis that has long ago been subordinated to domestic politics.

It is important to point out the fact that Israel, too, was wrong about Iraq’s WMD. According to Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli Intelligence Officer, Israeli intelligence seriously overplayed the threat posed by Iraqi WMD in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War, including a 2002 briefing to NATO provided by Efraim Halevy, who at the time headed the Israeli Mossad, or intelligence service, that Israel had “clear indications” that Iraq had reconstituted its WMD programs after U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998.

The Israeli intelligence assessments on Iraq, Mr. Brom concluded, were most likely colored by political considerations, such as the desire for regime change in Iraq. In this light, neither the presence of Avigdor Leiberman, nor the anonymous background briefings provided by Israel about Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, should be used to provide any credence to Secretary Mattis’s embrace of the “no doubt” standard when it comes to Syria’s alleged possession of chemical weapons.

The intelligence data that has been used to back up the allegations of Syrian chemical weapons use has been far from conclusive. Allusions to intercepted Syrian communications have been offered as “proof”, but the Iraq experience – in particular former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s unfortunate experience before the U.N. Security Council – show how easily such intelligence can be misunderstood and misused.

Inconsistencies in the publicly available imagery which the White House (and CIA) have so heavily relied upon have raised legitimate questions about the veracity of any conclusions drawn from these sources (and begs the question as to where the CIA’s own Open Source Intelligence Center was in this episode.) The blood samples used to back up claims of the presence of nerve agent among the victims was collected void of any verifiable chain of custody, making their sourcing impossible to verify, and as such invalidates any conclusions based upon their analysis.

In the end, the conclusions CIA Director Pompeo provided to the President was driven by a fundamental rethinking of the CIA’s analysts when it came to Syria and chemical weapons that took place in 2014. Initial CIA assessments in the aftermath of the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons seemed to support the Syrian government’s stance that it had declared the totality of its holding of chemical weapons, and had turned everything over to the OPCW for disposal. However, in 2014, OPCW inspectors had detected traces of Sarin and VX nerve agent precursors at sites where the Syrians had indicated no chemical weapons activity had taken place; other samples showed the presence of weaponized Sarin nerve agent.

The Syrian explanation that the samples detected were caused by cross-contamination brought on by the emergency evacuation of chemical precursors and equipment used to handle chemical weapons necessitated by the ongoing Civil War was not accepted by the inspectors, and this doubt made its way into the minds of the CIA analysts, who closely followed the work of the OPCW inspectors in Syria.

One would think that the CIA would operate using the adage of “once bitten, twice shy” when assessing inspector-driven doubt; U.N. inspectors in Iraq, driven by a combination of the positive sampling combined with unverifiable Iraqi explanations, created an atmosphere of doubt about the veracity of Iraqi declarations that all chemical weapons had been destroyed. The CIA embraced the U.N. inspectors’ conclusions, and discounted the Iraqi version of events; as it turned out, Iraq was telling the truth.

While the jury is still out about whether or not Syria is, like Iraq, telling the truth, or whether the suspicions of inspectors are well founded, one thing is clear: a reasonable person would do well to withhold final judgment until all the facts are in. (Note: The U.S. proclivity for endorsing the findings of U.N. inspectors appears not to include the Khan Shaykhun attack; while both Syria and Russia have asked the OPCW to conduct a thorough investigation of the April 4, 2017 incident, the OPCW has been blocked from doing so by the United States and its allies.)

CIA Director Pompeo’s job is not to make policy – the intelligence his agency provides simply informs policy. It is not known if the U.S. Intelligence Community will be producing a formal National Intelligence Estimate addressing the Syrian chemical weapons issue, although the fact that the United States has undertaken military action under the premise that these weapons exist more than underscores the need for such a document, especially in light of repeated threats made by the Trump administration that follow-on strikes might be necessary.

Making policy is, however, the job of Secretary of Defense Mattis. At the end of the day, Secretary of Defense Mattis will need to make his own mind up as to the veracity of any intelligence used to justify military action. Mattis’s new job requires that he does more than simply advise the President on military options; he needs to ensure that the employment of these options is justified by the facts.

In the case of Syria, the “no doubt” standard Mattis has employed does not meet the “reasonable man” standard. Given the consequences that are attached to his every word, Secretary Mattis would be well advised not to commit to a “no doubt” standard until there is, literally, no doubt.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret) and former Office Division Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA

Bogdan Dzakovic, Former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

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

Larry C Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)

Brady Kiesling, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, ret. (Associate VIPS)

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

Lisa Ling, TSgt USAF (ret.)

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

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

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

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

Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator (GG-12) HQ, Department of the Army

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary (associate VIPS)

Sarah G. Wilton, Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.); Commander, US Naval Reserve (ret.)

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

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

Through the ‘War on Terror’ Looking Glass

Exclusive: The U.S. government’s 15-year-long “global war on terror” has spread death and chaos across entire regions – while also imposing propaganda narratives on Americans – with no end in sight, says Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

The U.K.-based monitoring group reports that 41 U.S-led air strikes targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria killed at least 296 civilians during the week after the chemical weapons incident on April 4. U.S. cruise missiles reportedly killed another nine civilians in villages near the Shayrat airbase that was targeted on April 7th.

But the fragmentary reports compiled by can only reveal a fraction of the true numbers of civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria. These are only the minimum numbers of civilians killed in 41 of the 178 air strikes reported by the U.S military that week.

In other war zones, when such compilations of “passive” reports have been followed up by more comprehensive, scientific mortality studies, the true number of civilians killed has proved to be between 5 and 20 times higher than numbers previously reported by “passive” methods. [For a fuller discussion of the differences between passive reporting of civilian deaths and actual estimates based on scientific mortality studies, see’s “Playing Games With War Deaths.”]

So, based on the fragmentary nature of passive reporting of civilian deaths and the ratios to actual deaths uncovered by more comprehensive studies in other war zones (such as Rwanda, Guatemala, D.R. Congo and U.S.-occupied Iraq), it is likely that U.S.-led air strikes killed at least 1,500 innocent civilians in just this one week, or conceivably as many as 6,000.

To put this scale of civilian deaths in the larger context of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria since 2014, the 589 bombs and missiles dropped in the week of April 4- 10 made this only an average week in a campaign that has been waged consistently at this intensity for more than two-and-a-half years.

Airwars has been investigating reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and “coalition” bombing since 2014. It has investigated U.S. or allied responsibility for incidents that have killed between 8.303 and 12,208 civilians, reported by local and international media and groups like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At this point, it has confirmed that 3,061 to 4,943 civilians have been killed in 1,197 U.S. or allied air strikes. Airwars classifies these deaths as “confirmed.”

Airwars classifies the reporting as “fair” for another 454 strikes that have killed between 2,635 and 4,192 civilians, based on reporting by two or more credible sources and confirmation that an alleged U.S. or allied air strike did take place. Airwars classifies the remaining reports of a further 2,607 to 3,093 civilians as either “fair, but with no confirmed strikes,” “weak,” “contested,” or “discounted.”

Applying the 5 to 20 percent ratio of passive reporting to actual deaths found in other war zones to Airwars’ minimum and maximum figures for “confirmed” and “fair” reports of civilian deaths, a reasonable estimate of total civilians killed by U.S. and allied bombing in Iraq and Syria since 2014 would be between 28,000 and 180,000.

We can hope that Airwars’ thorough investigations have already captured a higher proportion of civilian deaths than were counted by passive reporting in Guatemala (5 percent) or occupied Iraq (8 percent). This would mean that the true number of civilians we have killed is closer to the lower of these numbers than to the upper level.

But a similar effort by Iraqbodycount during the first three years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq only counted about one-twelfth of the violent civilian deaths subsequently revealed by a comprehensive mortality study of the same period, and we will only know for sure whether Airwars has been more successful once we can compare its figures with a comprehensive epidemiological mortality survey of the present conflict in Iraq and Syria.

Claims by U.S. officials that the true civilian death toll from the U.S. and allied bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria is in the hundreds, as opposed to the tens of thousands, have never been credible, as senior officers have occasionally admitted. The uncritical repetition of the U.S. military’s absurd claims by U.S. media as if they were credible estimates of civilian deaths is a journalistic scandal. This has only served to increase the near-total ignorance among much of the American public about the real human costs of the wars being waged in our name.

As with the reporting of domestic gun violence in the U.S., occasional reports of single acts of mass killing grab headlines, but give only a hint of the constant slaughter that rages on unreported, day in, day out, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and across the ever-spreading area of the world being dragged into the bloodbath unleashed since 2001 by the U.S. “Global War on Terror.”

Nationalism, Ignorance and Consequences

There is another critical factor in the under-reporting of these constant, daily atrocities, one that has probably been a common pattern in every war ever fought. George Orwell described it very well in an essay entitled “Notes on Nationalism” that was published in May 1945, as the allies celebrated Germany’s surrender at the end of World War II.

“Actions are held to be good or bad,” Orwell wrote, “not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral color when it is committed by “our” side… The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

Far from treating this prejudice as a problem to be overcome through public accountability and serious journalism, our current military and civilian leaders and their media mouthpieces treat this kind of nationalism as a weakness they can exploit to further suppress public awareness of their own atrocities.

Then, when a single horrific incident like the mass casualty air strike on West Mosul on March 17 breaks through this wall of silence into the public consciousness, the propaganda machine is quick to frame our killing of civilians as “unintentional” and contrast it with the “deliberate” killing of civilians by our enemies.

The eminent historian Howard Zinn pointed out the flaw in this frame of reference in a letter published in the New York Times in 2007, based partly on his own experience as a a U.S. Air Force bombardier in World War II:

“These words are misleading because they assume an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’ If you engage in something like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’ Does that difference exonerate you morally?”

“The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent,” Howard Zinn concluded, “To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”

Chemical Weapons: Propaganda and History

The persistent role of chemical weapons in U.S. propaganda to justify attacks on Iraq and Syria turns on its head the way that Western powers actually used chemical weapons themselves in the past. During World War I, American factories produced 5,770 tons of chemical weapons for use by the U.S. and its allies on the Western Front, and this was only a small fraction of the weapons produced and used by the U.K., France and Germany.

This past weekend marks the centenary of the first time that chemical weapons were used in the Middle East, by British forces in the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, where they failed to dislodge the Ottoman defenders barring the British advance to Jerusalem and Damascus.

As British occupation forces faced a nationwide rebellion in Iraq in 1920, British leaders in London sent chemical weapons to Iraq, but historians disagree on whether they were actually used. British forces relied mainly on bombing, and fire-bombing in particular, to put down the rebellion and enforce British rule in Iraq. One of the British squadron leaders in Iraq, Arthur Harris, is better know to history as Air Marshall “Bomber” Harris, who ordered the fire-bombing of Dresden and other German cities in World War II.

Winston Churchill was a strong advocate for the use of chemical weapons. As War Minister during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Versailles, he wrote in a memo to his staff:

“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favor of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”

At that time, the British Army’s Manual of Military Law stated explicitly that the laws of war applied only to war “between civilized nations” and “do not apply in wars with uncivilized States and tribes.” The United Nations Charter in 1945 and the revised Geneva Conventions in 1949 formally abolished such legal distinctions between wealthy Western nations and the rest of the world. But attitudes born of wealth, privilege and racism die hard, and the purpose of much of today’s Western propaganda is to convince the world of the moral superiority of our mass technological violence over the asymmetric warfare of our less wealthy and more lightly armed enemies.

As Howard Zinn concluded, these claims to moral superiority only serve to perpetuate a mutually-reinforcing cycle of violence and to foreclose any attempt to resolve any of these conflicts except through even greater violence.

The unwritten rule that our propaganda seeks to impose on the world is that the U.S. and its allies have the right to use unrestrained, unlimited violence at will, with total impunity, while any country or government that dares to oppose us forfeits any right to defend itself, to determine its own future, or even to exist.

After George W. Bush’s administration’s crimes alienated much of the world, President Obama conducted the next phase of this aggressive policy under cover of his iconic image as a hip, sophisticated celebrity-in-chief with roots in African-American and modern urban culture. This triumph of style over substance constituted a new achievement in neoliberal “managed democracy,” allowing him to carry out policies that were the polar opposite of what his supporters thought he stood for.

With Trump, the mask is off, and the world is suddenly faced with the unvarnished reality of an aggressive military power that accepts no legal constraints on its violence.

Justice for War Crimes

If we or our leaders ever seriously want to prevent war crimes and hold war criminals responsible, we must start with the basic principle of justice invoked by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson at the London Conference that drew up the Nuremberg Principles in 1945. But this is a principle that Trump, Obama and other present-day U.S. leaders would find quite alien. Robert Jackson declared:

“If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

When civilians in New York, Washington and on a plane flying over Pennsylvania became victims of an unprecedented crime of mass murder on Sept. 11, 2001, former Nuremberg chief investigator and prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz was a lonely voice invoking another basic principle of justice. Ferencz demanded genuine criminal accountability for the crimes committed, and insisted that only the guilty should be punished.

On Sept. 19, 2001, Ben Ferencz was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR). “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done,” he told NPR’s Katy Clark, “If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”

Clark asked him, “So what do you say to skeptics who believe the judicial process is inadequate because it is very slow and very cumbersome?”

“I realize that it is slow and cumbersome,” Ferencz replied, “but it is not inadequate. I say to the skeptics, ‘Follow your procedure and you’ll find what happens… We will have more fanatics and more zealots coming to kill the evil, the United States.’ We don’t want to do that. We want to uphold our principles. The United States was the moving party behind the Nuremberg Trials and behind insisting upon the rule of law.”

As Ben Ferencz predicted only a week after the 9/11 attacks, our failure to follow the “slow and cumbersome” path of justice and our resort to systematically indiscriminate and illegal threats and uses of force has left us trapped in a cycle of violence that has so far destroyed half a dozen countries and killed about 2 million people.

More are being killed every day, and our government has no mechanism or policy in place to prevent further, even unlimited escalation. Like a blinded and wounded giant, the U.S. lashes out at every perceived enemy on every pretext, falsely invoking laws, values and standards of accountability that our leaders doggedly refuse to apply to their own actions.

Our leaders effectively claim the sole power to define whose violence is justified and whose is criminal, and on a strictly self-serving basis. Our violence is always legitimate. Our enemies’ is always criminal. Noam Chomsky has referred to this as the “single standard” that governs U.S. foreign policy. It is more traditionally referred to as “might makes right,” or the “law of the jungle.” It bears no relation to the rule of law, except to violate, abuse, undermine and discredit it.

Back Through the Looking Glass

Through several administrations, across political parties, and with the active collaboration of the U.S. mass media, our leaders have replaced the rule of law with the rule of propaganda, treating flaws in our public debates like those exposed by Orwell and Zinn only as weaknesses to be exploited, instead of dangers to beware of. The vital principles of justice upheld by Robert Jackson, Ben Ferencz and the ghosts of Nuremberg are reduced to inconvenient obstacles to be marginalized by propaganda and flushed down the memory hole.

Political skill across the spectrum is now measured in the ability to “connect” with the public in a way that is completely divorced from the actual details or effects of government policy. U.S. politics has gradually been reduced to the corrupt circus of smoke and mirrors now personified by President Trump.

And yet we all have to live in the society that our political and economic systems create. The distractions of glitzy political campaigns and Hollywood fantasies can provide only superficial relief from the monopolization of our resources by an insatiably greedy ruling class; the resulting poverty of more and more working Americans; the systematic corruption of every institution of government and society by corporate power, or “inverted totalitarianism”; and the extreme violence of a foreign policy whose only response to the endless crises its militarism provokes is to threaten and then destroy yet another country and kill hundreds of thousands more innocent people.

It is becoming essential to our very survival that we find our way out of this self-destructive propaganda world, back through the looking glass to the real world: to the beautiful but fragile natural world in which we live; to the kaleidoscopic diversity of our fellow human beings and their societies; and to the serious problems we must all work together to resolve if any of what we each value in life is to survive, let alone thrive.

As our wars escalate in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, as U.S. warships bear down on Korea, and as our leaders issue new threats against Iran, Russia and China, we may have less time to save ourselves, each other and our world than we have previously assumed.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

Trump Succumbs to Bush/Obama Perpetual War

President Trump is becoming the third post-9/11 president to prosecute bloody conflicts in the Mideast and impose mass surveillance at home, with no end in sight, observes retired Col. Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

Fourteen years ago on March 19, 2003, I resigned from the U.S. government in opposition to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq, an oil-rich Arab/Muslim country that had nothing to do with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and that the Bush Administration knew did not have weapons of mass destruction.

In my letter of resignation, I wrote of my deep concerns about Bush’s decision to attack Iraq and the predictable large number of civilian casualties from that military attack. But I also detailed my concerns on other issues: the lack of U.S. effort on resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. failure to engage North Korea to curb nuclear and missile development, and the curtailment of civil liberties in the United States through the Patriot Act.

Now, three Presidents into the Iraq War and other unsettled conflicts, the problems that I was concerned about in 2003 are even more dangerous a decade and a half later.

As a U.S. diplomat, I was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. Sixteen years later, the U.S. is still battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes more and more territory, in America’s longest war, while the graft and corruption within the Afghan government due to the mammoth U.S.-funded contracts for support of the U.S. military machine continues to provide the Taliban with new recruits.

The U.S. is now fighting against ISIS, a brutal group that emerged because of the U.S. war in Iraq, but has spread from Iraq into Syria, as the U.S. policy of regime change has resulted in arming international as well as domestic Syrian groups to fight not only ISIS, but the Syrian government. The deaths of civilians in Iraq and Syria continue to rise with the acknowledgement this week by the U.S. military that it is “likely” that a U.S. bombing mission killed over 200 civilians in one building in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Slaughtering Palestinians

With U.S. government acquiescence, if not complicity, the Israeli military has attacked Gaza three times in the past eight years. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed, tens of thousands have been wounded and the homes of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been destroyed.

Over 800,000 Israelis now live in illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Israeli government has built hundreds of miles of separation/apartheid walls on Palestinian land which separate Palestinians from their farms, schools and employment. Brutal, humiliating checkpoints purposely attempt to degrade the spirit of Palestinians. Israeli only highways have been built on Palestinian lands. The theft of Palestinian resources has ignited a worldwide, citizen-led boycott, divestment and sanctions program.

Imprisonment of Palestinian children for throwing rocks at Israeli occupation military forces has reached crisis levels. Evidence of the Israeli government’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians has now been formally called “apartheid” in a United Nations report that resulted in massive Israeli and U.S. pressure on the U.N to withdraw the report and force the Under Secretary of the U.N. who commissioned the report to resign.

The North Korean government continues to call for negotiations with the U.S. and South Korea for a peace treaty to end the Korean War. But the U.S. government has responded with a rejection of any discussions with North Korea until North Korea ends its nuclear program. The U.S. also has increased U.S.-South Korean military drills, the last one named “Decapitation,” moves that have resulted in the North Korean government continuing its nuclear testing and missile projects.

The war on civil liberties of U.S. citizens under the Patriot Act resulted in unprecedented surveillance through cellphones, computers and other electronic devices,  massive illegal data collection and indefinite, perpetual storage of private information of not only U.S. citizens, but all inhabitants of this planet.

The Obama war on whistleblowers who have exposed various aspects of the illegal data collection has inflicted severe punishments on people accused of sharing truthful information with the public, including: bankruptcy for National Security Agency official Tom Drake in successfully defending against espionage charges; Pvt. Chelsea Manning’s long prison sentence for exposing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan; forced exile for NSA contractor Edward Snowden for revealing U.S. government lies about the NSA’s bulk collection; Julian Assange’s virtual imprisonment in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy for fear of retaliation against WikiLeaks’ disclosures of U.S. government secrets.

Trump’s Complaint

In the latest bizarre twist, President Donald Trump has accused President Barack Obama of “wiretapping” the Trump Tower in New York City during the Presidential campaign but then – amid widespread denials – refused to provide any evidence, although it’s true that virtually all citizens have become targets of electronic surveillance.

The past 14 years have been difficult for the world due to U.S. wars of choice and the growth of the surveillance state. And, the next four years do not appear likely to bring any relief to the citizens of planet earth.

The election of Donald Trump, the first U.S. President who has never served in any level of government nor in the U.S. military, has led to – in a little more than two months – an unprecedented number of domestic and international crises, many self-inflicted:

–The Trump administration has attempted to ban persons from seven mostly Muslim countries (later reduced to six);

–The Trump administration has appointed to Cabinet positions members of the billionaire class from Wall Street and Big Oil, people who have the intention of destroying the agencies they are to lead.

–The Trump administration has proposed a budget that will increase the U.S. military war budget by 10 percent, but slash the budgets of other agencies to render them ineffective.

–The Department of State and International Affairs budget for conflict resolution by words not bullets will be slashed by 37 percent.

–The Trump Administration has appointed a person to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who has declared the worsening climate chaos a hoax.

In retrospect, I am glad I resigned from the U.S. government when I did. My decision to resign has allowed me to speak publicly in the United States and around the world on issues that jeopardize international security from the perspective of a former U.S. government employee with 29 years of experience in the U.S. Army and 16 years in the U.S. diplomatic corps.

I am glad that I could join the millions of citizens around the world who are challenging their governments when the governments violate legal standards, kill innocent civilians and wreck havoc on the planet.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.  She served as a U.S. diplomat for sixteen years before her resignation in March 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.  She is the co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.

Trump Slips into ‘Endless War’ Cycle

Exclusive: President Trump’s foreign policy is falling into line behind continuing wars in the Middle East, a disappointment to supporters who hoped for a change in course, writes James W Carden.

By James W Carden

There was, during the course of the 2016 campaign, a small but vocal group of antiwar libertarians and conservatives who had convinced themselves that Donald Trump was preferable to Hillary Clinton because he, Trump, had made his (fictitious) opposition to the Iraq War a cornerstone of his candidacy. Trump, some believed, was a Republican in the mold of Senator Robert Taft, someone who would turn away from neoconservative, interventionist orthodoxy.

If, as the adage suggests, we can judge a man by his enemies, a cursory look at Trump’s most vocal Republican critics would seem to confirm this judgment. Why, here’s Bill Kristol in January 2016, asking “Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?” Commentary’s John Podhoretz declared that Trump “would be, unquestionably, the worst thing to happen to the American common culture in my lifetime.” Professor Eliot A. Cohen and his merry band of think tank militarists published an open letter in opposition to Trump’s candidacy while National Review convened a symposium of anti-Trumpers for a special issue titled “Against Trump.”

Perhaps, though, Kristol, Cohen, Podhoretz, NR and the rest needn’t have worried so. Trump, it turns out, seems every bit as captive to the bipartisan foreign policy consensus as was his predecessor. Many supporters of Barack Obama held the errant hope that Obama would finally break the cycle of wars begun a quarter-century ago when George H.W. Bush launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq and in defense of desert petro-states, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Trump partisans may object that he’s only been in office for about two months. Give him time, they say. That’s fair enough, but it is worth reviewing Trump’s foreign policy record up to this point.

An administration’s budget is generally a reliable indicator of its priorities. Here we find, in Trump’s first budget proposal, nearly $11 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of State, a cut of roughly 29 percent, while the Pentagon is budgeted for an additional $54 billion, an increase of 9 percent.

Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been at war for 15½ years, is by far American’s longest and perhaps most futile overseas engagement. Here the Trump administration seems intent on ratcheting up airstrikes on the Taliban in a departure from the narrower focus on anti-terrorism that characterized the late Obama administration policy.

The head of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that he will recommend an increase in troops in order “to make the advise-and-assist mission more effective.” This comes on the heels of testimony by the top commander in Afghanistan, Army General John Nicholson telling Congress in February that he would need “a few thousand more” troops to carry out the mission.

More Troops

Meanwhile, more troops are being deployed to Kuwait. On March 9, the Army Times reported that the U.S. is sending “an additional 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” This is in addition to the already roughly 6,000 American troops that are currently in Syria and Iraq assisting in the fight against the Islamic State. American units are now in the northern Syrian city of Manbij and on the outskirts on Raqqa.

The latter deployment of Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit marks, according to the Washington Post, “a new escalation in the U.S. war in Syria, and puts more conventional U.S. troops in the battle.” The Post, like all other mainstream outlets, leaves out mention that this new deployment is illegal under international law, a point Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made in an interview with Chinese state media last weekend.

And then, perhaps worst of all, there is the ongoing American support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. As Council on Foreign Relations analyst Micah Zenko recently pointed out, Trump has already “approved at least 36 drone strikes or raids in 45 days — one every 1.25 days.” These include, according to Zenko, “three drone strikes in Yemen on January 20, 21, and 22; the January 28 Navy SEAL raid in Yemen; one reported strike in Pakistan on March 1; more than thirty strikes in Yemen on March 2 and 3; and at least one more on March 6.” The strikes, we are told, are a necessary part of the “global war on terror” and are portrayed by military and administration spokesmen as such.

A Pentagon spokesman told longtime CNN stenographer Barbara Starr that the wave of 30 strikes on March 2 and 3 were “precision strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” in order to “maintain pressure against the terrorists’ network and infrastructure in the region.” The U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen has predictably resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. According to the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Reidel, “a Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes from severe malnutrition and other problems linked to the war and the Saudi blockade of the north.”

All this on behalf of our old friends the Saudis. In the decade and a half after aiding the 9/11 hijackers, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, with American acquiescence, embarked on a campaign to destroy Yemen because of an illusory threat posed by Iran. Yet the reason behind KSA’s aggression on the southern end of the Arabian peninsula has not a bit to do with “security” or Iranian “aggression” or fighting “terrorism”; it is a sectarian campaign waged by Saudi extremists, nothing more. What could possibly be America’s interest in assisting the Saudis in such an endeavor?

Yet, despite the heinous nature of Saudi Arabia’s anti-Houthi campaign in Yemen, its mastermind, the young Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was treated to lunch at the White House with the President this week. In an ominous sign of things to come, a statement from the Saudis noted that Trump and bin Salman “share the same views on the gravity of the Iranian expansionist moves in the region.”

And so, to sum up: President Trump, in the space of two months, has proposed a budget that slashes funding for diplomacy, spends lavishly on military, has committed thousands of troops, conducted dozens of airstrikes, and cemented the U.S. commitment to the wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, he and his team have signaled to the Saudis that they fully share the Kingdom’s obsession with Iranian “expansion.”

An Unending Cycle

What can be done to break the seemingly unending cycle of American intervention in the Middle East? What all the aforementioned interventions have in common is that they are, as the constitutional lawyer and former Justice Department official Bruce Fein has pointed out, presidential wars, which he defines as “wars in which the President decides to take the United States from a state of peace to a state of war.”

Fein, a founding member of the anti-interventionist Committee for The Republic, has written at length on what he views as the steady erosion of the congressional prerogative in matters of war and peace. Fein writes that the Founders “unanimously entrusted to Congress exclusive responsibility for taking the nation to war in Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution” because they understood “to a virtual certainty that Congress would only declare war in response to actual or perceived aggression against the United States, i.e., only in self-defense.”

Accordingly, the Committee for The Republic has embarked on a timely project aimed at having “the House pass a resolution that defines presidential wars under the Constitution going forward and declares them unconstitutional in violation of Article I, section 8, clause 11 (Declare War Clause).” Furthermore, the “End Presidential Wars” project seeks a further resolution, which would warn “the President that such wars will be deemed high crimes and misdemeanors under Article II, section 4 of the Constitution resulting in his or her impeachment, conviction, and removal from office.”

Fein points to Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation in Democracy in America that, “All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.”

Unless we come to grips with our current mania for overseas intervention and find a remedy for Congress’s abdication of its constitutional responsibilities, we are doomed to remain in the 25-year grip of endless, counterproductive and illegal military interventions in the Middle East and beyond.

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

Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is a rare member of Congress willing to take heat for challenging U.S. “regime change” projects, in part, because as an Iraq War vet she saw the damage these schemes do, as retired Col. Ann Wright explains.

By Ann Wright

I support Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, going to Syria and meeting with President Bashar al-Assad because the congresswoman is a brave person willing to take criticism for challenging U.S. policies that she believes are wrong.

It is important that we have representatives in our government who will go to countries where the United States is either killing citizens directly by U.S. intervention or indirectly by support of militia groups or by sanctions.

We need representatives to sift through what the U.S. government says and what the media reports to find out for themselves the truth, the shades of truth and the untruths.

We need representatives willing to take the heat from both their fellow members of Congress and from the media pundits who will not go to those areas and talk with those directly affected by U.S. actions. We need representatives who will be our eyes and ears to go to places where most citizens cannot go.

Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has seen first-hand the chaos that can come from misguided “regime change” projects, is not the first international observer to come back with an assessment about the tragic effects of U.S. support for lethal “regime change” in Syria.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire began traveling to Syria three years ago and now having made three trips to Syria. She has come back hearing many of the same comments from Syrians that Rep. Gabbard heard — that U.S. support for “regime change” against the secular government of Syria is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and – if the “regime change” succeeded – might result in the takeover by armed religious-driven fanatics who would slaughter many more Syrians and cause a mass migration of millions fleeing the carnage.

Since 2011, the Obama administration supported various rebel groups fighting for “regime change” in Syria while U.S. allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – backed jihadist groups including Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, some of the same extremists whom the U.S. military is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Assad were overthrown, these extremists might take power and create even worse conditions for Syrians.

This possibility of jihadists imposing perverted extremist religious views on the secular state of Syria remains high due to international meddling in the internal affairs of Syria. This “regime change” project also drew in Russia to provide air support for the Syrian military.

Critical of Obama’s ‘Regime Change’

During the Obama administration, Rep. Gabbard spoke critically of the U.S. propensity to attempt “regime change” in countries and thus provoking chaos and loss of civilian life.

On Dec. 8, 2016, she introduced a bill entitled the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” which would prohibit the U.S. government from using U.S. funds to provide funding, weapons, training, and intelligence support to extremists groups, such as the ones fighting in Syria – or to countries that are providing direct or indirect support to those groups.

In the first days of the Trump administration, Rep. Gabbard traveled to Syria to see the effects of the attempted “regime change” and to offer a solution to reduce the deaths of civilians and the end of the war in Syria. A national organization Veterans For Peace, to which I belong, has endorsed her trip as a step toward resolution to the Syrian conflict.

Not surprisingly, back in Washington, Rep. Gabbard came under attack for the trip and for her meeting with President Assad, similar to criticism that I have faced because of visits that I have made to countries where the U.S. government did not want me to go — to Cuba, Iran, Gaza, Yemen, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and back to Afghanistan, where I was assigned as a U.S. diplomat.

I served my country for 29 years in the U.S. Army/ Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. I also served 16 years in the U.S. diplomatic corps in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. I resigned from the U.S. government nearly 14 years ago in March 2003 in opposition to President George W. Bush’s “regime change” war on Iraq.

In my travels since my resignation, I didn’t agree with many of the policies of the governments in power in those countries. But I wanted to see the effects of U.S. government policies and, in particular, the effects of attempts at “regime change.”

I wanted to talk with citizens and government officials about the effects of U.S. sanctions and whether the sanctions “worked” to lessen their support for the government that the U.S. was attempting to change or overthrow.

For making those trips, I have been criticized strongly. I have been called an apologist for the governments in power. Critics have said that my trips have given legitimacy to the abuses by those governments. And I have been called a traitor to the United States to dare question or challenge its policy of “regime change.”

But I am not an apologist, nor am I a traitor … nor is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard for her recent trip to Syria.

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. She has lived in Honolulu since 2003. [A version of this story originally appeared at]