Neocons Enlist in Anti-Trump #Resistance

Exclusive: The neocons, who have influenced U.S. foreign policy since the 1980s, inflicting grave damage on U.S. interests and the world, are reinventing themselves as soldiers in the anti-Trump #Resistance, writes James W. Carden.

By James W. Carden

In these summer dog days of the Trump presidency, good news is hard to come by, but in late June it was reported that the successor institution to William Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), was shutting its doors for good.

FPI was founded in 2009 to give the displaced neocons who had worked for President George W. Bush a platform from which to endlessly criticize the new Democratic administration and push for a continuation of Bush’s disastrous neocon foreign policy. (Some other neocons sheltered in place mostly inside the State Department and the Pentagon.)

During the Obama years, FPI gave a platform to Kristol and likeminded neocons such as Dan Senor, James Kirchick and Jamie Fly, who went on to serve as a foreign policy adviser to neocon favorite Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

FPI was generously subsidized by hedge fund manager Paul Singer. The Washington Post recently reported that “Those close to the organization said that in the new policy and political environment marked by the ascendency of Donald Trump, many donors, including Singer, are reassessing where to put their funds.”

But does the demise of FPI mean the neoconservatives would be, at long last, going away for a while — perhaps to take stock in the immense damage they have caused the country and the word? The answer would seem to be: not on your life. And why would they? In Donald Trump’s Washington, the neocons are in high demand even though a number of high-profile neocons (such as Elliott Abrams and John Bolton) were rebuffed for senior positions inside the new administration. But neocons are finding plenty of high-profile jobs elsewhere.

In April, the New York Times announced that longtime climate change denier Bret Stephens was joining the paper as an op-ed columnist. Stephens, who came to the Times from the Wall Street Journal, has been aptly described by The Nations Eric Alterman as a “deliberate purveyor of propaganda and misinformation.” Stephens’s past columns include such classics as “I Am Not Sorry the CIA Waterboarded.”

For its part, the centrist Brookings Institution announced last month that it was hiring neocon smear artist James Kirchick. Kirchick, who will serve as a Brookings Visiting Fellow, has used his platform at the Internet tabloid Daily Beast to smear proponents of detente as “Putin apologists” and “anti-semites.” Kirchick, an outspoken NeverTrumper, also penned a hysterical (and discredited) screed accusing prominent liberals, without evidence, of supporting Donald Trump.

Joining the #Resistance

Neocons are also in demand at what had long been one of the more responsible foreign policy think tanks in Washington. The German Marshall Fund just announced the launch of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which, according to its mission statement, “will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions.”

“The Alliance,” read the statement, “will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.”

The Alliance will be run by none other than former FPI executive director Jamie Fly and a former foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign, Laura Rosenberger. The Alliance’s board of advisers is a veritable who’s who of neocon royalty including the ubiquitous Bill Kristol, along with David Kramer, Michael Morell and Kori Schake.

This is not to imply that the neocons find themselves confined to the think tank world and lack representation inside the Trump administration. Far from it. Trump has appointed several neocons to key jobs, such as United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and the new Ukraine Envoy Kurt Volker.  It is also rumored that Trump will appoint hardliner, A. Mitchell Weiss, as assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, the post from which Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover from the Bush years to the Obama administration, managed to do such lasting damage to U.S.-Russia relations.

The neocon revival has been facilitated by #Resistance-friendly media like MSNBC, which frequently features David Frum and Willian Kristol, two early and outspoken members of the NeverTrump movement. But perhaps what the #Resisters at MSNBC are forgetting is that the neocon-dominated NeverTrump movement was driven by the fact that, for them, Trump was not militaristic enough, which is why they threw their support behind the likes of Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham in the Republican primaries and, in the cases of Robert Kagan and Max Boot, behind Hillary Clinton in the general election.

The willingness of the pro-Hillary #Resistance to make common cause with the neocon NeverTrumpers is troubling and may explain why there has been so precious little “resistance” on their part to Trump’s plans to expand the wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen. (Indeed, Trump’s April 6 missile strike on Syria won praise from Hillary Clinton, who only lamented that Trump had not done more militarily in Syria.)

But perhaps all this isn’t so surprising, after all, the legions of embittered Clinton supporters never really objected all that strenuously (if at all) to their candidate’s record of support for endless war.

In the end, perhaps the neocons and the pro-Hillary #Resistance are not such strange bedfellows after all. Indeed, the #Resistance’s newfound enthusiasm for many prominent NeverTrumpers like Kristol and Frum helps explain the neocon revival now underway.

James W. Carden served as an adviser on Russia policy at the US State Department. Currently a contributing writer at The Nation magazine, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Quartz, The American Conservative and The National Interest.




U.K.’s Corbyn Told Truth about Terrorism

Analysts credit the Labour Party’s strong showing in the U.K. election to economic issues, but its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, also told voters the truth about how the West’s Mideast wars have spread terrorism, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On May 26, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of British Labour Party, made a speech which dealt in large part with security and foreign policy. Much of his presentation was surprisingly accurate. Here is what he said:

—There is a cause-and-effect relationship “between wars our governments supported and fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.” For instance, the May 22 Manchester bombing, which killed 22 people, may well be connected to the United Kingdom’s involvement in the overthrow of the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi and the subsequent civil wars.

—This cause-and-effect relationship is not a matter of speculation. “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to these connections.”

—Past governments have not been willing to address these connections, and now the people of the U.K. are confronted with a “war on terror that is simply not working.”

—“We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.” Therefore, Corbyn promised that, if he were to become the leader of the British government, he would “change what we do abroad.”

Corbyn’s speech is unusual because political leaders rarely point out that policies supported by major special interest groups (such as the Zionists, Saudis and the arms industry) are really catastrophic errors. More rarely still do politicians say so in public. In the case of terrorist attacks, almost every Western leader has blamed “radical Islam” (leaving out, of course, any reference to Saudi Wahhabism).

The public at large has gone along with this view because it echoes the media message that constitutes the source of their knowledge on most non-local subjects. The media outlets have never told them that the murderous foreign policies of their own governments contributed to terrorism coming to their shores. And now, along comes Jeremy Corbyn’s message that British policies abroad have something to do with British tragedies at home.

The Reaction

Such a fundamental challenge to policy can be traumatic, so Corbyn’s political foes have responded with indignation. For instance, Ben Wallace, Minister of State for security in the present Conservative government, labeled Corbyn’s remarks as “crass and appallingly timed.” The word “crass” means rude or vulgar and it is hard to see how stating a truism in acceptable English qualifies as crass.

Just so, why characterize Corbyn’s timing, coming shortly after the Manchester terror attack, as “appalling”? Should the Labour Party leader have waited for a lull in such attacks so that his point would be missed by the British public?

Wallace also indulged in wrongheaded denial. He charged Corbyn with being ahistorical in his assessment of terrorist enemies. He stated that “these people [the terrorists] hate our values, not our foreign policy.”

It is depressing that conservatives throughout the Western world have learned so little – if anything at all – since 2001. That is the year George W. Bush delivered the grotesquely misleading line that Ben Wallace now echoes. Right after 9/11 Bush proclaimed the terrorists do what they do (at least in the West) because “they hate our freedoms.”

Anyone who is familiar with the attitudes of Middle East militants, religious or secular, knows that the vast majority do not care what sort of values and freedoms we practice in our own countries. However, they do care about the damaging foreign policies we impose upon their countries.

Tim Farron, the British Liberal Democratic leader, also went after Corbyn for using the moment of the Manchester terrorist attack to make “a political point.” Apparently, though, it’s a point that Farron has missed. What is important about Corbyn’s statement is that it properly contextualizes not only the Manchester attack but most of all other terrorist attacks in the West. Corbyn’s message is an accurate historical analysis that has political implications.

To What Avail the Truth?

Politicians obviously have self-interested reasons for denying that they have misinterpreted, miscalculated, and then persisted in bad policies that have resulted in death and destruction for their own countrymen as well as others. No doubt a sort of special interest-induced myopia allows some of them to believe that if they only stick to their strategy they will prevail.

This is certainly the case with the American President Donald Trump. After the latest terror attack in London he let loose a Twitter broadside telling the world “we must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people.”

This lined up nicely with Prime Minister Theresa May’s public comment that the British government has been “too tolerant” toward terrorists. These words have little real meaning. They are more likely code words for continued Western violence in the Middle East, which Mr. Corbyn correctly identifies as the reason there are terrorist attacks in our part of the world in the first place.

A recent British poll conducted just before the June 8 election indicated that 75 percent of those contacted now believe that Jeremy Corbyn is correct and there is a connection between intervention into the Middle East morass and terrorism within the U.K. The poll claims its sample is representative of the population as a whole.

Then on June 9, the U.K. had its general election. As a result the Conservatives remain the largest party in parliament, but with a seriously reduced number of seats. In order to rule with an outright majority, a party needs 326 seats. The Conservatives won only 319 compared to Labour’s 261. There are several other parties such as the Liberal Democrats mentioned above, but their seat count is much less. For example the Liberal Dems won only 12 seats. All in all it was a comparative win for Labour and loss for the Conservatives.

People cast their votes for many different reasons – mostly local in nature (thus the notion of voting one’s pocketbook). However, terrorism is a factor that has been invading the local space of more and more British citizens, and so we can safely assume that at least some who supported the Labour Party in this election did so because they heeded Jeremy Corbyn’s warning of a connection between the U.K.’s present foreign policy and national insecurity. As for those who pinned their hopes on continued Conservative Party rule, they also inadvertently voted for endless terrorism in their own backyard.

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 www.tothepointanalyses.com.




McMaster Urges Another Afghan ‘Surge’

Exclusive: The failure to hold the Iraq War perpetrators accountable has led to false narratives about “successful surges” that never really succeeded — and now may allow the Afghan slaughter to escalate, reports James W Carden.

By James W Carden

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that President Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will soon be proposing yet another troop increase in Afghanistan. According to the Times, “The White House shelved the deliberations over Afghanistan three weeks ago, after an initial Pentagon proposal to deploy up to 5,000 additional American troops ran into fierce resistance” from White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and other advisers.

But McMaster, reports the Times, is “undeterred” and “plans to bring the debate back to the front burner this coming week,” according to an anonymous U.S. official.

The current debate recalls the early days of the Obama administration when President Obama was basically railroaded by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal into sending over 30,000 U.S. troops in an ill-fated “surge” that was advertised by its supporters as the answer to the Afghan quagmire. But the “surge,” rather than resulting in victory, produced a rash of “green on blue” attacks by our alleged Afghan allies upon U.S. troops.

It is worth recalling that the Afgha “surge” was a policy that was enthusiastically endorsed by the U.S. Establishment. As the editorial board of the New York Times wrote in May 2009: “We hope… that the president and his team have come up with a strategy that will combine aggressive counterinsurgency tactics with economic development.” Washington think tanks, such as the Center for a New American Security and the Brookings Institution, also lined up in support. Yet the results were abysmal: more U.S. troops died in Afghanistan under Obama than under George W. Bush. Overall, the war in Afghanistan, which is now in its 16th year, has taken the lives of over 31,000 Afghani civilians – and by some estimates perhaps10 times over – and over 3,500 members of the U.S.-led coalition at a cost of over $1 trillion.

But never mind this uncomfortable and tragic history. For the Times, what’s important is that Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis and H.R. McMaster “are steeped in counterinsurgency doctrine — the strategy that helped lead Mr. Obama to order a deployment of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2009.” And judging by much of the literature and reportage on the decade-and-a-half-long war in Afghanistan, counterinsurgency doctrine (or COIN) has, despite zero success, never lost its luster inside the Beltway.

Bad Habits

When it comes to COIN, old habits die hard. The Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon, a stalwart supporter of counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq and a cheerleader for the 2009 Afghan “surge,” is now calling for a “mini-surge” in Afghanistan. According to Hanlon, the war may not end anytime soon, “but maybe that’s okay, given how relatively modest in scale and risk the mission has become, and how modest it will remain even if President Trump adds several thousand more troops to the mix.“ [Emphasis mine].

“An increase of several thousand U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan,” says O’Hanlon, “has a sound logic behind it.”

The misplaced enthusiasm for sending evermore troops to Afghanistan is predicated in large part by an almost religious faith in counterinsurgency doctrine, which is often cited as the key to General David Petraeus’s (allegedly) “successful surge” in Iraq in 2007.

Yet as the historian and retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich has pointed out, COIN has “enabled senior civilian and military officials to sustain the pretense of having reasserted a measure of control over a situation in which they have exercised next to none.”  [For why the “successful surge” myth has been so popular in Official Washington, click here.]

Having failed on its own terms, that is, to bring a measure of political stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, COIN’s proponents nevertheless persist. Indeed, counterinsurgency expert and former president of CNAS John Nagl was quoted in the Times asking “what is the alternative?” to McMaster’s proposed troop increase.

Actually, there are alternatives (there always are). It’s just that these tend not to have the institutional backing of Washington’s policy/think tank community which, because it is deeply compromised by its defense industry funders, rarely given them voice or consideration.

For example, Professors Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer have proposed an eminently sensible strategy of “offshore balancing” which would forgo the use of U.S. ground forces and instead rely on an “over the horizon” force that would serve as a deterrent to the rise of potential regional hegemons while “eschewing social engineering and minimizing the United States’ military foot­print.”

According to Walt and Mearsheimer, the U.S. is currently committed to “spreading democracy in unfamiliar places, which sometimes requires military occupation and always involves interfering with local political arrangements.”

Fresh Thinking

The problem with this approach — which, as it happens, is the most serious objection to McMaster’s plan — is that ever greater number of  boots on the ground “invariably foster nationalist resentment.”

“In addition to inspiring terrorists,” write Walt and Mearsheimer, “using regime change to spread American values undermines local institutions and creates ungoverned spaces where violent extremists can flourish.”

MIT’s Barry Posen has proposed a strategy along similar lines. In his 2014 book Restraint: A New Foundation for US Strategy, Posen correctly observes that U.S. objectives in Afghanistan are “probably unachievable.” After all, “despite much US and NATO instruction” Afghanistan’s “military, and police remain poorly trained, inadequately armed, sometimes corrupt, and only intermittently motivated.”

What to do? Send in more troops, as per Mattis and McMaster? No: the wisest course of action would be for the U.S. to moderate its goals, which, according to Posen, “means ratcheting down the US counterinsurgency, nation-building project in Afghanistan at the earliest possible time.”

As the latest iteration of the counterinsurgency debate kicks off this week, the time to consider serious alternatives to America’s current (and failed) strategy in Afghanistan is now.

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




Will the Neocons’ Long War Ever End?

America’s Long War or Global War on Terror has taken some ugly turns as the West’s continued war-making in the Muslim world leads to new terrorism against Western targets, with no end in sight, explains Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

The recent news from Kabul (in Afghanistan), from Manchester and London (in England), from Mosul (in Iraq), from Raqqa (in Syria), from Marib (in Yemen) and from too many devastated and traumatized communities to list makes it only too clear that the world is trapped in an unprecedented and intractable cycle of violence. And yet, incredibly, none of the main parties to all this violence are talking seriously about how to end it, let alone taking action to do so.

After 15 years of ever-spreading conflict has killed two to five million people, the main perpetrators are still getting away with framing their violence entirely as a response to the violence of their enemies. How much violence and chaos will the world accept before people start holding their own leaders morally and legally accountable for decisions and policies that predictably and repeatedly result in massive loss of life, cities reduced to rubble and shattered societies?

The neoconservative vision of a “Long War” or “generational conflict” to reshape the Middle East and other parts of the world has, in effect, created its own reality, as its proponents in the Bush II administration promised. The new crony-capitalist order they envisioned has taken root in places where entrenched ruling classes were already predisposed to it, like the Persian Gulf monarchies.

But wherever the would-be new rulers of the world – the U.S., NATO and the Arab royals – have made good on their threats to impose their new order by force, the results have only confirmed the soundness of the United Nations Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of force and the urgency of actually enforcing it.

An intelligent, legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks would have limited the use of force to what was strictly necessary and proportional and prosecuted its perpetrators and planners as criminals. But Al Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden, the hijackers and their accomplices gambled correctly on unwitting but decisive help from U.S. leaders who fell into the “war psychosis” that the scheme explicitly sought to provoke.

When the U.S. responded to a serious crime as an act of war, it granted Al Qaeda the status of a belligerent that it sought in the eyes of alienated, marginalized Muslims across the world. The U.S. “war on terror” thus exploded the limited threat from a small group of jihadis scurrying between tenuous safe havens in Sudan and Afghanistan into a global franchise that the most expensive war machine ever built can only scatter and splinter farther and wider with every bomb, missile and “special operation” that it launches.

As a result, the greater Middle East is disintegrating into a patchwork of militarized apartheid states surrounded by devastated societies where militias rule and chaos reigns. Every day, U.S. warplanes kill hundreds of people with a hundred bombs and missiles in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Now U.S. leaders are contracting out the killing to new proxies. Saudi forces long dismissed as untrainable by Western military trainers — and armies of mercenaries recruited from Pakistan and elsewhere by Persian Gulf emirs — are committing a crime against humanity in Yemen, killing tens of thousands of civilians and threatening to plunge the poverty-stricken country into a famine that could kill millions. The brutality generates more and more desperate reactions.

The Sri Lanka model

In Sri Lanka, where I was born, rebel groups from the marginalized and oppressed Tamil minority adopted suicide bombing as a tactic and conducted 115 suicide attacks, including the assassinations of Sri Lankan President Premadasa and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Dharmalingam Siddarthan, one of the architects of the Tamils’ bombing campaign, explained the reasoning behind it to Mark Meadows, an American writer who went to Sri Lanka after the 9/11attacks to try to understand the “terrorism” that was then a new phenomenon to Americans.

“Terrorism is simply targeting innocent people,” Siddarthan explained. “It is targeting people who have nothing to do with your struggle. You cannot convince them to join you, and you cannot convince the government to change. We decided that Sinhalese people had to understand our suffering. When we bring the war to Colombo, we are hitting economic targets. We are weakening the economy and making it feel our struggle. And by doing so we gain the attention that we need.”

Siddarthan eventually renounced violence, and is now a Member of Parliament for Jaffna.

In another interview for his book, Tea Time With Terrorists, Meadows spoke to Shankar Rajee, the mastermind of the first Tamil bombings in the capital, Colombo, in 1984. Meadows asked Shankar Rajee, who had spent years on the CIA’s “Most Wanted” list, what message he thought Al Qaeda tried to send by the 9/11 attacks.

“They wanted to point out that the Americans are insulated, that all that matters is their ‘American way of life’ and their living standards,” Shankar Rajee told him. “Americans are not paying attention to the pain of the rest of the world. For the Americans, the end justifies the means. They do not care. But they hypocritically hold a high ground – a moral high ground – and cause the deaths of thousands of people to sustain their quality of life…

“See, when you become a superpower, the arrogance with which you exercise that power should be considered. All the great empires and all the great powers of the world have perished because of arrogance.”

The Sri Lankan civil war was in many ways the U.S. “Long War” in microcosm, pitting better-armed government forces against guerrilla fighters and suicide bombers. But the war took place on an island. Government forces eventually used overwhelming force to defeat the Tamil Tigers, also killing thousands of civilians in a final offensive that a U.N. official in Colombo described as a “bloodbath.”  

But the U.S. Long War is not taking place on an island. When U.S.-led assaults on cities like Fallujah, Mosul and Raqqa massacre enemy forces and thousands of civilians, they incite more anger and hatred, which then inspires new recruits to Al Qaeda or Islamic State in far-off, unexpected places across the world.

After doing this over and over again for 15 years, U.S. military and civilian leaders should have learned by now that they are just fueling and expanding the conflict.

But instead of fundamentally rethinking U.S. policy, our civilian and military leaders are still counting on propaganda or “information warfare” to evade accountability for systematic war crimes and to limit the political blowback from their military madness.

For example, the U.S. still calls the bombs and missiles it uses to blow people apart and reduce their homes to rubble “precision weapons.” During the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an estimated 15 to 20 percent of these weapons missed their targets by at least 30 feet, but even when they are accurate, the U.S.’s smallest 500-pound bombs are designed to kill and maim across a blast radius that varies from 30 to 300 feet depending on what they hit.

As I wrote in Blood On Our Hands, “the impression created by the Centcom press office and CNN that these weapons could be used to safely and surgically ‘zap’ one house in an urban area was an artful blend of propaganda and science fiction.”

On the other side, Al Qaeda and Islamic State call their own most terrifying weapons, the suicidal murderers of nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 and young concert-goers in Manchester and Paris, “martyrs,” identifying them with resistance fighters across the Muslim world and Muslim warriors throughout history.

‘Constant Conflict’

Ironically, this kind of “information warfare” over language and imagery is exactly what American military planners expected and welcomed as they surveyed the post-Cold War world in the 1990s. But they overestimated their own ability to dominate it.

A 1997 military journal essay titled “Constant Conflict” by Major Ralph Peters is an example of the triumphalism that passed for realism in the halls of the post-Cold War Pentagon, and of the hypocrisy and arrogance that Shankar Rajee identified as motivating factors behind the 9/11 crimes:

“We have entered an age of constant conflict,” Peters wrote. “Information is at once our core commodity and the most destabilizing factor of our time… Those of us who can sort, digest, synthesize, and apply relevant knowledge soar — professionally, financially, politically, militarily, and socially. We, the winners, are a minority.

“For the world masses, devastated by information they cannot manage or effectively interpret, life is ‘nasty, brutish . . . and short-circuited.’ The general pace of change is overwhelming, and information is both the motor and signifier of change. Those humans, in every country and region, who cannot understand the new world, or who cannot profit from its uncertainties, or who cannot reconcile themselves to its dynamics, will become the violent enemies of their inadequate governments, of their more fortunate neighbors, and ultimately of the United States. We are entering a new American century, in which we will become still wealthier, culturally more lethal, and increasingly powerful. We will excite hatreds without precedent…

“One of the defining bifurcations of the future will be the conflict between information masters and information victims…

“There will be no peace. At any given moment for the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe. Violent conflict will dominate the headlines, but cultural and economic struggles will be steadier and ultimately more decisive. The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. We are building an information-based military to do that killing.

“Societies that fear or otherwise cannot manage the free flow of information simply will not be competitive. They might master the technological wherewithal to watch the videos, but we will be writing the scripts, producing them, and collecting the royalties. Our creativity is devastating.”

Meanwhile, over at the State Department, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton were holding regular meetings with their staffs to map out the political and diplomatic policies that would support and justify the more aggressive and widespread use of military force being planned by the Pentagon.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations during her 2000 Senate campaign, Clinton nailed her flag to the mast as a proponent of more aggressive and dangerous U.S. military interventions.

“There is a refrain,” Clinton declared, “that we should intervene with force only when we face splendid little wars that we surely can win, preferably by overwhelming force in a relatively short period of time. To those who believe we should become involved only if it is easy to do, I think we have to say that America has never and should not ever shy away from the hard task if it is the right one.”

During the question-and-answer period after Clinton’s speech, a banker in the audience presciently challenged her on the threat lurking behind her euphemistic rhetoric.

“I seem to hear that we should pay any price, bear any burden, to spread our way of life abroad,” he said. “I wonder if you think that every foreign country — the majority of countries — would actually welcome this new assertiveness, including the one billion Muslims that are out there? And whether or not there isn’t some grave risk to the United States in this — what I would say, not new internationalism, but new imperialism.”

Clinton quickly backtracked, calling his summation, “an extreme statement I do not subscribe to.” But, as Michael Crowley wrote in the New Republic when Clinton threw her helmet into the 2008 presidential race, this incident shed light on her controversial vote for the Iraq War resolution.

“What if the hawkish Hillary of 2002 wasn’t just motivated by political opportunism?” he asked. “What if she really believed in the war?”

How Will This End?

The American public is still debating these questions about how we got into this mess, who to blame for it, and who we can trust to deescalate this vicious cycle of war and terrorism. But U.S. information warfare has been more effective on the home front than against our enemies or our victims, keeping most Americans in near-total ignorance of the scale of our country’s international violence.

Several months after an epidemiological survey found that about 600,000 Iraqis had been killed in the U.S.-led invasion and first three years of hostile military occupation in Iraq, the median response to a 2007 Pew poll that asked Americans how many Iraqis they thought had been killed was only 9,890, less than one sixtieth of that number.

The paradox of this crisis is that, on both sides, the deadly and tragic results of actual military operations and terrorism are offset by success in the information war that sustains them both. We are confronting a perfect storm in which successful information warfare enables leaders on all sides to avoid rethinking strategies and policies that lead only to more violence and bloodshed.

On the U.S. side, every city we bomb, every jihadi or civilian we kill, and every country we plunge into chaos becomes a rallying point to recruit more jihadis and generate more anti-U.S. resistance, often in surprising places. While American bombs and Iraqi death squads have been reducing much of West Mosul to rubble and killing thousands of its residents, the West’s enemies have bombed Manchester; occupied Marawi, a city of 200,000 people in the Philippines; and conducted an unprecedented bombing in Kabul’s fortified “green zone.”

This is full-blown asymmetric warfare, and we would be foolish to think it cannot get much, much worse. But we should not let the asymmetry in the numbers killed or the weapons used to kill them obscure the overarching reality that the violence of each party to the conflict is fueling the violence of the other and thereby perpetuating this horrific cycle of violence.

On the other side, while Al Qaeda and now Islamic State have deftly exploited U.S. policies, which keep playing into their hands, they have failed in the main goals of terrorism as defined by Dharmalingam Siddarthan and Shankar Rajee in Sri Lanka. They have failed to either cripple the U.S. economy or to pierce the thick layers of consumerism and infotainment that insulate Americans from the pain of our victims.

‘Successful’ Propaganda 

Just as Islamic State’s propaganda continues to work well within many Muslim communities across the world, U.S. “information warfare” still works well on Americans. So the “war psychosis” is maintained and perpetuated on both sides.

But there are cracks in the U.S. propaganda war’s hold over the allies whose support gives an important veneer of false legitimacy to U.S. war-making. When the U.K.’s opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that the U.K.’s role in U.S.-led military interventions was partly responsible for the Manchester bombing, he was roundly condemned by Prime Minister Theresa May, his opponent in the upcoming general election. But a YouGov opinion poll soon revealed that most of the public agreed with Corbyn.

In Germany, where the public has always opposed the U.S. Long War, Chancellor Angela Merkel is now running for reelection on the position that Europe (not just Germany) can no longer “rely” on the U.S. and U.K. Merkel now believes that “we Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” and that that may mean improving relations with Russia as well as maintaining positive relations with the U.S. and U.K. France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, has already welcomed President Putin to Versailles and clearly agrees with Merkel.

President Trump’s ignorant triumphalism will likely only widen these cracks in U.S.-led alliances. This is surely why the neocons greeted his election with such horror. Russiagate is the weapon they have chosen to counterattack with, but surely what they fear most is how Trump will undermine critical alliances with the U.K., Canada, Germany, France, Japan and other allies, as well as public perceptions of the U.S. all over the world.

Trump’s withdrawal from the very weak, non-binding Paris agreement on climate change could signal the beginning of the end of the era when the United States could lead the world down whichever path that Washington chose, including destructive wars in the name of freedom and democracy.

After George W. Bush and his neocon wrecking-ball team alienated many U.S. allies and people everywhere with the Iraq War and the Global War on Terror, Barack Obama was favored by military-industrial power-brokers and other powerful interests to repair America’s world image and to rebuild geopolitical alliances and win back international public opinion.

After Obama’s largely successful charm offensive, the neocons were counting on Hillary Clinton to do the follow-on job of more aggressively advancing their agenda along now predictable and profitable lines. Trump’s victory threw the mother of all monkey wrenches into their plans.

It is a general pattern in international politics that unstable regimes, alliances and institutions sooner or later collapse and give way to new ones. As Shankar Rajee implied, what any great power should fear most is neither terrorism nor a great power rival but rather the consequences of its own hypocrisy and arrogance coming home to roost.

The nature of political change is that powerful new forces often build slowly beneath the surface and appear to be having little or no effect on existing power relations and structures, until the right catalyst releases their latent energy and new ideas, triggering a cascade of seemingly surprising changes.

Recent examples in U.S. politics have been movements for the $15 minimum wage, gay marriage and criminal justice reform. The paradox of power is that the more that status quo interests or classes suppress new movements and ideas that threaten their dominance, the more they inadvertently fuel the pressures beneath the surface of the political system that are the preconditions for real democratic change.

The exact nature of the catalyst that could trigger a decisive transition in the balance of international power is almost impossible to predict, but there is no question that the pressures that are the precondition for such a shift have been building for some time. The U.S. government’s resort to such widespread, illegal and escalating threats and uses of force, with no rational endpoint or exit strategy, is a symptom of a dominant power struggling to assert an authority that it no longer commands. We may in fact be living through a historic transition that has already passed its point of no return, but this will only become clear in hindsight.

The contradictions of the U.S. role in the world are becoming too dangerous and too obvious to the whole world to paper over with any amount of propaganda, consumerism and political games. The leaders of other nations and their citizens must now come to grips with the grave responsibilities of addressing the “American problem” and shepherding the world through a critical transition to a sustainable, just and peaceful future. If they do, many Americans will support them.

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.




The Meaning of Assange’s Persecution

Exclusive: The long legal ordeal of Julian Assange – and the continuing threats against the WikiLeaks founder – make a mockery of the West’s supposed commitment to press freedom and the public’s right to know, as Marjorie Cohn explains.

By Marjorie Cohn (Updated on May 30, 2017, to delete reference to Swedish prosecutors never submitting questions to Assange.)

Nearly five years ago, Ecuador granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum at its London embassy. The original purpose of the asylum was to avoid extradition to the United States. Two years earlier, Swedish authorities had launched an investigation of Assange for sexual assault. Sweden has now dropped that investigation.

Assange called the Swedish decision to end the investigation an “important victory for me and for the U.N. human rights system.” But, he said, the “proper war was just commencing,” because the London Metropolitan Police warned if Assange leaves the Ecuadorian Embassy, they would arrest him on a 2012 warrant issued after he failed to appear at a magistrate’s court following his entry into the embassy.

The original reason for granting asylum to Assange remains intact. The U.S. government has been gunning for Assange since 2010, when WikiLeaks published documents leaked by whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Those documents, which included the Afghan and Iraq war logs and U.S. State Department cables, were ultimately published in the New York Times, the U.K. Guardian, and the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The leaked reports exposed 20,000 deaths, including thousands of children, according to Assange. Many of them contain evidence of war crimes. [Among the leaked material was the “Collateral Murder” video, a gruesome view from the gun-barrel of a U.S. helicopter gunship as it mowed down a group of Iraqi men, including two Reuters journalists, as they walked on a Baghdad street – and then killing a man who stopped to help the wounded and also wounding two children in his van.]

It was never clear what role Sweden played in the Assange saga. Criminal charges were never filed there. The long delay in the process resulted, in part, because the Swedish prosecutor insisted that Assange travel to Sweden to be interviewed. Assange declined, fearing that if he went to Sweden, that country would extradite him to the United States.

The Swedish investigation of Assange may have been instigated at the behest of the United States. Journalist John Pilger documented political pressure by the U.S. government on Swedish authorities: “Both the Swedish prime minister and foreign minister attacked Assange, who had been charged with no crime. Assange was warned that the Swedish intelligence service, SAPO, had been told by its U.S. counterparts that U.S.-Sweden intelligence-sharing arrangements would be ‘cut off’ if Sweden sheltered him.”

Although the Swedish investigation has now been dropped, the threat of arrest persists. The London police have indicated they will arrest Assange for failure to appear in a London Magistrates Court if he leaves the embassy. Britain would then likely extradite Assange to the United States for possible prosecution.

Arresting Assange a U.S. ‘Priority’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared in April that arresting Assange is a “priority” for the Department of Justice, even though the New York Times indicated that federal prosecutors are “skeptical that they could pursue the most serious charges, of espionage.” The Justice Department is reportedly considering charging Assange with theft of government documents.

A decision to prosecute Assange would mark a 180-degree change of direction for President Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks” after it published confidential emails from the Democratic National Committee that some U.S. intelligence agencies claim were obtained by Russian hackers (although Assange denies getting the material from Russia).

In March, WikiLeaks published CIA documents containing software and methods to hack into electronics. This was the beginning of WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” series, which, Assange wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post, contained “evidence of remarkable CIA incompetence and other shortcomings.”

The publication included “the agency’s creation, at a cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, of an entire arsenal of cyber viruses and hacking programs – over which it promptly lost control and then tried to cover up the loss,” Assange added. “These publications also revealed the CIA’s efforts to infect the public’s ubiquitous consumer products and automobiles with computer viruses.”

CIA Director Michael Pompeo called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

Pompeo said, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” Pompeo declared, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges. He is not a U.S. citizen.”

But, the Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution applies to non-Americans, not just U.S. citizens. And, when the Obama Justice Department considered prosecuting WikiLeaks, U.S. officials were unable to distinguish what Wikileaks did from what the Times and Guardian did since they also published documents that Manning leaked. WikiLeaks is not suspected of hacking or stealing them.

A week before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Comey told the House Intelligence Committee, “WikiLeaks is an important focus of our attention.” He said the Justice Department’s position “has been [that] newsgathering and legitimate news reporting is not covered, is not going to be investigated or prosecuted as a criminal act,” adding, “Our focus is and should be on the leakers, not those [who] are obtaining it as part of legitimate newsgathering.”

But Comey said, “a huge portion of WikiLeaks’ activities has nothing to do with legitimate newsgathering, informing the public, commenting on important controversies, but is simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America.”

As Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, wrote at Just Security, Comey was drawing the line “not between leaking classified information and publishing it, but between publishing it for ‘good’ reasons and publishing it for ‘bad’ ones.”

And, “[a]llowing the FBI to determine who is allowed to publish leaked information based on the bureau’s assessment of their patriotism would cross a constitutional Rubicon,” Goitein wrote.

Other advocates for civil liberties also defended WikiLeaks as a news organization protected by the First Amendment. “The U.S. government has never shown that Assange did anything but publish leaked information,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the Times.

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, stated in an interview with the Times, “Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public.”

Assange’s Detention Called Unlawful

In 2016, following a 16-month investigation, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Assange’s detention by Britain and Sweden was unlawful. It stated, “[A] deprivation of liberty exists where someone is forced to choose between either confinement, or forfeiting a fundamental right – such as asylum – and thereby facing a well-founded risk of persecution.”

The U.N. group found, “Mr. Assange’s exit from the Ecuadorian Embassy would require him to renounce his right to asylum and expose himself to the very persecution and risk of physical and mental mistreatment that his grant of asylum was intended to address. His continued presence in the Embassy cannot, therefore, be characterized as ‘volitional’.”

Thus, the U.N. group concluded that Assange’s continued stay in the embassy “has become a state of an arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Alfred de Zayas, U.N. Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, told Consortiumnews, “What is at stake here is freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” He cited Article 19 of the ICCPR, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

“Whistleblowers are key human rights defenders in the Twenty-first Century, in which a culture of secrecy, behind-closed-door deals, disinformation, lack of access to information, 1984-like surveillance of individuals, intimidation and self-censorship lead to gross violations of human rights,” said de Zayas, who is also a retired senior lawyer with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Secretary for the UN Human Rights Committee.

Moreover, the Johannesburg Principles of National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, issued in 1996, provide, “No person may be punished on national security grounds for disclosure of information if the public interest in knowing the information outweighs the harm from the disclosure.”

Even some mainstream news organizations that have been critical of WikiLeaks for releasing classified U.S. information have objected to the idea of criminal prosecution. A Washington Post editorial in 2010 entitled “Don’t Charge Wikileaks” said: “Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered.”

In the U.S. government’s continued legal pursuit of WikiLeaks, there is much more at stake than what happens to Julian Assange. There are principles of press freedoms and the public’s right to know. By publishing documents revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes, emails relevant to the U.S. presidential election and proof of CIA malfeasance, Assange did what journalists are supposed to do – inform the people about newsworthy topics and reveal abuses that powerful forces want concealed.

Assange also has the right to freedom of expression under both U.S. and international law, which would further argue for Great Britain dropping the failure-to-appear warrant and allowing Assange to freely leave the embassy and to finally resume his life.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/marjoriecohn.




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 www.tothepointanalyses.com.




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 http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/pentagon-seeks-permanent-war-iraq-afghanistan-and-syria-1080897678.]




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 eastwestaccord.com. 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 Consortiumnews.com 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 barnesandnoble.com).