America’s Putin Derangement Syndrome

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. media blames Russian President Putin for pretty much everything – from the Mideast mess to Europe’s disorder to the U.S. elections – but the reality is quite different, notes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Last week as Donald Trump was preparing to take office, The New York Times — reeling from Trump’s interview in which he said he didn’t “really care” if the European Union holds together and described NATO as “obsolete” — declared that “the big winner” of the change in U.S. presidents was Vladimir Putin.

Why? Because Putin “has been working assiduously not just to delegitimize American democracy by interfering with the election but to destabilize Europe and weaken if not destroy NATO, which he blames for the Soviet Union’s collapse.” And based on what Trump has been saying about the alliance and the E.U., it appears that, as of noon on Friday, Putin has a co-thinker in the White House.

The Times may be right about Putin coming out on top, but its bill of indictment against him is over the top. The Russian president is not working to delegitimize America democracy – the U.S. is doing the job just fine on its own – and he’s not destabilizing Europe either since the forces undermining the E.U. are essentially generated by the West (traceable to the austerity medicine administered after the 2008 financial collapse and to the refugee flows created  by the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and the “regime change” project in Syria, none of which were initiated by Putin).

But the Times is entirely correct in pointing out that Putin is now riding high. He has a friend in Washington, he’s calling the shots in the Middle East, and it looks like he’ll soon be in a position to hammer out a rapprochement with Europe. So the big question facing the world is: how did he do it?

The answer is not by blackmailing Trump, hacking the Democratic National Committee, or any other such nonsense put out by disappointed Clintonites. Rather, Putin prevailed through a combination of skill and luck. He played his cards well. But he also had the good fortune of having an opponent who played his own hand extremely poorly. Russia won because America lost.

Years from now, as historians gather to discuss the great U.S. foreign-policy debacles of the early Twenty-first Century, they’ll have much to debate – the role of oil, Zionism and Islam; the destabilizing effects of the 2008 financial meltdown; and so forth. But one thing they’ll agree on will be the impact of hubris.

The U.S. emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall as history’s first “hyperpower,” a country whose military strength dwarfed that of the rest of the world combined. It celebrated by engaging in a series of jolly little wars in Panama, the Balkans, and the Persian Gulf that seemed to confirm its invincibility. But then it made the mistake of invading Afghanistan and Iraq and found itself in serious trouble.

What Went Wrong?

Historians of the future will also no doubt agree that Obama might have averted catastrophe if he had decisively broken with Washington’s pro-war foreign-policy establishment. Plainly, a change of course was urgent if catastrophe was to be avoided. But the more realistic among them will note that any such correction would have been both difficult and disruptive. It would have meant abandoning some allies and hammering out new relationships with others, changes that would have elicited howls of protest from Washington to Riyadh.

So Obama, an ardent compromiser by nature, decided to fine-tune the existing policy instead by shifting from the direct military intervention of the George W. Bush era to more indirect means. This was an understandable reaction to the excesses of the previous administration, but it only made matters worse.

Exhibit A is Syria, the great bleeding wound in the side of the Middle East. After calling on Bashar al-Assad to step down in August 2011, Obama could conceivably have followed up by sending in hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to throw out the Baathists and install a pro-American regime in their place. None of Washington’s allies would have objected.

But since any such adventure was unthinkable in the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq, he opted for something more oblique. He ordered the CIA to begin working in secret to support the anti-Assad forces and sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to persuade such “Friends of Syria” as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates to back up the insurgency with money and arms.

Most of the foreign policy establishment agreed. After all, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf kingdoms were of one mind that Assad should go, as were the intelligence agencies back home in Washington. As long-time Syria watcher Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma observed, the Assad government had long been in America’s crosshairs:

“Syria … had been an enemy since opposing the United States’ decision to support the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Thus, Washington supported several coup d’états in Syria beginning in 1949. When successive coup attempts in 1956 and 1957 failed, Damascus veered squarely into Moscow’s sphere of influence, never to come out of it. Syria’s military is entirely armed and trained by Russia. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Syria since the 1970s. For its part, Syria has consistently supported America’s enemies: Hezbollah, Palestinian groups, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. To add insult to injury, Assad actively opposed America’s occupation of Iraq.”

Digging Deeper

Yet the more the Obama administration tried to make its strategy work, the more it fell prey to a fatal contradiction. The reason was simple. Obama claimed to favor a democratic solution, yet the people he counted on to impose it, i.e. the Gulf kingdoms, are the most autocratic states on earth. The more money and aid they channeled to the opposition, therefore, the more undemocratic it became.

Although the White House continued to cling to the myth of a “moderate” insurgency, it soon became obvious that the worst barbarians – bigoted Sunni fundamentalists, head-chopping “Takfiris,” even outright cannibals – were in control.

Warning flares went up but were ignored. In August 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reported that the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and assorted Salafists were “the major forces driving the insurgency” and that their aim was to foment an anti-Shi‘ite sectarian war and establish a “Salafist principality in Eastern Syria,” the same area where Islamic State would establish its caliphate two years later. Yet the administration refused to adjust its strategy.

In October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden complained in a talk at Harvard that America’s Gulf allies “were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war” that “they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” (Quote starts at 53:25.)

Obama’s response was to order him to telephone various Gulf leaders and apologize for telling the truth.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks to pro-rebel Syrian exiles last September were even more revealing. In the course of a 30-minute meeting at the United Nations, he volunteered that the U.S. goal was not to combat Islamic State as had been long claimed. Rather, it was to use ISIS (also known as ISIL and Daesh) to put pressure on Assad and force him to accede to a pro-U.S. government.  Referring to Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria in November 2015, Kerry said:

“The reason Russia came in is because ISIL was getting stronger. Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus and so forth, and that’s why Russia came in, because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad. And we know this was growing. We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage [and] that Assad might then negotiate. Instead of negotiating, he got … Putin in to support him. So it’s truly complicated.” (Quote starts at 26:10.)

Using the Terrorists 

The remarks, the subject of a misleading New York Times article by Anne Barnard and a smart analysis by longtime U.N. correspondent Joe Lauria, sums up all that was self-defeating about the Obama administration’s strategy. While the U.S. claimed to oppose ISIS, it was in fact happy to use it as a lever to pry Assad from power.

While the official line was that Russia only intervened to prop up Assad, Kerry freely admitted that the chief reason was to prevent ISIS from marching into Damascus. One could reasonably conclude from Kerry’s comments that Russia was more interested in combatting Islamic State than the U.S. was (although the opposite claim was often made by the Times and other mainstream news outlets).

Somehow Kerry had gotten it into his head that after pummeling Assad to the floor, ISIS would then politely step aside to allow pro-U.S. moderates to take over. The idea is every bit as delusional as George W. Bush’s belief in 2003 that he could romp into Iraq with 380,000 troops, smash things up a bit, and then go home, confident that a compliant pro-U.S. regime would maintain order in his absence. Rather than acceding to Kerry’s request, ISIS would no doubt have told him to get lost and taken power itself.

If so, the consequences would have caused even the most sang-froid realists to shudder in fear. “Were ISIS to have ensconced itself in Damascus,” observes Landis, “Lebanon would surely have fallen and Jordan would’ve been up against it.”

Saudi Arabia, already the sick man of the Middle East, would also have come under threat. Instead of a million refugees streaming toward Europe, there would have been five or ten times that number. Is this really what Obama wanted? It’s hard to believe, yet that’s precisely what his policies were leading to.

Although Obama predicted that Putin would find himself in a Vietnam-style “quagmire,” Putin was careful to limit the operation and avoid making promises he couldn’t keep. Even The New York Times was impressed by Putin’s calculated actions.

The climax came some 14 months later when Syrian government troops, backed by Russian airpower, finally drove Al Qaeda and its supporters out of their East Aleppo stronghold. Recognizing that the writing was on the wall, Turkey effectively switched sides, patching up relations with Moscow and engaging in joint bombing forays against rebel forces inside Syria. The Kurds, reliant on U.S. backing, were left dangling in the wind. So were the pseudo-moderates of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.

Why Putin Won

This is why Putin came out on top: not because he’s a latter-day Svengali manipulating candidates and overturning elections, but because U.S. policy was leading to disaster and no one else was in a position to clean up the mess. In Kerry’s conversation at the U.N., the Secretary of State conceded that once Putin opted to intercede, there was little the Obama administration could do.

“Instead of negotiating, he [Assad] got … Putin in to support him,” Kerry said in obvious frustration. After stumbling into Russia’s checkmate, the Obama administration could do little but fume from the sidelines.

At a White House press conference a few days after the Russian intervention, a reporter asked why the U.S. had allowed itself to be out-maneuvered. The response, which went on for a good five minutes or so, was pure Obama – charming, humorous, yet almost eerily detached. America is strong, he said: “…we’re the strongest advanced economy in the world … our approval ratings have gone up, we are more active on more international issues and forge international responses on everything from Ebola to countering ISIL.”

But Russia, he continued, is weak: “their economy’s contracting four percent this year. They are isolated in the world community subject to sanctions applied not just by us but by what used to be some of their closest trading partners. Their main allies in the Middle East were Libya and Syria … and those countries are falling apart. And he’s now just had to send in troops and aircraft in order to prop up this regime at the risk of alienating the entire Sunni world.”

In other words, Obama was saying that Russia is a loser; its friends are losers; and it was foolishly plunging into Syria in a last-ditch effort to bolster a loser who was clearly in his death throes. Obama thus ignored his own role in destroying Libya and Syria or provoking a confrontation over the eastern Ukraine. He refused to consider how his own policies were making matters worse and worse or why Putin felt he had no alternative but to step in after all.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Russia is the dominant power in the Middle East at the moment – apart from Israel, that is – while the U.S. is in disarray as a dangerous rightwing buffoon ensconces himself in the White House. The Democrats should take a long hard look in the mirror if they want to know who the real loser is. But they won’t. They prefer to blame Putin and Russia.

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




Selectivity in Trashing Trump

Exclusive: Around the United States, massive demonstrations have protested the inauguration of Donald Trump, but there is a danger that the anti-Trump forces could block the positive elements of his message, writes Robert Parry

By Robert Parry

To say that Donald Trump is an imperfect messenger for some reasonable messages doesn’t do justice to the word “imperfect.” But he is right to note that Official Washington has gone far off-track in recent decades and that the Establishment needs shaking up.

For instance, in his Inaugural Address, President Trump made clear that he would break with the orthodoxy of neoconservatism and liberal interventionism that has led to endless wars in the Middle East and a dangerous New Cold War with Russia.

Trump declared: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.”

That sentiment reflects a traditional U.S. approach to the world, followed by America’s first presidents who warned against “entangling alliances” and articulated best by President John Quincy Adams who said in 1821 that while America will speak on behalf of liberty, “she has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

“Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”

Over the past several decades – even after the end of the Cold War –American presidents have violated this founding precept as they repeatedly went abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.”

These missions – designed and advocated by Washington’s dominant neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks – have not only wasted trillions of dollars and cost the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers but the projects have failed to improve national security, have led to massive bloodshed in the targeted countries and have undermined global stability.

No Accountability

Yet, it has been a sign of Official Washington’s disconnect from reality that the architects of these failed endeavors have escaped accountability and indeed have solidified their control over the foreign policy establishment and the mainstream news media.

Despite the bloody fiascos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and other unfortunate countries where the neocons and liberal hawks have prescribed “regime change,” these esteemed know-it-alls have systematically pushed aside all rivals, including old-school “realists” and peace proponents.

The confirmation gauntlets that have confronted Trump’s nominees for State, Defense and other national security posts have revealed a near-unanimous bipartisanship in favor of a continuation of neocon/liberal-hawk orthodoxy, demanding pugnacious approaches toward Iran, Russia, Syria and China.

So, while there is a great deal to worry about from President Trump and his administration – particularly an apparent hostility toward climate-change science, disdain for minority rights and the embrace of right-wing law-and-order nostrums – there could be a new opening for conflict resolution and a return to traditional diplomacy. Already, there has been a housecleaning at the State Department, where the biographies of some of the most prominent neocons, such as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, have disappeared.

Trump’s Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson is regarded as a pragmatic businessman who has little patience for the destructive “regime change” strategies of the neocons and liberal hawks. However, because of that and Tillerson’s desire for better relations with Russia, many Democrats and some Republicans appear eager to block his confirmation and force Trump to pick someone more acceptable to the neocon/liberal-hawk foreign policy establishment.

Reasons to Resist

Progressives and Democrats have every right and reason to express revulsion at Trump’s crude remarks about women, Mexicans and others — and to resist Trump if he pursues the failed environmental, economic and domestic policies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But there seems to be an attitude of rejecting everything associated with Trump.

On Friday when I was moving among protesters on the outskirts of Trump’s inauguration, I noticed a large number of signs denouncing Trump’s interest in détente with Russia. There were repeated references to Russian President Vladimir Putin and to the CIA’s unproven claims that Putin approved the release of Democratic emails showing the party hierarchy’s hostility to Sen. Bernie Sanders and revealing the contents of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street and some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

This CIA-initiated narrative that Putin somehow rigged the election for Trump has become an accepted wisdom not only in Official Washington but among much of the Democratic Party and within the progressive movement. Little interest is shown toward the lack of evidence provided by the U.S. intelligence community and the dubious reasoning involved, since it would have been a huge gamble for Putin to have interfered in the U.S. election and then faced the likely outcome of an angry President Hillary Clinton seeking revenge once she took office.

There’s also a logical inconsistency in portraying Trump as a Manchurian candidate, since the idea of putting such a secret agent in the White House would involve the person talking tough against Russia during the campaign – to garner political support – rather than declaring publicly a desire for better relations with Russia, a position that was widely viewed as harmful to Trump’s chances.

Trump never hid his interest in avoiding a costly New Cold War with Russia and took a rhetorical beating for it, both during the Republican primaries and during the general election. That would not have been the approach of a true Manchurian candidate.

A Current Danger

But the current danger for Democrats and progressives is that – by bashing everything that Trump says and does – they will further alienate the white working-class voters who became his base and will push away anti-war activists.

There is a risk that the Left will trade places with the Right on the question of war and peace, with Democrats and progressives associating themselves with Hillary Clinton’s support for “endless war” in the Middle East, the political machinations of the CIA, and a New Cold War with Russia, essentially moving into an alliance with the Military (and Intelligence) Industrial Complex.

Many populists already view the national Democrats as elitists disdainful of the working class, promoters of harmful “free trade” deals, and internationalists represented by the billionaires at the glitzy annual confab in Davos, Switzerland.

If — in a rush to demonize and impeach President Trump — Democrats and progressives solidify support for wars of choice in the Middle East, a New Cold War with Russia and a Davos-style elitism, they could further alienate many people who might otherwise be their allies.

In other words, selectivity in opposing and criticizing Trump – where he rightly deserves it – rather than opportunism in rejecting everything that Trump says might make more sense. A movement built entirely on destroying Trump could drop Democrats and progressives into some politically destructive traps.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons: the Anti-Realists” and “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon.”]

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).




Obama’s Bombing Legacy

Exclusive: President Obama has joked he still doesn’t know why he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, but his record of waging war was no joke to thousands at the receiving end of U.S. bombs, says Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

As President Obama leaves office, much of his foreign policy record remains shrouded in the symbolism that has been the hallmark of his presidency. The persistence of Obama’s image as a reluctant war-maker and a Nobel Peace Prize winner has allowed Donald Trump and his cabinet nominees to claim that Obama has underfunded the military and been less than aggressive in his use of U.S. military power.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and their claims are clearly designed only to justify even more extravagant military spending and more aggressive threats and uses of force than those perpetrated under Mr. Obama’s “disguised, quiet, media-free” war policy.

The reality is that Obama has increased U.S. military spending beyond the post-World War II record set by President George W. Bush. Now that Obama has signed the military budget for FY2017, the final record is that Obama has spent an average of $653.6 billion per year, outstripping Bush by an average of $18.7 billion per year (in 2016 dollars).

In historical terms, after adjusting for inflation, Obama’s military spending has been 56 percent higher than Clinton’s, 16 percent higher than Reagan’s, and 42 percent more than the U.S. Cold War average, when it was justified by a military competition with a real peer competitor in the Soviet Union.  By contrast, Russia now spends one-tenth of what we are pouring into military forces, weapon-building and war.

What all this money has paid for has been the polar opposite of what most of Obama’s supporters thought they were voting for in 2008. Behind the iconic image of a hip, sophisticated celebrity-in-chief with strong roots in modern urban culture, lies a calculated contrast between image and reality that has stretched our country’s neoliberal experiment in “managed democracy” farther than ever before and set us up for the previously unthinkable “post-truth” presidency of Donald Trump.

Obama’s Model

Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war was modeled on the Phoenix Program in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s and Ronald Reagan’s proxy wars in Central America in the 1980s. It involved a massive expansion of U.S. special operations forces, now deployed to 138 different countries, compared with only 60 when Obama took office.

As senior military officers told the Washington Post in June 2010, the Obama administration allowed, “things that the previous administration did not,” and, “They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.”

Wherever possible, U.S. forces have recruited and trained proxy forces to do the actual fighting and dying, from the Iraqi government’s Shiite death squads to Al Qaeda splinter groups in Libya and Syria (supporting “regime change” projects in those countries) to mercenaries serving Arab monarchies and seemingly endless cannon fodder for the war in Afghanistan.

Obama’s ten-fold expansion of drone strikes further reduced U.S. casualties relative to numbers of foreigners killed. This fostered an illusion of peace and normality for Americans in the homeland even as the death toll inflicted by America’s post-9/11 wars almost certainly passed the two million mark.

The targets of these covert and proxy wars are not just guerrilla fighters or “terrorists” but also the “infrastructure” or “civilian support mechanism” that supports guerrillas with food and supplies, and the entire shadow government and civil society in areas that resist domination.

As a U.S. officer in Iraq explained to Newsweek in 2005, “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”

In previous decades, the victims of similar operations in Central America included the grandfather of a young lady I met in Cotzal in Guatemala – he was beheaded by an Army death squad for giving food to the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. The Catholic Church has now named Father Stanley Rother from Oklahoma, who was killed by a Guatemalan Army death squad in Santiago Atitlan in 1981, as a martyr and candidate for sainthood.

Bloody Iraq

In Iraq, the targets of such operations have included hundreds of academics and other professionals and community leaders. Just last week, U.S. air strikes targeted and killed three senior professors and their families in their homes at Mosul University. The victims included Dr. Mohamad Tybee Al-Layla (Ph.D. Texas), the highly respected former Dean of the College of Engineering.

In 2004, after the assassination of Dr. Abdul-Latif Ali Al-Mayah in Baghdad, a senior police officer explained who killed him and why to British journalist Stephen Grey: “Dr. Abdul-Latif was becoming more and more popular because he spoke for people on the street here. … You can look no further than the Governing Council. They are politicians that are backed by the Americans and who arrived to Iraq from exile with a list of their enemies. I’ve seen these lists. They are killing people one by one.”

As Obama’s murderous proxy wars in Iraq and Syria have spun further out of control, U.S. special operations forces and U.S.-trained death squads on the ground have increasingly been backed up by U.S. and allied air forces. Four years ago, as Obama was inaugurated for a second term, I wrote that the U.S. and its allies dropped 20,000 bombs and missiles in his first term. In his second term, they have dropped four times that number, bringing the total for Obama’s presidency to over 100,000 bombs and missiles striking seven countries, surpassing the 70,000 unleashed on five countries by George W. Bush.

Obama inherited a massive air campaign already under way in Afghanistan, where the U.S. and its allies dropped over 4,000 bombs and missiles every year for six years between 2007 and 2012. Altogether, U.S.-led air forces have dropped 26,000 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan under Obama, compared with 37,000 under Bush, for a total of 63,000 bomb and missile strikes in 15 years.

But the new U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria since 2014 has been much heavier, with 65,730 bomb and missile strikes in 2 1/2 years. Iraq has now been struck with 74,000 bombs and missiles, even more than Afghanistan: 29,200 in the “Shock & Awe” assault of 2003; 3,900 more before the invasion and during the U.S. occupation; and now another 41,000 in “Shock & Awe II” since 2014, including the current siege and bombardment of Mosul.

Obama’s total of 100,000 air strikes are rounded out by 24,700 bombs and missiles dropped on Syria, 7,700 in NATO and its Arab monarchist allies’ bombing of Libya in 2011, another 496 strikes in Libya in 2016, and at least 547 drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Failed Policy

Donald Trump and his choices for secretaries of State and Defense, Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis, respectively, are right to say that Obama’s war policy has failed. But they are wrong to insist that the answer is to spend even more on weapons and use them even more aggressively.

Obama’s failure was the result of his deference to generals, admirals, the CIA and hawkish advisers like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and of his blind faith in U.S. military power. But war was never a legitimate or effective response to terrorism.

The misuse of military force has only spread violence and chaos across the Muslim world and spawned an explosive mix of political disintegration, rule by militias and warlords, a dizzying proliferation of armed groups with different interests and loyalties and, ultimately, more blowback for the West.

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Israel, Qatar and other “allies” have been only too eager to exploit and redirect our aggression against their own enemies: Iran; Syria; Libya; and different ethnic groups, minorities and political movements in what was, for centuries, a diverse, tolerant region of the world.

The U.S. has become a blind giant stumbling through a thick forest of shadows and unseen dangers, striking out with its devastating war machine at the instigation of self-serving allies and the same dark forces in its own “intelligence” bureaucracy who have stirred up trouble, staged coups and unleashed war in country after country for seventy years.

The only consistent beneficiary in all this death, destruction and chaos is the “military industrial complex” that President Eisenhower warned us against in his farewell address in 1961.

In 2012, I researched and wrote about how General Dynamics CEO Lester Crown and his Chicago family backed and bankrolled the political career of Barack Obama. As manufacturers of Virginia class submarines, Arleigh Burke and Zumwalt destroyers and littoral combat ships (all programs saved, revived or expanded by Obama) as well as other types of munitions, the Crown family’s patronage of Barack Obama has proven to be a profitable investment, from the violence and chaos in the Muslim world to the New Cold War with Russia to the “pivot” to the South China Sea.

Now Mr. Trump has nominated General Dynamics board member, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense, despite his responsibility for illegal rules of engagement and systematic war crimes in Iraq, an obvious conflict of interest with the millions he has earned at General Dynamics and clear laws that require civilian control of the military.

When will we ever learn to tell the difference between corrupt warmongers like Obama and Mattis and progressive leaders who will let us live in peace with our neighbors around the world, even at the expense of General Dynamics’ profits?

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.




Escalating the Risky Fight with Russia

Exclusive: To box in President-elect Trump, the neocons and liberal hawks are pushing for “crippling sanctions” against Russia that they see as crucial to their dangerous “regime change” agenda in Moscow, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The neocons and their liberal-interventionist chums never seem to think through one of their “regime change” schemes. It’s enough that they wrote the plan down in some op-ed article or reached a consensus at a think-tank conference. After that, all there is to do is to generate the requisite propaganda, often accompanied by intelligence “leaks” and maybe some heartbreaking photos of children, to rile up the American people so they can be easily herded into the next slaughterhouse.

We’ve seen this pattern play out over and over again, from Iraq to Libya to Syria to Ukraine. You could even go back to the 1980s and the project for arming Afghanistan’s mujahedeen and a collection of international jihadists led by Osama bin Laden, a project enthusiastically supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

The one consistent in these bloody follies is that the neocon/liberal-hawk plans never work out as they were drawn up. Time and again, it turns out that the great idea – looking so good on the op-ed page or sounding so smart at the think-tank conference – wasn’t all that great or smart after all.

Remember how the Iraqis were going to welcome U.S. troops with flowers and how neocon favorite Ahmed Chalabi would be hailed as Iraq’s new leader; or how the murder of Muammar Gaddafi would be followed by the flowering of Libyan democracy; or how enforcing the “must go” edict on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be accomplished pretty quickly; or how overthrowing democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych was sure to put a stop to Ukraine’s endemic corruption.

Instead, the people in those countries were left bloodied and battered while the areas around them became destabilized, too, now with those social and economic disruptions extending all the way to Europe, which not that long ago was one of the world’s bastions of stability. And, oh, yes, the Afghan operation from the 1980s gave us the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

No Accountability

The neocon/liberal-hawk elitists never seem to get anything right but they are so well-connected that they never are held accountable. They just keep coming up with new gambits, expressed with the same confidence and certainty – all beautifully explained in the next round of op-eds and at the think-tank conferences.

When the new scheme arrives, it’s as if the earlier disasters hadn’t happened. Across the ideological spectrum, the mainstream media’s star reporters act as if the only proper reaction toward the latest brilliant idea is to show undying credulity. The only questions that get asked of politicians are why they aren’t intervening faster and going bigger, whether the new plan is to blast the targeted country in a “shock and awe” display or ship weapons to some proxy force which may include jihadists and neo-Nazis or sabotage a country’s economy so the people will support a coup out of hunger and desperation.

Time and again, the unhappy country at the receiving end of America’s latest “regime change” project ends up wallowing in pools of blood as the international circle of chaos widens. But the U.S. public’s attention quickly goes elsewhere, like a child bored with a broken Christmas toy. The targeted country is mostly forgotten, except for the occasional op-ed or think-tank complaint that if only the politicians had started the wars earlier or had dispatched a bigger military force or had kept U.S. soldiers there indefinitely or had done more to undermine some demonized leader, then the neocon/liberal-hawks scheme would have worked out just perfectly. Which sets us up for the next grand idea.

Dropping the Big One

But the next grand idea arguably could be the last one. After several years of intensifying anti-Russian propaganda, the United States reportedly is ready to escalate the New Cold War with Russia by inflicting new punishments in retaliation for the still-unproven allegation that President Vladimir Putin authorized the hacking of Democratic emails and then released them to the American people via WikiLeaks.

Though the Obama administration has yet to provide any public evidence to support the charges, mainstream news outlets – particularly The Washington Post and The New York Times – have lapped up their own leaks from the Central Intelligence Agency, which appears to have been operating under instructions from President Obama to discredit President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.

The hope seemed to be that the CIA’s claims about Putin’s interference in the election could anger enough electors to the Electoral College to prevent Trump from getting the 270 required votes on Dec. 19 and thus toss the selection of a new president into the House of Representatives, which under the Twelfth Amendment would pick from the Electoral College’s top three vote-getters (who turned out to be Trump, Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who received four votes from Clinton’s electors in Washington State).

Though this Electoral College coup failed – Trump got more than the 270 votes he needed – the CIA’s claims about Russian hacking lived on with neocon and liberal-hawk members of Congress (not to mention pretty much every important op-ed writer and editorialist in America) demanding that Russia be made to pay a heavy price.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, spoke for many of his colleagues when he tweeted, “My goal is to put on President Trumps desk crippling sanctions against Russia.”

In a new leak to The Washington Post on Wednesday, Obama administration officials vowed to do just that, readying “a series of measures to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, including economic sanctions and diplomatic censure [as well as] covert actions that will probably involve cyber-operations.”

A New Escalation

This latest U.S. escalation of tensions with nuclear-armed Russia actually culminates at least a half decade of probing by the United States for Moscow’s vulnerabilities to “regime change,” an operation that appears to have begun around Russia’s 2011 elections and continued with protests against Putin’s election in 2012, street demonstrations dubbed by the West’s media as the “snow revolution,” since all these strategies seem to require a “color” or a similar special identification marking.

Former Secretary of State (and defeated Democratic presidential nominee) Hillary Clinton has cited Putin’s belief that she orchestrated this interference in Russian politics as his supposed motive for leaking emails that embarrassed her campaign. And, without doubt, the Russian election protests had the strong support of various U.S.-based “non-governmental organizations” that receive funding either from the U.S. government or from U.S. “pro-democracy” foundations.

There is also no doubt that the West’s neocons and liberal hawks want desperately to instigate a “regime change” in Moscow, in part, as punishment for Putin interfering in their “regime change” schemes for Syria and Iran.

In 2013, by getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons, Putin helped thwart plans for a U.S. bombing campaign against the Syrian military in retaliation for a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus that the Obama administration and Western media immediately blamed on President Assad though later evidence suggested that it was a provocation carried out by Islamic extremists connected to Al Qaeda.

Putin also assisted Obama in securing concessions from Iran regarding the agreement to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, which disrupted Israeli and neocon hopes for a plan to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran, as Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, once described.

Putin’s Payback

The neocons and liberal hawks delivered Putin his first dose of payback when they helped orchestrate a putsch in neighboring Ukraine in 2014 that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych. Neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, a Hillary Clinton favorite, was caught on an unsecure phone line discussing with U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt how they would “glue” or “midwife” a change in government that would put Nuland’s choice, Arseniy “Yats is the guy” Yatsenyuk in power. Meanwhile, the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) sponsored scores of projects inside Ukraine for training activists and funding journalists.

Another key project seeking to undermine Yanukovych’s government was the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Open Society foundation of billionaire currency speculator George Soros.

Amid a massive propaganda barrage, street protests in Kiev and open encouragement from senior U.S. officials, a violent coup on Feb. 22, 2014 – spearheaded by neo-Nazi street fighters – forced Yanukovych to flee for his life and brought Yatsenyuk to power as Ukraine’s prime minister.

When ethnic Russians from Crimea and eastern Ukraine rejected this unconstitutional transfer of power – and Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia – the State Department and the mainstream Western media reported this resistance as a “Russian invasion” or “Russian aggression” – prompting the first wave of U.S. economic sanctions to punish Russia.

The European Union was brought into the sanctions regime after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and the U.S. government immediately blamed Russia. The crash investigation – though technically “Dutch-led” – was effectively put under the control of Ukraine’s unsavory intelligence agency, the SBU, which has among its mandates the protection of Ukrainian government secrets and has been implicated in torturing captured ethnic Russians.

Though I was told that at least some CIA analysts saw the hand of Ukrainian extremists behind the MH-17 shoot-down – and Dutch intelligence reported that the only powerful anti-aircraft missiles in the area that day were under the control of the Ukrainian military – Obama refused to release the details of the U.S. intelligence assessment, allowing the SBU-dominated investigation to pin the blame on Russia. [See here and here.]

The U.S.-government-subsidized OCCRP also was involved in the analysis of the so-called “Panama Papers,” a law firm’s purloined financial records that led to front-page stories seeking to tie Putin to off-shored wealth even though Putin’s name was not found in the documents.

The West’s thorough demonization of Putin set the stage for Hillary Clinton’s attempts to delegitimize Donald Trump by portraying him as Putin’s “puppet” because the Republican nominee advocated seeking normalized relations with Russia and cooperating with Moscow on counter-terrorism operations against Islamic State.

The Clinton campaign theme, which I was personally briefed on, sought to convince journalists that Trump was a Russian agent completely under Putin’s control. That theme provided the backdrop for the CIA’s leaked allegations about Russian hacking of the emails of the Democratic National Committee, which revealed how the DNC improperly tilted the primary playing field in favor of Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders. A second batch of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta disclosed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street interests and pay-to-play aspects of the Clinton money machine.

Obama’s Hand

Given Obama’s refusal to let CIA analysts brief reporters about internal CIA dissent questioning the mainstream consensus blaming the sarin attack on Syria and the MH-17 shoot-down on Russia – because those briefings might undercut the prevailing propaganda narratives – it’s a fair assumption that Obama authorized the CIA leaks to The Washington Post and other major media outlets about the alleged Russian hacks.

I’ve also been told that there is some internal CIA dissent against the publicly released claim of Russian responsibility for the Democratic leaks, an analytical dispute that appears to center less on whether Russian intelligence and other entities may have hacked the email accounts than whether Russia then released the material to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former British Ambassador Craig Murray, an Assange associate who says he communicated with one of the sources (or a representative) in a meeting in Washington in September, say the emails did not come from the Russian government. Murray also has indicated that the two batches of emails had two different sources, both American, one a disgruntled Democrat and the other possibly from the U.S. intelligence community.

Despite these doubts, the CIA’s leaked claims about alleged Russian responsibility for the hacks have prompted congressional demands for a thorough investigation, possibly even a special committee like the ones that examined the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals.

Telling the Full Story

If such an inquiry is undertaken – and assuming it’s not a pre-packaged deal that starts with the conclusion of Russian guilt and assembles whatever is necessary to “prove” the case – the investigation should also obtain testimony regarding Putin’s suspicion that Secretary of State Clinton, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Soros organization had a hand in the aborted “snow revolution” in Moscow from 2011 to 2013.

The investigation also should explore whether Obama assigned the CIA’s leadership to leak information to the mainstream media in a failed attempt to reverse the outcome of the U.S. election by trying to stampede the Electoral College into denying Trump the presidency. Under the CIA’s charter, it is forbidden to operate domestically or interfere in U.S. politics, a concern that worried President Harry Truman at the CIA’s founding.

One of the most serious abuses of the Reagan administration was its systematic politicizing of the CIA’s analytical division when it was under the control of CIA Director William Casey and his deputy, Robert Gates.

According to the CIA’s then-chief Russia expert Melvin Goodman and other former CIA analysts, the Casey-Gates team broke down the agency’s historic tradition of objective analysis and bullied CIA analysts into producing phony intelligence that served President Reagan’s ideological agenda.

That corruption continued through both Republican and Democratic presidents, including George W. Bush’s “slam-dunk” National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s non-existent WMD and now including Obama’s selective release of data on Syria, Ukraine and Russia.

Going to Extremes

As destructive as the past distortion of intelligence has been, the Obama CIA’s apparent interference in an attempt to reverse the outcome of a U.S. presidential election arguably ranks with the worst intelligence scandals in U.S. history.

And, compounding the CIA’s political intervention is the fact that this controversy has taken on a life of its own as the Obama administration prepares to hit nuclear-armed Russia with a combination of new economic sanctions and covert cyber-attacks, apparently with the goal of heading off any rapprochement between Putin and Trump.

The neocons and their liberal-hawk allies clearly have in mind plans for making the Russian economy scream and somehow engineering a “regime change” in Moscow despite Putin’s current 80 percent approval ratings. But this latest scheme – like the earlier ones – is almost surely not going to end as its architects have drawn it up.

While the neocons and liberal hawks may dream about some Western-beloved “liberal” being carried into the Kremlin while Putin is dragged away, the likelihood that the Russian people would put up with another round of American-prescribed “shock therapy” – in which Russia’s resources were plundered, Russian life expectancy plunged, and various U.S. “advisers” and hedge funds made out like bandits – is remote.

The far more likely result of Sen. Graham’s “crippling sanctions” would be that a hardline Russian nationalist would rise, lacking Putin’s calculating temperament. Instead of Putin and his famous sang froid, the world would likely be facing some hot-blooded extremist determined to defend the honor of Mother Russia even to the point of pulling out the nuclear codes and pushing the button.

The neocons and liberal hawks may believe they’ve got this New Cold War all figured out, but if their record holds, they could easily be driving the world toward a hot war that would indeed be the war to end all wars – and to end humanity as well.

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).




The Never-ending ‘War on Terror’

The Constitution granted war-making powers to Congress, but President Obama, like his post-World War II predecessors, has trampled on that provision with open-ended executive wars, writes Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

The Obama administration has decided to stretch the 15-year-old congressional authorization for war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, or those harboring them, to include an illegal war against a group in Somalia — al-Shabab — that wasn’t even in existence at the time of the attacks in 2001.

In fact, as with many of its Islamist terrorist opponents worldwide — including the original Al Qaeda, the perpetrator of 9/11 that arose from U.S. arming of mujahedeen guerrillas against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Al Qaeda in Iraq, which arose to combat the U.S. invasion there and morphed into ISIS — the United States inadvertently helped create al-Shabab in the first place. Al-Shabab did not arise until after 2007, long after 9/11, when the U.S. sponsored an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to wrest control of the country from a milder Islamist council. The more virulent al-Shabab rose to attempt to repel this foreign invasion.

More generally, after 9/11, rather than following the congressional authorization and focusing like a laser beam on countering the original Al Qaeda group and their patrons, the Afghan Taliban, the George W. Bush administration launched a general “war on terror,” which covered all terrorist groups of international scope, regardless of whether or not they focused on attacking U.S. targets.

In the end, this massive Bush administration violation of the narrow 2001 authorization led to illegal U.S. drone wars and airstrikes in countries all over the Middle East and Southwest Asia — Somalia (against al-Shabab), Yemen (against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), Pakistan (against the Pakistani Taliban), and Iraq, Syria, and Libya (against ISIS). The Obama administration then accelerated all these unconstitutional wars.

Now Obama is trying shore up the already thin legal fig leaf, so that it can pass such travesties — which actually make Islamist groups more rabid each time the U.S. intervenes — onto the incoming Trump administration. When Obama took office, he complained that he inherited from the Bush administration an economic meltdown and a military quagmire in Iraq, but he in turn is bequeathing a legal quagmire to his successor.

No Ambiguity

Ambiguities in the U.S. Constitution do exist, but which branch of government was given the war power is not one of them. In Eighteenth Century Britain, the prerogative of deciding to go to war was the king’s. Having been a victim of this prerogative, debates at the American Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Constitution that resulted, and actual practice in the republic for almost two centuries until the Korean War in 1950 demonstrate conclusively that Congress — the people’s branch — gets to initiate war, not the executive.

The Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to commence war; the debates at the Constitutional Convention indicate that the only exception is for urgent self-defense — that is, when U.S. territory is under sustained attack, thus preventing the Congress from convening. Even then, the Congress should meet at the earliest possible time to ratify any moves in self-defense made by the president, as commander in chief. Very early in American history, even in the informal and sporadic war at sea with France (the Quasi-War) in the last few years of the Eighteenth Century, the Congress was in the driver’s seat in conducting the war and President John Adams complied with its desires.

And in contrast to presidential claims of an expansive commander-in-chief role since the Korean War, the Constitution’s framers intended, and normal practice until 1950 confirmed, that the president’s role in that capacity was taken narrowly to mean only commanding troops on the battlefield after war had already been initiated by Congress — not commanding the entire nation, in times of crises or otherwise.

Yet since 1950, presidents have claimed powers to start wars even without any authorization from Congress — either getting none (for example, Bill Clinton in his war to separate Kosovo from Serbia in 1999 or Barack Obama in overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011) or claiming that they needed to do so only as a courtesy, which was primarily a gambit to win increased political support for their military escapades (for example, both Bushes in each of their misadventures in Iraq).

The Drone War Deception

Another trick is what Bush and Obama have done with the aforementioned drone wars — trying to blatantly fold wars against other only tangentially-related “Islamist” groups in countries far from Afghanistan into the congressional authorization for war against the perpetrators of 9/11 — the original Al Qaeda group and their hosts, the Afghan Taliban. Such legal gymnastics must stop.

During the Trump administration, the many drone wars either must be made legally legitimate, with specific approval for each of them from the people’s houses of Congress, or they must be stopped. The latter solution would be preferred — because those counterproductive foibles are making the threat from Islamist terrorism more virulent with each U.S. military intervention — but even the former option would at least put the wars on a much sounder constitutional footing.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. [This article first appeared as a blog post at Huffington Post.]




How War Propaganda Keeps on Killing

Exclusive: The “fake news” hysteria has become the cover for the U.S. government and mainstream media to crack down on fact-based journalism that challenges Official Washington’s “group thinks,” writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A key reason why American foreign debacles have been particularly destructive mostly to the countries attacked but also to the United States is that these interventions are always accompanied by major U.S. government investments in propaganda. So, even when officials recognize a misjudgment has been made, the propaganda machinery continues to grind on to prevent a timely reversal.

In effect, Official Washington gets trapped by its own propaganda, which restricts the government’s ability to change direction even when the need for a shift becomes obvious.

After all, once a foreign leader is demonized, it’s hard for a U.S. official to explain that the leader may not be all that bad or is at least better than the likely alternative. So, it’s not just that officials start believing their own propaganda, it’s that the propaganda takes on a life of its own and keeps the failed policy churning forward.

It’s a bit like the old story of the chicken that continues to run around with its head cut off. In the case of the U.S. government, the pro-war or pro-intervention “group think” continues to run amok even after wiser policymakers recognize the imperative to change course.

The reason for that dilemma is that so much money gets spread around to pay for the propaganda and so many careers are tethered to the storyline that it’s easier to let thousands of U.S. soldiers and foreign citizens die than to admit that the policy was built on distortions, propaganda and lies. That would be bad for one’s career.

And, because of the lag time required for contracts to be issued and the money to flow into the propaganda shops, the public case for the policy can outlive the belief that the policy makes sense.

Need for Skeptics

Ideally, in a healthy democracy, skeptics both within the government and in the news media would play a key role in pointing out the flaws and weaknesses in the rationale for a conflict and would be rewarded for helping the leaders veer away from disaster. However, in the current U.S. establishment, such self-corrections don’t occur.

A current example of this phenomenon is the promotion of the New Cold War with Russia with almost no thoughtful debate about the reasons for this growing hostility or its possible results, which include potential thermonuclear war that could end life on the planet.

Instead of engaging in a thorough discussion, the U.S. government and mainstream media have simply flooded the policymaking process with propaganda, some of it so crude that it would have embarrassed Joe McCarthy and the Old Cold Warriors.

Everything that Russia does is put in the most negative light with no space allowed for a rational examination of facts and motivations – except at a few independent-minded Internet sites.

Yet, as part of the effort to marginalize dissent about the New Cold War, the U.S. government, some of its related “non-governmental organizations,” mainstream media outlets, and large technology companies are now pushing a censorship project designed to silence the few Internet sites that have refused to march in lockstep.

I suppose that if one considers the trillions of dollars in tax dollars that the Military Industrial Complex stands to get from the New Cold War, the propaganda investment in shutting up a few critics is well worth it.

Today, this extraordinary censorship operation is being carried out under the banner of fighting “fake news.” But many of the targeted Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com, have represented some of the most responsible journalism on the Internet.

At Consortiumnews, our stories are consistently well-reported and well-documented, but we do show skepticism toward propaganda from the U.S. government or anywhere else.

For instance, Consortiumnews not only challenged President George W. Bush’s WMD claims regarding Iraq in 2002-2003 but we have reported on the dispute within the U.S. intelligence community about claims made by President Barack Obama and his senior aides regarding the 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria and the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine.

In those two latter cases, Official Washington exploited the incidents as propaganda weapons to justify an escalation of tensions against the Syrian and Russian governments, much as the earlier Iraqi WMD claims were used to rally the American people to invade Iraq.

However, if you question the Official Story about who was responsible for the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, after President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and the mainstream media pronounced the Syrian government guilty, you are guilty of “fake news.”

Facts Don’t Matter

It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s been confirmed in a mainstream report by The Atlantic that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper advised President Obama that there was no “slam-dunk” evidence proving that the Syrian government was responsible. Nor does it matter that legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has reported that his intelligence sources say the more likely culprit was Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front with help from Turkish intelligence.

By straying from the mainstream “group think” that accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of crossing Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons, you are opening yourself to retaliation as a “fake news” site.

Similarly, if you point out that the MH-17 investigation was put under the control of Ukraine’s unsavory SBU intelligence service, which not only has been accused by United Nations investigators of concealing torture but also has a mandate to protect Ukrainian government secrets, you also stand accused of disseminating “fake news.”

Apparently one of the factors that got Consortiumnews included on a new “black list” of some 200 Web sites was that I skeptically analyzed a report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that while supposedly “Dutch-led” was really run by the SBU. I also noted that the JIT’s conclusion blaming Russia was marred by a selective reading of the SBU-supplied evidence and by an illogical narrative. But the mainstream U.S. media uncritically hailed the JIT report, so to point out its glaring flaws made us guilty of committing “fake news” or disseminating “Russian propaganda.”

The Iraq-WMD Case

Presumably, if the hysteria about “fake news” had been raging in 2002-2003, then those of us who expressed skepticism about Iraq hiding WMD would have been forced to carry a special marking declaring us to be “Saddam apologists.”

Back then, everyone who was “important” in Washington had no doubt about Iraq’s WMD. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt repeatedly stated the “fact” of Iraq’s hidden WMD as flat fact and mocked anyone who doubted the “group think.”

Yet, even after the U.S. government acknowledged that the WMD allegations were a myth – a classic and bloody case of “fake news” – almost no one who had pushed the fabrication was punished.

So, the “fake news” stigma didn’t apply to Hiatt and other mainstream journalists who actually did produce “fake news,” even though it led to the deaths of 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. To this day, Hiatt remains the Post’s editorial-page editor continuing to enforce “conventional wisdoms” and to disparage those who deviate.

Another painful example of letting propaganda – rather than facts and reason – guide U.S. foreign policy was the Vietnam War, which claimed the lives of some 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese.

The Vietnam War raged on for years after Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and even President Lyndon Johnson recognized the need to end it. Part of that was Richard Nixon’s treachery in going behind Johnson’s back to sabotage peace talks in 1968, but the smearing of anti-war dissidents as pro-communist traitors locked many officials into support for the war well after its futility became obvious. The propaganda developed its own momentum that resulted in many unnecessary deaths.

A Special Marking

In the Internet era, there will now be new-age forms of censorship. Your Web site will be excluded from major search engines or electronically stamped with a warning about your unreliability.

Your guilt will be judged by a panel of mainstream media outlets, including some partially funded by the U.S. government, or maybe by some anonymous group of alleged experts.

With the tens of millions of dollars now sloshing around Official Washington to pay for propaganda, lots of entrepreneurs will be lining up at the trough to do their part. Congress just approved another $160 million to combat “Russian propaganda,” which will apparently include U.S. news sites that question the case for the New Cold War.

Along with that money, the House voted 390-30 for the Intelligence Authorization Act with a Section 501 to create an Executive Branch “interagency committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence,” an invitation to expand the  McCarthyistic witch hunt already underway to intimidate independent Internet news sites and independent-minded Americans who question the latest round of U.S. government propaganda.

Even if a President Trump decides that these tensions with Russia are absurd and that the two countries can work together in the fight against terrorism and other international concerns, the financing of the New Cold War propaganda — and the pressure to conform to Official Washington’s  “group think” — will continue.

The well-funded drumbeat of anti-Russian propaganda will seek to limit Trump’s decision-making. After all, this New Cold War cash cow can be milked for years to come and nothing – not even the survival of the human species – is more important than that.

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).




Trump Ponders Petraeus for Senior Job

Exclusive: President-elect Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington seems forgotten — like so many political promises — as he meets with swamp creatures, such as disgraced Gen. David Petraeus, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

The news that President-elect Donald Trump called in disgraced retired Gen. David Petraeus for a job interview as possible Secretary of State tests whether Trump’s experience in hosting “The Celebrity Apprentice” honed his skills for spotting an incompetent phony or not.

Does Trump need more data than the continuing bedlam in Iraq and Afghanistan to understand that one can earn a Princeton PhD by writing erudite-sounding drivel about “counterinsurgency” and still flunk war? Granted, the shambles in which Petraeus left Iraq and Afghanistan were probably more a result of his overweening careerism and political ambition than his misapplication of military strategy. But does that make it any more excusable?

In 2007, Adm. William Fallon, commander of CENTCOM with four decades of active-duty experience behind him, quickly took the measure of Petraeus, who was one of his subordinates while implementing a “surge” of over 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq.

Several sources reported that Fallon was sickened by Petraeus’s unctuous pandering to ingratiate himself. Fallon is said to have been so turned off by all the accolades in the flowery introduction given him by Petraeus that he called him to his face “an ass-kissing little chickenshit,” adding, “I hate people like that.” Sadly, Petraeus’s sycophancy is not uncommon among general officers. Uncommon was Fallon’s outspoken candor.

The past decade has shown that obsequiousness to those above him and callousness toward others are two of Petraeus’s most notable character traits. They go along with his lack of military acumen and his dishonesty as revealed in his lying to the FBI about handing over top-secret notebooks to his biographer/lover, an “indiscretion” that would have landed a less well-connected person in jail but instead got him only a mild slap on the wrist (via a misdemeanor guilty plea).

Indeed, Petraeus, the epitome of a “political general,” represents some of the slimiest depths of the Washington “swamp” that President-elect Trump has vowed to drain. Petraeus cares desperately about the feelings of his fellow elites but shows shocking disdain for the suffering of other human beings who are not so important.

In early 2011 in Afghanistan, Petraeus shocked aides to then-President Hamid Karzai after many children were burned to death in a “coalition” attack in northeastern Afghanistan by suggesting that Afghan parents may have burned their own children to exaggerate their claims of civilian casualties and discredit the U.S., reported The Washington Post, citing two participants at the meeting.

“Killing 60 people, and then blaming the killing on those same people, rather than apologizing for any deaths? This is inhuman,” one Afghan official said. “This is a really terrible situation.”

Yet, on other occasions, the politically savvy Petraeus can be a paragon of sensitivity – like when he is in danger of getting crosswise with the Israel Lobby.

Never did Petraeus’s fawning shine through with more brilliance, than when an (unintentionally disclosed) email exchange showed him groveling before arch-neocon Max Boot, beseeching Boot’s help in fending off charges that Petraeus was “anti-Israel” because his prepared testimony to a congressional committee included the no-brainer observations that Israeli-Palestinian hostility presents “distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests” and that “this conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. … Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

So, telling the truth (perhaps accidentally in prepared testimony) made Petraeus squirm with fear about offending the powerful Israel Lobby, but he apparently didn’t hesitate to lie to FBI agents when he was caught in a tight spot for sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Paula Broadwell, his mistress/biographer. But, again, Petraeus realized that it helps to have influential friends. A court gave him a slap on the wrist with a sentence of two years probation and a fine of $100,000 – which is less than he usually makes for a single speaking engagement.

Military Incompetent Without Parallel

And, if President-elect Trump isn’t repulsed by the stench of hypocrisy – if he ignores Petraeus’s reckless handling of classified material after Trump lambasted Hillary Clinton for her own careless behavior in that regard – there is also the grim truth behind Petraeus’s glitzy image.

As a military strategist or even a trainer of troops, Petraeus has been an unparalleled disaster. Yes, the corporate media always runs interference for Official Washington’s favorite general. But that does not equate with genuine success.

The Iraq “surge,” which Petraeus oversaw, was misrepresented in the corporate media as a huge victory – because it was credited with a brief dip in the level of violence at the cost of some 1,000 American lives (and those of many more Iraqis) – but the “surge” failed its principal goal of buying time to heal the rift between Shiites and Sunnis, a division that ultimately led to the emergence of the Islamic State (or ISIS).

Then, in early 2014, the crackerjack Iraqi troops whom Petraeus bragged about training ran away from Mosul, leaving their modern U.S.-provided weapons behind for the Islamic State’s jihadists to play with.

In part because of that collapse – with Iraqi forces only now beginning to chip away at ISIS control of Mosul – the Obama administration was dragged into another Mideast war, spilling across Iraq and Syria and adding to the droves of refugees pouring into Europe, a crisis that is now destabilizing the European Union.

You might have thought that the combination of military failures and scandalous behavior would have ended David Petraeus’s “government service,” but he has never lost his skill at putting his finger to the wind.

During the presidential campaign, the windsock Petraeus was circumspect, which was understandable given the uncertainty regarding which way the wind was blowing.

However, on Sept. 1, 2015, amid calls from the mainstream U.S. media and establishment think tanks for President Obama to escalate the U.S. proxy war to overthrow the Syrian government, Petraeus spoke out in favor of giving more weapons to “moderate” Syrian rebels, despite the widespread recognition that U.S.-supplied guns and rockets were ending up in the hands of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

The new harebrained scheme – favored by Petraeus and other neocons – fantasized about Al Qaeda possibly joining the fight against the Islamic State, although ISIS sprang from Al Qaeda and splintered largely over tactical issues, such as how quickly to declare a jihadist state, not over fundamental fundamentalist goals.

But more miscalculations in the Middle East would be right up Petraeus’s alley. He played an important role in facilitating the emergence of the Islamic State by his too-clever-by-half policy of co-opting some Sunni tribes with promises of shared power in Baghdad and with lots of money, and then simply looking the other way as the U.S.-installed Shia government in Baghdad ditched the promises.

Surge? Or Splurge With Lives

The so-called “surges” of troops into Iraq and Afghanistan are particularly gross examples of the way American soldiers have been used as expendable pawns by ambitious generals like Petraeus and ambitious politicians like former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The problem is that overweening personal ambition can end up getting a lot of people killed. In the speciously glorified first “surge,” President George W. Bush sent more than 30,000 additional troops into Iraq in early 2007. During the period of the “surge,” about 1,000 U.S. troops died.

There was a similar American death toll during President Barack Obama’s “surge” of another 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in early 2010, a shift toward a counterinsurgency strategy that had been pressed on Obama by Petraeus, Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Despite the loss of those 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers, the counterinsurgency “surge” had little effect on the course of the Afghan War.

The bloody chaos that continues in Iraq today and in the never-ending war in Afghanistan was entirely predictable. Indeed, it was predicted by those of us able to spread some truth around via the Internet, while being blacklisted by the fawning corporate media, which cheered on the “surges” and their chief architect, David Petraeus.

But the truth is not something that thrives in either U.S. politics or media these days. Campaigning early this year in New Hampshire, then-presidential aspirant Jeb Bush gave a short partial-history lesson about his big brother’s attack on Iraq. Referring to the so-called Islamic State, Bush said, “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ was wiped out … the surge created a fragile but stable Iraq. …”

Jeb Bush is partially right about ISIS; it didn’t exist when his brother George attacked Iraq. Indeed, Al Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion when it emerged as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and it wasn’t eliminated by the “surge.”

With huge sums of U.S. cash going to Sunni tribes in Anbar province, Al Qaeda in Iraq just pulled back and regrouped. Its top leaders came from the ranks of angry Sunnis who had been officers in Saddam Hussein’s army and – when the “surge” failed to achieve reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites – the U.S. cash proved useful in expanding Sunni resistance to Baghdad’s Shiite government. From the failed “surge” strategy emerged the rebranded “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” the Islamic State.

So, despite Jeb Bush’s attempted spin, the reality is that his brother’s aggressive war in Iraq created both “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and its new incarnation, Islamic State.

The mess was made worse by subsequent U.S. strategy – beginning under Bush and expanding under President Obama – of supporting insurgents in Syria. By supplying money, guns and rockets to “moderate” Sunni rebels, that strategy has allowed the materiel to quickly fall into the hands of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front, and its jihadist allies, Ahrar al-Sham.

In other words, U.S. strategy – much of it guided by David Petraeus – continues to strengthen Al Qaeda, which – through its Nusra affiliate and its Islamic State spin-off – now occupies large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Escaping a ‘Lost War’

All this is among the fateful consequences of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq 13 years ago – made worse (not better) by the “surge” in 2007, which contributed significantly to this decade’s Sunni-Shia violence. The real reason for Bush’s “surge” seems to have been to buy time so that he and Vice President Dick Cheney could leave office without having a lost war on their résumés.

As author Steve Coll has put it, “The decision [to surge] at a minimum guaranteed that his [Bush’s] presidency would not end with a defeat in history’s eyes. By committing to the surge [the President] was certain to at least achieve a stalemate.”

According to Bob Woodward, Bush told key Republicans in late 2005 that he would not withdraw from Iraq, “even if Laura and [first-dog] Barney are the only ones supporting me.” Woodward made it clear that Bush was well aware in fall 2006 that the U.S. was losing.

Indeed, by fall 2006, it had become unavoidably clear that a new course had to be chosen and implemented in Iraq, and virtually every sober thinker seemed opposed to sending more troops.

The senior military, especially CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid and his man on the ground in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, emphasized that sending still more U.S. troops to Iraq would simply reassure leading Iraqi politicians that they could relax and continue to take forever to get their act together.

Here, for example, is Gen. Abizaid’s answer at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 15, 2006, to Sen. John McCain, who had long been pressing vigorously for sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq:

”Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, ‘in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?’ And they all said no.

“And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more. It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.”

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, sent a classified cable to Washington warning that “proposals to send more U.S. forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable,” according to a New York Times retrospective on the “surge” published on Aug. 31, 2008. Khalilzad was arguing, unsuccessfully, for authority to negotiate a political solution with the Iraqis.

There was also the establishment-heavy Iraq Study Group, created by Congress and led by Republican stalwart James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton (with Robert Gates as a member although he quit before the review was competed). After months of policy review, the Iraq Study Group issued a final report on Dec. 6, 2006, that began with the ominous sentence “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.”

It called for: “A change in the primary mission of U.S. Forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly… By the first quarter of 2008…all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.”

Rumsfeld’s Known-Knowns

The little-understood story behind Bush’s decision to catapult Robert Gates into the post of Defense Secretary was the astonishing fact that Donald Rumsfeld, of all people, was pulling a Robert McNamara; that is, he was going wobbly on a war based largely on his own hubris-laden, misguided advice.

In the fall of 2006 Rumsfeld was having a reality attack. In Rumsfeld-speak, he had come face to face with a “known known.”

On Nov. 6, 2006, a day before the mid-term elections, Rumsfeld sent a memo to the White House, in which he acknowledged, “Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.” The rest of his memo sounded very much like the emerging troop-drawdown conclusions of the Iraq Study Group.

The first 80 percent of Rumsfeld’s memo addressed “Illustrative Options,” including his preferred – or “above the line” – options such as “an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases … to five by July 2007” and withdrawal of U.S. forces “from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. … so the Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.”

Finally, Rumsfeld had begun to listen to his generals and others who knew which end was up.?The hurdle? Bush and Cheney were not about to follow Rumsfeld’s example in “going wobbly.” Like Robert McNamara at a similar juncture during Vietnam, Rumsfeld had to be let go before he caused a President to “lose a war.”

Waiting in the wings, though, was Robert Gates, who had been CIA director under President George H. W. Bush, spent four years as president of Texas A&M, and had returned to the Washington stage as a member of the Iraq Study Group. While on the ISG, he evidenced no disagreement with its emerging conclusions – at least not until Bush asked him to become Secretary of Defense in early November 2006.

It was awkward. Right up to the week before the mid-term elections on Nov. 7, 2006, President Bush had insisted that he intended to keep Rumsfeld in place for the next two years. Suddenly, the President had to deal with Rumsfeld’s apostasy on Iraq.?Rumsfeld had let reality get to him, together with the very strong anti-surge protestations by all senior uniformed officers save one — the ambitious David Petraeus, who had jumped onboard for the “surge” escalation, which guaranteed another star on his lapel.

All Hail Petraeus

With the bemedaled Petraeus in the wings and guidance on strategy from arch-neocons, such as retired General Jack Keane and think-tank analyst Frederick Kagan, the White House completed the coup against the generals by replacing Rumsfeld with Gates and recalling Casey and Abizaid and elevating Petraeus.

Amid the mainstream media’s hosannas for Petraeus and Gates, the significance of the shakeup was widely misunderstood, with key senators, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, buying the false narrative that the changes presaged a drawdown in the war rather than an escalation.

So relieved were the senators to be rid of the hated-but-feared Rumsfeld that the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Dec. 5, 2006, on Gates’s nomination had the feel of a pajama party (I was there). Gates told them bedtime stories – and vowed to show “great deference to the judgment of generals.”

With unanimous Democratic support and only two conservative Republicans opposed, Gates was confirmed by the full Senate on Dec. 6, 2006.

On Jan. 10, 2007, Bush formally unveiled the bait-and-switch, announcing the “surge” of 30,000 additional troops, a mission that would be overseen by Gates and Petraeus. Bush did acknowledge that there would be considerable loss of life in the year ahead as U.S. troops were assigned to create enough stability for Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni factions to reach an accommodation.

At least, he got the loss-of-life part right. Around 1,000 U.S. troops died during the “surge” along with many more Iraqis. But Bush, Cheney, Petraeus, and Gates apparently deemed that cost a small price to pay for enabling them to blame a successor administration for the inevitable withdrawal from America’s failed war of aggression.

The gambit worked especially well for Gates and Petraeus. Amid glowing mainstream media press clippings about the “successful surge” and “victory at last” in Iraq, Gates was hailed as a new “wise man” and Petraeus was the military genius who pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. Their reputations were such that President Obama concluded that he had no choice but to keep them on, Gates as Defense Secretary and Petraeus as Obama’s top general in the Middle East.

Petraeus then oversaw the “surge” in Afghanistan and landed the job of CIA director, where Petraeus reportedly played a major role in arming up the Syrian rebels in pursuit of another “regime change,” this time in Syria.

Although Petraeus’s CIA tenure ended in disgrace in November 2012 when his dangerous liaison with Paula Broadwell was disclosed, his many allies in Official Washington’s powerful neocon community are now pushing him on President-elect Trump as the man to serve as Secretary of State.

Petraeus is known as a master of flattery, something that seemingly can turn Trump’s head. But the President-elect should have learned from his days hosting “The Celebrity Apprentice” that the winning contender should not be the one most adept at sucking up to the boss.

(Now, with the whole Middle East in turmoil, I find some relief in this brief parody by comedienne Connie Bryan of Petraeus’s performance in training Iraqi troops.)

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, from the administration of John Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush.  He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




NYT Advocates Internet Censorship

Exclusive: The New York Times wants a system of censorship for the Internet to block what it calls “fake news,” but the Times ignores its own record of publishing “fake news,” reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In its lead editorial on Sunday, The New York Times decried what it deemed “The Digital Virus Called Fake News” and called for Internet censorship to counter this alleged problem, taking particular aim at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for letting “liars and con artists hijack his platform.”

As this mainstream campaign against “fake news” quickly has gained momentum in the past week, two false items get cited repeatedly, a claim that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump and an assertion that Trump was prevailing in the popular vote over Hillary Clinton. I could add another election-related falsehood, a hoax spread by Trump supporters that liberal documentarian Michael Moore was endorsing Trump when he actually was backing Clinton.

But I also know that Clinton supporters were privately pushing some salacious and unsubstantiated charges about Trump’s sex life, and Clinton personally charged that Trump was under the control of Russian President Vladimir Putin although there was no evidence presented to support that McCarthyistic accusation.

The simple reality is that lots of dubious accusations get flung around during the heat of a campaign – nothing new there – and it is always a challenge for professional journalists to swat them down the best we can. What’s different now is that the Times envisions some structure (or algorithm) for eliminating what it calls “fake news.”

But, with a stunning lack of self-awareness, the Times fails to acknowledge the many times that it has published “fake news,” such as reporting in 2002 that Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes meant that it was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program; its bogus analysis tracing the firing location of a Syrian sarin-laden rocket in 2013 back to a Syrian military base that turned out to be four times outside the rocket’s range; or its publication of photos supposedly showing Russian soldiers inside Russia and then inside Ukraine in 2014 when it turned out that the “inside-Russia” photo was also taken inside Ukraine, destroying the premise of the story.

These are just three examples among many of the Times publishing “fake news” – and all three appeared on Page One before being grudgingly or partially retracted, usually far inside the newspaper under opaque headlines so most readers wouldn’t notice. Much of the Times’ “fake news” continued to reverberate in support of U.S. government propaganda even after the partial retractions.

Who Is the Judge?

So, should Zuckerberg prevent Facebook users from circulating New York Times stories? Obviously, the Times would not favor that solution to the problem of “fake news.” Instead, the Times expects to be one of the arbiters deciding which Internet outlets get banned and which ones get gold seals of approval.

The Times lead editorial, following a front-page article on the same topic on Friday, leaves little doubt what the newspaper would like to see. It wants major Internet platforms and search engines, such as Facebook and Google, to close off access to sites accused of disseminating “fake news.”

The editorial said, “a big part of the responsibility for this scourge rests with internet companies like Facebook and Google, which have made it possible for fake news to be shared nearly instantly with millions of users and have been slow to block it from their sites. …

“Facebook says it is working on weeding out such fabrications. It said last Monday that it would no longer place Facebook-powered ads on fake news websites, a move that could cost Facebook and those fake news sites a lucrative source of revenue. Earlier on the same day, Google said it would stop letting those sites use its ad placement network. These steps would help, but Facebook, in particular, owes its users, and democracy itself, far more.

“Facebook has demonstrated that it can effectively block content like click-bait articles and spam from its platform by tweaking its algorithms, which determine what links, photos and ads users see in their news feeds. … Facebook managers are constantly changing and refining the algorithms, which means the system is malleable and subject to human judgment.”

The Times editorial continued: “This summer, Facebook decided to show more posts from friends and family members in users’ news feeds and reduce stories from news organizations, because that’s what it said users wanted. If it can do that, surely its programmers can train the software to spot bogus stories and outwit the people producing this garbage. …

“Mr. Zuckerberg himself has spoken at length about how social media can help improve society. … None of that will happen if he continues to let liars and con artists hijack his platform.”

Gray Areas

But the problem is that while some falsehoods may be obvious and clear-cut, much information exists in a gray area in which two or more sides may disagree on what the facts are. And the U.S. government doesn’t always tell the truth although you would be hard-pressed to find recent examples of the Times recognizing that reality. Especially over the past several decades, the Times has usually embraced the Official Version of a disputed event and has deemed serious skepticism out of bounds.

That was the way the Times treated denials from the Iraqi government and some outside experts who disputed the “aluminum tube” story in 2002 – and how the Times has brushed off disagreements regarding the U.S. government’s portrayal of events in Syria, Ukraine and Russia. Increasingly, the Times has come across as a propaganda conduit for Official Washington rather than a professional journalistic entity.

But the Times and other mainstream news outlets – along with some favored Internet sites – now sit on a Google-financed entity called the First Draft Coalition, which presents itself as a kind of Ministry of Truth that will decide which stories are true and which are “fake.”

If the Times’ editorial recommendations are followed, the disfavored stories and the sites publishing them would no longer be accessible through popular search engines and platforms, essentially blocking the public’s access to them. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What to Do About ‘Fake News.’”]

The Times asserts that such censorship would be good for democracy – and it surely is true that hoaxes and baseless conspiracy theories are no help to democracy – but regulation of information in the manner that the Times suggests has more than a whiff of Orwellian totalitarianism to it.

And the proposal is especially troubling coming from the Times, with its checkered recent record of disseminating dangerous disinformation.

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).




Trump’s Slim Chance for Greatness

Special Report: Donald Trump’s unlikely victory created the opportunity to finally break with the orthodoxy of Washington’s neocon/liberal-hawk foreign policy, but can Trump find enough fresh thinkers to do the job, asks Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Donald Trump must decide – and decide quickly – whether he wants to be a great U.S. President or a robo-signature machine affixing his name to whatever legislation comes from congressional Republicans and a nodding figurehead acquiescing to more neoconservative foreign policy adventures.

Or, to put it in a vernacular that Trump might use, does he want to be “Paul Ryan’s bitch” on domestic policies? And does he want to surrender his foreign policy to the “wise guys” of Washington’s neocon establishment?

Trump’s problem is that he has few fully developed ideas about how to proceed in a presidency that even many of his close followers did not expect would happen. Plus, over the past few decades, the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks have marginalized almost every dissenting expert, including old-line “realists” who once were important figures.

So, the bench of “confirmable” experts who have dissented on neocon/liberal-hawk policies is very thin. To find national security leaders who would break with the prevailing “group thinks,” Trump would have to go outside normal channels and take a risk on some fresh thinkers.

But most mainstream media accounts doubt that he will. That is why speculation has centered on Trump settling on several neocon retreads for Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, such as former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former CIA Director James Woolsey and ex-National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, all staunch supporters of George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War which Trump has denounced.

‘Team of Rivals’

If Trump is guided in that direction, he will make the same mistake that President Barack Obama made during the 2008 transition when Obama was seduced by the idea of a Lincoln-esque “Team of Rivals” and staffed key top national security jobs with hawks — keeping Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates, hiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and leaving in place top generals, such as David Petraeus.gates-duty

That decision trapped the inexperienced Obama into a policy of continuity with Bush’s wars and related policies, such as domestic spying, rather than enabling Obama to achieve his promised “change.”

Faced with powerful “rivals” within his own administration, Obama was maneuvered into an ill-considered “counterinsurgency” escalation in Afghanistan in 2009 that did little more than get another 1,000 U.S. soldiers killed along with many more Afghans.

Secretary Clinton also sold out the elected progressive president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, when he was ousted in a coup in 2009, signaling to Latin America that “El Norte” hadn’t changed much.

Then, Clinton sabotaged Obama’s first attempt in 2010 to enlist the help of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to work out a deal with Iran on constraining its nuclear program. Clinton favored an escalating confrontation with Iran along the lines dictated by Israeli hardliners.

Clinton and the other hawks succeeded in thwarting Obama’s will because, as Gates wrote in his memoir Duty, Gates and Clinton were “un-fireable” in that they could challenge Obama whenever they wished while realizing that Obama would have to pay an unacceptably high price to remove them.

As clever “inside players,” Gates, Clinton and Petraeus also understood that if Obama balked at their policy prescriptions, they could undercut him by going to friends in the mainstream news media and leaking information about how Obama was “weak” in not supporting a more warlike approach to problems.

Obama’s Real Weakness

Yet, by failing to stand up to this neocon/liberal-hawk pressure, Obama did make himself weak. Essentially, he never got control of his foreign policy and even after the Gates-Clinton-Petraeus trio was gone by the start of Obama’s second term, the President still feared angering Washington’s foreign policy establishment which often followed the heed of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama was so worried about Israel that, at the apex of his power after winning reelection in 2012, Obama went on a several-day trip to visit Netanyahu in a craven attempt to show his love and obeisance to Israel. Obama took similar trips to Saudi Arabia.

Still, that was not enough to spare him the wrath of Netanyahu and the Saudi royals when Obama finally pushed successfully for an Iran nuclear deal in 2014. Netanyahu humiliated Obama by accepting a Republican invitation in 2015 to speak to a joint session of Congress where he urged U.S. lawmakers to repudiate their own President.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia demanded and got new concessions from Obama on arms sales and his grudging support for their proxy war in Syria as well as their direct aerial bombardment of Yemen – both part of a Sunni Wahhabist sectarian strategy for destroying Shiite-related regimes. (The Sunni/Shiite clash dates back to the Seventh Century.)

Indeed, the little-recognized Israeli-Saudi alliance targeting the so-called “Shiite crescent” – Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Iran – is at the heart of what has been driving U.S. policy in the Middle East since the 1990s.

And, if President-elect Trump wants to truly reverse the downward spiral of the United States as it has squandered trillions of dollars in futile Mideast wars, he will have to go up against the Israeli-Saudi tandem and make it clear that he will not be manipulated as Obama was.

Facing down such a powerful coalition of Israel (with its extraordinary U.S. lobbying apparatus) and Saudi Arabia (with its far-reaching financial clout) would require both imagination and courage. It would not be possible if Trump surrounds himself with senior advisers under the thumb of Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Salman.

So, we will learn a great deal about whether Trump is a real player or just a pretender when he selects his foreign policy team. Will he find imaginative new thinkers who can break the disastrous cycles of Mideast wars and reduce tensions with Russia or will he just tap into the usual suspects of Republican orthodoxy?

Sunlight on the Swamp

Trump could also show his independence from Republican orthodoxy by recognizing that government secrecy has gone way too far, a drift into opacity that dates back to Ronald Reagan and his reversal of the more open-government policies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Trump says he wants to “drain the swamp” of Washington, but to do that first requires letting in much more sunlight and sharing much more information with the American people.

For starters – assuming that the timid Obama won’t take the risk – President Trump could pardon national security whistleblowers who have faced or could face prosecution, such as Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, John Kiriakou, Jeffrey Sterling and Edward Snowden.

That could be followed by an executive order forbidding excessive secrecy inside the federal government, recognizing that “We the People” are the nation’s true sovereigns and thus deserve as much information as possible while protecting necessary secrets.

Trump could show he means business about respecting average American citizens by sharing with them U.S. intelligence assessments on key controversies, such as the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack in Syria and the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. [See here and here.]

The Obama administration has engaged in selective release of information about these mysteries to manipulate U.S. public opinion, not to inform and thus empower the American people. Trump could go a long way toward restoring public trust by renouncing such tricks.

He also could save many billions of dollars by shutting down U.S. propaganda agencies whose role also is to use various P.R. tricks to shape both foreign and domestic opinion, often in the cause of “regime changes” or “color revolutions.”

Trump could shut down the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy, return the U.S. Agency for International Development to its legitimate purpose of helping poor countries build schools and drill wells, and shutter the trouble-making National Endowment for Democracy.

By steering the world away from the New Cold War with nuclear-armed Russia, Trump could not only help save the future of mankind, he could save trillions of dollars that otherwise would end up in the pockets of the Military-Industrial Complex.

FDR or Coolidge?

Regarding domestic policy, some Republicans expect that Trump will simply sign off on whatever Ayn-Rand-inspired legislation that House Speaker Ryan pushes through Congress, whether turning Medicare into a voucher program or privatizing Social Security.

In this area, too, Trump will have to decide whether he wants to be a great president in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt or someone more of the caliber of Calvin Coolidge.

Trump also must face the reality that he has lost the popular vote by a rather significant margin – almost a million votes in the latest tallies – and thus only has the presidency because of the archaic Electoral College. In other words, he lacks a real mandate from the people.

When confronted with a similar situation in 2000, George W. Bush chose to pretend that he had a decisive mandate for his right-wing policies, shoved them down the Democrats’ throats (such as his massive tax cut mostly for the rich that wiped out the budget surplus), and eventually saw his failed presidency sink into bitter partisanship.

Republicans will surely urge Trump to do the same, to ignore the popular vote, but he might do well to surprise people by looking for overlapping areas where Democrats and Republicans can cooperate.

For instance, many Democrats fear that Trump will undo the difficult progress made on climate change over the past eight years. After all, Trump has voiced doubts about the scientific consensus on the existential threat posed by global warming.

But Trump also wants to invest heavily in America’s infrastructure (plus he has vowed to help the inner cities). So, there’s potential common ground if Trump were to launch a major program to create a world-class mass transit system for urban and suburban areas.

Trump might even turn to one of his critics, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for Transportation Secretary with instructions to study mass transit in Japan and Europe and implement a similar system in the United States, quickly. Besides creating jobs and improving life for urban dwellers (who largely supported Hillary Clinton), quality and fast mass transit could get millions of Americans out of their cars and thus help in the fight against global warming, too.

To demonstrate a willingness to reach across the aisle on such important issues, Trump might even consider offering Energy Secretary to Al Gore.

But such bold steps would require Trump to have the courage and creativity to go against the Republican “playbook” which calls for a zero-sum game against the Democrats.

Whether Trump has such courage and foresight is the pressing question of the moment. Will he go for true greatness (both for himself and America) or will he be content to have his name and face on one of those place mats showing the 45 U.S. Presidents?

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).




New York Times: Apologist for Power

Special Report: Over the past couple of decades, America’s preeminent newspaper, The New York Times, has lost its journalistic way, becoming a propaganda platform and an apologist for the powerful, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In recent years, The New York Times has behaved as if whatever the Establishment claims is true must be true, failing to show thoughtful skepticism whether the findings are coming from a congressional report, an intelligence assessment, a criminal investigation or even an outfit as disreputable as the National Football League.

If some powerful institution asserts a conclusion, the Times falls in line and expects everyone else to do so as well. Yet, that is not journalism; it is mindless submission to authority; and it indirectly pushes many people into the swamps of conspiracy theories. After all, if professional journalists simply ratify whatever dubious claims are coming from powerful institutions, inquisitive citizens will try to fill in the blanks themselves and sometimes buy into outlandishly false speculations.

In my journalistic career, I have found both extremes troubling: the Times’ assumption that the authorities are almost always right and the conspiracy theorists who follow up some “what I can’t understand” comment with a patently absurd explanation and then get angry when rational people won’t go along.

Though both attitudes have become dangerous for a functioning democracy, the behavior of the Times deserves the bulk of the blame, since the “newspaper of record” carries far more weight in setting public policy and also is partly to blame for creating this blight of conspiracism.

Some of the Times’ failures are well known, such as its 2002 front-page acceptance of claims from officials and allies of George W. Bush’s administration that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program and had purchased some aluminum tubes to do so. The Times’ bogus story allowed Bush’s top aides to go on Sunday talk shows to warn that “we must not allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

But the “aluminum tube” story was only part of a long-developing pattern. As an investigative reporter in Washington since 1980, I had seen the Times engage in similar publications of false stories planted by powerful insiders.

For instance, based on self-serving information from Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department in the mid-1980s, the Times knocked down the original reporting that my Associated Press colleague Brian Barger and I did on Nicaraguan Contra rebels getting involved in cocaine smuggling.

And, once the Times got snookered by its official sources, it and other mainstream publications carried on vendettas against anyone who contradicted the accepted wisdom, unwilling to admit that they were wrong even at the expense of historical truth.

So, when San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb revived the Contra-cocaine story in 1996 — with evidence that some of that cocaine had fed into the “crack epidemic” — the Times (along with other major newspapers) savaged Webb’s articles and destroyed his career.

Finally, in 1998 when the CIA’s Inspector General Frederick Hitz confirmed that the Contras indeed had engaged in extensive cocaine trafficking, the Times only published a grudging and limited admission that maybe there was a bit more to the story than the vaunted Times had previously accepted. But Webb’s career and life remained in ruins. He eventually committed suicide in 2004 (and please, conspiracists, don’t go on about how he was “murdered” by the CIA).

[For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]

Hiding Gore’s Victory

By the time of Webb’s destruction, the Times was neck-deep in a troubling pattern of getting virtually every major story wrong or sitting on important information that some of its own journalists had dug up.

In 2000, after five partisan Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court shut down the vote count in Florida to ensure George W. Bush’s “election,” Times executives resisted calls from lower-level editors to join in a media counting of the discarded votes, only grumpily agreeing to take part.

However, when that vote count was completed in November 2001, the Times executives decided to misreport the findings, which revealed that if all legal votes in Florida had been counted Al Gore would have won (because the so-called “over-votes” – when a voter both marks and writes in the same name – broke heavily for Gore and are legal under Florida law which is based on the clear intent of the voter).

You might have thought that the obvious lede would be that the wrong guy was in the White House, but the 9/11 attacks had intervened between the start and the end of the media recount. So, the Times and other major news organizations buried their own findings so as not to undermine Bush’s authority amid a crisis. The big media focused on various hypotheticals of partial counts that still had Bush “winning.”

While one might sympathize with the Times’ reasons for misleading the public, what the Times did was not journalism, nor was it a case of treating the American citizens as the true sovereigns of the nation who have a right to know the truth. It was a case of protecting the legitimacy of the Establishment. Those of us who noted the actual vote tabulations were dismissed as “conspiracy theorists,” though we were not.

[For the details of how a full Florida recount would have given Gore the White House, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Gore’s Victory,” “So Bush Did Steal the White House,” and “Bush v. Gore’s Dark American Decade.”]

Rationalizing War

So, when we got to Bush’s plans for invading Iraq in 2002, the Times had already shown its commitment to play ball with whatever the government was saying, no matter how dubious the claims. And, even the humiliation of having been caught publishing a false story about aluminum tubes being evidence of Iraq reconstituting its nuclear weapons program didn’t get the Times to change course.

Although one of the reporters on that story, Judy Miller, eventually did leave the newspaper (and landed on her feet at Fox News), the lead author, Michael Gordon, continued as the Times’ national security correspondent. Even more stunning, columnist Bill Keller, who wrote an influential article rallying “liberals” to the cause of invading Iraq, was elevated to the top job of executive editor after his Iraq gullibility had been exposed.

Even in the rare moments when the Times claimed it was standing up to the Bush administration, such as publishing James Risen’s article in December 2005 exposing the warrantless wiretapping of Americans, the reality was not exactly a new chapter in Profiles in Courage.

It turned out that the Times had been sitting on Risen’s story for more than a year – it could have been published before the 2004 election – but Bush demanded the story’s suppression. The information was finally shared with the public in late 2005 only because Risen’s book, State of War, was scheduled for publication in January 2006 and included the disclosure, a prospective embarrassment for the Times.

The pattern of the Times bowing down to the White House continued into the Obama administration. Whenever there has been a dubious claim that the U.S. government directs against some foreign “adversary,” the Times dutifully takes the side of Official Washington, rather than applying the objectivity and impartiality that are supposed to be at the heart of U.S. journalism.

For instance, on Aug. 21, 2013, when a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, killed several hundred people, the Times simply fell in line behind the U.S.-driven rush to judgment blaming the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There were immediate reasons to doubt that conclusion – Assad had just invited in United Nations inspectors to investigate cases of Syrian jihadists using chemical weapons – but the Times and other major Western outlets simply fingered the already demonized Assad.

Though we now know that U.S. intelligence analysts did not consider Assad’s guilt a “slam dunk” – and later key elements of the case against Assad collapsed, such as the Times’ miscalculation of the maximum range of the sarin-laden rocket – the Assad-did-it stampede almost led to a major U.S. military retaliation against what now appears to have been the wrong people.

Current evidence points to a likely provocation by radical jihadists trying to trick the West into entering the war in a big way on their side, but the Times has never fully retracted its false claim that the rocket was fired from a Syrian military base, which was four times outside the rocket’s range.

Indeed, to this day, Times’ columnists and other Western journalists routinely cite Assad’s guilt – and President Obama’s supposed failure to enforce his “red line” against chemical attacks – as flat fact.

The MH-17 Case

There has been a similar lack of skepticism toward the propaganda case that has been built around the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine killing 298 people. We saw another rush to judgment, this time blaming ethnic Russian rebels and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but there were problems with that claim from the start.

I was told by a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts that their evidence pointed to a rogue element of the Ukrainian military under the direction of a hard-line, anti-Russian Ukrainian oligarch with the hoped-for goal of shooting down Putin’s plane returning from a state visit to South America. According to this account, MH-17 just became the substitute target.

But the international investigation was put under the effective control of Ukraine’s unsavory SBU intelligence service, although technically called “Dutch-led.” As the Joint Investigation Team’s own progress report noted this year, the inquiry relied both on the Ukrainian government’s hospitality and “evidence” supplied by the SBU, which has been implicated in concealing Ukrainian torture centers. Far from objective, the investigation became part of the West’s anti-Russian propaganda war.

So, when the JIT issued its initial findings in September 2016, skepticism should have been in order. Indeed, there wasn’t really a “report” as such, more a brief summary accompanied by several videos that used computer-generated graphics and cryptic telephone intercepts, provided by the SBU, to create the impression of Russian guilt.

A critical examination of the material revealed that the inquiry ignored evidence that went against the desired conclusion, including intercepts revealing that a Ukrainian convoy was pressing deep inside what was called “rebel-controlled” territory, an important point because it showed that a Ukrainian missile battery could have traveled eastward toward the alleged firing point since rebel forces were mostly massed to the north fighting a government offensive.

The alleged route of the supposed Russian Buk battery also made no sense because there was a much more direct and discreet route from the Russian border to the alleged firing location in the southeast than the circuitous wandering all the way west to Donetsk before backtracking to the east. But the SBU-dominated investigation needed to explain why all the “social media” photos showed a Buk battery traveling east toward Russia, not westward from Russia.

And, there was the JIT’s silence on a Dutch intelligence report from October 2015 saying that the only powerful anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, were under the control of the Ukrainian military. Plus, the supposed firing location for the alleged purpose of protecting rebel fighters operating far to the north made no sense from a tactical perspective either. Placing a Buk battery far to the southeast would not help shoot down Ukraine’s military planes firing missiles into the rebel lines.

Indeed, much of the evidence fit better with what I had been told, second-hand, from those U.S. intelligence analysts – because any scheme to shoot down Putin’s plane would need the deniability that would come from pushing the battery as far into “rebel-controlled” territory as possible so as to manage the political fallout by creating a cover story that Putin was killed by his own supporters. The same cover story also would work for killing the passengers on MH-17 and blaming it on Russia.

But whatever you might think about who was responsible for the MH-17 atrocity — and I agree that the mystery has not been solved — the job of a professional news organization is to examine skeptically the various accounts and the available pieces of evidence, not just embrace the “official” version. But that is what the Times has done regarding MH-17 and pretty much every other case.

Concealing History            

The Times’ journalistic negligence does not only affect current issues of war and peace, but how the American people understand their recent history. In effect, the false “group thinks” – accepted by the Times – have a long after-life of decay contaminating the public’s thinking whenever the Times recycles a bogus account as historical narrative.

For instance, in a recent summary of “October Surprise” cases, the Times misled its readers on two of the most important incidents, 1968 and 1980.

Regarding the election of 1968 between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, the evidence is now overwhelming that Nixon’s operatives went behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back to sabotage the Paris peace talks that Johnson felt could end the Vietnam War, a development that also would likely have helped fellow Democrat Humphrey.

That evidence now includes declassified FBI wiretaps of Nixon’s conspirators and Johnson’s own taped phone conversations – as well as various admissions and other corroborations from participants – but the Times has always turned up its nose toward this important story. So, the history doesn’t exist in New York Times World.

Thus, when the Times addressed this 1968 episode in a Nov. 1, 2016 review of past “October Surprise” cases – in the context of FBI Director James Comey telling Congress that the FBI had reopened its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails – the Times offered this summary:

“President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced a halt to bombing of North Vietnam, based on his claim that peace talks had ‘entered a new and a very much more hopeful phase,’ and he invited the government of South Vietnam and the Viet Cong to take part in negotiations. Raising hopes that the war might end soon, the announcement appeared to bolster the standing in the polls of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic presidential nominee, but Humphrey still fell short in the election against former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, the Republican.”

In other words, the Times treated Johnson’s bombing halt and claim of peace-talk progress as the “October Surprise” to try to influence the election in favor of Humphrey. But the evidence now is clear that a peace agreement was within reach and that the “October Surprise” was Nixon’s sabotage of the negotiations by persuading South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to boycott the Paris meeting.

The Times got the story upside-down and inside-out by failing to reexamine this case in light of convincing evidence now available in the declassified record. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “LBJ’s ‘X-File’ on Nixon’s ‘Treason’” and “The Heinous Crime Behind Watergate.”]

Reagan’s Victory

The Times botched the 1980 “October Surprise” case even worse. The currently available evidence supports the case that Ronald Reagan’s campaign – mostly through its director (and future CIA Director) William Casey and its vice presidential nominee (and former CIA Director) George H.W. Bush – went behind President Jimmy Carter’s back and undermined his negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

Carter’s failure became a central factor in his repudiation for reelection and a core reason for Reagan’s landslide victory – that also carried the Republicans to control of the U.S. Senate. But the later congressional investigation into the 1980 October Surprise case – a follow-on to the Iran-Contra scandal which exposed the Reagan-Bush secret dealings with Iran – was stymied in 1992.

Naively, the inquiry trusted President George H.W. Bush’s administration to collect the evidence and provide the witnesses for what would amount to Bush’s political suicide. Documents from Bush’s presidential library reveal that his White House quickly set out to “kill/spike this story” in order to protect his reelection chances.

For instance, a memo by one of Bush’s lawyers revealed that the White House had received confirmation of a key October Surprise allegation – a secret trip by Casey to Madrid – but then withheld that information from congressional investigators. Documents also show the White House frustrating attempts to interview a key witness.

After I discovered the Madrid confirmation several years ago – and sent the document to former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who had headed the House inquiry which concluded that there was no credible evidence supporting the allegations – he was stunned by the apparent betrayal of his trust.

“The [Bush-41] White House did not notify us that he [Casey] did make the trip” to Madrid, Hamilton told me in an interview. Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the investigation’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was central to the inquiry.

So, a great deal is now known about the 1980 October Surprise case since the Times accepted the misguided conclusion of Hamilton’s inquiry. But none of that is reflected in how the Times recounted the history in its review of past October Surprise cases:

“The Republican nominee, Ronald Reagan, and his aides repeatedly warned that President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, would try an October surprise, probably in the form of winning the release of American hostages held for more than a year in Iran. The Reagan campaign’s frequent use of the term helped popularize it. Some people have since charged that Reagan aides actually tried to prevent a hostage release before the election, through back-channel communications with Iran, a claim that has been widely refuted. The hostages were freed in January 1981 — on the day Reagan was inaugurated.”

Yet, rather than being “widely refuted,” the most recent evidence tends to confirm the allegations that have been made by some two dozen witnesses including a detailed account of the Reagan campaign’s interference by then-Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. But the Times seems more interested in reinforcing the false conventional wisdom than informing the American people.

[For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative or Trick or Treason: The 1980 October Surprise Mystery or Consortiumnews.com’s “Second Thoughts on October Surprise.”]

Crazy Deflategate

Even on more trivial matters, the Times simply can’t escape its pattern of accepting the word from the powerful, even when those powers-that-be are as disreputable as the executives of the National Football League.

When the NFL decided to accuse New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady of cheating in a bizarre scheme to slightly deflate footballs in the January 2015 AFC Championship game, the Times again showed no skepticism despite the flimsiness of the accusations as well as the absence of any direct evidence — and the official denials from Brady (under oath) and two equipment employees.

The so-called Deflategate case was also marred by the sloppiness of the halftime measurements of the footballs and the ignorance of many NFL executives about the laws of physics and how weather affects the internal air pressure of footballs, as determined by the Ideal Gas Law.

But the “scandal” took on a life of its own with the NFL leaking exaggerations about the discrepancies in the initial air-pressure measurements and false claims about the proper air pressure in the footballs of the other team, the Indianapolis Colts (the one accurate gauge, used by the NFL officials, showed that the Colts’ footballs were underinflated for both the first half and second half).

Eventually, even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recognized many of the flaws in the case as he concluded that the only game where the footballs could have been deflated was the AFC Championship game when the Patriots’ ball boy carried the footballs to the field unattended (rather than the normal practice of being accompanied by an official) and stopped briefly in a bathroom.

But this NFL conspiracy theory – that the ball boy used his bathroom break to slightly deflate footballs rather than urinating as he claimed – made no sense because the only reason the ball boy ended up unattended was because the preceding NFC Championship game had gone into overtime and the NFL decided to delay the start of the AFC game so the public could see both games.

The sudden-death ending of the NFC game caused confusion among the officials and the ball boy took it upon himself to take the balls to the field.

To suggest that Brady somehow anticipated that series of unlikely events so a tiny bit of air could be removed from the footballs, which would have no discernible effect except to make the balls travel slightly slower and thus easier to defend, is absurd on its face.

But the NFL would have lost face by admitting that it had acted so absurdly – and rival owners saw a chance to damage the Patriots’ ability to compete – so the Deflategate story moved on with Brady suspended for four games and the Patriots stripped of two valuable draft choices.

A Puff Piece

While you might say that this “scandal” surely didn’t deserve the attention that it got (and you’d be right), the Times, which treated the NFL claims as fact, didn’t let go even after Brady dropped his appeals and accepted his four-game suspension.

The Times devoted 2½ pages on Sept. 25, 2016, to a puff piece by correspondent John Branch about the “Deflategate Scientists” from the corporate-friendly science firm, Exponent, which was hired by the NFL to produce the “science” to justify Brady’s punishment.

Though Exponent discovered that all or virtually all the air-pressure drop could be attributable to the cold, wet weather on the night of the game (and the imprecise process of the halftime measurements further muddled the picture), Exponent still composed some scientific-sounding jargon to give the NFL the cover that it needed to go after Brady.

The firm said, “we conclude that within the range of game characteristics most likely to have occurred on Game Day, we have identified no set of credible environmental or physical factors that completely accounts for the additional loss of air pressure exhibited by the Patriots game balls as compared to the loss in air pressure exhibited by the Colts game balls.”

But Exponent’s phrasing obscured the fact that an innocent explanation did exist on Exponent’s range of measurements though the firm ruled it out by applying “accepted error margins” and fudging the facts around the sequence of the football testing at halftime (a key point because in a warmer environment, the air pressure would rise naturally).

Armed with Exponent’s phrasing, NFL investigators then took some unrelated text messages from the two equipment employees describing how NFL officials had over-inflated footballs in a prior game to claim they had the “smoking gun” regarding a plot to under-inflate footballs.

However, rather than show any skepticism about this “evidence” and the larger absurdity of the Deflategate claims, the Times simply treated the NFL’s case as solid and fawned over Exponent as if it were a temple of noble scientists seeking nothing but the truth. The Times dismissed critics who cited the firm’s reputation as a hired-gun to give powerful industries useful conclusions, such as disparaging the danger from second-hand cigarette smoke.

Instead of any serious journalism examining Deflategate’s logical flaws and Exponent’s dubious role in the scandal-mongering, the Times presented Exponent as the real martyrs in the case, reporting “Exponent still receives emails from adamant critics, and its role in Deflategate has cost it several prospective clients, the company said.”

A Troubling Pattern

Granted, the Deflategate silliness is minor compared to other cases when the Times misrepresented key chapters of U.S. history, concealed government wrongdoing and generated propaganda used to justify wars. But all these examples point to a pattern of journalistic behavior that is not journalistic.

Today’s Times is not the brave newspaper that published the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War. It is no longer the place where a Seymour Hersh could expose the CIA’s “crown jewels” of scandals or where a Raymond Bonner could reveal massacres of civilians by U.S.-backed militaries in Central America.

Not that those earlier days were by any means perfect – and not that there isn’t some quality journalism that still appears in the newspaper – but it is hard to imagine the Times today going against the grain in any significant or consistent way.

Instead, the Times has become an apologist for the powerful, conveying to its readers and to the world a dangerous and dubious insistence that the Establishment knows best.

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.