The Problem of International Law

Modern institutions that hold back the rise of barbarism are being weakened, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson 
To the Point Analysis.com

Several recent events suggest that global warming is not the only thing threatening our future. As if they are running on parallel tracks, some of the modern institutions that help make for stable societies — the ones that hold back the rise of barbarism — are being weakened even as the atmosphere is heating up and the oceans swell. In pursuit of short-term state or personal interests, some national leaders are violating or ignoring international law and, by doing so, putting us all at long-term risk.

The first example is the subverting of the International Criminal Court.

One of the most hopeful developments to follow the catastrophe that was World War II — the war that brought the world the Holocaust, the Blitzkrieg, the carpet bombing of Europe and the use of nuclear bombs against large cities — was the extension and strengthening of international law. In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations, seeking to give such laws real force, called for the establishment of an international criminal court. That call triggered resistance because such a court would necessarily impinge on nation-state sovereignty. It took 54 years before the court was finally convened in order to enforce laws against the committing of war crimes and other evils, such as genocide. 

Still, there are some nations that refuse to recognize the court’s jurisdiction. Often these are the states most addicted to the barbaric behavior that came close to destroying a good part of the globe during the 20th century. These governments now threaten the very workability of the court. Thus, on Jan. 28 it was reported that “A senior judge has resigned from one of the international courts in The Hague” due to interference and threats coming from both the U.S. and Turkey. The judge’s name is Christoph Flügge.

In the case of the United States, the problem began when the International Criminal Court at the Hague decided to investigate allegations of war crimes, specifically the use of torture, committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

At that point President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton (who reminds one of a modern Savonarola when it comes to ideological enforcement), publicly threatened the court’s judges. “If these judges ever interfere in the domestic concerns of the U.S. or investigate an American citizen,” he said, “the American government would do all it could to ensure that these judges would no longer be allowed to travel to the United States — and that they would perhaps even be criminally prosecuted.”

It must be said that (a) torturing Afghanis is not a “domestic concern of the U.S.” And, all too obviously, (b) Bolton is a deplorable one-dimensional thinker. Bound tightly by a lifelong rightwing perspective, he has never been able to get past the concept of nation-state supremacy. This means his perspective is untouched by those lessons of history which have shown the nation-state to be a threat to civilization itself. Thus, when in 2005, President George W. Bush appointed John Bolton ambassador to the United Nations, it was with the prior knowledge that the man felt nothing but contempt for this international organization and would disparage it at every turn. At present Bolton has turned out to be just the kind of fellow who fits into the reactionary White House run by Donald Trump. 

Turkey Ignores Diplomatic Immunity 

The leaders of the United States are not the only ones who can purposely undermine international courts. Christoph Flügge tells of another incident wherein the government of Turkey arrested one of its own nationals, Aydin Sefa Akay, who was a judge on the international court at the Hague. At the time, Akay had diplomatic immunity by virtue of his position, a fact that the increasingly statist government in Istanbul ignored.

Akay’s crime was to be judged insufficiently loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flügge and his fellow judges strongly protested the Turkish actions, but they were not supported by the present UN secretary general, António Guterres (who is a former prime minister of Portugal). And, without that support, Akay lost his position as judge and was, so to speak, thrown to the dogs of nation-state arrogance.

Upon resigning, Flügge had some seminal words of warning about the fate of international law. “Every incident in which judicial independence is breached is one too many.” The cases of Turkish and U.S. interference with the International Criminal Court set a fatal precedent, he continued,  “and everyone can invoke it in the future. Everyone can say: ‘But you let Turkey get its way.’ This is an original sin. It can’t be fixed.”

Commenting on the threat leveled by Bolton, Flügge said, “the American threats against international judges clearly show the new political climate. … The judges on the court were stunned.” Yet, this behavior was quite in accord with nation-state aggrandizement and American exceptionalism; national sovereignty stands above international law.

Suborning of Interpol

It is not only the world’s international laws and international court that are being undermined, but also Interpol, the world’s international police force. Nation-state leaders, particularly the dictators who place their interests and preferences above even their own domestic law, now seek to suborn Interpol and use it as a weapon to silence their critics.

The latest example of this comes out of Bahrain, a wealthy monarchical dictatorship in the Persian Gulf. It is run by a Sunni elite minority which systematically represses the country’s Shiite majority. By doing so, its major “achievement” to date has been to give the religion of Islam a bad name. It is also a staunch U.S. ally, and the U.S. 5th fleet is based in that country. If you want to know where much of the U.S. naval forces supporting the Saudi destruction of Yemen come from, it is Bahrain. 

So how is the dictatorship in Bahrain corrupting the world’s international police force? One of the players on Bahrain’s national soccer team, Hakeem al-Araibi, vocally expressed his dissent over the way Bahrain is run. He was then framed for “vandalizing a police station” even though he was playing in a soccer match, broadcast on TV, at the time of the incident. He was arrested, beaten up in jail, yet still managed to escape to Australia, where he was granted asylum.

At this point Bahrain managed to have Interpol issue a fraudulent arrest warrant. When al-Araibi showed up in Thailand on his honeymoon, he was taken into custody and now awaits possible extradition back to Bahrain, where he may well face torture. By the way, it is a violation of international law to extradite someone to a country where he or she risks being tortured. So far Thailand has not taken advantage of this legal and moral reason to defy the Bahraini monarchy. 

This is not an isolated problem. The watchdog organization Fair Trials has documented multiple cases of the corruption and abuse of Interpol by “governments” which do not feel themselves bound by the rule of law. 

21stCentury Assaults

There is little doubt that the 21st century has begun with an assault on both the climatic and legal atmosphere that underpins the world’s stability. 

Before 1946 the world was a mess: one hot war after another, economic recessions and depressions, imperialism, colonialism, and racism galore. All of this was grounded in the nation state and its claim of sacred sovereignty. The world experienced a sort of climax to this horror show in the form of Nazi racism and the Holocaust, the use of nuclear weapons, and Stalinist Russia’s purges, mass starvations and Gulag exiles. 

After World War II, things got better in a slow sort of way. The trauma of the recent past spurred on the formation of international laws, international courts, a universal declaration of human rights, civil rights movements and the like. We also got the Cold War, which, for all its tensions, was a big improvement on hot wars.

Now things are falling apart again, and rest assured that U.S. leaders and their less-savory allies abroad are doing their part in the devolution of peace and justice. Shall we name just a few U.S. names? Well, there is Donald Trump and his minion Bolton. They go gaga over thugs passing themselves off as presidents in such nation-states as Egypt, the Philippines and that pseudo-democracy, Israel. There is also Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has turned into the U.S. version of Cardinal Richelieu when it comes to Washington’s South America foreign policy. He is the one pushing for the overthrow of the legitimate government in Venezuela while simultaneously calling for close relations with the new fascist president of Brazil. 

And the list goes on. How do we do this to ourselves? Is it short memories of the wretched past or almost no historical memory at all? Is it some sort of perverse liking for group violence? This is an important question and a perennial one. But now, with global warming upon us and lifestyles soon to be under threat, things are going to get even messier—and messy social and economic situations are usually good news for barbarians. More than ever, we are going to need uncorrupted international laws, courts and police.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.




PATRICK LAWRENCE: In Venezuela, US Forgets What Century It Is

Destabilizing other nations in gross violation of international law will no longer go unopposed, writes Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The Venezuela crisis worsens by the day. Early last week the U.S. sanctioned PdVSA, the state-owned oil company, by sequestering income from U.S. sales in a blocked bank account. On Sunday President Donald Trump confirmed in a television interview that deploying American troops is “an option.”

Little of what Washington has done in the weeks since it recognized an opposition legislator, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s “interim president” has any basis in international law. But there is much worse to come and much more at risk if the U.S. follows through with its recently disclosed plans to reshape Latin American politics to its neoliberal liking.

Administration officials now advertise the effort to depose the government of Nicolás Maduro as merely the first step in a plan to reassert American influence among our southerly neighbors. The next two targets, Cuba and Nicaragua, are what John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, calls the continent’s “troika of tyranny.”

“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall—in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” Bolton said in a not-much-noted speech in Miami late last year. “The troika will crumble.” There is cold comfort to derive from knowing this forecast reflects the single most deranged worldview of anyone now active in the Trump White House. 

But therein lie considerable dangers. In effect, Trump and his policy minders intend to revive the Monroe Doctrine, in which the fifth U.S. president effectively declared the Western Hemisphere America’s to manage however it wished. But it is 2019, not 1823, when James Monroe made his case in a State of the Union speech to Congress. It is frequently remarkable how blind Washington is to the limits the 21stcentury imposes on its power, and we are about to watch it crash into two of them.

Era of Coups Is Over 

For one thing, the long era of U.S.-cultivated coups— “regime changes” for those who cannot quite face this aspect of America’s conduct abroad—is over. First in Ukraine and a year later in Syria, Moscow has put Washington on notice: Destabilizing other nations in gross violation of international law will no longer go unopposed. One way or another, this will again prove true in Venezuela.

The Ukraine case ranks among the worst foreign policy calls former President Barack Obama made during his eight years in office, and there are many from which to choose. State Department-sponsored NGOs and “civil society” groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy had been up to their customary chicanery in Kiev for years before Obama took office. But it was Obama who green-lighted the operation that led, five years ago this month, to the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine’s duly elected president and the division of the country into pro–Western and pro–Russian halves that remain at war with one another.

It is now de rigueur in the Western press to date the Ukraine crisis—and the sanctions regime that remains in place—to Russia’s re-annexation of Crimea after a referendum held in March 2014. This is ahistorical nonsense. It is a matter of record that Vladimir Putin convened his national security advisers the night of Feb. 22, a day after Yanukovych was forced to flee Kiev. By dawn on the 23rd, the Russian president had decided there was no alternative to reclaiming Crimea if Russia was to prevent NATO from assuming control over its only warm-water naval base.

A middling graduate student in international relations could have told the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and Vice President Joe Biden, who carried the administration’s Ukraine portfolio, that precipitating a coup in Kiev was a reckless, amateurish business. And so it has proven.

In the Syrian case, the U.S. had been training, arming, and financing radical Sunni jihadists since 2012 at the latest. But it was only in September 2015, a year after the Ukraine debacle, that Moscow—at the invitation of the Assad government in Damascus—entered the conflict militarily. The result speaks for itself: The Syrian Arab Army is now finishing its mop-up phase and the European powers, along with Turkey and Russia, are negotiating a variety of political, social, and economic reconstruction plans.

It is stunning, in the context of these two events, that the U.S. now proposes to embark on a series of three coup operations in Latin America, the first of which unfolds as we speak. But learning from past errors has never been among Washington’s strong suits, to put the point too mildly. The Maduro government warns the U.S. of “another Vietnam” if it intervenes militarily in Venezuela. Moscow warns of “catastrophic consequences.”

Let us not misread this last remark. It is highly unlikely, if not unimaginable, that Russia would counter direct U.S. intervention in Venezuela through military support. Moscow has all but said as much, indeed.

Russian and Chinese Interests 

But we now come to the second limitation on American power in the 21stcentury. In an era of virtually unlimited economic interdependence, Russia and China have considerable interests in Venezuela, and you can bet your last ruble or renminbi that they will exert themselves to protect them.

China has developed a series of oil-for-loans agreements with Venezuela over the past dozen years, and these total more than $50 billion in value. At this point Caracas is some $20 billion in arrears  on these deals, according to official Chinese sources as quoted in The Wall Street Journal. Russia has also invested many billions in Venezuela since the years of the Hugo Chávez presidency. Logically enough, both Moscow and Beijing question whether a post–Maduro government would honor these obligations. 

China and Russia are also Venezuela’s largest arms suppliers, and both have intelligence-gathering installations on Venezuelan soil. Two days after Washington recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim leader, reports surfaced that Moscow had dispatched a team of private contractors—read: mercenaries—to support the Maduro government.

The Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank known for its anti–Russian biases and its close ties to various intelligence agencies, put out a paper over the weekend suggesting that the Venezuela crisis marks the beginning of “great-power competition” in Latin America. For once, the council seems to have gotten it roughly right.

No, this is not likely to resemble the Cold War in its superficial aspects. While Washington appears likely to fight it with hunger-inducing sanctions, semi-covert subterfuge, and possibly armed interventions, Russia and China will rely on diplomatic and possibly military support, economic aid, and investment. Both Moscow and Beijing continue to back the Maduro government and have encouraged political negotiations between the Venezuelan president and his adversaries.

The best way to read this competition at the moment is to recall the years prior to the Obama administration’s diplomatic recognition of Cuba (which the Trump administration has all but officially dismantled). Obama was more or less forced to act, because decades of merciless economic embargo and non-recognition had thoroughly alienated the rest of Latin America. Depending on how events turn in Venezuela, Trump and his policy minders could easily land Washington back in the same unenviable predicament. 

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Second-Round Stakes Higher for Trump and Kim

The North Korea leader obviously wants a deal, writes Patrick Lawrence, which gives the U.S. a historic opportunity next month.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

President Donald Trump’s announcement late last week that he will meet North Korea’s Kim Jong-un next month promises a significant result whether the encounter succeeds or fails. In the intervening weeks, we have two questions to ponder.

No. 1: what will this second summit accomplish? The first Trump–Kim meeting last June in Singapore was about establishing rapport and can by this measure be counted a success. Something of substance, however modest, needs to get done this time.

No. 2, and just as important, will Trump’s foreign policy minders undermine this encounter before it takes place? The record suggests this is a serious possibility.

A month ago, Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from Syria. The howls of protest, Capitol Hill Democrats often the shrillest, have not ceased. And troops have not started to pack their duffle bags.

But the Syria decision may prove a turning point, given that Trump directly confronted the policy clique — segments of the Pentagon and State Department bureaucracies, as well as members of the National Security Council —who have been sabotaging his objectives since his first day in office two years ago.

Steve Bannon, once and briefly Trumps’ strategic adviser, put it this way after the withdrawal announcement: “The apparatus slow-rolled him until he just said enough and did it himself. Not pretty, but at least done.”

Will the second Trump–Kim summit prompt another such showdown with “the apparatus” around Trump?

It could. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, is a hyper-hawk on North Korea. Behind him, the Pentagon finds the prospect of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula a threat to its immense presence in Northeast Asia. Be wary in coming weeks of vaguely sourced press reports citing newly discovered North Korean treachery, betrayals, and deceits.

More For, Than Against

On balance, however, Trump and Kim appear to have more going for them than against them this time.

Now that the policy cliques and the press have run out of playground epithets for Kim—monster, merciless murderer, and so on—it is generally acknowledged that however autocratic, he is a young but capable statesman. In his new year’s message, he confirmed that national policy has now shifted decisively toward economic development as the North’s top priority.

While Washington and its clerks in the corporate press give Kim no credit, he has already made numerous gestures intended to appease American hawks such as Bolton, build confidence, and signal his desire to be, in effect, a modernizing dictator somewhat in the mold of China’s former leader, the late Deng Xiaoping.

Kim has halted all nuclear and missile testing, destroyed a nuclear-testing site, offered to pull back artillery from the 38th parallelwhich now divides North and South Korea, and returned the remains of some American soldiers killed in the 1950–53 war. North and South have also demilitarized a “truce town.”  

Kim wants a deal—there are no serious grounds to question this—and is surely smart enough to know he has to bring something impressive to the table next month. Just what this will be is not clear. It is easier to anticipate what he will not concede: the reciprocal diplomatic process that Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, calls “action for action.” It is the only rational, workable way to go forward after almost seven decades of mutual distrust and animosity. 

Development Planning  

Moon has remained remarkably energetic in behalf of a North–South settlement. His country, along with Russia and China, have drawn up development plans to connect the North and its neighbors — rails, roads, airports, seaports, power plants, refineries, and so on — that has something for everybody: The North acquires the foundation for a modern economy, South Korea gains land routes to Chinese, Russian, and European markets, Russia develops its Far East, and China can do more business with both North and South. A map of this plan shows three development belts: Two are to run down the Korean Peninsula’s western and eastern coastlines from the Chinese and Russian borders respectively. The third will run west to east across the 38th parallel. Moon wants these links eventually to connect South Korea to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The numbers bandied about are extraordinary. While Seoul has allocated a modest $260 million to improve cross-border rail links this year, that is merely the beginning. The Korea Rail Network Authority, a government agency, estimates that upgrading the North’s roads and rails alone will cost roughly $38 billion before it is done. At the time of the first Trump–Kim summit, Citicorp put the cost of rebuilding all of the North’s infrastructure at $63 billion.  

These plans have advanced steadily since the first Trump–Kim meeting. But coverage in the mainstream American press is far from abundant.

By all appearances, the U.S. is simply not interested in a constructive settlement in Northeast Asia, even as other nations proceed to develop one. This is a perfect illustration of what happens when a nation is intent only on the projection of its power. 

It is anyone’s guess what Trump will bring to his summit with Kim. But it is clear what would produce a breakthrough if Trump truly wants one. First, he can exempt some of Moon’s cross-border development plans from sanctions that now inhibit them. Second, he can relax the ridiculous demand that the North completes its denuclearization before Washington concedes anything. “Give us all we want and then we negotiate” is not a position from which to expect any gains.

Given Kim’s aspirations and the diplomatic efforts of Seoul, Moscow, and Beijing, the opportunity for a settlement of the Korean question has not been this promising since the 1953 armistice. At the same time, Washington has rarely been so uncertain of its power—and hence so eager to display it—and we have a president surrounded by advisors given to neutralizing his better policy objectives.

If Trump and Kim get something done a month from now, we could be on the way to peace in Northeast Asia after 66 years of high tension. If they fail, or if Trump gets the Syria treatment, many years are likely to pass before a moment this propitious comes again.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale).

Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Extremists Unite to Diss Populism as Threat to Democracy

If there’s one thing that brings a tear to Caitlin Johnstone’s eye, it’s the inspiration she feels watching Republican-aligned neoconservatives and Democrat-aligned neoconservatives find a way to bridge their almost nonexistent differences. 

By Caitlin Johnstone
If there’s one thing that brings a tear to my eye, it’s the inspiration I feel when watching Republican-aligned neoconservatives and Democrat-aligned neoconservatives find a way to bridge their almost nonexistent differences and come together to discuss the many, many, many, many, many, many many many things they have in common.

In a conference at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, “Resistance” leader and professional left-puncher Neera Tanden met with Iraq-raping neocon Bill Kristol to discuss bipartisanship and shared values. While leprechauns held hands and danced beneath candy rainbows and gumdrop Reaper drones, the duo engaged in a friendly, playful conversation with the event’s host in a debate format which was not unlike watching the Pillsbury Doughboy have a pillow fight with himself in a padded room after drinking a bottle of NyQuil.

To get the event started, the host whose name I refuse to learn asked the pair to discuss briefly what common ground such wildly different people could possibly share to make such a strange taboo-shattering dialogue possible.

“Issues around national security and believing in democratic principles as they relate to foreign policy,” replied Tanden. “And opposing authoritarianism, and opposing the kind of creeping populism that undermines democracy itself.”

Neera Tanden, in case you are unaware, is a longtime Clinton and Obama insider and CEO of the plutocrat-backed think tank Center for American Progress. Her emails featured prominently in the 2016 Podesta drops by WikiLeaks, which The New Republic described as revealing “a pattern of freezing out those who don’t toe the line, a disturbing predilection for someone who is a kind of gatekeeper for what ideas are acceptable in Democratic politics.”

Any quick glance at Tanden’s political activism and Twitter presence will render this unsurprising, as she often seems more concerned with attacking the Green Party and noncompliant progressive Democrats than she does with advancing progressive values. Her entire life is dedicated to keeping what passes for America’s political left out of the hands of the American populace.

Kristol co-signed Tanden’s anti-populist rhetoric and her open endorsement of neoconservative foreign policy, and went on to say that another thing he and Tanden have in common is that they’ve both served in government. That makes you realize that nothing’s black and white and everything’s kinda nebulous and amorphous so it doesn’t really matter if you, say for example, help deceive your country into a horrific blunder that ends up killing a whole lot of people for no good reason.

“I do think if you’ve served in government –this isn’t universally true but somewhat true– that you do have somewhat more of a sense of the complexity of things, and many of its decisions are not black and white, that in public policy there are plusses and minuses to most policies,” Kristol said. “There are authentic disagreements both about values, but also just about how certain things are gonna work or not work… and that is what adds a kind of humility to one’s belief that one is kind of always right about everything.”

I found this very funny coming from the man who is notoriously always wrong about everything, and I’d like to point out that “complexity” is a key talking point that the neoconservatives who’ve been consistently proven completely wrong about everything are fond of repeating. Everything’s complicated and nothing’s really known and it’s all a big blurry mess so maybe butchering a million Iraqis and destabilizing the Middle East was a good thing. Check out this short clip of John Bolton being confronted by Tucker Carlson about what a spectacular error the Iraq invasion was for a great example of this:

I listened to the whole conference, but it was basically one long smear of amicable politeness which was the verbal equivalent of the color beige, so I had difficulty tuning in. Both Tanden and Kristol hate the far left (or as those of us outside the U.S. pronounce it, “the center”), both Tanden and Kristol hate Trump, and hey maybe Americans have a lot more in common than they think and everyone can come together and together together togetherness blah blah. At one point Kristol said something about disagreeing with internet censorship, which was weird because his Weekly Standard actively participates in Facebook censorship as one of its authorized “fact checkers”.

The buzzword “bipartisan” gets used a lot in U.S. politics because it gives the illusion that whatever agenda it’s being applied to must have some deep universal truth to it for such wildly divergent ideologies to set aside their differences in order to advance it. But what it usually means is Democrat neocons and Republican neocons working together to inflict new horrors upon the world. 

America’s two mainstream political parties agree furiously with one another on war, neoliberalism, Orwellian surveillance, and every other agenda which increases the power and profit of the plutocratic class which owns them both. The plutocrat-owned mass media plays up the differences between Democrats and Republicans to hysterical proportions, when in reality the debate over which one is worse is like arguing over whether a serial killer’s arms or legs are more evil.

Neera Tanden and Bill Kristol are the same fucking person. They’re both toxic limbs on the same toxic beast, feeding the lives of ordinary people at home and abroad into its gaping mouth in service of the powerful. And populism, which is nothing other than support for the protection of common folk from the powerful, is the only antidote to such toxins. Saying populism undermines democracy is like saying democracy undermines democracy.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




On the Brink with Russia in Syria Again, 5 Years Later

It’s deja-vu all over again in Syria, with the U.S. on the verge of a confrontation with Russia as Donald Trump faces his biggest decision yet as president, comments Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times, on September 11, 2013, accommodated Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s desire “to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders” about “recent events surrounding Syria.”

Putin’s op-ed in the Times appeared under the title: “A Plea for Caution From Russia.” In it, he warned that a military “strike by the United States against Syria will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders … and unleash a new wave of terrorism. … It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

Three weeks before Putin’s piece, on August 21, there had been a chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was immediately blamed. There soon emerged, however, ample evidence that the incident was a provocation to bring direct U.S. military involvement against Assad, lest Syrian government forces retain their momentum and defeat the jihadist rebels.

In a Memorandum for President Barack Obama five days before Putin’s article, on September 6, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) had warned President Barack Obama of the likelihood that the incident in Ghouta was a false-flag attack.

Despite his concern of a U.S. attack, Putin’s main message in his op-ed was positive, talking of a growing mutual trust:

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. [Syria’s chemical weapons were in fact destroyed under UN supervision the following year.]

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive … and steer the discussion back toward negotiations. If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust … and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.”

Obama Refuses to Strike

In a lengthy interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg published in The Atlantic much later, in March 2016, Obama showed considerable pride in having refused to act according to what he called the “Washington playbook.”

He added a telling vignette that escaped appropriate attention in Establishment media. Obama confided to Goldberg that, during the crucial last week of August 2013, National Intelligence Director James Clapper paid the President an unannounced visit to caution him that the allegation that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack in Ghouta was “not a slam dunk.”

Clapper’s reference was to the very words used by former CIA Director George Tenet when he characterized, falsely, the nature of the evidence on WMD in Iraq while briefing President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in December 2002. Additional evidence that Ghouta was a false flag came in December 2016 parliamentary testimony in Turkey.

In early September 2013, around the time of Putin’s op-ed, Obama resisted the pressure of virtually all his advisers to launch cruise missiles on Syria and accepted the Russian-brokered deal for Syria give up its chemical weapons. Obama follow public opinion but had to endure public outrage from those lusting for the U.S. to get involved militarily. From neoconservatives, in particular, there was hell to pay.

Atop the CNN building in Washington, DC, on the evening of September 9, two days before Putin’s piece, I had a fortuitous up-close-and-personal opportunity to watch the bitterness and disdain with which Paul Wolfowitz and Joe Lieberman heaped abuse on Obama for being too “cowardly” to attack.

Five Years Later

In his appeal for cooperation with the U.S., Putin had written these words reportedly by himself:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

In recent days, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has left no doubt that he is the mascot of American exceptionalism. Its corollary is Washington’s “right” to send its forces, uninvited, into countries like Syria.

We’ve tried to convey the message in recent days that if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger,” Bolton said on Monday. “I can say we’ve been in consultations with the British and the French who have joined us in the second strike and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response.”

As was the case in September 2013, Syrian government forces, with Russian support, have the rebels on the defensive, this time in Idlib province where most of the remaining jihadists have been driven. On Sunday began what could be the final showdown of the five-year war. Bolton’s warning of a chemical attack by Assad makes little sense as Damascus is clearly winning and the last thing Assad would do is invite U.S. retaliation.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, with remarkable prescience, has already blamed Damascus for whatever chemical attack might take place. The warnings of direct U.S. military involvement, greater than Trump’s two previous pin-prick attacks, is an invitation for the cornered jihadists to launch another false-flag attack to exactly bring that about.

Sadly, not only has the growing trust recorded by Putin five years ago evaporated, but the likelihood of a U.S.-Russian military clash in the region is as perilously high as ever.

Seven days before Putin’s piece appeared, citizen Donald Trump had tweeted: “Many Syrian ‘rebels’ are radical Jihadis. Not our friends & supporting them doesn’t serve our national interest. Stay out of Syria!”

In September 2015 Trump accused his Republican primary opponents of wanting to “start World War III over Syria. Give me a break. You know, Russia wants to get ISIS, right? We want to get ISIS. Russia is in Syria — maybe we should let them do it? Let them do it.”

Last week Trump warned Russian and Syria not to attack Idlib. Trump faces perhaps his biggest test as president: whether he can resist his neocon advisers and not massively attack Syria, as Obama chose not to, or risk the wider war he accused his Republican opponents of fomenting.

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 a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, and was a Presidential briefer from 1981 to 1985.

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Beyond Bolton: The Path to a Progressive Foreign Policy

America’s miserable record over 30 years should make it clear a serious and genuine commitment to the rule of international law offers a more viable way forward than the “law of the jungle,” argue Nicolas Davies and Medea Benjamin.

By Nicolas J. S. Davies and Medea Benjamin
Special to Consortium News

Across the arc of chaos and instability caused by U.S. wars, interventions and sanctions around the world, the past several weeks have seen new flare-ups of deadly violence and worsening humanitarian crises.

A single day’s headlines at the beginning of September included;  “School Hit in Huge Somali Explosion; ” “US Army Sends More Military Equipment to Bases in Syria;” “Libya Announces State of Emergency in Capital Tripoli After 39 Deaths in Unrest;” “Lebanon Is Balancing on a Tightrope;” “Saudis Admit Strike on Bus Carrying Children Unjustified;” “Police Disperse Protesters at Entrance to Iraq’s Nahr Bin Omar Oilfield.;” “Brazil Calls in Army After Mob Attacks on Venezuelan Migrants;” “Thousands Mourn Ukraine Rebel Leader;” and an article about Afghanistan 17th US Commander Takes Over America’s Longest War.”

The last article, by Voice of America, reported that General Austin Miller is taking command of 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as they soldier on in the “graveyard of empires” after 17 years of war. In the heady days after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and the end of the Cold War, who would have predicted that America would soon be mired in its own quagmire in Afghanistan or that the fall of the Berlin Wall would usher in an era of U.S. wars that would sow violence and chaos across so much of the world?

And yet, it was precisely in those heady days at the end of the Cold War that what Mikhail Gorbachev has called Western triumphalism was born. In the bowels of the Pentagon, in corporate-funded Washington think tanks and in offices in the White House under Republican and Democratic administrations, ideologues linked to both parties dreamt of a Pax Americana or a New American Century in which the U.S. would be the unchallenged, even unchallengeable, imperial power.  

Two former cold warriors, President Johnson’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and President Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, told the Senate Budget Committee in 1989 that the U.S. military budget could safely be cut in half over ten years. Committee Chairman Senator Jim Sasser hailed “this unique moment in world history” as “the dawn of the primacy of domestic economics.”

Instead, despite small cuts in the early 1990s, the military budget never fell below the Cold War baseline established after the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and began climbing again in 1999. The longed-for, post-Cold War “peace dividend” was trumped by a “power dividend” born of triumphalism, wishful thinking and the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” in the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower recognized and warned against in his farewell speech to the nation in 1961.

Many who embraced the enticing vision of monopoly leadership and domination,” as Gorbachev called it, wanted to believe that a world ruled by American economic and military power would be a reflection of the best in American society. But these privileged members of the liberal elite were quite blind to the endemic injustices inside the United States, let alone the reality of life in the farther reaches of America’s neocolonial empire, policed by head-chopping kings, corrupt dictators and murderous death squads.

Neocons Step In

John Bolton and the neocons were not so idealistic. They simply believed that the U.S. could use its many forms of economic, military and ideological power to impose a new world order that dissenters around the world would be powerless to resist. U.S. dominance would often have to be imposed by force, but resistance would be futile as long as America’s leaders kept their nerve and were prepared to use as much force as necessary to impose their will.

This would require brainwashing new generations of Americans to fill the ranks of a poverty draft of imperial troops and an even larger army of passive consumers, taxpayers and voters who would embrace whatever dreams corporate America and its captive political and media systems conjured for them. Fortunately, the new generation is proving more intelligent, creative and revolutionary than the neocons imagined.

The central dystopian fantasy of the people who have run America for the past generation, drunk on these toxic cocktails of idealism and cynicism, is that the United States can govern the world as a preeminent, supranational economic and military power, exercising the kind of  “monopoly on violence” that national governments claim the right to within their own territory.

In this worldview, when the U.S. uses violence, it is legitimate, by definition; when U.S. opponents use violence, it is illegitimate, also by definition. Noam Chomsky refers to this as “the single standard,” but it is the antithesis of an international order based on the rule of law, in which rules and standards would apply equally to all.

When Bolton threatened the prosecutors and judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) with U.S. sanctions and prosecution in U.S. courts, even as he boasted that U.S. efforts to undermine the court have made it “ineffective,” he laid bare the disdain for the rule of international law in America’s “single standard.”

It is not the ICC that “constrain(s) the United States,” but binding multilateral treaties like the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions, which were signed and ratified by a wiser generation of American leaders and which Article VI (2) of the United States Constitution defines as part of the “supreme law of the land.” The ICC did not invent these treaties, but it is necessary to enforce them, so Bolton’s speech was just a political attack, with no legal basis, to preserve U.S. impunity for war crimes.

In his opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Senator Edward Kennedy described the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy, the ideological blueprint for the invasion, as a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” But Kennedy’s faith that the rest of the world would reject and resist resurgent U.S. imperialism was overly optimistic, at least in the short to medium term.  Despite an international uproar against the US-led invasion of Iraq, the U.S. war machine rolled on, and other countries have made their accommodations with this ugly reality.

Now the U.S. is outsourcing its wars, arming proxies around the world as a substitute for direct U.S. military action. This minimizes both domestic opposition from a war-weary U.S. public and growing international resistance to the catastrophic results of U.S. wars, while U.S. military-industrial interests are well served by ever-growing arms sales to allied governments.

In a new Code Pink report, “War Profiteers: The U.S. War Machine and the Arming of Repressive Regimes,” we explore the links between the U.S. weapons industry and the atrocities that Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt have used its products to commit, from bombing school buses, marketplaces and hospitals in Yemen to massacring civilians in Gaza and Cairo.

Toward a Progressive Foreign Policy

As we approach the 2018 U.S. midterm election, Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign has served as a template for progressive candidates to stake out more radical positions on healthcare, criminal justice reform, college tuition and other domestic issues. Sanders has successfully tested these positions in a national campaign, but there has been precious little talk of what a more progressive U.S. foreign policy would look like.

Congressman Adam Smith, who would likely become the chair of the House Armed Services Committee if the Democrats win a majority in November, has promised to trim the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons ambitions, and to provide more oversight of the U.S. role in Yemen and “special” operations in countries like Niger.  

But we believe that the illegitimate and destructive form of U.S. militarism that has evolved since the end of the Cold War requires a much more fundamental rethink, not just some trimming around the edges.  The world desperately needs American progressives to confront the catastrophic results and existential dangers of the “21st Century American imperialism” that the late Senator Kennedy presciently warned against before its violence and chaos become even more widespread and intractable.

Just as Senator Sanders’ domestic positions are designed to confront the fundamental problems of our society and to propose real solutions to them, progressive politicians must confront the disaster of our militarized foreign policy at its roots, and likewise propose real solutions.

So here are three foundations of a progressive U.S. foreign policy that we would ask progressive office holders and candidates to adopt in 2018:

  • An explicit commitment to diplomacy to achieve peaceful coexistence with all our neighbors in a multipolar world, upholding universal protections for human rights and social justice, but not seeking to impose them by force;
  • A call for the belated realization of the post-Cold War peace dividend. We suggest cutting the FY2018 US military budget by 50 percent over the next 10 years, as McNamara and Korb called for in 1989. The savings of over $3 trillion per decade could go a long way toward addressing critical social and environmental needs.
  • A serious U.S. commitment to the rule of international law, including the UN Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of force. To make this enforceable, the U.S. must accept the binding jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Court (ICC).

A 50 percent cut in U.S. military spending sounds radical, but this would only be a 25 percent cut from the Cold War baseline that U.S. military spending fell to in the 1950s after the Korean War, in the 1970s after the Vietnam War, and again in the 1990s.

The third item may be a more radical and far-reaching change in U.S. policy: a U.S. agreement to simply be bound by the same rules of international law as our less powerful neighbors.  

Under the UN Charter, all nations have agreed to settle their differences peacefully, and the Charter therefore prohibits the threat or use of force unless authorized by the council.  The monopoly on the use of force that the U.S. has tried to claim for itself is already reserved to the UN Security Council, not to any one country, alliance or coalition.

This has never worked perfectly or prevented all wars. Like domestic law, international law is an imperfect and evolving system of laws, courts and enforcement mechanisms.  But all legal systems work best when the rich and powerful submit to their rules, and courts have the authority to hold even the most powerful people, institutions or countries accountable.

As President Roosevelt told a joint session of Congress after his meeting with Churchill and Stalin at Yalta in 1945,

“(The UN) ought to spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries—and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all these, a universal organization in which all peace-loving Nations will finally have a chance to join.”    

Our miserable record over the past 30 years should make it clear to any doubtful American that a serious and genuine commitment to the UN Charter and the rule of international law offers us a more viable, sustainable and peaceful way forward than our deluded leaders’ reversion to the “law of the jungle” or “might makes right,” which has predictably led only to intractable violence and chaos. 

Politicians running in the midterm elections and voters who want to end U.S. wars should adopt and uphold these common sense positions.


Nicolas J. S. Davies is a writer for Consortium News, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK Women for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic. They have also co-authored War Profiteers: The U.S. War Machine and the Arming of Repressive Regimes for the Divest From the War Machine campaign.




The Trump Administration’s Spoiler Foreign Policy

U.S. strategy abroad is assuming a curious shape. Whether the president or his minders are running affairs, Patrick Lawrence sees the U.S. being reduced to playing a spoiler role in the Middle East and Northeast Asia. 

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

It is not possible to speak of “Donald Trump’s foreign policy” for the simple reason one can never tell whether the president or his minders are running it. Contradictions, reversals, and turns-on-a-dime have abounded since Trump took office.

But this administration’s strategy abroad has assumed a discernible shape in recent weeks, whoever may be managing it in any given context. Never mind “not a pretty picture.” This is a shameful picture.

Consider these recent developments. Have you lost track of how many sets of sanctions Washington has imposed on Russia? I have. Last week, the Treasury Department added four Russian companies and two Russian citizens to its lengthy list of sanctioned entities—these for allegedly circumventing United States sanctions and (in two cases) United Nations sanctions barring oil shipments to North Korea. More are on the way, to judge by deliberations on Capitol Hill. At this point, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the U.S. objective is to strangle the Russian economy.     

The Trump administration has mounted a maximum-pressure campaign on Europe, and especially Germany, to follow the U.S.-U.K. lead in developing a more hostile posture toward Russia, even if it hurts European, and especially German, interests. Prior to Angela Merkel’s summit with Vladimir Putin last weekend, Washington strongly urged the German chancellor to scuttle a Russia-to-Europe gas pipeline known as Nord Stream 2. Washington now threatens sanctions—as early as this autumn—against any European companies investing in the project.

The bizarre reversals are especially apparent on North Korea. Recall that the July summit was on-again and off-again. Last Friday, the White House canceled a trip to Pyongyang that Mike Pompeo had scheduled for this week. It would have been the secretary of state’s third visit. Trump’s complaint was that North Korea is “not making sufficient progress toward denuclearization.” He then went on the blame China for easing pressure it had formerly applied to the North. But he also sent “warmest regards” to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, and added, “I look forward to seeing him soon.” This is a hard read. It may be a matter of Trump keeping the klieg lights focused on Trump, although the fundamental intent of Trump’s minders remains scuttling any accord that brings peace to Northeast Asia.

Syrian Shuffle

In Syria too, Trump says one thing and another thing seems to happen. In much-publicized remarks in April, Trump said U.S. special forces would be pulled from the country. They are still there, and it’s not clear whether the U.S. is winding down or ramping up.

Two weeks ago, the administration dropped plans to spend $230 million on reparation projects to help stabilize Syria. These funds were to have gone to fixing water systems, clearing rubble and removing unexploded mines. Note, however: The U.S. intended to spend this money in areas still controlled by anti–Damascus militias. Pulling the funds looks like an admission of defeat, but indications are it is not quite a surrender.

The Russian Defense Ministry warned all last week of another false-flag gas attack—this one in Idlib, where the last 70,000 anti-Damascus militias are holding out. This is not the first time the Russian military has detected such plans. It warned of the attack in Douma, the besieged Damascus suburb, weeks before it occurred in April. Over the weekend, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, countered that Washington has information that Damascus plans a chemical attack in Idlib.

Try me for treason. I believe the Russian intelligence, not Bolton. In the Douma case and now in Idlib, Moscow produced evidence implicating the White Helmets, the notoriously fraudulent “civic aid” group that is partly funded by the U.S. even as it maintains ties to jihadist militias. Bolton, as is the American habit these days, offered no evidence for his claim. We will have to see what transpires. Moscow predicts an attack in the next few days.   

Remaining in the funds-cutting column, the administration announced last Friday that it would eliminate more than $200 million in Palestinian aid to the West Bank and Gaza. These are small reductions in the administration’s plans to cut the foreign-aid budget by up to $3 billion.

‘Round the World Muddle

Russia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe. The above list covers a great deal of the planet. What do we surmise from it? A brief review of events in each region will help us toward an answer.

To begin with, the argument that North Korea has taken no significant steps toward denuclearization collapses when subject to even the most superficial scrutiny. Pyongyang has pledged to stop all nuclear and missile tests and has conducted none since the Kim-Trump summit in May. It has destroyed its principal nuclear-testing facility and decommissioned a key missile-engine manufacturing plant. It has returned the remains of some U.S. soldiers left from the Korean War. It has begun de-escalating tensions at the demilitarized zone separating North and South. And it is in extensive talks with South Korea, China and Russia on integrating the North into a Northeast Asian regional economic hub.

How this amounts to “insufficient progress” is simply beyond me.

Russia, by any detached measure, must be credited in recent months with some of the most outstanding statecraft of any major power in many years. Much of this, though not all, relates to Syria. In Douma last spring and more recently in the southwest, it negotiated agreements between jihadist militias and the Syrian Arab Army that allowed so-called “moderate rebels” safe-passage retreats. It then commenced relief efforts in both locations. Russia is now attempting the same thing in Idlib. Most startling, maybe, is the agreement Moscow arranged between Israel and Iran, whereby Iranian troops agreed not to participate in the S.A.A.’s southwest campaign, which put Syrian troops close to the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Putin-Merkel encounter last weekend appears to have been equally eventful. The two leaders agreed that the Nord Stream 2 project would proceed as a simple matter of mutual economic advantage—this despite Washington’s vigorous objections. We will now have to watch the fate of those European companies faced with sanctions for investing in the pipeline.

Putin also drew Merkel into multi-sided reconstruction efforts in Syria. Merkel’s motives are obvious. Rebuilding Syria will make it possible for at least some of the 1 million-plus Syrians now in Germany to return. In September, Germany and France are almost certain to attend a four-way summit on Syria reparations that also will include Russia and Turkey.

Washington’s Receding Power 

It is time to draw conclusions. I have two.

One, most of the world, including the major powers other than the U.S. and Britain, are deeply committed to constructing a more orderly world. This judgment rests on many years of observation, but the past several months turn a surmise into a certainty. From the first North-South summit at the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), maybe, or the rout of jihadists in Syria, I see an ardent desire to develop a true “post-Cold War order”—which the community of nations has yet to achieve if you look back over the past 29 years.

Two, the policy cliques in Washington appear to recognize that there is no stopping (what I read as) a compelling global aspiration, but there is plenty of opportunity to slow or spoil it. Why are 2,500 to 3,000 U.S. troops still stationed in Syria, some occupying Syrian oilfields (and apparently harboring jihadist militias)—this while the theme in Syria shifts from conflict to reconstruction? By what possible logic can the White House or State Department or Pentagon argue that North Korea has done little to engender substantive steps toward an enduring peace in Northeast Asia?

If spoiler is the new American role, it strongly suggests a rear-guard action—a significant turn in the gradual-but-evident decline of American influence. This shift predates Trump by many years, and in a forthcoming column, I will explore it.

In the cases noted here, the objectives appear to be to prevent a reordering of the Middle East without the U.S. as its hegemonic prime mover, to maintain maximum tension in Northeast Asia to protect the U.S. military presence in the western Pacific, and to block the consolidation of the Eurasian landmass such that it eventually binds Western Europe closer to its eastern flank than it has been in many, many centuries.

Say the word “responsibility” slowly. It denotes the ability to respond. In this context, current U.S. foreign policy is not a responsible policy. The U.S. does not, to put the point another way, have the ability to respond in a world that changes before our eyes. This is Washington’s most perilous vulnerability, in my view. It leaves us nursing a pointless nostalgia for a global environment that events supersede almost by the day.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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The Other Side of John McCain

If the paeans to McCain by diverse political climbers seems detached from reality, it’s because they reflect the elite view of U.S. military interventions as a chess game, with the millions killed by unprovoked aggression mere statistics, says Max Blumenthal.

By Max Blumenthal
in Washington

Special to Consortium News

As the Cold War entered its final act in 1985, journalist Helena Cobban participated in an academic conference at an upscale resort near Tucson, Arizona, on U.S.-Soviet interactions in the Middle East. When she attended what was listed as the “Gala Dinner with keynote speech”, she quickly learned that the virtual theme of the evening was, “Adopt a Muj.”

I remember mingling with all of these wealthy Republican women from the Phoenix suburbs and being asked, ‘Have you adopted a muj?” Cobban told me. “Each one had pledged money to sponsor a member of the Afghan mujahedin in the name of beating the communists. Some were even seated at the event next to their personal ‘muj.’”

The keynote speaker of the evening, according to Cobban, was a hard-charging freshman member of Congress named John McCain.

During the Vietnam war, McCain had been captured by the North Vietnamese Army after being shot down on his way to bomb a civilian lightbulb factory. He spent two years in solitary confinement and underwent torture that left him with crippling injuries. McCain returned from the war with a deep, abiding loathing of his former captors, remarking as late as 2000, “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.” After he was criticized for the racist remark, McCain refused to apologize. “I was referring to my prison guards,” he said, “and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend some people because of the beating and torture of my friends.”

McCain’s visceral resentment informed his vocal support for the mujahedin as well as the right-wing contra death squads in Central America — any proxy group sworn to the destruction of communist governments.

So committed was McCain to the anti-communist cause that in the mid-1980s he had joined the advisory board of the United States Council for World Freedom, the American affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL). Geoffrey Stewart-Smith, a former leader of WACL’s British chapter who had turned against the group in 1974, described the organization as “a collection of Nazis, fascists, anti-Semites, sellers of forgeries, vicious racialists, and corrupt self-seekers. It has evolved into an anti-Semitic international.

Joining McCain in the organization were notables such as Jaroslav Stetsko, the Ukrainian Nazi collaborator who helped oversee the extermination of 7,000 Jews in 1941; the brutal Argentinian former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla; and Guatemalan death squad leader Mario Sandoval Alarcon. Then-President Ronald Reagan honored the group for playing a leadership role in drawing attention to the gallant struggle now being waged by the true freedom fighters of our day.

Being Lauded as a Hero

On the occasion of his death, McCain is being honored in much the same way — as a patriotic hero and freedom fighter for democracy. A stream of hagiographies is pouring forth from the Beltway press corps that he described as his true political base. Among McCain’s most enthusiastic groupies is CNN’s Jake Tapper, whom he chose as his personal stenographer for a 2000 trip to Vietnam. When the former CNN host Howard Kurtz asked Tapper in February, 2000, “When you’re on the [campaign] bus, do you make a conscious effort not to fall under the magical McCain spell?”

Oh, you can’t. You become like Patty Hearst when the SLA took her,” Tapper joked in reply.

But the late senator has also been treated to gratuitous tributes from an array of prominent liberals, from George Soros to his soft power-pushing client, Ken Roth, along with three fellow directors of Human Rights Watch and “democratic socialist” celebrity Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who hailed McCain as “an unparalleled example of human decency.” Rep. John Lewis, the favorite civil rights symbol of the Beltway political class, weighed in as well to memorialize McCain as a “warrior for peace.”

If the paeans to McCain by this diverse cast of political climbers and Davos denizens seemed detached from reality, that’s because they perfectly reflected the elite view of American military interventions as akin to a game of chess, and the millions of dead left in the wake of the West’s unprovoked aggression as mere statistics.

There were few figures in recent American life who dedicated themselves so personally to the perpetuation of war and empire as McCain. But in Washington, the most defining aspect of his career was studiously overlooked, or waved away as the trivial idiosyncrasy of a noble servant who nonetheless deserved everyone’s reverence.

McCain did not simply thunder for every major intervention of the post-Cold War era from the Senate floor, while pushing for sanctions and assorted campaigns of subterfuge on the side. He was uniquely ruthless when it came to advancing imperial goals, barnstorming from one conflict zone to another to personally recruit far-right fanatics as American proxies.

In Libya and Syria, he cultivated affiliates of Al Qaeda as allies, and in Ukraine, McCain courted actual, sig-heiling neo-Nazis.

While McCain’s Senate office functioned as a clubhouse for arms industry lobbyists and neocon operatives, his fascistic allies waged a campaign of human devastation that will continue until long after the flowers dry up on his grave.

American media may have sought to bury this legacy with the senator’s body, but it is what much of the outside world will remember him for.

‘They are Not al-Qaeda’

When a violent insurgency swept through Libya in 2011, McCain parachuted into the country to meet with leaders of the main insurgent outfit, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), battling the government of Moamar Gaddafi. His goal was to make kosher this band of hardline Islamists in the eyes of the Obama administration, which was considering a military intervention at the time.

What happened next is well documented, though it is scarcely discussed by a Washington political class that depended on the Benghazi charade to deflect from the real scandal of Libya’s societal destruction. Gaddafi’s motorcade was attacked by NATO jets, enabling a band of LIFG fighters to capture him, sodomize him with a bayonet, then murder him and leave his body to rot in a butcher shop in Misrata while rebel fanboys snapped cellphone selfies of his fetid corpse.

A slaughter of Black citizens of Libya by the racist sectarian militias recruited by McCain immediately followed the killing of the pan-African leader. ISIS took over Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte while Belhaj’s militia took control of Tripoli, and a war of the warlords began. Just as Gaddafi had warned, the ruined country became a staging ground for migrant smugglers on the Mediterranean, fueling the rise of the far-right across Europe and enabling the return of slavery to Africa.

Many might describe Libya as a failed state, but it also represents a successful realization of the vision McCain and his allies have advanced on the global stage.

Following the NATO-orchestrated murder of Libya’s leader, McCain tweeted, “Qaddafi on his way out, Bashar al Assad is next.”

McCain’s Syrian Boondoggle

Like Libya, Syria had resisted aligning with the West and was suddenly confronted with a Salafi-jihadi insurgency armed by the CIA. Once again, McCain made it his personal duty to market Islamist insurgents to America as a cross between the Minutemen and the Freedom Riders of the civil rights era. To do so, he took under his wing a youthful DC-based Syria-American operative named Mouaz Moustafa who had been a consultant to the Libyan Transitional Council during the run-up to the NATO invasion.

In May 2013, Moustafa convinced McCain to take an illegal trip across the Syrian border and meet some freedom fighters. An Israeli millionaire named Moti Kahana who coordinated efforts between the Syrian opposition and the Israeli military through his NGO, Amaliah, claimed to have “financed the opposition group which took senator John McCain to visit war-torn Syria.”

This could be like his Benghazi moment,” Moustafa remarked excitedly in a scene from a documentary, “Red Lines,” that depicted his efforts for regime change. “[McCain] went to Benghazi, he came back, we bombed.”

During his brief excursion into Syria, McCain met with a group of CIA-backed insurgents and blessed their struggle. “The senator wanted to assure the Free Syrian Army that the American people support their cry for freedom, support their revolution,” Moustafa said in an interview with CNN. McCains office promptly released a photo showing the senator posing beside a beaming Moustafa and two grim-looking gunmen.

Days later, the men were named by the Lebanese Daily Star as Mohammad Nour and Abu Ibrahim. Both had been implicated in the kidnapping a year prior of 11 Shia pilgrims, and were identified by one of the survivors. McCain and Moustafa returned to the U.S. the targets of mockery from Daily Show host John Stewart and the subject of harshly critical reports from across the media spectrum. At a town hall in Arizona, McCain was berated by constituents, including Jumana Hadid, a Syrian Christian woman who warned that the sectarian militants he had cozied up to threatened her community with genocide.

But McCain pressed ahead anyway. On Capitol Hill, he introduced another shady young operative into his interventionist theater. Named Elizabeth O’Bagy, she was a fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, an arms industry-funded think tank directed by Kimberly Kagan of the neoconservative Kagan clan. Behind the scenes, O’Bagy was consulting for Moustafa at his Syrian Emergency Task Force, a clear conflict of interest that her top Senate patron was well aware of. Before the Senate, McCain cited a Wall Street Journal editorial by O’Bagy to support his assessment of the Syrian rebels as predominately moderate,and potentially Western-friendly.

Days later, O’Bagy was exposed for faking her PhD in Arabic studies. As soon as the humiliated Kagan fired O’Bagy, the academic fraudster took another pass through the Beltway’s revolving door, striding into the halls of Congress as McCain’s newest foreign policy aide.

McCain ultimately failed to see the Islamist “revolutionaries” he glad handled take control of Damascus. Syria’s government held on thanks to help from his mortal enemies in Tehran and Moscow, but not before a billion dollar CIA arm-and-equip operation helped spawn one of the worst refugee crises in post-war history. Luckily for McCain, there were other intrigues seeking his attention, and new bands of fanatical rogues in need of his blessing. Months after his Syrian boondoggle, the ornery militarist turned his attention to Ukraine, then in the throes of an upheaval stimulated by U.S. and EU-funded soft power NGO’s.

Coddling the Neo-Nazis of Ukraine

On December 14, 2013, McCain materialized in Kiev for a meeting with Oleh Tyanhbok, an unreconstructed fascist who had emerged as a top opposition leader. Tyanhbok had co-founded the fascist Social-National Party, a far-right political outfit that touted itself as the last hope of the white race, of humankind as such.No fan of Jews, he had complained that a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” had taken control of his country, and had been photographed throwing up a sieg heil Nazi salute during a speech.

None of this apparently mattered to McCain. Nor did the scene of Right Sector neo-Nazis filling up Kiev’s Maidan Square while he appeared on stage to egg them on.

Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better! McCain proclaimed to cheering throngs while Tyanhbok stood by his side. The only issue that mattered to him at the time was the refusal of Ukraine’s elected president to sign a European Union austerity plan, opting instead for an economic deal with Moscow.

McCain was so committed to replacing an independent-minded government with a NATO vassal that he even mulled a military assault on Kiev. “I do not see a military option and that is tragic, McCain lamented in an interview about the crisis. Fortunately for him, regime change arrived soon after his appearance on the Maidan, and Tyanhbok’s allies rushed in to fill the void.

By the end of the year, the Ukrainian military had become bogged down in a bloody trench war with pro-Russian, anti-coup separatists in the country’s east. A militia affiliated with the new government in Kiev called Dnipro-1 was accused by Amnesty International observers of blocking humanitarian aid into a separatist-held area, including food and clothing for the war torn population.

Six months later, McCain appeared at Dnipro-1’s training base alongside Sen.’s Tom Cotton and John Barasso. “The people of my country are proud of your fight and your courage,” McCain told an assembly of soldiers from the militia. When he completed his remarks, the fighters belted out a World War II-era salute made famous by Ukrainian Nazi collaborators: “Glory to Ukraine!”

Today, far-right nationalists occupy key posts in Ukraine’s pro-Western government. The speaker of its parliament is Andriy Parubiy, a co-founder with Tyanhbok of the Social-National Party and leader of the movement to honor World World Two-era Nazi collaborators like Stepan Bandera. On the cover of his 1998 manifesto, View From The Right,” Parubiy appeared in a Nazi-style brown shirt with a pistol strapped to his waist. In June 2017, McCain and Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan welcomed Parubiy on Capitol Hill for what McCain called a “good meeting.” It was a shot in the arm for the fascist forces sweeping across Ukraine.

The past months in Ukraine have seen a state sponsored neo-Nazi militia called C14 carrying out a pogromist rampage against Ukraine’s Roma population, the country’s parliament erecting an exhibition honoring Nazi collaborators, and the Ukrainian military formally approving the pro-Nazi “Glory to Ukraine” greeting as its own official salute.

Ukraine is now the sick man of Europe, a perpetual aid case bogged down in an endless war in its east. In a testament to the country’s demise since its so-called “Revolution of Dignity,” the deeply unpopular President Petro Poroshenko has promised White House National Security Advisor John Bolton that his country — once a plentiful source of coal on par with Pennsylvania — will now purchase coal from the U.S. Once again, a regime change operation that generated a failing, fascistic state stands as one of McCain’s greatest triumphs.

McCain’s history conjures up memory of one of the most inflammatory statements by Sarah Palin, another cretinous fanatic he foisted onto the world stage. During a characteristically rambling stump speech in October 2008, Palin accused Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” The line was dismissed as ridiculous and borderline slander, as it should have been. But looking back at McCain’s career, the accusation seems richly ironic.

By any objective standard, it was McCain who had palled around with terrorists, and who wrested as much resources as he could from the American taxpayer to maximize their mayhem. Here’s hoping that the societies shattered by McCain’s proxies will someday rest in peace.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the PartyGoliath: Life and Loathing in Greater IsraelThe Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and the forthcoming The Management of Savagery, which will be published by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the newly released Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the GrayzoneProject.com in 2015 and serves as its editor.

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Bolton Flunky Fleitz Raises Stakes for Iran

From the Archive: Islamophobe & Bolton pal Fred Fleitz has been named chief of staff for the National Security Council. Fleitz was a danger a decade ago in the Bush administration and is even more so now, recalls Ray McGovern.

Ray McGovern reports that with Bolton’s old “enforcer” Fred Fleitz as NSC Chief of Staff the odds increase of war with Iran. Bolton and Fleitz can now elbow out any honest intelligence on Iran and goad the President into a world-class catastrophe. This time the result would be much worse — geometrically worse says McGovern than during the Bush administration.  

By Ray McGovern  Special to Consortium News

Originally published April 12, 2016

On a recent TV appearance, I was asked about whistleblowing, but the experience brought back to mind a crystal-clear example of how, before the Iraq War, CIA careerists were assigned “two bosses” – CIA Director George Tenet and John Bolton, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the arch-neocon who had been thrust on an obedient Secretary of State Colin Powell.

CIA “analyst” Frederick Fleitz took the instructions quite literally, bragging about being allowed to serve, simultaneously, “two bosses” — and becoming Bolton’s “enforcer.” Fleitz famously chided a senior intelligence analyst at State for not understanding that it was the prerogative of policymakers like Bolton – not intelligence analysts – to “interpret” intelligence data.

In an email from Fleitz in early 2002, at the time when one of his bosses, the pliable George Tenet, was “fixing” the intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq, Fleitz outlined the remarkable new intelligence ethos imposed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their subordinates who were reshaping the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Apparently, senior State Department intelligence analyst, Christian Westermann, “had not gotten the memo” on how things had changed. Rather, he was performing his duties like a professional analyst under the old rules. Westermann had the temerity to block coordination on a speech in which Bolton wanted to make the spurious assertion that Cuba had a developing biological weapons program.

On Feb. 12, 2002, after a personal run-in with Westermann, Fleitz sent Bolton this email: “I explained to Christian [Westermann] that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data and the I.C. [Intelligence Community] should do as we asked.” Fleitz informed Bolton that Westermann still “strongly disagrees with us.”

At this point, Bolton became so dyspeptic that he summoned Westermann to his office for a tongue-lashing and then asked top officials of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to fire him. Instead, they defended him, and this was not the only time intelligence managers at State – virtually alone in the Intelligence Community – gave the Bush-43 White House and political hacks like Bolton the clear message not to count on managers and analysts at INR to acquiesce in the politicization of intelligence.

Exaggerating Iran Threat

Later, Fleitz went on to bigger and better things. In 2006, he became “senior adviser” to House Intelligence Committee chair Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan. Bowing to desires of the White House to portray Iran as a strategic threat, Hoekstra had Fleitz draft an almost comically alarmist paper titled “Recognizing Iran as Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States.” Fleitz was told not to coordinate his paper with the Intelligence Community.

The objective was to pre-empt a formal National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program – an NIE that the Senate had just commissioned. Fleitz and Hoekstra feared the NIE might come to unwelcome conclusions, contradicting the kinds of stark warnings about Iran’s nuclear program that the White House wanted to use to stir up fear and justify action against Iran. Iraq deja vu.

The Fleitz-Hoekstra gambit failed. Their over-the-top paper made them the subject of ridicule in professional intelligence circles.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar was named to manage the formal NIE on Iran, and, mirable dictu, he was not only a seasoned professional but also a practitioner of the old-time ethos of objective, non-politicized intelligence.

Worse still for Bush, Cheney and their sycophants, the NIE of November 2007, endorsed by all 16 agencies of the Intelligence Community began: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

That Estimate holds the distinction of being the only NIE of which I am aware that demonstrably played a key role in preventing an unnecessary war – the war on Iran that Cheney and Bush were planning for 2008. Bush pretty much admits this in his memoir Decision Points, which includes a highly instructive section that he must have written himself.

Indeed, nowhere in his memoir is Bush’s bizarre relationship to truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the Intelligence Community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest NIE that stuck a rod in the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war with Iran.

Bush complains bitterly that the “eye-popping” NIE “tied my hands on the military side,” adding that the “NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt it would immediately leak to the press.” He writes that he authorized declassification of the key findings “so that we could shape the news stories with the facts.” Facts?

A disappointed Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.’” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e. whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.

An Embarrassment

How embarrassing it must have been for Bush and Cheney! Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence report, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney were lying about the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Just a month before the Estimate was issued, Bush was claiming that the threat from Iran could lead to “World War III.”

In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. … Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact — and not a good one.” Spelling out how the NIE had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this kicker:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Yet, that didn’t stop neocon warmongers from trying. The NIE was subject to virulent criticism by those disappointed that it did not provide justification for a “preventive” attack on Iran.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who has proudly described himself as the “anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA),” called the Iran NIE “deceptive.” Hoekstra called it “a piece of trash.”

Greg Thielmann, a former State Department official who had managed strategic intelligence analysis but quit before the intelligence debacle on Iraq, could not resist commenting on this bizarre set of circumstances from his new position as a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association: “There is some considerable irony in hearing such criticism from those intimately familiar with the inner workings of the intelligence community, who seemed to have sleep-walked through the serious professional lapses of the 2002 NIE on Iraq WMD.”

But the neocons were deprived of the Iran war for which they had been lusting (just as, six years later, they were deprived of the war on Syria, into which they almost mouse-trapped President Barack Obama).

Still, you need not worry about any negative consequences for the compliant Bush-Cheney “analysts” who were willing to “fix” more intelligence around war policies. As usually happens in Official Washington, they landed on their feet. For instance, Fleitz is now Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs with the Center for Security Policy, a think tank founded by Frank Gaffney, Jr., an archdeacon of neocondom, who is still its president.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A former Army officer and CIA analyst, McGovern co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003, in an attempt to expose the corruption of intelligence under the Cheney-Bush regime.




South Korean President Moons Bolton

The summit may still be alive because it appears advisers around Trump may well be warning him not to follow his national security adviser down the road to disaster, comments Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern  Special to Consortium News

Thanks no doubt to his bellicose national security adviser John Bolton, President Donald Trump has now lost control of the movement toward peace between the two Koreas.  Trump has put himself in a corner; he must now either reject — or, better, fire — Bolton, or face the prospect of wide war in the Far East, including the Chinese, with whom a mutual defense treaty with North Korea is still on the books.

The visuals of the surprise meeting late yesterday (local time) between the top leaders of South Korea and North

Korea pretty much tell the story.  South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in drove into the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and Seoul quickly released a one-minute video of what, by all appearances, was an extremely warm encounter with Kim Jung-un. It amounted to a smiling, thumbing of two noses at Bolton and the rest of the “crazies” who follow his advice, such as Vice President Mike Pence who echoed Bolton’s insane evocation of the “Libya model” for North Korea, which caused Pyongyang to go ballistic. Their angry response was the reason Trump cited for cancelling the June 12 summit with Kim.

But Trump almost immediately afterward began to waffle. At their meeting on Friday the two Korean leaders made it clear their main purpose was to make “the successful holding of the North Korea-U.S. Summit” happen. Moon is expected to announce the outcome of his talks with Kim Sunday morning (Korean time).

Why is Trump Waffling?

One cannot rule out the possibility that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has some cojones beneath his girth. He has a personal, as well as a diplomatic stake in whether or not Bolton succeeds in wrecking the summit. (Trump, after all, deputized Pompeo, while he was still CIA director, to set it up.)  It’s also possible some non-crazy advisers are warning Trump about Bolton’s next “March of Folly.” Other advisers may be appealing to Trump’s legendary vanity by dangling the prospect that he may blow his only shot at a Nobel Peace Prize.

The two Korean leaders have made abundantly clear their determination to continue on the path of reconciliation despite the artificial divide created by the U.S. 70 years ago. Now, a lot depends on the unpredictable Trump. If enough people talk sense to him and help him see the dangerous consequences of letting himself be led by Bolton, peace on the Korean peninsula may be within reach.

It is no longer a fantasy to suggest that the DMZ could evaporate just as unexpectedly and quickly as that other artifact of the Cold War did — the Berlin Wall almost three decades ago.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  In 1963, when he began his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he was responsible for evaluating Soviet policy toward China and the Far East.  Later, he prepared the President’s Daily Brief for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, delivering it one-on-one to Reagans five most senior national security advisers from 1981 to 1985.