Ukraine-Russia Tensions Rise in Church Row

With an apparent nod from the U.S., the Ecumenical Patriarch’s ruling from Istanbul severed 1000-year ties between Moscow and the Orthodox church in Ukraine, raising further tensions between Kiev and Moscow, as Dmitry Babich reports.

Moscow’s Role in Ukraine Orthodox Church Ended

By Dmitry Babich
Special to Consortium News

The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, an authority completely outside Ukraine, on Oct. 11 stripped away the canonical authority of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—Moscow Patriarchate (MP), sparking a crisis with Russia.

The 1030-year old church is headed by Patriarch Kirill in Russia and the Russian church responded by severing ties to the Istanbul patriarch. Tensions have now been raised even further in the crisis between Ukraine and Russia that erupted after the U.S.-backed 2014 coup in Kiev that overthrew an elected president who tilted towards Moscow.

In Washington, the events were reported in The Washington Post as part of Ukraine’s struggle to withdraw from Moscow’s control. In Europe, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini made the sober warning in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard that the religious interference in Ukraine could provoke a war.

Bartholomew’s action is seen as a first step to giving full autonomy, known as “autocephaly” in the Orthodox faith, to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate (KP), a heretical split-off that was created only in 1992 just after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence.

The KP church is headed by a self-styled leader named Mikhail Denisenko, who goes by the name Patriach Filaret. He is a defrocked former bishop in the Moscow Patriarchate of Ukraine. 

The MP’s lineage goes back to the tenth century Christian conversion of all the people of Kievan Rus, the proto-state that was precursor to the nations of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Its authority in Ukraine was established in 1686 by the same Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Bartholomew reversed his seat’s own 332-year-old decision. While the Ecumenical Patriarch is known as “the first among equals,” among Orthodoxy’s 14 autocephalic churches, he has no authority to rule over them. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy has no single church authority that can impose decisions over all the others.

The 14 churches are supposed to be independent of governments. But in Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, the anti-Russian president installed after the coup, and other government forces, are using the ruling to further erode Russian influence.

Members of the Moscow church in Ukraine have already been the targets of violent assaults by thugs trying to disrupt worship services, and such conflict is being fueled by politicians’ rhetoric.

In October, when Constantinople lifted Denisenko’s ex-communication, Poroshenko called the decision a victory of good over evil, light over darkness.” He also said that recognition of the renegade Ukraine church would mean severing all links to Orthodox Russia and its “Moscow demons,” reported gazeta.ru.

Bartholomew’s decision didn’t come out of thin air, and the geopolitical implications are clear: breaking Russia’s ties to the Ukrainian people. This was demanded by Poroshenko, and supported by Denisenko, whose church has never been recognized by the 14 other churches.

On Oct. 31, Denisenko made his view clear in a statement to RFE/RL. “We will be striving to have a single Orthodox Church in Ukraine and to make sure that the Russian [Orthodox] Church is not hiding under the Ukrainian name while, in essence, it is Russian,” he said.

Moscow Responds

Constantinople’s decision is aimed at destroying unity,” Kirill explained, as reported in Russian language media. “We can’t accept it. That is why our Holy Synod took the decision to stop eucharistic communication with the Constantinople Patriarchate.” He added that the attack against the Orthodox in Ukraine “was having not only a political, but also a mystical dimension.”

He called for faithfulness to the canonical church, the Moscow Patriarchate, and says he’s “ready to go anywhere and talk to anyone” to prevent the schism among the Orthodox inside Ukraine and remove barriers separating the faithful in the two countries.

The break in eucharistic communication means that the priests of the two patriarchates won’t be able to hold church services together.

While Western media have played the break as an aggressive act by Moscow, the reality is more complex. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest congregation among the approximately 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Kirill went to Istanbul to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch in August to try to avert any actions that would harm the unity.

Metropolitan Hilarion, chief spokesman on questions of schism and unity for the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, explained, “For a church with more than 1000 years of history and ancient monasteries of some 500 to 900 years of age, the perspective of merging with some unrecognized entities, formed 20 years ago, is unacceptable.”

On October 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the action against the Ukrainian church in remarks to the World Congress of Russian Compatriots, an organization uniting people of Russian origin from all over the world. “Politicking in such a sensitive sphere as religion has always led to grave consequences, first and foremost for the people who got involved in this politicking,” he said. He also referenced a “war” on Russian historical monuments by some forces in Ukraine.

Washington’s Hand

In the past year, discussions were held by U.S. officials with Poroshenko and Denisenko. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell met with Denisenko in September. Then on Oct. 17, a press release in the name of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for religion in Ukraine to be “without outside interference.”

That statement came four days after Bartholomew recognized the breakaway Ukrainian church.

Dmitry Babich is a multilingual Russian journalist and political commentator. Born in 1970 in Moscow, graduated from Moscow State University (department of journalism) in 1992. Dmitri worked for Russian newspapers, such as Komsomolskaya Pravda and The Moscow News (as the head of the foreign department). Dmitri covered the Chechen war as a television reporter for TV6 channel from 1995 to 1997. Since 2003 he has worked for RIA Novosti, RT, and Russia Profile. Dmitry is a frequent guest on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Sky News and Press TV. 

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33 Trillion More Reasons Why The New York Times Gets it Wrong on Russia-gate

Further research shows The New York Times was even further off the mark in blaming Russian social media for Trump’s win, as Gareth Porter reports.

Facebook Said 80,000 Russian Posts Were

Buried in 33 Trillion Facebook Offerings Over

Two-Year Period Further Undermining NYT’s Case 

By Gareth Porter
Special to Consortium News

Even more damning evidence has come to light undermining The New York Times‘ assertion in September that Russia used social media to steal the 2016 election for Donald Trump.   

The Times‘ claim last month that Russian Facebook posts reached nearly as many Americans as actually voted in the 2016 election exaggerated the significance of those numbers by a factor of hundreds of millions, as revealed by further evidence from Facebook’s own Congressional testimony.

Th further research into an earlier Consortium News article shows that a relatively paltry 80,000 posts from the private Russian company Internet Research Agency (IRA) were engulfed in literally trillions of posts on Facebook over a two-year period before and after the 2016 vote. 

That was supposed to have thrown the election, according to the paper of record. In its 10,000-word article on Sept. 20, the Times reported that 126 million out of 137 million American voters were exposed to social media posts on Facebook from IRA that somehow had a hand in delivering Trump the presidency. 

The newspaper said: “Even by the vertiginous standards of social media, the reach of their effort was impressive: 2,700 fake Facebook accounts, 80,000 posts, many of them elaborate images with catchy slogans, and an eventual audience of 126 million Americans on Facebook alone.” The paper argued that 126 million was “not far short of the 137 million people who would vote in the 2016 presidential election.”

But Consortium News, on Oct. 10, debunked that story, pointing out that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti failed to report several significant caveats and disclaimers from Facebook officers themselves, whose statements make the Times’ claim that Russian election propaganda “reached” 126 million Americans an exercise in misinformation.

The newspaper failed to tell their readers that Facebook account holders in the United States had been “served” 33 trillion Facebook posts during that same period — 413 million times more than the 80,000 posts from the Russian company.

What Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 31, 2017 is a far cry from what the Times claims. “Our best estimate is that approximately 126 million people may have been served one of these [IRA-generated] stories at some time during the two year period,” Stretch said.

Stretch was expressing a theoretical possibility rather than an established fact. He said an estimated 126 million Facebook members might have gotten at least one story from the IRA –- not over the ten week election period, but over 194 weeks during the two years 2015 through 2017—including a full year after the election.

That means only an estimated 29 million FB users may have gotten at least one story in their feed in two years. The 126 million figure is based only on an assumption that they shared it with others, according to Stretch.

Facebook didn’t even claim most of those 80,000 IRA posts were election–related. It offered no data on what proportion of the feeds to those 29 million people were.

In addition, Facebook’s Vice President for News Feed, Adam Moseri, acknowledged in 2016 that FB subscribers actually read only about 10 percent of the stories Facebook puts in their News Feed every day. The means that very few of the IRA stories that actually make it into a subscriber’s news feed on any given day are actually read.

And now, according to the further research, the odds that Americans saw any of these IRA ads—let alone were influenced by them—are even more astronomical. In his Oct. 2017 testimony, Stretch said that from 2015 to 2017, “Americans using Facebook were exposed to, or ‘served,’ a total of over 33 trillion stories in their News Feeds.”

To put the 33 trillion figure over two years in perspective, the 80,000 Russian-origin Facebook posts represented just .0000000024 of total Facebook content in that time.

Shane and Mazzetti did not report the 33 trillion number even though The New York Times’ own coverage of that 2017 Stretch testimony explicitly stated,Facebook cautioned that the Russia-linked posts represented a minuscule amount of content compared with the billions of posts that flow through users’ News Feeds everyday.”

The Times‘ touting of the bogus 126 million out 137 million voters, while not reporting the 33 trillion figure, should vie in the annals of journalism as one of the most spectacularly misleading uses of statistics of all time.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter.

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New Iran Sanctions Risk Long-term US Isolation

The U.S. is going for the jugular with new Iran sanctions intended to punish those who trade with Teheran. But the U.S. may have a fight on its hands in a possible post- WWII turning-point, writes Patrick Lawrence.

New Iran Sanctions Risks
Long-term US Isolation

Europe, Asia May Rebel Against US Penalties

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The next step in the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran comes this Sunday, Nov. 4, when the most severe sanctions will be imposed on the Islamic Republic. Crucially, they apply not only to Iran but to anyone who continues to do business with it.

It’s not yet clear how disruptive this move will be. While the U.S. intention is to isolate Iran, it is the U.S. that could wind up being more isolated. It depends on the rest of the world’s reaction, and especially Europe’s.

The issue is so fraught that disputes over how to apply the new sanctions have even divided Trump administration officials.

The administration is going for the jugular this time. It wants to force Iranian exports of oil and petrochemical products down to as close to zero as possible. As the measures are now written, they also exclude Iran from the global interbank system known as SWIFT.

It is hard to say which of these sanctions is more severe. Iran’s oil exports have already started falling. They peaked at 2.7 million barrels a day last May—just before Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the six-nation accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs. By early September oil exports were averaging a million barrels a day less.

In August the U.S. barred Iran’s purchases of U.S.-dollar denominated American and foreign company aircraft and auto parts. Since then the Iranian rial has crashed to record lows and inflation has risen above 30 percent.

Revoking Iran’s SWIFT privileges will effectively cut the nation out of the dollar-denominated global economy. But there are moves afoot, especially by China and Russia, to move away from a dollar-based economy.

The SWIFT issue has caused infighting in the administration between Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser who is among the most vigorous Iran hawks in the White House. Mnuchin might win a temporary delay or exclusions for a few Iranian financial institutions, but probably not much more.

On Sunday, the second round of sanctions will kick in since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Obama administration-backed, nuclear agreement, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for stringent controls on its nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly certified that the deal is working and the other signatories—Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have not pulled out and have resumed trading with Iran. China and Russia have already said they will ignore American threats to sanction it for continuing economic relations with Iran. The key question is what will America’s European allies do?

Europeans React

Europe has been unsettled since Trump withdrew in May from the nuclear accord. The European Union is developing a trading mechanism to get around U.S. sanctions. Known as a Special Purpose Vehicle, it would allow European companies to use a barter system similar to how Western Europe traded with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

EU officials have also been lobbying to preserve Iran’s access to global interbank operations by excluding the revocation of SWIFT privileges from Trump’s list of sanctions. They count Mnuchin, who is eager to preserve U.S. influence in the global trading system, among their allies. Some European officials, including Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, propose making the euro a global trading currency to compete with the dollar.

Except for Charles de Gaulle briefly pulling France out of NATO in 1967 and Germany and France voting on the UN Security Council against the U.S. invading Iraq in 2003, European nations have been subordinate to the U.S. since the end of the Second World War.

The big European oil companies, unwilling to risk the threat of U.S. sanctions, have already signaled they intend to ignore the EU’s new trade mechanism. Total SA, the French petroleum company and one of Europe’s biggest, pulled out of its Iran operations several months ago.

Earlier this month a U.S. official confidently predicted there would be little demand among European corporations for the proposed barter mechanism.

Whether Europe succeeds in efforts to defy the U.S. on Iran is nearly beside the point from a long-term perspective. Trans-Atlantic damage has already been done. A rift that began to widen during the Obama administration seems about to get wider still.

Asia Reacts

Asian nations are also exhibiting resistance to the impending U.S. sanctions. It is unlikely they could absorb all the exports Iran will lose after Nov. 4, but they could make a significant difference. China, India, and South Korea are the first, second, and third-largest importers of Iranian crude; Japan is sixth. Asian nations may also try to work around the U.S. sanctions regime after Nov. 4.

India is considering purchases of Iranian crude via a barter system or denominating transactions in rupees. China, having already said it would ignore the U.S. threat, would like nothing better than to expand yuan-denominated oil trading, and this is not a hard call: It is in a protracted trade war with the U.S., and an oil-futures market launched in Shanghai last spring already claims roughly 14 percent of the global market for “front-month” futures—contracts covering shipments closest to delivery.

As with most of the Trump administration’s foreign policies, we won’t know how the new sanctions will work until they are introduced. There could be waivers for nations such as India; Japan is on record asking for one. The E.U.’s Special Purpose Vehicle could prove at least a modest success at best, but this remains uncertain. Nobody is sure who will win the administration’s internal argument over SWIFT.

Long-term Consequences for the U.S.

The de-dollarization of the global economy is gradually gathering momentum. The orthodox wisdom in the markets has long been that competition with the dollar from other currencies will eventually prove a reality, but it will not be one to arrive in our lifetimes. But with European and Asian reactions to the imminent sanctions against Iran it could come sooner than previously thought.

The coalescing of emerging powers into a non-Western alliance —most significantly China, Russia, India, and Iran—starts to look like another medium-term reality. This is driven by practical rather than ideological considerations, and the U.S. could not do more to encourage this if it tried. When Washington withdrew from the Iran accord, Moscow and Beijing immediately pledged to support Tehran by staying with its terms.If the U.S. meets significant resistance, especially from its allies, it could be a turning-point in post-Word War II U.S. dominance.

Supposedly Intended for New Talks

All this is intended to force Iran back to the negotiating table for a rewrite of what Trump often calls “the worst deal ever.” Tehran has made it clear countless times it has no intention of reopening the pact, given that it has consistently adhered to its terms and that the other signatories to the deal are still abiding by it.

The U.S. may be drastically overplaying its hand and could pay the price with additional international isolation that has worsened since Trump took office.

Washington has been on a sanctions binge for years. Those about to take effect seem recklessly broad. This time, the U.S. risks lasting alienation even from those allies that have traditionally been its closest.

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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American Terror is Not New

There were hate crimes before Donald Trump ran for president, most of them sanctioned by the state, including anti-black violence, as old as white settlement on this continent, says Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report.
American Terror is Not New

By Margaret Kimberley
Black Agenda Report

The casual, endemic and racist violence that characterizes American behavior at home and abroad cannot be laid at the doorstep of the current buffoon in the White House.

Within the past week very disturbing and violent events took place in quick succession across the country. Two black people were shot to death in a Louisville, Kentucky supermarket. The white shooter made it clear that his goal was to kill black people when he said, “Whites don’t shoot whites,” as he was apprehended. No sooner had this crime occurred than a Florida man was arrested and charged with sending explosive devices to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Maxine Waters, and Eric Holder among others. One day later a shooting at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania synagogue left 11 people dead.

The unnamed suspect in all of these cases is Donald Trump. The bombing suspect made clear his love for the 45th president. He was described by his attorney as a previously apolitical man who nonetheless “found a father in Donald Trump.” The Louisville killing is the latest in a long line carried out by white racists. Anti-black violence is as old as white settlement on this continent.

Analysis of these recent incidents must be made very carefully. Trump differs from his predecessors mostly by tearing away the veneer of humanity and civility from a system which is relentlessly brutal. But the façade keeps many would-be terrorists from carrying out their sick fantasies. There are people who keep their hatred to themselves until they know that they may be given some cover and acceptance. Hatred expressed by a president emboldens people who might not ordinarily act upon their racist impulses.

It is very dangerous for these hidden haters to think they can come out of their closets. At the same time we cannot forget that a racist shooter succeeded in entering a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and killing nine people in 2015 when Barack Obama was president. The most prevalent racially motivated murders are carried out by police across the country when they kill an average of 300 black people every year.

It is a mistake to see Trump as a singular evil in American history. He is also not an anomaly among world leaders. An avowed fascist just won a presidential race in Brazil. White supremacists march openly in European countries like Ukraine where the Obama administration helped to overthrow an elected president and install Nazis among the new leadership. Fascism is carried out daily not only by the police but by the neoliberal state and by the military as it carries out a war of terror all over the world.

The current moment is perilous and requires serious analysis. Trump is the low hanging fruit in any discussion of racism and other forms of bigotry. But the country cannot be given a pass and allowed to behave as if all was well until he was elected.White people cannot play innocent and black people can’t relax when the day comes that he is out office.

Trump Given Pass for Raising Nuclear Danger  

If Trump can be connected to all of these incidents it should be with the knowledge that the entire country is suffering from a terrible sickness that few want to confront. Americans prefer to think well of themselves and their nation and treat any information contradicting that belief as an inconvenience to be avoided at all costs. There were hate crimes before Donald Trump ran for president and most of them weren’t carried out by individuals. Most of them are still sanctioned by the state.

The crazed Trump lover may have tried to send bombs to Obama and Clinton but they sent bombs to Libya and destroyed a nation that still suffers from their terrorist acts. They are quite literally guilty of committing hate crimes, along with other NATO leaders and their predecessors in high places. The fact that they know how to express diplomatic niceties is no reason to see them as being on our side as we fight to defeat fascism at home and around the world.

Their enablers cannot be given a pass either. When we fight to make war and peace a political issue we are derided as purists and spoilers who ought to be quiet and allow imperialism to take place without hindrance. The people who join in the chorus of denunciation should not be allowed to wring their hands when dead bodies appear within our borders too.

If they want to denounce Trump they had an excellent opportunity recently. Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing unilaterally from the INF missile treaty with Russia. This decision quite literally puts the world closer to nuclear war. But the liberal Trump haters have had very little to say about a policy change which quite literally endangers all life on the planet. The numbers of people who realize the danger and speak against this action is minuscule, unlike the near unanimous condemnation of racist gun men and the would-be mail bomber.

We have always lived in a very dangerous nation. Trump makes it more difficult to be in denial. But we must fight against the crowd which averts its eyes until a racist buffoon enters the White House. There is nothing new about American terrorism. It can be found in high and low places regardless of presidential civility or lack thereof.

This article originally appeared on BlackAgendaReport.com

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com . Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.




The New York Times as Judge and Jury

Seeking to maintain its credibility, The New York Times dispenses with the criminal justice system and basic principles of journalism to weigh in again on Russia-gate, reports Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

We’ve seen it before: a newspaper and individual reporters get a story horribly wrong but instead of correcting it they double down to protect their reputations and credibility—which is all journalists have to go on—and the public suffers.

Sometimes this maneuver can contribute to a massive loss of life. The most egregious example was the reporting in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Like nearly all Establishment media, The New York Times got the story of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—the major casus belli for the invasion—dead wrong. But the Times, like the others, continued publishing stories without challenging their sources in authority, mostly unnamed, who were pushing for war.

The result was a disastrous intervention that led to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and continued instability in Iraq, including the formation of the Islamic State.

In a massive Timesarticle published on Thursday, entitled, “‘A Plot to Subvert an Election: Unravelling the Russia Story So Far,” it seems that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti have succumbed to the same thinking that doubled down on Iraq.

They claim to have a “mountain of evidence” but what they offer would be invisible on the Great Plains.

With the mid-terms looming and Special Counsel Robert Mueller unable to so far come up with any proof of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to steal the 2016 election—the central Russia-gate charge—the Times does it for him, regurgitating a Russia-gate Round-Up of every unsubstantiated allegation that has been made—deceptively presented as though it’s all been proven.

This is a reaffirmation of the faith, a recitation of what the Russia-gate faithful want to believe is true. But mere repetition will not make it so.

The Times’ unsteady conviction is summed up in this paragraph, which the paper itself then contradicts only a few paragraphs later:

What we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.”

But this schizoid approach leads to the admission that “no public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”

The Times also adds: “There is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved.”

This is an extraordinary statement. If it cannot be “proved or disproved” what is the point of this entire exercise: of the Mueller probe, the House and Senate investigations and even of this very New York Times article?

Attempting to prove this constructed story without proof is the very point of this piece.

A Banner Day

The 10,000-word article opens with a story of a pro-Russian banner that was hung from the Manhattan Bridge on Putin’s birthday, and an anti-Obama banner hung a month later from the Memorial Bridge in Washington just after the 2016 election.

On public property these are constitutionally-protected acts of free speech. But for the Times, “The Kremlin, it appeared, had reached onto United States soil in New York and Washington. The banners may well have been intended as visual victory laps for the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history.”

Why? Because the Times tells us that the “earliest promoters” of images of the banners were from social media accounts linked to a St. Petersburg-based click-bait farm, a company called the Internet Research Agency. The company is not legally connected to the Kremlin and any political coordination is pure speculation. IRA has been explained convincingly as a commercial and not political operation. Its aim is get and sell “eyeballs.”

For instance the company conducted pro and anti-Trump rallies and social media messages, as well as pro and anti-Clinton. But the Times, in classic omission mode, only reports on “the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia.” Sharing with “millions” of people on social media does not mean that millions of people have actually seen those messages. And if they had there is little way to determine whether it affected how they voted, especially as the messages attacked and praised both candidates.

The Times reporters take much at face value, which they then themselves undermine. Most prominently, they willfully mistake an indictment for a conviction, as if they do not know the difference.

This is in the category of Journalism 101. An indictment need not include evidence and under U.S. law an indictment is not evidence. Juries are instructed that an indictment is merely an accusation. That the Times commits this cardinal sin of journalism to purposely confuse allegations with a conviction is not only inexcusable but strikes a fatal blow to the credibility of the entire article.

It actually reports that “Today there is no doubt who hacked the D.N.C. and the Clinton campaign. A detailed indictment of 12 officers of Russia’s military intelligence agency, filed in July by Mr. Mueller, documents their every move, including their break-in techniques, their tricks to hide inside the Democrats’ networks and even their Google searches.”

Who needs courts when suspects can be tried and convicted in the press?

What the Times is not taking into account is that Mueller knows his indictment will never be tested in court because the GRU agents will never be arrested, there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia and even if it were miraculously to see the inside of a courtroom Mueller can invoke states secrets privilege to show the “evidence” to a judge with clearance in his chambers who can then emerge to pronounce “Guilty!” without a jury having seen that evidence.

This is what makes Mueller’s indictment more a political than a legal document, giving him wide leeway to put whatever he wants into it. He knew it would never be tested and that once it was released, a supine press would do the rest to cement it in the public consciousness as a conviction, just as this Times piece tries to do.

Errors of Commission and Omission

There are a series of erroneous assertions and omissions in the Times piece, omitted because they would disturb the narrative:

–Not mentioning that the FBI was never given access to the DNC server but instead gullibly believing the assertion of the anti-Russian private company CrowdStrike, paid for by the DNC, that the name of the first Soviet intelligence chief found in metadata proves Russia was behind the hack. Only someone wanting to be caught would leave such a clue.

–Incredibly believing that Trump would have launched a covert intelligence operation on live national television by asking Russia to get 30,000 missing emails.

–Ignoring the possible role of the MI6, the CIA and the FBI setting up Trump campaign members George Papadopoulos and Carter Page as “colluders” with Russia.

–Repeating misleading statements about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, in which Trump’s son did not seek dirt on Clinton but was offered it by a music promoter, not the Russian government. None was apparently produced. It’s never been established that a campaign receiving opposition research from foreigners is illegal (though the Times has decided that it is) and only the Clinton campaign was known to have obtained any.

–Making no mention at all of the now discredited opposition research dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC from foreign sources and used by the FBI to get a warrant to spy on Carter Page and potentially other campaign members.

–Dismissing the importance of politicized text messages between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page because the pair were “skewered regularly on Mr. (Sean) Hannity’s show as the ‘Trump-hating F.B.I. lovebirds.’”

–Putting down to “hyped news stories” the legitimate fear of a new McCarthyism against anyone who questions the “official” story being peddled here by the Times.

–Seeking to get inside Putin’s head to portray him as a petulant child seeking personal revenge against Hillary Clinton, a tale long peddled by Clinton and accepted without reservation by the Times.

–Pretending to get into Julian Assange’s head as well, saying he “shared Mr. Putin’s hatred of Mrs. Clinton and had a soft spot for Russia.” And that Assange “also obscured the Russian role by fueling a right-wing conspiracy theory he knew to be false.”

–Ignoring findings backed by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity that the DNC emails were leaked and not hacked.

–Erroneously linking the timing of WikiLeaks’ Podesta emails to deflect attention from the “Access Hollywood” tape, as debunked in Consortium News by Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, who worked with WikiLeaks on those emails.

Distorts Geo-Politics

The piece swallows whole the Establishment’s geo-strategic Russia narrative, as all corporate media do. It buys without hesitation the story that the U.S. seeks to spread democracy around the world, and not pursue its economic and geo-strategic interests as do all imperial powers.

The Times reports that, “The United States had backed democratic, anti-Russian forces in the so-called color revolutions on Russia’s borders, in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.” The Times has also spread the erroneous story of a democratic revolution in Ukraine in 2014, omitting crucial evidence of a U.S.-backed coup.

The Times disapprovingly dismisses Trump having said on the campaign trail that “Russia was not an existential threat, but a potential ally in beating back terrorist groups,” when an objective view of the world would come to this very conclusion.

The story also shoves aside American voters’ real concerns that led to Trump’s election. For the Times, economic grievances and rejection of perpetual war played no role in the election of Trump. Instead it was Russian influence that led Americans to vote for him, an absurd proposition defied by a Gallup poll in July that showed Americans’ greatest concerns being economic. Their concerns about Russia were statistically insignificant at less than one percent.

Ignoring Americans’ real concerns exposes the class interests of Times staffers and editors who are evidently above Americans’ economic and social suffering.  The Times piece blames Russia for social “divisions” and undermining American democracy, classic projection onto Moscow away from the real culprits for these problems: bi-partisan American plutocrats. That also insults average Americans by suggesting they cannot think for themselves and pursue their own interests without Russia telling them what to do.

Establishment reporters insulate themselves from criticism by retreating into the exclusive Establishment club they think they inhabit. It is from there that they vicariously draw their strength from powerful people they cover, which they should instead be scrutinizing. Validated by being close to power, Establishment reporters don’t take seriously anyone outside of the club, such as a website like Consortium News.

But on rare occasions they are forced to take note of what outsiders are saying. Because of the role The New York Times played in the catastrophe of Iraq its editors took the highly unusual move of apologizing to its readers. Will we one day read a similar apology about the paper’s coverage of Russia-gate?

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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Why the U.S. Seeks to Hem in Russia, China and Iran

America’s three principal adversaries signify the shape of the world to come: a post-Western world of coexistence. But neoliberal and neocon ideology is unable to to accept global pluralism and multipolarity, argues Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The Trump administration has brought U.S. foreign policy to the brink of crisis, if it has not already tipped into one. There is little room to argue otherwise. In Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and in Washington’s ever-fraught relations with Russia, U.S. strategy, as reviewed in my previous column, amounts to little more than spoiling the efforts of others to negotiate peaceful solutions to war and dangerous standoffs in the interests of an orderly world.

The bitter reality is that U.S. foreign policy has no definable objective other than blocking the initiatives of others because they stand in the way of the further expansion of U.S. global interests. This impoverished strategy reflects Washington’s refusal to accept the passing of its relatively brief post–Cold War moment of unipolar power. 

There is an error all too common in American public opinion. Personalizing Washington’s regression into the role of spoiler by assigning all blame to one man, now Donald Trump, deprives one of deeper understanding. This mistake was made during the steady attack on civil liberties after the Sept. 11 tragedies and then during the 2003 invasion of Iraq: namely that it was all  George W. Bush’s fault. It was not so simple then and is not now. The crisis of U.S. foreign policy—a series of radical missteps—are systemic. Having little to do with personalities, they pass from one administration to the next with little variance other than at the margins.

Let us bring some history to this question of America as spoiler. What is the origin of this undignified and isolating approach to global affairs?

It began with that hubristic triumphalism so evident in the decade after the Cold War’s end. What ensued had various names.

There was the “end of history” thesis. American liberalism was humanity’s highest achievement, and nothing would supersede it.

There was also the “Washington consensus.” The world was in agreement that free-market capitalism and unfettered financial markets would see the entire planet to prosperity. The consensus never extended far beyond the Potomac, but this sort of detail mattered little at the time.

The neoliberal economic crusade accompanied by neoconservative politics had its intellectual ballast, and off went its true-believing warriors around the world.

Failures ensued. Iraq post–2003 is among the more obvious. Nobody ever planted democracy or built free markets in Baghdad. Then came the “color revolutions,” which resulted in the destabilization of large swathes of the former Soviet Union’s borderlands. The  2008 financial crash followed.

I was in Hong Kong at the time and recall thinking, “This is not just Lehman Brothers. An economic model is headed into Chapter 11.” One would have thought a fundamental rethink in Washington might have followed these events. There has never been one.

The orthodoxy today remains what it was when it formed in the 1990s: The neoliberal crusade must proceed. Our market-driven, “rules-based” order is still advanced as the only way out of our planet’s impasses.

A Strategic and Military Turn

Midway through the first Obama administration, a crucial turn began. What had been an assertion of financial and economic power, albeit coercive in many instances, particularly with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, took on further strategic and military dimensions. The NATO bombing campaign in Libya, ostensibly a humanitarian mission, became a regime-change operation—despite Washington’s promises otherwise. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” turned out to be a neo-containment policy toward China. The “reset” with Russia, declared after Obama appointed Hillary Clinton secretary of state, flopped and turned into the virulent animosity we now live with daily. The U.S.-cultivated coup in Kiev in 2014 was a major declaration of drastic turn in policy towards Moscow. So was the decision, taken in 2012 at the latest, to back the radical jihadists who were turning civil unrest in Syria into a campaign to topple the Assad government in favor of another Islamist regime.

Spoilage as a poor excuse for a foreign policy had made its first appearances.  

I count 2013 to 2015 as key years. At the start of this period, China began developing what it now calls its Belt and Road Initiative—its hugely ambitious plan to stitch together the Eurasian landmass, Shanghai to Lisbon. Moscow favored this undertaking, not least because of the key role Russia had to play and because it fit well with President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), launched in 2014.

In 2015, the last of the three years I just noted, Russia intervened militarily and diplomatically in the Syria conflict, in part to protect its southwest from Islamist extremism and in part to pull the Middle East back from the near-anarchy then threatening it as well as Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, Washington had cast China as an adversary and committed itself—as it apparently remains—to regime change in Syria. Three months prior to the treaty that established the EAEU, the Americans helped turn another case of civil unrest into a regime change—this time backing not jihadists in Syria but the crypto-Nazi militias in Ukraine on which the government now in power still depends.

That is how we got the U.S.-as-spoiler foreign policy we now have.

If there is a president to blame—and again, I see little point in this line of argument—it would have to be Barack Obama. To a certain extent, Obama was a creature of those around him, as he acknowledged in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic toward the end of his second term. From that “Anonymous” opinion piece published in The New York Times on Sept. 5, we know Trump is too, to a greater extent than Obama may have feared in his worst moments.

The crucial question is why. Why do U.S. policy cliques find themselves bereft of imaginative thinking in the face of an evolving world order? Why has there been not a single original policy initiative since the years I single out, with the exception of the now-abandoned 2015 accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs? “Right now, our job is to create quagmires until we get what we want,” an administration official told The Washington Post’s David Ignatius in August.

Can you think of a blunter confession of intellectual bankruptcy? I can’t.  

Global ‘Equals’ Like Us?

There is a longstanding explanation for this paralysis. Seven decades of global hegemony, the Cold War notwithstanding, left the State Department with little to think about other than the simplicities of East-West tension. Those planning and executing American diplomacy lost all facility for imaginative thinking because there was no need of it. This holds true, in my view, but there is more to our specific moment than mere sclerosis within the policy cliques.

As I have argued numerous times elsewhere, parity between East and West is a 21st century imperative. From Woodrow Wilson to the post-World War II settlement, an equality among all nations was in theory what the U.S. considered essential to global order.

Now that this is upon us, however, Washington cannot accept it. It did not count on non-Western nations achieving a measure of prosperity and influence until they were “just like us,” as the once famous phrase had it. And it has not turned out that way.

Think of Russia, China, and Iran, the three nations now designated America’s principal adversaries. Each one is fated to become (if it is not already) a world or regional power and a key to stability—Russia and China on a global scale, Iran in the Middle East. But each stands resolutely—and this is not to say with hostile intent—outside the Western-led order. They have different histories, traditions, cultures, and political cultures. And they are determined to preserve them.

They signify the shape of the world to come—a post-Western world in which the Atlantic alliance must coexist with rising powers outside its orbit. Together, then, they signify precisely what the U.S. cannot countenance. And if there is one attribute of neoliberal and neoconservative ideology that stands out among all others, it is its complete inability to accept difference or deviation if it threatens its interests.

This is the logic of spoilage as a substitute for foreign policy. Among its many consequences are countless lost opportunities for global stability. 

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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Moscow Has Upped the Ante in Syria

As Syrian forces backed by Russia launch the final showdown in Syria against jihadist extremists in Idlib province, the potential for a U.S.-Russia confrontation has never been greater, as VIPS warns in this memo to the president. September 9, 2018

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: Moscow Has Upped the Ante in Syria

Mr. President:

We are concerned that you may not have been adequately briefed on the upsurge of hostilities in northwestern Syria, where Syrian armed forces with Russian support have launched a full-out campaign to take back the al-Nusra/al-Qaeda/ISIS-infested province of Idlib.  The Syrians will almost certainly succeed, as they did in late 2016 in Aleppo.  As in Aleppo, it will mean unspeakable carnage, unless someone finally tells the insurgents theirs is a lost cause.

That someone is you. The Israelis, Saudis, and others who want unrest to endure are egging on the insurgents, assuring them that you, Mr. President, will use U.S. forces to protect the insurgents in Idlib, and perhaps also rain hell down on Damascus.  We believe that your senior advisers are encouraging the insurgents to think in those terms, and that your most senior aides are taking credit for your recent policy shift from troop withdrawal from Syria to indefinite war.

Big Difference This Time 

Russian missile-armed naval and air units are now deployed in unprecedented numbers to engage those tempted to interfere with Syrian and Russian forces trying to clean out the terrorists from Idlib. We assume you have been briefed on that — at least to some extent. More important, we know that your advisers tend to be dangerously dismissive of Russian capabilities and intentions.

We do not want you to be surprised when the Russians start firing their missiles.  The prospect of direct Russian-U.S. hostilities in Syria is at an all-time high.  We are not sure you realize that.

The situation is even more volatile because Kremlin leaders are not sure who is calling the shots in Washington.  This is not the first time that President Putin has encountered such uncertainty (see brief Appendix below).  This is, however, the first time that Russian forces have deployed in such numbers into the area, ready to do battle.  The stakes are very high.

We hope that John Bolton has given you an accurate description of his acerbic talks with his Russian counterpart in Geneva a few weeks ago. In our view, it is a safe bet that the Kremlin is uncertain whether Bolton faithfully speaks in your stead, or speaks INSTEAD of you.

The best way to assure Mr. Putin that you are in control of U.S. policy toward Syria would be for you to seek an early opportunity to speak out publicly, spelling out your intentions.  If you wish wider war, Bolton has put you on the right path. 

If you wish to cool things down, you may wish to consider what might be called a pre-emptive ceasefire. By that we mean a public commitment by the presidents of the U.S. and Russia to strengthen procedures to preclude an open clash between U.S. and Russian armed forces.  We believe that, in present circumstances, this kind of extraordinary step is now required to head off wider war.

For the VIPS Steering Group, signed: 

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Richard H. Black, Senator of Virginia, 13th District; Colonel, US Army (ret.); former Chief, Criminal Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Pentagon (Associate VIPS)

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

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

Philip Giraldi, CIA Operations Officer (retired)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator (Alaska)

James George Jatras, former U.S. diplomat and former foreign policy adviser to Senate Republican leadership (Associate VIPS)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, U.S. Air Force, Intelligence Officer, and former Master SERE Instructor (retired)

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and Former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., USAF (ret.)

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

Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

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

David MacMichael, Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, Army/Infantry Intelligence Officer and CIA Presidential Briefer (retired)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (retired)

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

Scott Ritter, former MAJ, USMC, former UN Weapons Inspector, Iraq

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

Lawrence Wilkerson, Col. US Army (ret.); former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State; Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary (Associate VIPS)

Sarah G. Wilton, CDR, USNR (ret.); Defense Intelligence Agency (ret.)

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (Associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army reserve colonel and former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War

APPENDIX: 

Sept 12, 2016:  The limited ceasefire goes into effect; provisions include separating the “moderate” rebels from the others. Secretary John Kerry had earlier claimed that he had “refined” ways to accomplish the separation, but it did not happen; provisions also included safe access for relief for Aleppo.

Sept 17, 2016: U.S. Air Force bombs fixed Syrian Army positions killing between 64 and 84 Syrian army troops; about 100 others wounded — evidence enough to convince the Russians that the Pentagon was intent on scuttling meaningful cooperation with Russia.

Sept 26, 2016:  We can assume that what Lavrov has told his boss in private is close to his uncharacteristically blunt words on Russian NTV on Sept. 26. (In public remarks bordering on the insubordinate, senior Pentagon officials a few days earlier had showed unusually open skepticism regarding key aspects of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement – like sharing intelligence with the Russians (a key provision of the deal approved by both Obama and Putin).   Here’s what Lavrov said on Sept 26:

“My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the US military machine. Despite the fact that, as always, [they] made assurances that the US Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin), apparently the military does not really listen to the Commander in Chief.”

Lavrov went beyond mere rhetoric. He also specifically criticized JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford for telling Congress that he opposed sharing intelligence with Russia, “after the agreements concluded on direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama stipulated that they would share intelligence. … It is difficult to work with such partners. …”

Oct 27, 2016:  Putin speaks at the Valdai International Discussion Club
At Valdai Russian President Putin spoke of the “feverish” state of international relations and lamented: “My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results.” He complained about “people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice” and, referring to Syria, decried the lack of a “common front against terrorism after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort, and difficult compromises.”

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is made up of former intelligence officers, diplomats, military officers and congressional staffers. The organization, founded in 2002, was among the first critics of Washington’s justifications for launching a war against Iraq. VIPS advocates a US foreign and national security policy based on genuine national interests rather than contrived threats promoted for largely political reasons. An archive of VIPS memoranda is available at Consortiumnews.com.




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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VIPS Tells Media: Support for Brennan is Not Unanimous

In this memo, VIPS tells the news media that the revocation of John Brennan’s security clearance is falsely being portrayed as an assault on the freedom of speech of the deeply flawed, former CIA director. 

August 29, 2018

TO: The Media 

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT:  Support for Brennan Far From “Unanimous”

As former members of the intelligence community, we feel compelled to add our voice to the public debate surrounding President Trump’s revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance. This action is being falsely portrayed as an assault on Mr. Brennan’s right to free speech. 

We note that some of our former colleagues, a number of whom have held prominent intelligence posts, joined the protest against the President’s actions — a phenomenon that provides stark reminder that the United States intelligence community is not a monolith but rather a collection of diverse individuals with a range of opinions on many issues, including what is right and wrong, We the undersigned veteran intelligence professionals agree with President Trump’s decision to strip Mr. Brennan of his clearance.

We also note with irony that several of the former officials protesting the President’s action have themselves been associated with significant misconduct. David Petraeus, who was convicted of sharing highly classified material with his mistress/biographer, is a case in point. As experienced intelligence officers, we believe security clearances should be granted as a sacred trust and not simply a permanent entitlement that comes with a high level job. 

Anyone who has read VIPS memos knows we have often expressed opposition to this President’s actions — as we have to those of previous Presidents — on important substantive issues when the  intelligence was faulty.  

The issue for us is broader than the clearances of Mr. Brennan. We are appalled by the willful misreading by pundits and much of the media of the nature of security clearances. They are certainly not a constitutionally protected right, but a highly conditional privilege. Its granting comes with personal acceptance of restrictions on speech and association: among other things obligating one-time holders to a lifetime pre-publication review of writings that rely on information acquired in performing their official duties.

All of us signed secrecy agreements and accepted the burden of holding a clearance. We surrendered a part of our assumed right to free speech in service of our country’s welfare and safety. Those of us under cover kept secrets from family and friends. We no longer associated freely with foreign nationals; an active clearance carries the requirement to report contacts with them.

Moreover, security classification is provided by Executive Branch authority and is expressed with orders that are subject to change at the will of the current president (the exception to this being the so-called “Q” clearance established by law to protect nuclear weapons secrets, though this is also subject to presidential authority in granting or withdrawing clearance). Federal judges do not have automatic security clearances. Nor do members of Congress. They have access to secret information by virtue of their constitutional office and a presumed “need to know” in order to do their job. 

Once a person separates from the intelligence community they can continue to hold a clearance provided they are employed as a contractor working on specific classified programs. There is simply no basis in law entitling anyone to permanent clearance. This includes John Brennan. It goes without saying that individuals who are granted continued clearance out of courtesy to their former high position remain accountable in their conduct, and that the Executive can revoke such clearances at will.

Mr. Brennan’s own record is clearly tarnished. When he was Chief of Station in Saudi Arabia prior to and after the bombing of Khobar Towers in June of 1996, rather than uphold the integrity of existing intelligence he went along with the decision to avoid creating problems with the Saudis. After the attack (which was carried out by Saudi elements linked to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda), Brennan helped push the meme that the culprits were Iran and Hezbollah.

As head of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in 2003, Mr. Brennan failed to give the State Department complete statistics for terrorist attacks. The initial publication of “Patterns of Global Terrorism” in April 2004 touted a decline in terrorist attacks in 2003 as vindication of Bush Administration policies. The publication later had to be recalled and revised when it was discovered that the CIA had left out a month and a half of data. John Brennan was in charge of that process. Instead of receiving a reprimand, however, he ended up being promoted. 

Mr. Brennan has assumed the role of passive spectator in building the fraudulent case to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He has claimed only vague awareness of the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. Physical records tell a different story. Brennan was “cc-ed” on “a minimum of 50 memos” dealing with waterboarding and other torture techniques. Senator Saxbe Chambliss noted that Brennan’s boss, A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, told the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Brennan had a role in setting the parameters of the program and “helping to seek Justice Department approval for the techniques.” 

Mr. Brennan also attempted to cover up the truth about the CIA torture. Senator Mark Udall denounced his actions in a floor speech on December 10, 2014, the day after the Senate Intelligence Committee published the Executive Summary of the conclusions of its four-year investigation of CIA torture based on original CIA documents.  The investigation not only revealed almost unbelievably heinous practices, but also demonstrated that senior CIA officials were untruthful in claiming that “enhanced” techniques produced actionable intelligence that could not have been obtained by traditional interrogation practices.  With strong support from President Obama, Brennan, who was the CIA Director, aggressively fought publication of the Senate report.  Here’s Senator Udall:

The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture. And no one has been held to account. … There are right now people serving at high-level positions at the agency who approved, directed, or committed acts related to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.”

Mr. Brennan is now publicly insisting that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. What, however, was CIA Director Brennan saying when the alleged Russian meddling was taking place? Did he warn President Obama? Did he warn the leaders of the Congress? According to press reports Mr. Brennan did brief Democrat Senator Harry Reid on ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and Reid then wrote FBI Director James Comey demanding an investigation. However, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee has said he was not given the same briefing as Senator Reid. Introducing the weight of national intelligence into partisan politics, as Mr. Brennan appears to have done in his official capacity, is forbidden activity. 

We have all held clearances and deeply believe in the importance of intelligence officers conducting themselves with professional integrity, particularly with regard to remaining unentangled in party politics. VIPS is comprised of men and women of highly diverse political views, from Republican to Democrat to Independent. We agree on one thing: when a professional intelligence officer obtains classified information they accept an obligation to appropriately report facts without regard to political leanings. This is not about being a Democrat or a Republican. It is about doing the job of unbiased intelligence analysis. That is why VIPS has, over the years, written memos challenging the intelligence basis for policies and decisions of George W. Bush and Barack Obama as well as Donald Trump.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity:  

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

Richard H. Black, Senator of Virginia, 13th District; Colonel US Army (ret.); Former Chief, Criminal Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Pentagon (associate VIPS)

Fred Costello (former Russian Linguist, USAF, Berlin Kan Op, TS/SCI revoked in 2001) (associate VIPS)

Bogdan Dzakovic, Former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.); 9-11 Whistleblower (associate VIPS)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Larry C. Johnson, former CIA and State Department Counter Terrorism officer

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (ret.); Wing Commander, RAAF (ret.); Intelligence Officer & ex-Master SERE Instructor 

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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

Clement J. Laniewski, LTC, USA (ret) (associate VIPS)

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

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Police at the College of William and Mary (associate VIPS)

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

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is made up of former intelligence officers, diplomats, military officers and congressional staffers. The organization, founded in 2002, was among the first critics of Washington’s justifications for launching a war against Iraq. VIPS advocates a US foreign and national security policy based on genuine national interests rather than contrived threats promoted for largely political reasons. An archive of VIPS memoranda is available at Consortiumnews.com.




The Sun Does Not Revolve Around the US

While visiting Galileo’s house in Florence, Jean Ranc reflected on how America thinks the world revolves around it, as it was once falsely thought the sun revolves around the earth.

By Jean Ranc
Special to Consortium News

On a sunny day last January, my visit to Florence took me deep into the Tuscan hills where a conference titled, “The America of Trump, the Russia of Putin. And Europe?” had taken place, sponsored by the Fondazione Spadolini and the European University Institute. I visited the Fondazione to learn more about the conference, but on my return to Florence down the mountain, it was the Villa Galileo just across the road from a small trattoria where I had stopped, that truly intrigued me.

My on-line search that evening revealed that indeed, it had been the last home of Galileo after his trial as a “heretic.” To save himself from torture and execution, he denied his heliocentric vision and lived under villa arrest from 1631 until he died in 1642. I had stumbled upon the very site of one of the Inquisition’s most infamous persecutions.

A grim reminder of a 21st Century Inquisition we’re living through.

I thought of present-day truth-tellers being hounded by contemporary inquisitors just as Galileo had been persecuted. Tellers of truth such as Edward Snowden, who revealed the extent of illegal mass surveillance; Chelsea Manning, imprisoned seven years for revealing U.S. brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan; Julian Assange locked up in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy as an exile since August 2012 for publishing leaked U.S. secrets in Wikileaks; and Katharine Gun, a British whistleblower who faced two years in prison before her case was dropped for exposing the NSA’s spying on U.N. Security Council nations before a vote to consider authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Continuing Empire

It was around 1898, when America first starting thinking it was the center of the universe. In that year the U.S. intervened in Cuba’s war for independence and proceeded to take over parts of the decrepit Spanish Empire, from Latin America to the Philippines. Shortly before, in 1893, the U.S. overthrew the Queen of Hawaii on behalf of U.S.-backed sugar and pineapple plantation owners.

That led to a long history of political interference in other countries, in the form of destabilization, coups and invasions. Once the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, a narrative was fostered to justify expanding NATO to Russia’s borders.

In the last four years, anti-Russian propaganda has reached a fever pitch: lies about Russia’s “expansionism” in Ukraine; hype about Russia’s “meddling” in the U.S. elections, creating an existential “threat to democracy;” unproven allegations of Russia using chemical weapons to poison the Skripals in London. Experts are trotted out on major media to further the narrative without hard evidence. Together with think-tanks, the American and British media run these stories daily with almost no counter news or opinions. Through endless repetition, allegations are transformed into “facts.” Sanctions are loaded upon sanctions, based on these unsubstantiated charges in an economic war against Russia.

In 2004, journalist Ron Suskind wrote in The New York Times magazine that a top White House strategist for President George W. Bush—identified later as Karl Rove, Bush’s Deputy White House Chief of Staff—told him, “We’re an empire now; we create our own reality.”

Swiss journalist, Guy Mettan, in his 2017 book, Creating Russophobia: From the Great Religious Schism to Anti-Putin Hysteria, writes that the West’s psycho-social pathology about Russia dates back over 1,000 years to the division of Christendom between the Orthodox and Roman churches. The U.S. is a relative newcomer to this, but seeks perhaps its biggest role. 

More than merely dominate, the American superpower now seeks to control history,” Mettan says.

Myth of Russian Expansionism

The astute University of Chicago Professor John J. Mearsheimer exposed how the West provoked the Ukraine crisis in his 2014 Foreign Affairs article, “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” But the American foreign policy establishment and media remain committed to the suppression of facts about the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev and the resulting escalating tensions with Russia.

Ignoring or fabricating evidence, the U.S. and NATO persist in lying that Russia has expansionist goals in Ukraine, Crimea and Syria. Russia is helping ethnic Russians in the east of Ukraine who are resisting the coup, Crimea (which had been part of Russia since 1783 and transferred by the Soviets to Ukraine in 1954) held a referendum in 2014 in which the public voted to rejoin Russia. The Syrian government invited Russia in to help fight Western and Gulf-backed jihadists trying to violently overthrow the government, as even then Secretary of State John Kerry admitted.

Another scholar, Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent, writes in his latest book, Russia Against the Rest: The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order, that the Ukraine crisis crystallized the profound differences between Russia and the West, differences that are not just a replay of the “Cold War.”

Simply put, under the banner of the indispensable “liberal world order,” neo-conservative warriors and “democracy”-spreading-“humanitarian-interventionists” are promoting the Russophobia “reality” to justify American hegemony.

Ditching Solzhenitsyn

One of the greatest illustrations of the centuries-old Russophobia, says Mettan in his 2017 book, is the case of Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

During the 1990s, I was shocked by the way the West treated Solzhenitsyn,” Mettan wrote. “For decades, we had published, celebrated, and acclaimed the great writer as bearing the torch of anti-Soviet dissidence,” but only when he criticized his communist Russia. But after moving to the U.S., when Solzhenitsyn showed a preference for privacy “rather than attending anticommunist conferences, western media and academics began to distance themselves.”

And when Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia and spoke out against Russian ‘westernizers’ and liberals who denied Russian interests, he was labeled “an outdated, senile writer,” though he had not changed his fundamental views on freedom.

After the mid-July, Trump-Putin Helsinki summit, there were countless mass media delusions and hysteria against U.S.-Russia ties, reminiscent of the Hearst newspaper empire’s propaganda that whipped up a frenzy to support the empire-building war against Spain in 1898. Professor Stephen Kinzer vividly described the unsuccessful battle by prestigious anti-imperialists against the power of the Hearst propaganda in his latest book, The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.”

Today’s propaganda tool is named “RussiaGate,” a campaign to bring down a deeply flawed U.S. president for possibly trying to mend U.S. relations with Russia. 

Do we have enough good sense left to follow the advice of Henry David Thoreau: “Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice … till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality.” 

Or, as I thought when I visited Galileo’s house that day in the Florentine hills: the world does not revolve around America.

Jean Ranc is a retired psychologist/research associate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.