Letter From Britain: An Establishment Blinded By Russophobia

A British elite challenged by large parts of the British population is rallying around trumped-up fear of Russia as a means of protecting its interests, as Alexander Mercouris explains.

By Alexander Mercouris  Special to Consortium News
in London 

Hostility to Russia is one of the most enduring, as well as one of the most destructive, realities of British life. Its persistence is illustrated by one of the most interesting but least reported facts about the Skripal affair.

This is that Sergey Skripal, the Russian former GRU operative who was the main target of the recent Salisbury poisoning attack, was recruited by British intelligence and became a British spy in 1995, four years after the USSR collapsed, at a time when the Cold War was formally over.

In 1995 Boris Yeltsin was President of Russia, Communism was supposedly defeated, the once mighty Soviet military was no more, and a succession of pro-Western governments in Russia were attempting unsuccessfully to carry out IMF proposed ‘reforms’. In a sign of the new found friendship which supposedly existed between Britain and Russia the British Queen toured Moscow and St. Petersburg the year before.

Yet notwithstanding all the appearances of friendship, and despite the fact that Russia in 1995 posed no conceivable threat to Britain, it turns out that British intelligence was still up to its old game of recruiting Russian spies to spy on Russia.

Britain’s Long History of Russophobia

This has in fact been the constant pattern of Anglo-Russian relations ever since the Napoleonic Wars.

Brief periods of seeming friendship – often brought about by a challenge posed by a common enemy – alternating with much longer periods of often intense hostility.

This hostility – at least from the British side – is not easy to understand.

Russia has never invaded or directly threatened Britain. On the only two occasions when Britain and Russia have fought each other – during the Crimean War of 1854 to 1856, and during the Russian Civil War of 1918 to 1921 – the fighting has all taken place on Russian territory, and has been initiated by Britain.

Nonetheless, despite its lack of any obvious cause, British hostility to Russia is a constant and enduring fact of British political and cultural life. The best that can be said about it is that it appears to be a predominantly elite phenomenon.

British Russophobia Peaks

If British hostility to Russia is a constant, it is nonetheless true that save possibly for the period immediately preceding the Crimean War, it has never been as intense as it is today.

Moreover, not only has it reached levels of intensity scarcely seen before, but it is becoming central to Britain’s politics in ways which are now doing serious harm.

This harm is both domestic, in that it is corrupting British politics, and international, in that it is not only marginalising Britain internationally but is also poisoning the international atmosphere.

Why is this so?

Elite British Consensus

For Britain’s elite, riven apart by Brexit and increasingly unsure of the hold it has over the loyalty of the British population, hostility to Russia has become the one issue it can unite around. As a result hostility to Russia is now serving an essential integrating role within Britain’s elite, binding it together at a time when tensions over Brexit risk tearing it apart.

To get a sense of this consider two articles that have both appeared recently in the British media, one in the staunchly anti-Brexit Guardian, the other in the equally staunchly pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph.

The article in the Guardian, by Will Hutton and Andrew Adonis, is intended to refute a narrative of British distinctiveness supposedly invented by the pro-Brexit camp. As such the article claims (rightly) that Britain has historically always been closely integrated with Europe.

However when developing this argument the article engages in some remarkable historical misrepresentation of its own. Not surprisingly, Russia is the subject. Just consider for example this paragraph:

“…..note for devotees of Darkest Hour and Dunkirk: Britain was never “alone” and could not have triumphed [in the Second World War against Hitler] had it been so. Even in its darkest hour Britain could call on its then vast empire and, within 18 months, on the Americans, too.”

Russia’s indispensable contribution to the defeat of Hitler is deleted from the whole narrative. The U.S., which became involved in the war against Hitler in December 1941, is mentioned. Russia, which became involved in the war against Hitler in June 1941, i.e. before the U.S., and whose contribution to the defeat of Hitler was much greater, is not.

Whilst claiming to refute pro-Brexit myths about the Second World War the article creates myths of its own, turning the fact that Russia was an ally of Britain in that war into a non-fact.

The article does however have quite a lot to say about Russia:

“Putins Russia is behaving like the fascist regimes of the 1930s, backed by sophisticated raids from online troll factories. Citizens – and ominously younger voters in some European countries – are more and more willing to tolerate the subversion of democratic norms and express support for authoritarian alternatives.

Oleg Kalugin, former major general of the Committee for State Security (the KGB), has described sowing dissent as “the heart and soul” of the Putin state: not intelligence collection, but subversion – active measures to weaken the west, to drive wedges in the western community alliances of all sorts, particularly Nato, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples.”

History is turned on its head. Not only is the fact that Russia was Britain’s ally in the war against Nazi Germany now a non-fact, but Russia it turns out is Nazi Germany’s heir, a fascist regime like Nazi Germany once was, posing a threat to Britain and the West like Nazi Germany once did.

Moreover who does not agree, and who does not see facing up to Russia as the priority, is at best a fool:

“In Brexit-voting Weymouth, Captain Malcolm Shakesby of Ukip is unruffled by Putin or European populism. He inhabits the cartoon world of British exceptionalism, and his main concern today is Mrs Mays “sellout” of the referendum result.”

Compare these comments about Russia in the staunchly anti-Brexit Guardian with these comments about Russia by Janet Daley in the staunchly pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph.

Janet Daley does not quite say like Hutton and Adonis that Russia is a “fascist regime”. However in her depiction of it she comes pretty close:

“The modern Russian economy is a form of gangster capitalism largely unencumbered by legal or political restraint. No one in the Kremlin pretends any longer that Russias role on the international stage is to spread an idealistic doctrine of liberation and shared wealth.

When it intervenes in places such as Syria, there is no pretence of leading that country toward a great socialist enlightenment. Even the pretext of fighting Isil has grown impossibly thin. All illusions are stripped away and the fight is reduced to one brutal imperative: Assad is Putins man and his regime will be defended to the end in order to secure the Russian interest. But what is that interest? Simply to assert Russias power in the world – which is to say, the question is its own answer.”

Though Moscow has made clear in both word and action that intervention in Syria at Syria’s invitation was to prevent it becoming a failed state and a terrorist haven, Russia it turns out is focused on only one thing: gaining as much power as possible. This is true both of its domestic politics (“gangster capitalism largely unencumbered by legal or political restraint”) and in its foreign policy (“what is that [Russian] interest? Simply to assert Russia’s power in the world – which is to say, the question is its own answer”)

As a result it must be construed as behaving in much the same way as Nazi Germany once did:

“…..we now seem to have the original threat from a rogue rampaging Russia back on the scene, too. A Russia determined to reinstate its claim to be a superpower, but this time without even the moral scruples of an ideological mission: the country that had once joined the respectable association of modern industrialised nations to make it the G8, rather than the G7, prefers to be an outlaw.”

On the question of the threat from Russia both the pro and anti-Brexit wings of the British establishment agree. Standing up to it is the one policy they can both agree on. Not surprisingly at every opportunity that is what they do.

Intolerance of Dissent Construed as a “Threat from Russia”

In this heavy atmosphere anyone in Britain who disagrees risks being branded either a traitor or a fool.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, who is known to favour dialogue with Russia, recently had to endure an ugly media campaign which insinuated that he had been recruited as in effect a Communist agent in the 1980s by Czech intelligence.

That claim eventually collapsed when a British MP went too far and said openly what up to then had only been insinuated. As a result he was forced to retract his claims and pay compensation under threat of a law suit. However the question mark over Corbyn’s loyalty is never allowed to go away.

During last year’s general election Corbyn also had to endure an article in the Telegraph by none other than Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of Britain’s external intelligence agency MI6 (the British equivalent of the CIA). Dearlove also insinuated that Corbyn had been at least a Communist sympathiser or fellow traveller during the Cold War whose sympathies were with the Eastern Bloc and therefore with the various anti-Western and supposedly Communist backed terrorist groups which the Eastern Bloc had supposedly supported:

“Today, Britain goes to the polls. And frankly, Im shocked that no one has stood up and said, unambiguously, how profoundly dangerous it would be for the nation if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister. So let me be clear, the leader of the Labour Party is an old-fashioned international socialist who has forged links with those quite ready to use terror when they havent got their way: the IRA, Hizbollah, Hamas. As a result he is completely unfit to govern and Britain would be less safe with him in No 10.

I can give an indication of just how serious this is: if Jeremy Corbyn was applying to join any of this countrys security services – MI5, GCHQ or the service I used to run, MI6 – he would not be cleared to do so. He would be rejected by the vetting process. Far from being able to get into MI5, in the past MI5 would actively have investigated him. And yet this is the man who seeks the very highest office, who hopes in just 24 hours time to run our security services.

Young people in Britain have been terribly affected by recent terror attacks. It is only natural that they should be desperately worried about security problems, and to me it is just such a great shame that they dont understand the political antecedents of the Labour leader. It is these young people, in particular, I am keen to address. I want to explain just what Corbyns whole movement has meant.

During the Cold War the groups he associated with hung out in Algeria, and moved between East Germany and North Korea. It is hard, today, to understand the significance of that. When I talk to students about the Cold War, they assume I am just talking about history. But it has a direct bearing on our security today. Only a walk along the armistice line between North and South Korea, with its astonishing military build up, might give some idea of what was at stake.

……Jeremy Corbyn represents a clear and present danger to the country.”

In light of this the crescendo of criticism Corbyn came under during the peak of the uproar in March following the

Salisbury poisoning attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal is entirely unsurprising.

Corbyn’s call – alone amongst senior politicians – for the investigation to be allowed to take its course and for due process to be followed, simply confirmed the doubts about his loyalty and his sympathy for Russia already held by the British establishment and previously expressed by people like Dearlove. His call was not seen as an entirely reasonable one for proper procedure to be followed. Rather it was seen as further proof that Corbyn’s sympathies are with Russia, which is Britain’s enemy.

Corbyn is not the only person to be targeted in this way. As I write this Britain is in the grip of a minor scandal because the right-wing businessman Arron Banks, who partly funded the Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum, is now revealed to have had several meetings with the Russian ambassador and to have discussed a business deal with a Russian businessman.

Though Banks claims to have reported these contacts to the CIA, and though there is not the slightest evidence of impropriety in any of these contacts (the proposed business deal never materialised) the mere fact that they took place is enough for doubts to be expressed about Banks’s reasons for supporting the Leave campaign. Perhaps even more worrying for Banks is that scarcely anyone is coming forward to speak up for him.

Even a politically inconsequential figure like the pop singer Robbie Williams is now in the frame. Just over a year ago Williams gained wide applause for a song “Party like a Russian” which some people interpreted (wrongly in my opinion) as a critique of contemporary Russia. Today he is being roundly criticised for performing in Russia during the celebrations for the World Cup.

Russophobia Undermining British Democracy

The result of this intolerance is a sharp contraction in the freedom of Britain’s public space, with those who disagree on British policy towards Russia increasingly afraid to speak out.

Since establishment opinion in Britain conceives of itself as defending liberal democracy from attack by Russia, and since establishment opinion increasingly conflates liberal democracy with its own opinions, it follows that in its conception any challenge to its opinions is an attack on liberal democracy, and must therefore be the work of Russia.

This paranoid view has now become pervasive. No part of the traditional media is free of it. It has gained a strong hold on the BBC and it is fair to say that all the big newspapers subscribe to it. Anyone who does not has no future in British journalism.

This is disturbing in itself, but as with all forms of institutional paranoia, it is also having a damaging effect on the functioning of Britain’s institutions.

Amid Growing Influence of Intelligence 

One obvious way in which this manifests itself is in the extraordinary growth in both the visibility and influence of Britain’s intelligence services.

Historically the intelligence services in Britain have operated behind the scenes to the point of being almost invisible. Until the 1980s the very fact of their existence was in theory a state secret.

Today, as Dearlove’s article about Corbyn in the Daily Telegraph shows, their leaders and former leaders are not only public personalities, but the intelligence services have come increasingly to fill the role of gatekeepers, deciding who can be trusted to hold public office and who cannot.

Corbyn is far from being the only British politician to find himself under this sort of scrutiny.

Boris Johnson, some time before he became Britain’s Foreign Secretary, made what I am sure he now considers the mistake of writing an article in the Telegraph praising Russia’s role in the liberation of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria from ISIS.

The result was that on his appointment as foreign secretary, Johnson had a meeting with British intelligence chiefs who ‘persuaded’ him of the need to follow a tough line with Russia. He has in fact followed a tough line with Russia ever since.

Russophobia Infects the Legal System

Establishment hostility to Russia is also enabling interference by the intelligence services in the British legal process.

There is a widespread and probably true belief that the British intelligence services actively lobbied for the grant of asylum to the fugitive Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who they seem to have considered some sort of ‘agent of influence’ in Russia. This despite the fact that it is now widely acknowledged that Berezovsky’s background and activities in Russia should have denied him asylum in Britain.

However what is still largely rumour in Berezovsky’s case is indisputable fact in the Alexander Litvinenko case and in the Skripal cases.

I have previously explained how in the Litvinenko case the claim of Russian state involvement in Litvinenko’s murder made by the British public inquiry is not supported by the publicly available evidence.

What has now become clear is that the main evidence of Russian state involvement in Litvinenko’s murder was not the publicly available evidence, but evidence provided to the public inquiry in private by the British intelligence services. This evidence was seen only by the Judge who headed the inquiry, but seems to have had a decisive effect in forming his view of the case and shaping his report.

American readers may be interested to learn that this evidence was put together by none other than Christopher Steele, the person who gave us the “golden showers” dossier, which has played such an outsized role in the Russiagate affair.

How strong or reliable this evidence is it is impossible to say since, as it is secret, it cannot be independently scrutinised. All I would say is that on two other occasions when Steele is known to have produced similar reports about Russian state activities subsequent enquiries have failed to support them. One is Steele’s “golden showers” dossier, which the FBI has admitted it cannot verify, and which scarcely anyone any longer believes to be true. The other is a report produced by Steele which alleged that Russia had bought the 2018 World Cup by bribing FIFA officials, which subsequent investigation has found was untrue.

It turns out that the evidence used to support the British claim of Russian guilt in the Skripal case is the same: evidence provided in private by British intelligencewhich is not subject to independent scrutiny. As in the Litvinenko case, the British authorities have nonetheless not hesitated to use this evidence to declare publicly that Russia is guilty. This whilst a police investigation is still underway and before any suspect has been identified.

Indeed in the Skripal case the violation of due process has been so gross that it is not even denied. Instead articles have appeared in the British media which say that due process does not apply in cases involving Russia.

That there can be no rule of law without due process, and that excluding cases involving Russia from the need to follow due process is racist and discriminatory appears to concern no one.

Discrimination in Britain Against Russians

Where the intelligence services have led the way, others have been keen to follow.

Recently a House of Commons committee published a report which openly puts pressure on British law firms to refuse business from Russian clients. The best account of this has been provided by the Canadian academic Paul Robinson:

“……that leads me onto the thing which really struck me about this document [The House of Commons committee report – AM]. This was a statement about the British law firm Linklaters, which managed the flotation of EN+. Shortly before this, the report says ‘Both the EN+ IPO [Initial Public Offering] and the sale of Russian debt in London appear to have been carried out in accordance with the relevant rules and regulatory systems, and there is no obvious evidence of impropriety in a legal sense.Yet, it then goes on to say the following:

We asked Linklaters to appear before the committee to explain their involvement in the flotation of EN+ … They refused. We regret their unwillingness to engage with our inquiry and must leave others to judge whether their work at ‘the forefront of financial, corporate and commercial developments in Russiahas left them so entwined in the corruption of the Kremlin and its supporters that they are no longer able to meet the standards expected of a UK-regulated law firm.”

This is quite outrageous, and also cowardly. The committee in effect accuses Linklaters of corruption, while avoiding complaints of libel by use of the weasel words ‘we leave to others to judge’ – a way of making an accusation while claiming that one hasnt. Whats so outrageous about the statement is that comes straight after a confession that the EN+ flotation was completely above board. Linklaters didnt do anything wrong, and the House of Commons committee knows it. Nevertheless, it sees fit to suggest that the company is ‘no longer able to meet the standards expected of a UK-regulated law firm.

The implication here is that any company which has extensive dealings with Russian enterprises is ‘entwined in the corruption of the Kremlinand so unfit to do business. I cannot interpret this as anything other than an attempt by the committee to threaten British companies and intimidate them into dropping their lawful activities. I consider this disgraceful.

The committees attitude can be seen again towards the end of the report, when it writes that ‘instead of participating in the rules-based system, President Putins regime uses asymmetric methods to achieve its goals, and others – so-called useful idiots – magnify that effect by supporting its propaganda. So, there you have it. People who do with business with Russia are to be publicly shamed as unworthy of the standards expected of the British people, while those who would dare to point this sort of thing out are to be denounced as ‘useful idiots. Having any dealings with Russia makes one a Kremlin stooge.”

Taking their cue from the House of Commons committee, identical pressure on British law firms to refuse to act for

Russian clients is now coming from the media, as explained in this article by the Guardian’s Nick Cohen, which talks of potential Russian clients in these terms:

“In this conflict, it’s no help to think of oligarchs as businessmen. They are closer to the privileged servants of a warlord or mafia boss. Their wealth is held at Putin’s discretion. If they are told to buy influence in the Balkans or fund an alt-news website, they obey. Companies that raise funds on the London markets or oligarchs who move into Kensington mansions may look like autonomous organisations and individuals but, as Garry Kasparov told the committee: “They are agents of a rogue Russian regime, not businessmen. They are complicit in Putin’s countless crimes. Their companies are not international corporations, but the means to launder money and spread corruption and influence.”

To which I would add that in law-governed states even criminals have the right of legal representation and advice. In Britain, if the House of Commons committee and Nick Cohen gets their way, Russians – whether criminals or not – will be the exception.

What is so bizarre about this is that the spectre of massive Russian economic penetration of Britain conjured up by the House of Commons committee is so far removed from reality. The Economist (no friend of Russia) provides the actual figures:

“….the high profile of London’s high-rolling Russians belies the relatively small role that their money plays in the wider economy. Foreigners hold roughly £10 trillion of British assets. Russia’s share of that is just 0.25%, a smaller proportion than that of Finland and South Korea.

Parts of west London have acquired many new Russian residents, and shops to serve them (including an outfitter of armoured luxury cars). Yet even in “prime” London – that is, the top 5-10% of the market – buyers from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union account for only 5% of sales, according to data from Savills, a property firm. Outside the capital’s swankiest districts, Russians’ influence is minuscule. The departure of oligarchs might affect prices on some streets in Kensington, but not beyond.

The same is true of Britain’s private schools. Some have done well out of Russian parents. But of the 53,678 foreign pupils who attend schools that belong to the Independent Schools Council, only 2,806 are Russian. China, by contrast, sends 9,008 pupils from its mainland, and a further 5,188 from Hong Kong.

Looking at these figures it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is the mere presence of Russians, not their number or their wealth or the illicit way in which some of them supposedly came by their money, which for the British establishment is the problem.”

Quite simply, Russians are not welcome, not because they are wealthy or because they are corrupt, but because they are Russians.

Against Russian Media

The same discriminatory approach appears to inform the persistent attacks launched by the British authorities against the Russian television broadcaster RT.

Over the last two years RT has had to repel an attempt by the British authorities to close down its British bank account, has been forced to respond to a succession of complaints from the British media regulator Ofcom, has faced threats of having its British broadcasting licence withdrawn, and has had to endure a campaign of vilification aimed in part at dissuading British public figures from appearing as guests on its programmes.

As to what exactly RT has done – other than vague and unspecific claims that it is a ‘propaganda’ channel – which justifies this treatment, has never been fully explained. 

Again it is difficult to avoid the impression that the British establishment’s fundamental problem with RT is that it is simply a Russian channel broadcasting in Britain that scrutinizes establishment policies and actions – a fundamental responsibility of journalism, which is largely missing in British media. 

Free speech is a human right in Britain except apparently for Russians.

This discriminatory approach towards Russia and Russians replicates the increasingly ugly and frankly racist way in which Russians are regularly depicted in Britain today.

As to the general effect of that on British society, I repeat here what I wrote back in 2016:

“Racial stereotyping is always something to complain about. It is dehumanising, intolerant and ugly. It is racist and profoundly offensive of its target. This is so whenever it is used to mock or label any ethnicity or national or cultural group. Russians are not an exception.

A society that indulges in it, and which tolerates those who do, forfeits its claim to anti-racism and interracial tolerance. The fact that it is treating just one ethnic group – Russians – in this way, denying them the moral and legal protection which it accords others, in no way diminishes its racism and intolerance. It emphasises it.”

British society is not just the poorer for it. It is deeply corrupted by it, and this corruption now touches every aspect of British life.

Britain Becoming Marginalised

If the result of the British establishment’s paranoia about Russia is deeply corrosive within Britain itself, its effect on British foreign policy has been entirely negative. 

At its most basic level it has meant a total breakdown in relations between Britain and Russia.

British and Russian leaders no longer talk to each other, and summit meetings between British and Russian leaders have come to a complete stop. Boris Johnson’s last visit to Russia is universally acknowledged to have been a complete failure, and following the Skripal affair British officials and members of Britain’s Royal Family are now even boycotting the World Cup in Russia.

Indeed British public statements about the World Cup have been all of a piece with the British establishment hostility to Russia, with Johnson recently comparing it to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics and with another House of Commons committee warning British fans of the supposed dangers of going to to Russia to watch them.

This complete absence of dialogue with Russia is a serious problem for Britain as some British officials quietly acknowledge.

Russia is after all a powerful nation and any state which still wishes to exercise influence on world affairs must engage with Russia in order to achieve it. The British establishment’s hostility to Russia however makes that impossible.

The result is that major international questions such as the Ukrainian crisis, the Syrian conflict and the gathering crisis in the Middle East caused by the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal – in all of which Russia is centrally involved – are being handled without British involvement.

Where Angela Merkel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France talk to Russia and have thereby managed to carve out for themselves important roles in world affairs, Britain’s Theresa May is a bit player.

However, instead of drawing the obvious conclusion from this, which is that refusing to talk to the Russians is the high road to nowhere, the British have doubled down, seeking to regain relevance by leading an international crusade against Moscow. 

The strategy – which bears the unmistakeable imprint of Johnson – was set out in grandiose terms in a recent article in The Guardian:

“The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria.

British diplomats plan to use four major summits this year – the G7, the G20, Nato and the European Union – to try to deepen the alliance against Russia hastily built by the Foreign Office after the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March.

The foreign secretary regards Russia’s response to Douma and Salisbury as a turning point and thinks there is international support to do more,” a Whitehall official said. “The areas the UK are most likely to pursue are countering Russian disinformation and finding a mechanism to enforce accountability for the use of chemical weapons.”

Former Foreign Office officials admit that an institutional reluctance to call out Russia once permeated British diplomatic thinking, but say that after the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, that attitude is evaporating…..

Ministers want to pursue a broad Russian containment strategy at the coming summits covering cybersecurity, Nato’s military posture, sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs and a more comprehensive approach to Russian disinformation.”

It has taken no more than a few weeks since that article appeared on 3 May 2018 for this whole grandiose strategy to fall apart.

Not only have Merkel and Macron each visited Russia since the article was published, but Italy now has a new Russia-friendly government, and Spain may soon do so also. Adding insult to injury, Germany is now casting doubt on Britain’s actions following the Salisbury poisoning attack,

All of this however is eclipsed by Donald Trump’s comments at the G7 saying that Russia should be readmitted to the G7 and having his officials inform the British media that he is becoming increasingly irritated by the British prime minister’s lectures.

In the event not only did Trump fail to meet May one-to-one at the G7 summit, but he refused to agree the summit’s final communique, which criticised Russia.

Needless to say, amidst the collapse of the summit, the plan May had apparently intended to unveil at the summit for a new international rapid response unit to respond to Russian-backed assassinations and cyber attacks fell by the wayside.

Far from gaining relevance by leading an international crusade against Russia, the British are increasingly finding that no one else is interested and that May’s and the British establishment’s obsession with Russia instead of enhancing Britain’s importance is making Britain increasingly irrelevant.

Poisoning the International Atmosphere

The British establishment is in fact making the fundamental mistake of thinking that other countries not only share their obsession with Russia, but that they necessarily value their relations with Britain more than  with Russia.

This is a strange view given that Russia is arguably a more powerful nation than Britain.

It is nonetheless true that the British establishment’s anti-Russian fixation is having an internationally damaging effect.

Many Western governments have their own issues with Russia, and in such a situation it is not surprising that British paranoia about Russia finds a ready echo.

The most recent example of this is of course the orchestrated expulsion by various Western governments of Russian diplomats in the immediate aftermath of the Salisbury poisoning attack.

However the most damage has been done in the U.S.

Britain and Russia-gate

The full extent of the British role in the Russiagate scandal is not yet clear, but there is no doubt that it was both extensive and crucial.

The individual who arguably has played the single biggest role in generating the scandal is Christopher Steele, the compiler of the “golden showers” dossier, who is not only British but who is a former British intelligence officer.

It is now becoming increasingly clear – as Joe Lauria wrote last year in Consortium News– that the dossier has played a key role in the whole scandal, being accepted for many months by U.S. investigators – including it turns out by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators – as providing the ‘frame-narrative’ for the case of alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

The Steele dossier is in fact very much of a piece with the paranoid conception of Russia which has taken hold in Britain, though (as I have pointed out previously) the dossier’s description of how government decisions are made in Russia is absurd.

Critics of the dossier in the United States rightly draw attention to the fact that it is ‘research’ paid for by Donald Trump’s political opponents in the Hillary Clinton campaign, whilst there is also a view popular amongst some Republicans (wrongly in my opinion) that it is a provocation concocted by Russian intelligence in order to disrupt the U.S. election process and embarrass Trump.

By contrast, insufficient attention is paid, in my opinion, to the fact that it is a British compilation put together in Britain by a former British spy at a time when Britain is in the grip of a particularly bad bout of Russia paranoia.

Steele himself is someone who by all accounts has fully bought into this paranoia. Indeed his previous role in preparing reports about Russia’s supposed role in Litvinenko’s murder and the World Cup bid, and also apparently in the Ukrainian crisis, suggests that he has played no small role in creating it.

Steele is not however the only British official or former official to have played an active role in Russia-gate.

Steele himself is known for example to have a close connection to Dearlove, the former MI6 Director who called Corbyn “a clear and present danger.” It seems that Dearlove and Steele discussed the “golden showers” dossier at a meeting in London’s Garrick Club at roughly the same time that Steele was in contact about it with the FBI.

Another far more more important British official to have taken an active role in the Russiagate affair was Robert Hannigan, the head of GCHQ – Britain’s equivalent to the NSA – who visited the U.S. in the summer of 2016 to brief the CIA about British concerns over alleged contacts between the Russians and Trump’s campaign.

Though Hannigan’s trip to Washington in the summer of 2016 was first spoken of in April 2017, it has never been confirmed that the Steele dossier, which he brought with him to show to the CIA, was part of the evidence of supposed contacts between the Russians and Trump’s campaign.  That it was, however, is strongly suggested by an article in The Washington Post on June 23, 2017, which amongst other things said the following:

“Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump…..

The CIA breakthrough came at a stage of the presidential campaign when Trump had secured the GOP nomination but was still regarded as a distant long shot. Clinton held comfortable leads in major polls, and Obama expected that he would be transferring power to someone who had served in his Cabinet.

The intelligence on Putin was extraordinary on multiple levels, including as a feat of espionage.

For spy agencies, gaining insights into the intentions of foreign leaders is among the highest priorities. But Putin is a remarkably elusive target. A former KGB officer, he takes extreme precautions to guard against surveillance, rarely communicating by phone or computer, always running sensitive state business from deep within the confines of the Kremlin.”

This almost certainly refers to the early entries of Steele’s dossier, which is the only report known to exist which claims to have been “sourc[ed from] deep inside the Russian government [and to have detailed] Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the US Presidential race”.

The Washington Post says that the CIA’s report to Obama drew on “critical technical intelligence on Russia provided by another country”.

That points to Hannigan being the source, with Hannigan being known to have visited the U.S. and to have briefed the CIA at about the time the CIA sent its report to Obama.

Hannigan likely provided the CIA with a mix of wiretap evidence and the first entries of the dossier.

The wiretap evidence probably detailed the confused but ultimately innocuous contacts the young London- based Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was having at this time with the Russians. It is highly likely the British were keeping an eye on him at the request of the U.S., which the British would have been able to do for the U.S. without a FISA warrant since Papadopoulos was based in Britain.

Taken together with the first entries of the dossier, the details of Papadopoulos’s activities could easily have been misconstrued to conjure up a compelling case of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Given the paranoid atmosphere about Russia in Britain it would not be surprising if this alarmed Hannigan.

Needless to say if extracts from the dossier really were provided to the CIA by the head of one of Britain’s most important intelligence agencies, then it becomes much easier to understand why the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community took it so seriously.

Then there is the case of Stefan Halper, an American academic lecturing at Cambridge University, who is friends and a business partner with Dearlove.  Halper was inserted by the FBI into the Trump campaign in early July 2016 to befriend Papadopoulos in London.  In 1980, the CIA inserted Halper into Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign to help the Reagan camp by stealing information, including a Carter briefing book before a presidential debate.

Suffice to say that just as the British origin of the dossier has in my opinion been overlooked, so has the extent to which it circulated and was given credence in top circles within Britain before it made its full impact in the United States.

Overall, though the extent of the British role in the Russiagate affair is still not fully known, what information exists points to it being very substantial and important. In fact it is unlikely that the Russiagate scandal as we know it would have happened without it.

As such the Russiagate scandal serves as a good example of how British paranoia about Russia can infect the political process in another Western country, in this case the U.S.

Campaigning against Russia

Russia-gate is in fact only the most extreme example of the way that Britain’s anti-Russian obsession has damaged the international environment, though because of the effect it has had on the development of domestic politics in the United States it is the most important.

There have been countless others. The British have for example been the most implacable supporters amongst the leading Western powers of the ongoing sanctions drive against Russia. Britain for instance is known to have actively – though so far unsuccessfully – lobbied for Russian banks to be cut off from the SWIFT interbank payments system, which were it ever to happen would be by far the most severe sanction imposed by the West on Russia to date.

Beyond the effect on the international climate of the constant anti-Russian lobbying of the British government, there is the further effect of the ceaseless drumbeat of anti-Russian agitation which pours out of the British media and various British-based organisations and NGO.

These extend from well-established organisations like Amnesty International – which misrepresented the case against the Pussy Riot performers by claiming that they had been jailed for “holding a gig in a church” – to other less established organisations such Bellingcat and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, both of which are based in Britain. As it happens, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is known to have received funding from the British government, as apparently have the White Helmets.

In addition Bill Browder, the businessman who successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, and who has since then pursued a relentless campaign against Russia, is now also based in Britain and has British citizenship.

The great international reach of the British media – the result of the worldwide use of the English language and the international respect some parts of British media such as the BBC still command – means that this constant stream of anti-Russian publicity pouring out of Britain has a worldwide impact and is having an effect that has to be taken into account in any study of current international relations.

The Price of an Obsession

The British establishment’s obsession with Russia is something of a puzzle.

Britain today is not a geopolitical rival of Russia’s as it was in the nineteenth century and as the U.S. is today. British antagonism to Russia cannot therefore be explained as the product of a geopolitical conflict.

Russia is not a military or political threat to Britain. There is no history of Russia threatening or invading Britain. Russia is not an economic rival, and Russian penetration of the British economy is minimal and vastly exaggerated.

It is sometimes said that there are things about modern Russia that the British find culturally, ideologically or politically distasteful, and that this is the reason for Britain’s intense hostility to Russia. However Britain has no difficulty being best of friends with all sorts of countries such as the Gulf Monarchies or China which are culturally, ideologically and politically far more different from Britain than Russia is. Logically that should make them more distasteful to Britain than Russia is, but it doesn’t seem to do so. In these cases economic interests clearly take precedence over any concerns for human rights.

Ultimately however the precise cause of the British establishment’s obsession with Russia does not actually matter. What does matter is that it is an obsession, which should be recognised as such, and that like all other obsessions is ultimately destructive.

In Britain’s case the obsession is not only corrupting Britain’s domestic politics and the working of its institutions.

It is also marginalising Britain, limiting its options, and causing growing exasperation amongst some of its friends.

In addition it blinds the British to their opportunities. If the British were able to put their obsession with Russia behind them they might notice that at a time when they are quitting the European Union Russia potentially has a great deal to offer them.

It is sometimes said that Britain produces very little that Russia needs, and it is indeed the case that trade between Russia and Britain is very small, and that most of Russia’s import needs are met by countries like Germany and China.

However Britain is able to provide Russia with the single thing that Russia arguably needs most at this stage in its development. This is not machinery or technology, all of which it is perfectly capable of producing itself, but the one thing it is truly short of: investment capital.

In the nineteenth century British capital played a key role in the industrialisation of America and in the opening up of the American West. There is no logical reason why it could not do something similar today in Russia. Indeed the marriage between Europe’s biggest financial centre (Britain) and Europe’s potentially most productive economy (Russia) is an obvious one.

In the twentieth century Britain’s long history of economic involvement in the U.S. paid handsome political dividends. Perhaps the same might one day be the case between Britain and Russia. Regardless of that, economic engagement with Russia would at least provide Britain with a plan for an economic future outside the EU, something which because of Brexit it urgently needs but which currently it completely lacks.

For anything like that to happen the British will first have to address the reality of their obsession, and the damage it is doing to them. At that point they might even start to do something about it. Britain’s relative success since the 1960s in overcoming other forms of racism and prejudice which had long existed in Britain shows that such a thing is possible if the problem is recognised and addressed. However I have to say that there is no sign of it happening at the moment.

In the meantime the rest of the world needs to understand that when it comes to Russia, the British are suffering from a serious affliction. Failing to do that risks the infection spreading, with the disastrous consequences we have seen with the Russia-gate scandal in the US.

There is even a chance that refusing to listen to the British about Russia might have a good effect on Britain. If the British realise that the world is no longer listening to them then they might start to understand the extent of their own problem.

If so than the world would be doing Britiain a favour, even if at the moment the British cannot see it.

Alexander Mercouris is a political commentator and editor of The Duran.

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Still Waiting for Evidence of a Russian Hack

More than two years after the allegation of Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was first made, conclusive proof is still lacking and may never be produced, says Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern Special to Consortium News

If you are wondering why so little is heard these days of accusations that Russia hacked into the U.S. election in 2016, it could be because those charges could not withstand close scrutiny. It could also be because special counsel Robert Mueller appears to have never bothered to investigate what was once the central alleged crime in Russia-gate as no one associated with WikiLeaks has ever been questioned by his team.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity — including two “alumni” who were former National Security Agency technical directors — have long since concluded that Julian Assange did not acquire what he called the “emails related to Hillary Clinton” via a “hack” by the Russians or anyone else. They found, rather, that he got them from someone with physical access to Democratic National Committee computers who copied the material onto an external storage device — probably a thumb drive. In December 2016 VIPS explained this in some detail in an open Memorandum to President Barack Obama.

On January 18, 2017 President Obama admitted that the “conclusions” of U.S. intelligence regarding how the alleged Russian hacking got to WikiLeaks were “inconclusive.” Even the vapid FBI/CIA/NSA “Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections” of January 6, 2017, which tried to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for election interference, contained no direct evidence of Russian involvement.  That did not prevent the “handpicked” authors of that poor excuse for intelligence analysis from expressing “high confidence” that Russian intelligence “relayed material it acquired from the Democratic National Committee … to WikiLeaks.”  Handpicked analysts, of course, say what they are handpicked to say.

Never mind. The FBI/CIA/NSA “assessment” became bible truth for partisans like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who was among the first off the blocks to blame Russia for interfering to help Trump.  It simply could not have been that Hillary Clinton was quite capable of snatching defeat out of victory all by herself.  No, it had to have been the Russians.

Five days into the Trump presidency, I had a chance to challenge Schiff personally on the gaping disconnect between the Russians and WikiLeaks. Schiff still “can’t share the evidence” with me … or with anyone else, because it does not exist.

WikiLeaks

It was on June 12, 2016, just six weeks before the Democratic National Convention, that Assange announced the pending publication of “emails related to Hillary Clinton,” throwing the Clinton campaign into panic mode, since the emails would document strong bias in favor of Clinton and successful attempts to sabotage the campaign of Bernie Sanders.  When the emails were published on July 22, just three days before the convention began, the campaign decided to create what I call a Magnificent Diversion, drawing attention away from the substance of the emails by blaming Russia for their release.

Clinton’s PR chief Jennifer Palmieri later admitted that she golf-carted around to various media outlets at the convention with instructions “to get the press to focus on something even we found difficult to process: the prospect that Russia had not only hacked and stolen emails from the DNC, but that it had done so to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.”  The diversion worked like a charm.  Mainstream media kept shouting “The Russians did it,” and gave little, if any, play to the DNC skullduggery revealed in the emails themselves. And like Brer’ Fox, Bernie didn’t say nothin’.

Meanwhile, highly sophisticated technical experts, were hard at work fabricating “forensic facts” to “prove” the Russians did it.  Here’s how it played out:

June 12, 2016: Assange announces that WikiLeaks is about to publish “emails related to Hillary Clinton.”

June 14, 2016: DNC contractor CrowdStrike, (with a dubious professional record and multiple conflicts of interest) announces that malware has been found on the DNC server and claims there is evidence it was injected by Russians.

June 15, 2016: “Guccifer 2.0” affirms the DNC statement; claims responsibility for the “hack;” claims to be a WikiLeaks source; and posts a document that the forensics show was synthetically tainted with “Russian fingerprints.”

The June 12, 14, & 15 timing was hardly coincidence. Rather, it was the start of a pre-emptive move to associate Russia with anything WikiLeaks might have been about to publish and to “show” that it came from a Russian hack.

Enter Independent Investigators

A year ago independent cyber-investigators completed the kind of forensic work that, for reasons best known to then-FBI Director James Comey, neither he nor the “handpicked analysts” who wrote the Jan. 6, 2017 assessment bothered to do.  The independent investigators found verifiable evidence from metadata found in the record of an alleged Russian hack of July 5, 2016 showing that the “hack” that day of the DNC by Guccifer 2.0 was not a hack, by Russia or anyone else.

Rather it originated with a copy (onto an external storage device – a thumb drive, for example) by an insider — the same process used by the DNC insider/leaker before June 12, 2016 for an altogether different purpose. (Once the metadata was found and the “fluid dynamics” principle of physics applied, this was not difficult to disprove the validity of the claim that Russia was responsible.)

One of these independent investigators publishing under the name of The Forensicator on May 31 published new evidence that the Guccifer 2.0 persona uploaded a document from the West Coast of the United States, and not from Russia.

In our July 24, 2017 Memorandum to President Donald Trump we stated, “We do not know who or what the murky Guccifer 2.0 is. You may wish to ask the FBI.”

Our July 24 Memorandum continued: “Mr. President, the disclosure described below may be related. Even if it is not, it is something we think you should be made aware of in this general connection. On March 7, 2017, WikiLeaks began to publish a trove of original CIA documents that WikiLeaks labeled ‘Vault 7.’ WikiLeaks said it got the trove from a current or former CIA contractor and described it as comparable in scale and significance to the information Edward Snowden gave to reporters in 2013.

“No one has challenged the authenticity of the original documents of Vault 7, which disclosed a vast array of cyber warfare tools developed, probably with help from NSA, by CIA’s Engineering Development Group. That Group was part of the sprawling CIA Directorate of Digital Innovation – a growth industry established by John Brennan in 2015. [ (VIPS warned President Obama of some of the dangers of that basic CIA reorganization at the time.]

Marbled

“Scarcely imaginable digital tools – that can take control of your car and make it race over 100 mph, for example, or can enable remote spying through a TV – were described and duly reported in the New York Times and other media throughout March. But the Vault 7, part 3 release on March 31 that exposed the “Marble Framework” program apparently was judged too delicate to qualify as ‘news fit to print’ and was kept out of the Times at the time, and has never been mentioned since.

“The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima, it seems, ‘did not get the memo’ in time. Her March 31 article bore the catching (and accurate) headline: ‘WikiLeaks’ latest release of CIA cyber-tools could blow the cover on agency hacking operations.’

“The WikiLeaks release indicated that Marble was designed for flexible and easy-to-use ‘obfuscation,’ and that Marble source code includes a “de-obfuscator” to reverse CIA text obfuscation.

“More important, the CIA reportedly used Marble during 2016. In her Washington Post report, Nakashima left that out, but did include another significant point made by WikiLeaks; namely, that the obfuscation tool could be used to conduct a ‘forensic attribution double game’ or false-flag operation because it included test samples in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Farsi.”

A few weeks later William Binney, a former NSA technical director, and I commented on Vault 7 Marble, and were able to get a shortened op-ed version published in The Baltimore Sun.

The CIA’s reaction to the WikiLeaks disclosure of the Marble Framework tool was neuralgic. Then Director Mike Pompeo lashed out two weeks later, calling Assange and his associates “demons,” and insisting; “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

Our July 24 Memorandum continued:  “Mr. President, we do not know if CIA’s Marble Framework, or tools like it, played some kind of role in the campaign to blame Russia for hacking the DNC. Nor do we know how candid the denizens of CIA’s Digital Innovation Directorate have been with you and with Director Pompeo. These are areas that might profit from early White House review.  [ President Trump then directed Pompeo to invite Binney, one of the authors of the July 24, 2017 VIPS Memorandum to the President, to discuss all this.  Binney and Pompeo spent an hour together at CIA Headquarters on October 24, 2017, during which Binney briefed Pompeo with his customary straightforwardness. ]

We also do not know if you have discussed cyber issues in any detail with President Putin. In his interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly he seemed quite willing – perhaps even eager – to address issues related to the kind of cyber tools revealed in the Vault 7 disclosures, if only to indicate he has been briefed on them. Putin pointed out that today’s technology enables hacking to be ‘masked and camouflaged to an extent that no one can understand the origin’ [of the hack] … And, vice versa, it is possible to set up any entity or any individual that everyone will think that they are the exact source of that attack.

“‘Hackers may be anywhere,’ he said. ‘There may be hackers, by the way, in the United States who very craftily and professionally passed the buck to Russia. Can’t you imagine such a scenario? … I can.’

New attention has been drawn to these issues after I discussed them in a widely published 16-minute interview last Friday.

In view of the highly politicized environment surrounding these issues, I believe I must append here the same notice that VIPS felt compelled to add to our key Memorandum of July 24, 2017:

“Full Disclosure: Over recent decades the ethos of our intelligence profession has eroded in the public mind to the point that agenda-free analysis is deemed well nigh impossible. Thus, we add this disclaimer, which applies to everything we in VIPS say and do: We have no political agenda; our sole purpose is to spread truth around and, when necessary, hold to account our former intelligence colleagues.

“We speak and write without fear or favor. Consequently, any resemblance between what we say and what presidents, politicians and pundits say is purely coincidental.” The fact we find it is necessary to include that reminder speaks volumes about these highly politicized times.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington.  He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer before serving as a CIA analyst for 27 years.  His duties included preparing, and briefing one-on-one, the President’s Daily Brief.

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Spooks Spooking Themselves

As the role of a well-connected group of British and U.S. intelligence agents begins to emerge, new suspicions are growing about what hand they may have had in weaving the Russia-gate story, as Daniel Lazare explains.

By Daniel Lazare Special to Consortium News

With the news that a Cambridge academic-cum-spy named Stefan Halper infiltrated the Trump campaign, the role of the intelligence agencies in shaping the great Russiagate saga is at last coming into focus.  

It’s looking more and more massive.  The intelligence agencies initiated reports that Donald Trump was colluding with Russia, they nurtured them and helped them grow, and then they spread the word to the press and key government officials.  Reportedly, they even tried to use these reports to force Trump to step down prior to his inauguration.  Although the corporate press accuses Trump of conspiring with Russia to stop Hillary Clinton, the reverse now seems to be the case: the Obama administration intelligence agencies worked with Clinton to block “Siberian candidate” Trump.  

The template was provided by ex-MI6 Director Richard DearloveHalper’s friend and business partner.  Sitting in winged chairs in London’s venerable Garrick Club, according toThe Washington Post, Dearlove told fellow MI6 veteran Christopher Steele, author of the famous “golden showers” opposition research dossier, that Trump “reminded him of a predicament he had faced years earlier, when he was chief of station for British intelligence in Washington and alerted US authorities to British information that a vice presidential hopeful had once been in communication with the Kremlin.”

Apparently, one word from the Brits was enough to make the candidate in question step down.  When that didn’t work with Trump, Dearlove and his colleagues ratcheted up the pressure to make him see the light.  A major scandal was thus born – or, rather, a very questionable scandal.

Besides Dearlove, Steele, and Halper, a bon-vivant known as “The Walrus” for his impressive girth, other participants include:

  • Robert Hannigan, former director Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, UK equivalent of the NSA.
  • Alexander Downer, top Australian diplomat.
  • Andrew Wood, ex-British ambassador to Moscow.
  • Joseph Mifsud, Maltese academic.
  • James Clapper, ex-US Director of National Intelligence.
  • John Brennan, former CIA Director (and now NBC News analyst).

In-Bred

A few things stand out about this august group.  One is its in-bred quality.  After helping to run an annual confab known as the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, Dearlove and Halper are now partners in a private venture calling itself “The Cambridge Security Initiative.”  Both are connected to another London-based intelligence firm known as Hakluyt & Co. Halper is also connected via two books he wrote with Hakluyt representative Jonathan Clarke and Dearlove has a close personal friendship with Hakluyt founder Mike Reynolds, yet another MI6 vet.  Alexander Downer served a half-dozen years on Hakluyt’s international advisory board, while Andrew Wood is linked to Steele via Orbis Business Intelligence, the private research firm that Steele helped found, and which produced the anti-Trump dossier, and where Wood now serves as an unpaid advisor.

Everyone, in short, seems to know everyone else.  But another thing that stands out about this group is its incompetence.  Dearlove and Halper appear to be old-school paranoids for whom every Russian is a Boris Badenov or a Natasha Fatale.  In February 2014, Halper notified US intelligence that Mike Flynn, Trump’s future national security adviser, had grown overly chummy with an Anglo-Russian scholar named Svetlana Lokhova whom Halper suspected of being a spy – suspicions that Lokhova convincingly argues are absurd.

In December 2016, Halper and Dearlove both resigned from the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar because they suspected that a company footing some of the costs was tied up with Russian intelligence – suspicions that Christopher Andrew, former chairman of the Cambridge history department and the seminar’s founder, regards as “absurd” as well.

As head of Britain’s foreign Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 is formally known, Dearlove played a major role in drumming up support for the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq even while confessing at a secret Downing Street meeting that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [regime-change] policy.”  When the search for weapons of mass destruction turned up dry, Clapper, as then head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, argued that the Iraqi military must have smuggled them into neighboring Syria, a charge with absolutely no basis in fact but which helped pave the way for US regime-change efforts in that country too. 

Brennan was meanwhile a high-level CIA official when the agency was fabricating evidence against Saddam Hussein and covering up Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11. Wood not only continues to defend the Iraqi invasion, but dismisses fears of a rising fascist tide in the Ukraine as nothing more than “a crude political insult” hurled by Vladimir Putin for his own political benefit. Such views now seem distressingly misguided in view of the alt-right torchlight parades and spiraling anti-Semitism that are now a regular feature of life in the Ukraine.

The result is a diplo-espionage gang that is very bad at the facts but very good at public manipulation – and which therefore decided to use its skill set out to create a public furor over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

It Started Late 2015

The effort began in late 2015 when GCHQ, along with intelligence agencies in Poland, Estonia, and Germany, began monitoring what they said were “suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.”  

Since Trump was surging ahead in the polls and scaring the pants off the foreign-policy establishment by calling for a rapprochement with Moscow, the agencies figured that Russia was somehow behind it.  The pace accelerated in March 2016 when a 30-year-old policy consultant named George Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign-policy adviser.  Traveling in Italy a week later, he ran into Mifsud, the London-based Maltese academic, who reportedly set about cultivating him after learning of his position with Trump. Mifsud claimed to have “substantial connections with Russian government officials,” according to prosecutors.  Over breakfast at a London hotel, he told Papadopoulos that he had just returned from Moscow where he had learned that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

This was the remark that supposedly triggered an FBI investigation.  The New York Times describes Mifsud as “an enthusiastic promoter of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia” and “a regular at meetings of the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual conference held in Sochi, Russia, that Mr. Putin attends,” which tried to suggest that he is a Kremlin agent of some sort.  But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange later tweeted photos of Mifsud with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a high-ranking British intelligence official named Claire Smith at a training session for Italian security agents in Rome.  Since it’s unlikely that British intelligence would rely on a Russian agent in such circumstances, Mifsud’s intelligence ties are more likely with the UK.

After Papadopoulos caused a minor political ruckus by telling a reporter that Prime Minister David Cameron should apologize for criticizing Trump’s anti-Muslim pronouncements, a friend in the Israeli embassy put him in touch with a friend in the Australian embassy, who introduced him to Downer, her boss.  Over drinks, Downer advised him to be more diplomatic.  After Papadopoulos then passed along Misfud’s tip about Clinton’s emails, Downer informed his government, which, in late July, informed the FBI.

Was Papadopoulos Set Up?  

Suspicions are unavoidable but evidence is lacking.  Other pieces were meanwhile clicking into place.  In late May or early June 2016, Fusion GPS, a private Washington intelligence firm employed by the Democratic National Committee, hired Steele to look into the Russian angle.  

On June 20, he turned in the first of eighteen memos that would eventually comprise the Steele dossier, in this instance a three-page document asserting that Putin “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years” and that Russian intelligence possessed “kompromat” in the form of a video of prostitutes performing a “golden showers” show for his benefit at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.  A week or two later, Steele briefed the FBI on his findings.  Around the same time, Robert Hannigan flew to Washington to brief CIA Director John Brennan about additional material that had come GCHQ’s way, material so sensitive that it could only be handled at “director level.”  

One player was filling Papadopoulos’s head with tales of Russian dirty tricks, another was telling the FBI, while a third was collecting more information and passing it on to the bureau as well.   

On July 7, 2016 Carter Page delivered a lecture on U.S.-Russian relations in Moscow in which he complained that “Washington and other western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change.”  Washington hawks expressed “unease” that someone representing the presumptive Republican nominee would take Russia’s side in a growing neo-Cold War.

Stefan Halper then infiltratedthe Trump campaign on behalf of the FBI as an informant in early July, weeks before the FBI launched its investigation. Halper had 36 years earlier infiltrated the Carter re-election campaign in 1980 using CIA agents to turn information over to the Reagan campaign. Now Halper began to court both Page and Papadopoulous, independently of each other.

On July 11, Page showed up at a Cambridge symposium at which Halper and Dearlove both spoke. In early September, Halper sent Papadopoulos an email offering $3,000 and a paid trip to London to write a research paper on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean, his specialty. “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?” Halper asked when he got there, but Papadopoulos said he knew nothing. Halper also sought out Sam Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman, with whom he chatted about China for an hour or so over coffee in Washington.  

The rightwing Federalist website speculates that Halper was working with Steele to flesh out a Sept. 14 memo claiming that “Russians do have further ‘kompromat’ on CLINTON (e-mails) and [are] considering disseminating it.”  Clovis believes that Halper was trying “to create an audit trail back to those [Clinton] emails from someone in the campaign … so they could develop a stronger case for probable cause to continue to issue warrants and to further an investigation.”  Reports that Halper apparently sought a permanent post in the new administration suggest that the effort was meant to continue after inauguration.

Notwithstanding Clovis’s nutty rightwing politics, his description of what Halper may have been up to makes sense as does his observation that Halper was trying “to build something that did not exist.”  Despite countless hyper-ventilating headlines about mysterious Trump Tower meetings and the like, the sad truth is that Russiagate after all these months is shaping up as even more of a “nothing-burger” than Obama administration veteran Van Jones said it was back in mid-2017.  Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has indicted Papadopoulos and others on procedural grounds, he has indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for corruption, and he has charged a St. Petersburg company known as the Internet Research Agency with violating US election laws.  

But the corruption charges have nothing to do with Russian collusion and nothing in the indictment against IRA indicates that either the Kremlin or the Trump campaign were involved.  Indeed, the activities that got IRA in trouble in the first place are so unimpressive – just $46,000 worth of Facebook ads that it purchased prior to election day, some pro-Trump, some anti, and some with no particular slant at all – that Mueller probably wouldn’t even have bothered if he hadn’t been under intense pressure to come up with anything at all.  

The same goes for the army of bots that Russia supposedly deployed on Twitter.  As The Washington Post noted in an oddly, cool-headed Dec. 2 article, 2,700 suspected Russian-linked accounts generated just 202,000 tweets in a six-year period ending in August 2017, a drop in a bucket compared to the one billion election-related tweets sent out during the fourteen months leading up to Election Day.

The Steele dossier is also underwhelming.  It declares on one page that the Kremlin sought to cultivate Trump by throwing “various lucrative real estate development business deals” his way but says on another that Trump’s efforts to drum up business were unavailing and that he thus “had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”

Why would Trump turn down business offers when he couldn’t generate any on his own?  The idea that Putin would spot a U.S. reality-TV star somewhere around 2011 and conclude that he was destined for the Oval Office five years later is ludicrous.  The fact that the Democratic National Committee funded the dossier via its law firm Perkins Coie renders it less credible still, as does the fact that the world has heard nothing more about the alleged video despite the ongoing deterioration in US-Russian relations.  What’s the point of making a blackmail tape if you don’t use it?

Even Steele is backing off. In a legal paper filed in response to a libel suit last May, he said the document “did not represent (and did not purport to represent) verified facts, but were raw intelligence which had identified a range of allegations that warranted investigation given their potential national security implications.”   The fact is that the “dossier” was opposition research, not an intelligence report. It was neither vetted by Steele nor anyone in an intelligence agency. Opposition research is intended to mix truths and fiction, to dig up plausible dirt to throw at your opponent, not to produce an intelligence assessment at taxpayer’s expense to “protect” the country. And Steele was paid for it by the Democrats, not his government.

Using it Anyway

Nonetheless, the spooks have made the most of such pseudo-evidence. Dearlove and Wood both advised Steele to take his “findings” to the FBI, while, after the election, Wood pulled Sen. John McCain aside at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to let him know that the Russians might be blackmailing the president-elect.  McCain dispatched long-time aide David J. Kramer to the UK to discuss the dossier with Steele directly. 

Although Kramer denies it, The New Yorker found a former national-security official who says he spoke with him at the time and that Kramer’s goal was to have McCain confront Trump with the dossier in the hope that he would resign on the spot. When that didn’t happen, Clapper and Brennan arranged for FBI Director James Comey to confront Trump instead.  Comey later testified that he didn’t want Trump to think he was creating “a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation – I didn’t want him thinking I was briefing him on this to sort of hang it over him in some way.”  

But how could Trump think otherwise? As Consortium News founding editor Robert Parry observed a few days later, the maneuver “resembles a tactic out of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s playbook on government-style blackmail: I have some very derogatory information about you that I’d sure hate to see end up in the press.”  

Since then, the Democrats have touted the dossier at every opportunity, The New Yorker continues to defend it, while Timescolumnist Michelle Goldberg cites it as well, saying it’s a “rather obvious possibility that Trump is being blackmailed.”  CNN, for its part, suggested not long ago that the dossier may actually be Russian disinformation designed to throw everyone off base, Republicans and Democrats alike.

It sounds more like CIA paranoia raised to the nth degree.  But that’s what the intelligence agencies are for, i.e. to spread fear and propaganda in order to stampede the public into supporting their imperial agenda.  In this case, their efforts are so effective that they’ve gotten lost in a fog of their own making.  If the corporate press fails to point this out, it’s because reporters are too befogged themselves to notice.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  

 




1918

On Memorial Day 2018, in the year marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Michael Parenti contemplates the trenches and the oligarchs who caused so much unnecessary misery.

By Michael Parenti  Special to Consortium News

Looking back at the years of fury and carnage, Colonel Angelo Gatti, staff officer of the Italian Army (Austrian front), wrote in his diary: “This whole war has been a pile of lies. We came into war because a few men in authority, the dreamers, flung us into it.”

No, Gatti, caro mio, those few men are not dreamers; they are schemers. They perch above us. See how their armament contracts are turned into private fortunes—while the young men are turned into dust: more blood, more money; good for business this war.

It is the rich old men, i pauci, “the few,” as Cicero called the Senate oligarchs whom he faithfully served in ancient Rome. It is the few, who together constitute a bloc of industrialists and landlords, who think war will bring bigger markets abroad and civic discipline at home. One of i pauci in 1914 saw war as a way of promoting compliance and obedience on the labor front and—as he himself said—war, “would permit the hierarchal reorganization of class relations.”

Just awhile before the heresies of Karl Marx were spreading among Europe’s lower ranks. The proletariats of each country, growing in numbers and strength, were made to wage war against each other. What better way to confine and misdirect them than with the swirl of mutual destruction.

Then there were the generals and other militarists who started plotting this war as early as 1906, eight years before the first shots were fired. War for them means glory, medals, promotions, financial rewards, inside favors, and dining with ministers, bankers, and diplomats: the whole prosperity of death. When the war finally comes, it is greeted with quiet satisfaction by the generals.

Moguls and Monarchs Prevail

But the young men are ripped by waves of machine-gun fire or blown apart by exploding shells. War comes with gas attacks and sniper shots: grenades, mortars, and artillery barrages; the roar of a great inferno and the sickening smell of rotting corpses. Torn bodies hang sadly on the barbed wire, and trench rats try to eat away at us, even while we are still alive.

Farewell, my loving hearts at home, those who send us their precious tears wrapped in crumpled letters. And farewell my comrades. When the people’s wisdom fails, moguls and monarchs prevail and there seems to be no way out.

Fools dance and the pit sinks deeper as if bottomless. No one can see the sky, or hear the music, or deflect the swarms of lies that cloud our minds like the countless lice that torture our flesh. Crusted with blood and filth, regiments of lost souls drag themselves to the devil’s pit. “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.” (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter” as our Dante delivered his painful message).

Meanwhile from above the Vatican wall, the pope himself begs the world leaders to put an end to hostilities, “lest there be no young men left alive in Europe.” But the war industry pays him no heed.

Finally the casualties are more than we can bear. There are mutinies in the French trenches! Agitators in the Czar’s army cry out for “Peace, Land, and Bread!” At home, our families grow bitter. There comes a breaking point as the oligarchs seem to be losing their grip.

At last the guns are mute in the morning air. A strange almost pious silence takes over. The fog and rain seem to wash our wounds and cool our fever. “Still alive,” the sergeant grins, “still alive.” He cups a cigarette in his hand. “Stack those rifles, you lazy bastards.” He grins again, two teeth missing. Never did his ugly face look so good as on this day in November 1918. Armistice embraces us like a quiet rapture. 

Not really a quiet rapture with smiling sergeants. Many troops on both sides continued killing to the bitter end, with a fury that had no mercy. In one day, November 11, the last day of war, some 10,900 men were wounded or killed from both sides, a furious rage in the face of peace, years of slaughter; now moments of vengeance.

The Fall of Eagles

A big piece of the encrusted aristocratic world breaks off. The Romanovs, Czar and family, are all executed in 1918 in Revolutionary Russia. That same year, the House of Hohenzollern collapses as Kaiser Wilhelm II flees Germany. Also in 1918, the Ottoman empire is shattered. And on Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918, at 11:00 a.m.—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—we mark the end of the war and with it the dissolution of the Habsburg dynasty.

Four indestructible monarchies: Russian, German, Turkish, and Austro-Hungarian, four great empires, each with millions of bayonets and cannon at the ready, now twisting in the dim shadows of history.

Will our children ever forgive us for our dismal confusion? Will they ever understand what we went through? Will we? By 1918, four aristocratic autocracies fade away, leaving so many victims mangled in their wake, and so many bereaved crying through the night.

Back in the trenches, the agitators among us prove right. The mutinous Reds standing before the firing squad last year were right. Their truths must not be buried with them. Why are impoverished workers and peasants killing other impoverished workers and peasants? Now we know that our real foe is not in the weave of trenches; not at Ypres, nor at the Somme, or Verdun or Caporetto. Closer to home, closer to the deceptive peace that follows a deceptive war.

Now comes a different conflict. We have enemies at home: the schemers who trade our blood for sacks of gold, who make the world safe for hypocrisy, safe for themselves, readying themselves for the next “humanitarian war.” See how sleek and self-satisfied they look, riding our backs, distracting our minds, filling us with fright about wicked foes. Important things keep happening, but not enough to finish them off. Not yet enough.

Michael Parenti is an internationally known, award-winning author and lecturer. He is one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts. His highly informative and entertaining books and talks have reached a wide range of audiences in North America and abroad. His books include Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies; Inventing Reality, The Politics of News MediaMake-Believe Media: The Politics of EntertainmentDemocracy for the FewLand of Idols: Political Mythology in AmericaHistory as MysteryThe Assassination of Julius CaesarA People’s History of Ancient Rome and the first part of his memoir, Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid’s Life.




Delusions and Genocide: A Reply to Diana Johnstone 

Consortium News published an article on May 4 by Diana Johnstone, in which she critiqued an article by Tony McKenna, who has asked for the right to reply.

Editor’s Note: Consortium News published an article on May 4 by Diana Johnstone called, “Trotskyist Delusions: Obsessed with Stalin, They See Betrayed Revolutions Everywhere.”  In the piece, Johnstone critiqued an article by Tony McKenna, who has asked for the right to reply. We are publishing that reply here, with this disclaimer and notice to our readers that we do not endorse McKenna’s views on Syria. We feel they display a profound misunderstanding of the tragic circumstances in that country. To give just two examples:  McKenna’s assertion that it was the Free Syrian Army and other rebels that drove ISIS out of Syria and into Iraq, while ignoring all the many, more powerful forces arrayed against it, such as Syrian, Russian, Iranian, Lebanese, Kurdish and even American and its allied forces (who to some extent fought against ISIS in Syria), is a gross distortion of what has actually happened. 

The second example shows the essential error of McKenna and those that agree with him:  the failure to understand the nature of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad. His government emerged in the conflict as the far lesser evil to foreign-backed jihadists. Assad has never threatened the West the way ISIS has not only threatened, but attacked it. Assad did not kill Christians, Shia, Yazidi, women and other minorities just because of their identities, the way the jihadists have. McKenna’s assertion that it is Islamophobic to call most rebels in Syria terrorists, while comparing that to Israel labeling all Gazans “Hamas terrorists,” ignores the fact that Gazans and Hamas are resisting an occupation, while ISIS actually ran a particularly brutal occupation of both Syrian and Iraqi territory. He also ignores the role the West and Gulf Arabs played in allowing ISIS to flourish.

 

By Tony McKenna

I read with some interest Diana Johnstone’s recent article in Consortium News – ‘Trotskyist Delusions: Obsessed with Stalin, They See Betrayed Revolutions Everywhere’ (May 4, 2018) which was a response to an article of my own – ‘Revolution and Counter Revolution in Syria’ (International Socialist Review, March 1, 2018).  Johnstone’s article doubles as an attack on me and also a broader ‘critique’ of a ‘delusional’ Trotskyism whose ridiculous ideals have sinister real world consequences; that it to say, they allow said Trotskyists  ‘to align…with U.S imperialism. The obsession with permanent revolution ends up providing an ideological alibi for permanent war.’

In the comments section underneath, the same charge was echoed ad infinitum.  I am – either consciously or unconsciously – a supporter of Western Imperialism, at least with regard to Syria. This is the crux of the issue, and therefore something I’d like to address. 

I do not support US military intervention in Syria. I do not support Israeli intervention in Syria. I was against the recent airstrikes which were launched by the US with backing from Britain and France.   But I am also against the Russian and Iranian military interventions which have taken place in Syria.  The side I am not against – oddly enough for a ‘delusional Trotskyist’ – are the Syrian people themselves.  You know, the same guys who have been strafed, bombed, gassed, burnt, raped, tortured and systematically murdered for a sustained seven year period by their ghoulish dictator and his military apparatus –  in collusion, of course, with the cash, weaponry, troops and planes provided by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Now I am going to emphasise the role of these latter state actors over others (shock, gasp – even over Western Imperialism!) because they are the ones who, in bolstering the Assad regime, have turned the country into a smouldering, ashen graveyard.  From March 11, 2011, to March 1, 2016, the regime was responsible for 183,827 civilian deaths,which accounts for a catastrophic 94.7 percent of all civilian deaths. UN investigators quite correctly described this as amounting to an ‘extermination’ of the civilian population.  This is the regime which Johnstone and her acolytes rally around.  Progressive, radical ‘anti-imperialist’ politics at their finest and most fragrant, served up in a batch, with that extra special dash of civilian mass murder. 

Then again, perhaps all those dead Syrian civilians were all ISIS sympathisers or the like.  Or even if they weren’t, perhaps those civilians had to be killed as collateral damage because they were harbouring rebels of a sinister Islamic fundamentalist bent in their midst.  That is certainly what Assad tells us. It is what the Russians would have you believe.  Ironic isn’t it?  As we watch, in real time, the murderous military machine of the Israeli state mow down unarmed Palestinian protestors taking part in the Great March of Return, Israeli propaganda feeds us a very similar ideological rationale.  The ‘great march’ protestors were, in reality, ‘violent fundamentalists’.  Or at the very least, they had been infiltrated by ‘violent fundamentalists’, they had been weaponised by Hamas.  

Is there any of us that take such claims seriously?  And yet, in the case of Syria, we are more easily swayed by such an insidious logic, we readily accept it as reality.  We take it as an accomplished fact that the rebels are Islamist fundamentalists, and where and when more secular currents emerge, we take it as given that these will eventually give up the ghost before rabid religious interests.  Is the Syrian, predominantly Muslim population, inherently susceptible to the most rabid strains of Islamic fundamentalism?  Or could it be that it is precisely this type of assumption, with all its islamophobic connotations, which has led to the lack of support for secular forces in their struggle against Assad.

FSA Smashed ISIS

In late 2013 a coalition of rebel forces of many different political shades (some secular, some religiously fundamentalist), led by the secular inclined Free Syrian Army, took a break from the bloody grapple with their murderous dictator in order to smash ISIS to pieces – driving them from Latakia, Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa, sending the black clad, sword wielding fanatics scurrying back into the Iraqi desert. 

This was little covered in the press, of course, and, generally speaking, the rebels were given scant financial backing internationally as they conducted their heroic rout. In contrast, entities like ISIS are heavily subsidised by powerful foreign interests.  The Russians and Iranians pour billions into the Assad regime.   Locked between the snapping jaws of these snarling leviathans, the more secular inclined forces are given little support, and as a result have had their political presence diminished.

And that is why I support the right of the rebels to get arms from wherever they can. That includes, I am afraid to say, the U.S. state – or indeed any other.  Does that make me a de facto supporter of Western Imperialism?  Let’s consider this.  Just imagine being a member of that harrowing number caught between the Scylla of the fundamentalist extremists and the Charybdis of the Assad regime.  You are fighting for everything you have ever known and what is more you are fighting with meagre supplies against overwhelming forces, and in the most perilous of circumstances.  Surely you would accept arms and money from the devil himself if he offered them, no? For the simplest reason of all.  The alternative is annihilation.

Who is the Idealist?

Johnstone’s whole critique of me rests on the fact that I am some sort of ‘head in the clouds, Trotskyist idealist’ who is naïve to the way the real political forces are played out on the ground.  But in my view she is the idealist, if she somehow imagines that any rebel in that situation – in the face of an Assad regime which is genocidal in its intent and which has been fortified by billions in Russian arms and support – if she imagines that such a rebel should demur from using more effective and up-to-date weaponry, casting it to one side, on the grounds that it has been provided by the U.S. – and instead abandon themselves to the slaughter.  

Then again, I don’t think Johnstone troubles herself to think about the people on the ground all that much.  Methodologically speaking, there is a reason for this, and it is revealed in her piece.  In her account she mobilizes the figure of the Trotskyist as the bogeyman par excellence; she writes of Trotskyism in the following, withering terms: ‘The Trotskyists keep yearning for a new revolution, just like the Bolshevik revolution. Yes, but the Bolshevik revolution ended in Stalinism.’

I know something about Stalinism.  You might even say I wrote the book on it.  And in that book I noted the very opposite from that which Johnstone, and so many others, have glibly asserted; I noted that, in fact, the Bolshevik Revolution did not produce Stalinism from within itself.  In October 1917 the Bolshevik Party had a political mandate which came from the workers, soldiers, students and a significant proportion of the poorer layers of the peasantry. 

Such a mandate was channelled through the ‘soviets’, the workers’ councils which had sprung up in over 300 cities and towns across Russia.  In response to the October Revolution, and let me emphasise this – Western Imperialism – in the form of 14 foreign countries including the US, Britain and France, sent its armies into Russia in order to aid and abet the white counter revolution, as the forces of the ex-monarchy, the industrial capitalists and the dispossessed landowners threw everything they could against the new government in a bloody and protracted three year civil war.  

In that conflict, the Bolshevik bureaucracy, the government, managed to cling to power, barely, but the workers and radical peasants who had provided the democratic basis for that power had been exsanguinated in the furore of the civil war.  The Stalinist dictatorship was the ultimate expression of the centralisation of a bureaucracy which was made bereft of its social basis, a social basis which had withered in the fire of counterrevolution, and isolated and inward looking, that bureaucracy was now only able to retain its power from above – by purely administrative, militaristic and ultimately totalitarian means.

Lenin’s Last Battle

Of course, capitalist ideologues and defenders of the status quo adore the whole Bolshevism inherently leads to totalitarianism–Lenin inevitably begot Stalin, trope.   They do so, not because they have any interest in the historical specificities: the decimation of the industrial proletariat, the destruction of the Soviet democracy, foreign invasion, the movement from revolution to counterrevolution which underpinned that historical process.  They remain breezily unconcerned that the last battle of Lenin’s life was waged against the encroaching bureaucratic influence of Stalin. 

Rather, for them, Bolshevism becomes a cipher.  It represents any radical and popular socialist mobilisation which confronts the capitalist system and condemns such an alternative as inevitably destined to mutate into totalitarianism and gulags.  The inference, of course, is crystal clear; fundamental change is either utopian or dangerous –ergo capitalism is the only game in town.

For all her anti (U.S.) imperialism, for all her hatred of U.S. capitalism, Johnstone shares this sensibility with pro-capitalist ideologues to a tee. For her too, Bolshevism simply led to Stalinism – the historical specificity, the development of the popular revolution, the process of counterrevolution, the civil war – all these processes are either irrelevant or invisible; we are made to understand by Johnstone that revolution per-se ‘is more a myth than a reality’.   Needless to say, such a methodological presupposition bleeds into and thoroughly permeates her analysis of Syria.

For Johnstone, the revolutionary struggle of the Syrian masses is not flagging because they have been pulverized by the forces of a counter-revolutionary state bolstered by Russian imperial power; no the Syrian masses are wanting because just as Bolshevism innately led to Stalinism, so too their struggle must innately and inevitably lead to ‘jihadists taking over the country’. And when you understand, as Johnstone does, that forms of popular power from below are inherently irredeemable, the conclusion flows naturally and easily, and Johnstone does not shy away from stating it.  A country ‘such as Syria’ she informs us, is ‘not likely to be “modernized” without a strong ruler.’

In Bashar al-Assad she has found a strong ruler, a strong ruler indeed.  And a genocidal one.

Tony McKenna is a novelist, journalist and philosopher whose work has been featured by many publications including ABC Australia, The Huffington Post, New Internationalist, The United Nations, NewStatesman, The Progressive and New Humanist. His first book “Art Literature and Culture from a Marxist Perspective“, was released by Macmillan in 2015, the second a critically acclaimed biography of Joseph Stalin was published the following year, and in 2017 New Haven Publishing brought out his debut novel “The Dying Light“.




Trump’s War Against Iran

An apparent coordination between Trump leaving the Iran deal and Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria portend an attack on Iran itself, says Eric S. Margolis.

 By Eric S. Margolis

Israel attacked alleged Iranian military positions in Syria on Tuesday, just one hour after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Tehran.   Are these big steps forward in the plan by Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his ally Trump to provoke a major war with Iran?

The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel all recently suffered a stinging defeat in Syria. Their campaign to overthrow the Assad government in Damascus by using the rag-tag ISIS movement, and other jihadist wild men, was defeated by the Syrian Army, backed by Russian air power, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and some Iranian militia groups and army advisors. 

The alleged Iranian rocket barrage, supposedly in response to Tuesday’s attack, was directed at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that were illegally annexed and occupied after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and are still held, legally, as part of Syria. Israel is very nervous about having world attention drawn to its continued occupation of the strategic Golan Heights from which Israeli heavy artillery can reach Damascus.

Israel now claims to have wiped out more than a score of Iranian positions in Syria.  As far as we can tell, these were minor logistics or communications facilities, not the backbone of a supposed Iranian offensive against Israel. Iran is in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government.

Neocon Takeover Complete

But now that the Trump administration has fallen fully under the influence of the pro-war neocons, an attempt to overthrow the Iranian government appears highly likely, using both military intervention and intensified economic warfare. 

Iran has been under siege by the U.S. since the American/British installed shah was overthrown by a popular revolution in 1979. The CIA and Britain’s MI6 have mounted numerous attempts to oust the Islamic Republic and re-install a client ruler.

Ironically, the ‘democratic’ western powers – the U.S., Britain and France – rely on medieval monarchs and dictators to control the Mideast while democratic politicians and movements are ignored, suppressed or overthrown.  Iran, in spite of its many rigidities and failings, remains one of the region’s more democratic states.   Ask our Saudi or Kuwaiti allies when was the last time they held a real election?  

The failure of Western intelligence services to provoke serious uprisings in Iran (or Russia), means that the military option is increasingly tempting.   This probably means provoking military clashes with Iran in the Gulf leading to full-scale attacks on its nuclear infrastructure and industry.   U.S. warplanes and warships are actively probing Iran’s borders.  In addition, U.S. forces are getting ever more deeply involved in the Yemen War.

When the U.S. last considered a major attack on Iran during the Bush years, the Pentagon (which opposed the idea) estimated it would need 2,800 air strikes against Iran on Day One alone.   

Many of the same war party crowd that engineered the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq are now running the Trump administration.  Their goal is to cripple Iran and leave the Mideast to joint Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli control.       

Recall President George W. Bush’s assertion that once he had crushed Iraq the next targets of U.S. military intervention would be Lebanon, Syria, Iran and then Pakistan.

No Cake Walk

America controls the skies from Morocco to Afghanistan.  Iran is vulnerable to raids and small incursions but subjugating this large, mountainous nation of 80 million would be very difficult.

In fact, as an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander once told me, ‘let the Americans invade. They will break their teeth on Iran.’  Over-confidence, of course, but he had a point.  Fighting on the defensive in urban areas, Iran could offer fierce resistance. 

America’s imperial machine, like its British Imperial predecessor, likes small, easy wars against small, backwards nations.  Iran would be very different. 

As we have just seen with North Korea, Iran’s best survival strategy, short of security guarantees by Russia and China, would be to race to produce a small number of nuclear weapons to deter attacks by the U.S. and Israel.  Europe, which co-sponsored the Iran nuclear act and is now humiliated by Trump reneging on the deal, is too weak and disorganized to guarantee the pact and stand up to Washington.  This is too bad.  Now would have been a fine time for the EU to assert its independence from U.S. hegemony and begin building its own independent European military forces.

A version of this article first appeared on CommonDreams.Copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2018

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist and book author. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Times of London, the Wall Street Journal, the Khaleej Times, Lew Rockwell and other news sites in the Middle East and Asia.  He has appeared as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, ABC, France 2, France 24, Al Jazeera, CTV, CBC, CCTV China His internet column is found at  www.ericmargolis.comHe is author of two best-selling books ”War at the Top of the World – The Struggle for Afghanistan and Asia” and “American Raj, How the U.S. Rules the Mideast”.

 




Trump’s Iran Debacle: What Will Germany and Russia Do?

It falls to Germany to save the Iran nuclear deal and try to prevent a devastating new Middle East War, argues Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare  Special to Consortium News

In the wake of Donald Trump’s thoroughly unsurprising decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear accord, two countries that may be most in the hot seat are Germany and Russia.  The big question now is whether their mutual discomfort leads them to find common cause.

 Angela Merkel’s plight is especially painful.  Not only are Germany’s extensive business links with Iran at risk thanks to Trump’s decision to re-apply sanctions, but the German chancellor’s political fortunes have taken a beating thanks to years of American incompetence in the Middle East.

 In Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton devoted two weeks during the 2011 Arab Spring to persuading Qatar to join the anti-Gaddafi coalition, only to stand by and watch as the oil-rich emirate seized the opportunity to distribute some $400 million to murderous Salafist rebels spreading anarchy from one end of the country to the other.  The result was a failed state that soon turned into a jumping-off point for hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees making their way to Germany and other parts of the European Union.

 Remarkably, Clinton did the same thing a few months later in Syria by teaming up with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Arab gulf states to fund what would soon become a full-scale Islamist invasion.  The upshot: more murder and mayhem, more refugees, and more terrorism when ISIS – funded by the Saudis and Qataris according to no less an authority than Clinton herself – decided to extend its jihad to Paris, Brussels, Nice, Manchester, Barcelona, and Berlin starting in November 2015.  As if that weren’t enough, Washington irritated its German partners by opposing the Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline, a Russo-German project headed by ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and then, under Trump, by pulling out of the Paris climate accords last June. 

Untutored Ambassador

A bruised and battered Merkel thus saw her share of the vote shrink by more than twenty percent in last September’s German federal

election while the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland saw its portion more than double. Now, Trump’s decision to dump the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear agreement is formally known, is making matters much, much worse.  First, Israel took advantage of the move to launch its biggest attack on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, raising prospects that Middle East chaos may be poised for yet another upsurge.  Then US Ambassador Richard Grenell showed what America really thinks of its German partners by tweeting: “As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy.  German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”  

Grenell, a former Fox News commentator, sounded like an all-too-typical American boss barking an order at an unpaid intern.  Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn described the tweet as an “impertinence” while Andrea Nahles, leader of the center-left German Social Democrats, said: “It’s not my task to teach people about the fine art of diplomacy, especially not the US ambassador.  But he does appear to need some tutoring.”  

 Quite right.  But Germany is not the only one feeling the pain – Russia is too.  It is allied with Iran in support of Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad, yet has somehow managed to maintain good relations with Israel.  This is why Putin invited Benjamin Netanyahu to be his personal guest at this week’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow where the Israeli prime minister joined Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in laying a wreath on the Soviet Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  When Putin paid tribute to the Soviet troops “who saved Europe and the world from slavery, from the horrors of the Holocaust,” by defeating Nazi Germany (quote begins at 2:00), there was no doubt as to whom he was addressing.

But the celebration also featured a traditional Red Square military parade featuring not only unmanned robo-tanks and Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters, but mobile batteries of anti-aircraft missiles. Less than twelve hours later, Netanyahu showed his thanks by destroying at least five Russian-made anti-aircraft batteries as part of the assault on Syria.  According to the Israeli military, Israel notified Russia of the impending attack via “deconfliction” procedures in place since September 2015 – which means that Russia more or less assented to the destruction of its own defense systems. 

It’s Up to Germany

This can’t go on, especially with Israel intervening ever more heavily on the side of pro-Al Qaeda rebels whom Russia, Iran, and Syria are trying to repel.  The more the battle intensifies, the more impossible Putin’s position will become.

The man needs back-up, but from where?  The answer lies in the other signatories to the JCPOA – China, the UK, France, and Germany.  But the first is preoccupied with events in the Far East, the second is in political disarray, while the third is a joke thanks to the preening and arrogant Emmanuel Macron.  That leaves Germany.  If it provided Russia with even a modicum of support, the upshot could be a major shift in the way the deadly game of Middle East politics is played.

Germany has real clout with regard to the Jewish state. It is Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and, after the US, its second largest trading partner overall.  It is an important cultural and scientific partner, while Berlin, in one of history’s more delectable ironies, is now home to one of Israel’s largest expatriate communities, some 15,000 Jews and Arabs who find life in the German capital freer and more vibrant than back home and, as a consequence, have peppered it with Hebrew-language kindergartens, a Hebrew library, a Hebrew literary magazine, a Hanukkah market, and Iranian-Israeli techno parties.

The same goes for Germany and Iran.  As Gary Leupp recently pointed out in Counterpunch,Germany comprises sixty percent of EU investment in the Islamic state where it sells machinery, metals, chemicals, and agricultural products.  With Daimler recently signing an agreement with Iranian Khodro to produce Mercedes-Benz motor vehicles, its investments are currently increasing at a rate of around about twenty-five percent per year.

Amid inflation, a currency crisis, and a growing strike wave, Iran is grateful for such business and desperate for more.  So when Germany talks, it listens.  Syria, much of which resembles postwar Berlin after a half-dozen years of imperialist assault, would listen as well if Germany gave it half a chance.  Indeed, it would be so grateful for the slightest olive branch that Damascenes would no doubt take to the streets in celebration.

Walking on Eierschalen

So a joint Russo-German diplomatic offensive could provide the basis for a genuine realignment.  Needless to say, there are a thousand and one reasons why this won’t occur.  Germany walks on eggshells when it comes to Israel for obvious historical reasons and is therefore reluctant to do anything that might anger the Jewish state.  It routinely defers to the US, which midwifed the German Federal Republic in 1949 and provided it with a veneer of political legitimacy in the ensuing decades.  Public intellectuals like Jürgen Habermas have made careers out of arguing that Germany’s future lies in deeper and deeper integration with the liberal west, while NATO and the EU insure a deepening western orientation as well.  

If Germany were to turn in the other direction, the protests would be deafening not only in Washington, Paris, and London, but in Berlin.  They would be even more so in Poland, the Ukraine, and the Baltics where local nationalists, many leaning in an increasingly fascist direction, have come to rely on unbroken western support.

It would be a dangerous leap into the unknown on the part of a country that couldn’t be more risk averse.  But Germany may have no choice.  Trump is nuts, American power is receding more rapidly than anyone would have thought possible two or three years ago, while western liberalism is crumbling as well.  Hardliners are in control in Washington where Republicans and Democrats compete to see who can be more obsequious to Israel and more hostile to all things Russian.  The same goes for Tel Aviv and Tehran where, thanks to Trump, the hardliners are equally in the saddle.  

If there are two countries that know what can happen when the crazies are in control, it’s Russia and Germany.  But now that history has placed them in the same boat as it approaches the cataracts, Putin, for one, is rowing madly.  Will Merkel lend a hand with the oars?

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  




Iran Deal Partners Mull How to Confront ‘Renegade’ U.S.

With the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and with Americans ordering Europeans to stop dealing with Tehran, the remaining signatories are trying to figure out how to confront the U.S., says Enrico Carisch.

By Enrico Carisch

What can the five remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear deal do now that the Trump administration has trampled on Security Council Resolution 2231 and its 13 binding decisions, adopted under Article 41 of the United Nations Charter, which codified the Iran nuclear deal into international law? Sooner or later, the other 14 members of the Security Council, especially Britain, China, France and Russia, must decide how to confront their renegade permanent member, the United States.

Otherwise, the Council may lose its unique authority to prevent and resolve conflicts.

Specifically, the question they may soon have to confront will be how they can protect the resolution and the companies that comply with it when doing business with Iranians, given that Iran is subject once again to new U.S. sanctions.

The first broadside against the companies of U.S. allies that are doing business with Iran came minutes after President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, on May 8. Richard Grenell, his ambassador to Germany (and spokesman for the U.S. at the UN from 2001-2008), tweeted, “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”

The reaction was immediate, but it was outrage, not compliance, that German diplomatic and business leaders expressed.

We have no understanding for the American call that German enterprises are expected to immediately drive down their business in Iran,” said Dieter Kempf, president of the Association of German Industry, a trade group. “German industry criticizes the application of extraterritorial sanctions that violate international law.”

French leaders lost no time in discussing countermeasures. Patrick Pouyanné, chief executive of the petroleum producer Total, is seeking European Union protection against likely American penalties for Total holding on to its 50.1 percent investment, worth close to $4 billion, in Iran’s South Pars natural gas project.

For international companies caught between respecting Resolution 2231 and new U.S. sanctions, the easiest solution would be to obtain exemptions from the U.S. Treasury’s Office for Foreign Asset Control. But the office has signaled that there will be little leeway once it would “begin the process of implementing 90-day and 180-day wind-down periods” for activities that were — until now — permitted under the JCPOA.

Hardliners Will Gain

Reuters has also reported that Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary, is throwing cold water on hopes that waivers or exemptions will be granted.

Regarding the huge 200-passenger aircraft deal that Iran signed with Boeing, the American company; and other deals with Airbus, the European aviation consortium, and ATR, a French-Italian company, Mnuchin said, “The Boeing and Airbus licenses will be revoked.”

The Office for Foreign Asset Control has the ability to not only interfere with Boeing’s sales but also the European manufacturers’ dealings with Iran because “under the original deal, there were waivers for commercial aircraft, parts and services.”

While exemptions may save some foreign companies’ investments in Iran, those of strategic value to the country’s development and military strength will likely become the battlefield between U.S. sanctions and the UN sanctions relief that were mandated in Resolution 2231.

The result of weak protection from U.S. sanctions on Iran will be Iranians’ continued economic suffering. The sanctions-stunted commerce and development of their industries will almost certainly mean that President Hassan Rouhani will lose control of the government to hard-line conservatives.

In a repeat of the 2005 resurgence of Iran’s conservatives, which is already fermenting, the country could turn into everything that Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, have been deceptively claiming all along: that Iranians are aggressive nuclear proliferators and a threat to the regional Sunni hierarchy.

France, Germany, Britain and other European powers are united in trying to prevent a newly radicalized Iran from resuming enrichment of fissile material, which could trigger a new Middle East war. In a statement released immediately after Trump’s announcement on May 8, Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron declared, “We, the E3, will remain parties to the JCPOA.”

But Trump threatened in his speech from the White House, “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.”

Nevertheless, the three European heads of state pledged, “Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement.”

The U.S. Military Threat

Regional stability is, however, an issue that the U.S. apparently intends to deal with militarily, according to a presidential memorandum released on May 8 by the White House. Under the heading “Preparing for Regional Contingencies,” Trump instructed the secretary of defense and heads of any other relevant agencies to “prepare to meet, swiftly and decisively, all possible modes of Iranian aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners.

The Department of Defense shall ensure that the United States develops and retains the means to stop Iran from developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon and related delivery systems.”

Did this chilling directive mean that the U.S. was preparing preventive strikes against Iran’s ballistic missile development facilities? The answer came quicker than most people would have expected.

Alleging a failed barrage of 20 Iranian missiles striking the Golan Heights, Israel’s defense forces (IDF) struck back at dozens of Hezbollah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps positions based in Syria. However, neither the IDF website nor its spokesperson provided evidence for the alleged missiles attack. They also did not provide evidence, if the attacks did occur, that the missiles were fired by Iranian and not Syrian armed forces.

Citing Arab news channels, the Iranian news agency FARS reported only the Syrian army’s response. Al Mayadeen news channel, a media site based in Beirut, claimed “that 50 rockets were fired at 4 Israeli military complex centers in occupied Golan,” whereas the Syrian Al-Alam news channel reported the firing of 68 missiles.

Failing to explain why Iran’s forces should suddenly launch a small, unsuccessful attack on Israel, IDF noted merely that “this is the first time that Iranian forces have directly fired at Israeli troops.” The Guardian  said the “analysis of who is to blame for this outbreak of hostilities demands even more than usual skepticism and careful un-packaging.”

Stopping Trump

So what can the Europeans do with China and Russia to stop the escalating violence between Israel and Iran and to blunt Trump’s undiplomatic — and possible military — assault on Iran and the tenuous state of Middle East peace?

Taking the matter to the Security Council makes little sense, as the 10 elected members have noted.

Any attempts to discuss a new formula of the JCPOA minus U.S.A would be blocked,” explained several European and Asian representatives of the Council’s elected members, after Trump’s announcement. They assume that the U.S. ambassador, Nikki Hailey, is almost certainly under instructions to prevent further discussions about the Iran deal.

In addition, any proposed resolution asserting the primacy of Resolution 2231 over unilateral policies would, of course, be smacked down with a veto, as is the usual case with attempts to discuss Israeli threats — or provocations — to peace and security.

All of which now leaves the Security Council irrationally outmaneuvered.

It is one reason that Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, signaled his government’s commitment to continue collaborating with the rest of the world after the Trump announcement by offering to “spearhead a diplomatic effort to examine whether remaining JCPOA participants can ensure its full benefits for Iran.”

The signals from the remaining nuclear-deal signatories is that the strongest rebuke of Trump’s destructive move is to keep the deal’s formula, minus the U.S. participation, if they can do it.

 This article originally appeared on PassBlue.

Enrico Carisch has worked for the Security Council as an investigator on sanctions violations and was an investigative reporter for print and TV for 25 years. He is co-author of the just-released book “The Evolution of UN Sanctions: From a Tool of Warfare to a Tool of Peace, Security and Human Rights.” He is also a co-founder and partner of Compliance and Capacity Skills International (CCSI), a New York-based group specializing in all aspects of sanctions regimes (http://comcapint.com).




Letter from Britain: Increasingly Illiberal Establishment and the Challenge of Jeremy Corbyn

Britain prides itself on being a liberal state, tolerant of diverse points of view with a judicial system based on law and evidence, but its recent behavior has been anything but that, reports Alexander Mercouris.

By Alexander Mercouris

In London

Special to Consortium News

Britain is often considered an exemplar liberal state, prizing its tradition of tolerance, fairness and willingness to entertain dissent.

The British in their own self conception are the great pioneers of the rule of law and of human rights.

Nor has this view of Britain always been wrong. The British were genuinely horrified by the McCarthyite campaigns in the US in the 1950s, and British public opinion supported the civil rights movement in the US in the 1960s. The Britain I first saw in the 1960s was a genuinely tolerant, law abiding and liberal place.

The events of the last couple of weeks should however dispose of any notion that Britain really is the paradigm liberal state that it claims to be.

Political news in Britain over the last few weeks has been dominated by three concurrent scandals.

The Silence of the Skripals

The first—and the one which has attracted the most international attention—is the Skripal case, in which a father and daughter – Sergey and Yulia Skripal – became the subject of a massive international campaign after they were both found incapacitated on a public bench in the British provincial town of Salisbury, victims it is claimed of a deadly nerve agent attack.

The fact that Sergey and Yulia Skripal are Russians, that Sergey Skripal is a former Russian spy who defected to the British, and that the nerve agent used—supposedly A-234, one of the so-called ‘Novichok’ family of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union in the later stages of the Cold War—immediately led to charges by the British government that the Russian authorities were responsible.

This is despite the fact that at the time when the first accusations against Russia were made the investigation of the attack on the Skripals by the British police had only just got underway, and as of the time of writing has still failed to produce a suspect.

The Russian authorities had previously pardoned Sergey Skripal and had themselves released him to the British—making any Russian motive for an attack on him difficult to understand. Meanwhile, anyone such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of biggest opposition party in Parliament, who dared question the rush to judgment found themselves immediately labelled a “useful idiot” or Kremlin stooge.

The disclosure that British scientists are unable to confirm that the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was made in Russia—as opposed to being merely “developed” there—and that other countries such as Czechoslovakia, for example, also manufactured Novichok agents, has had no significant impact on the British government’s or the British media’s reporting of the case.

The suppression of all public questioning of the theory (as of the time of writing it is still only a theory) of Russian guilt has now been followed up by the effective disappearance of the two victims of the attack: Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

Not only have the British flatly refused the Russians consular access to them—violating both British and international law in the process—but after announcing news of their unexpected recovery, British authorities have ensured that no-one, even members of their family, has had access to them either.

There is no word of their condition or whereabouts, and, more troubling still, no discussion in the British media of what has become of them or that they have to all intents and purposes disappeared.

Sidestepping Parliament on Syria

If the handling of the Skripal case is troubling enough, the British government’s decision to involve Britain in Washington’s recent military strike against Syria is arguably more troubling still.

The pretext of the strike is an alleged chemical weapons attack which the Syrian authorities are alleged to have carried out against the rebel-held town of Duma, which is located in the East Ghouta area near Damascus.

The site of the alleged attack has since been secured by the Syrian and Russian militaries. Syria and Russia have both invited inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to inspect the site to establish whether or not a chemical weapons attack actually took place.

Yet notwithstanding that the OPCW was about to launch an investigation, which would have involved a site visit, and despite overwhelming opposition from the British public, only 20 percent of whom favoured a strike, the strike nonetheless took place with full British participation and without the British parliament being consulted in advance.

Moreover the British government made little secret that its decision to break convention and disregard Parliament was because it knew in advance that it would lose a vote if the decision to participate in the strike was ever put to one. 

Here something must be said about that strange British creature, the “constitutional convention.”

Though such conventions do not in theory have the force of law in Britain, since Britain’s constitution (unlike the U.S. constitution) is largely unwritten, they are almost invariably treated as if they did.

Any British government that on a question of war or peace deliberately violates the convention that Parliament should be consulted in advance before any decision is taken would, if the British political system were working properly, be in serious trouble (especially if it knew it would have lost the vote.)

Not so in this case. British reporting of the Syria strike was strictly circumscribed, so much so, that publicly questioning the claim that a chemical weapons attack took place or arguing that nothing should be done before the OPCW completes its investigation, or that Parliament should have been consulted before a military action, rendered one, like in the Skripal case, a “useful idiot,” “conspiracy theorist” or Kremlin stooge.

The Windrush Scandal

The third scandal—actually two scandals which have evolved together—is however the most revealing and interesting of the lot.

Over the last few weeks both the Conservative and the Labour parties have been targets of accusations of racism.

In the case of the Tories the allegations stem from what is called the Windrush affair.

As is true in most Western countries today, Britain has witnessed over the last decade a strong swing in public hostility against immigration. Much of the opposition to the European Union in Britain is driven by the British public’s belief that it is the EU that has made the increase in immigration to Britain—which has undoubtedly taken place over the previous two decades—possible.

The Conservative Party, since it came to power in 2010, has sought to respond to this sentiment—much of which has clearly racist undertones—by taking a strong anti-immigration position. The point figure is British Prime Minister Theresa May, who as home secretary (the minister responsible for control of borders and the police) introduced and implemented what is semi-officially called a “hostile environment policy” towards immigrants who have not managed to sort out their status.

The idea is to put as many administrative and other obstacles in the path of these people as possible to make their lives in Britain intolerable in order to force them to leave without having to take what might be legally challengeable action to deport them.

That this is a profoundly illiberal and even racist policy discriminating against people of non-British ethnicity should be obvious. It has however proved to be popular with a large section of the British electorate.

The electoral success this policy is believed to have brought the Conservatives was one factor in establishing May’s reputation in Tory eyes as a successful home secretary, and was one of the reasons why she succeeded David Cameron as prime minister after the Brexit vote in 2016 forced him to step down.

The policy of the “hostile environment policy” has, however, had the consequence of making victims out of some members of the so-called “Windrush generation” of immigrants, whose legal right to be in Britain is indisputable.

These are people from the former British empire and Commonwealth who were formally given the right to settle in Britain by the British National Act of 1948, and who take their name from a ship—the HMT Empire Windrush—which brought the first group of such immigrants to Britain in 1948 from the British colonies in the Caribbean.

In April 2018 it turned out that many of the records relating to these people had been “accidentally destroyed,” making it difficult for them or their children to prove their legal right to be in Britain.

The result was that they got caught up in May’s “hostile environment policy” with pressure placed on them to leave Britain (“self-deport,” as it is called) with threats that they might be deported if they did not.

When the scandal broke—in large part because the opposition Labour Party made an issue of it after it was leaked from a Home Office source to the media—a public apology was forced from the British government, and Amber Rudd—May’s successor as home secretary – was forced to resign. However, the prime minister, the actual author of the “hostile environment policy” which was the cause of the scandal, has emerged unscathed.

The ‘Anti-Semitism’ Exaggeration

This scandal has developed concurrently with a parallel one of alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party, which is quite clearly targeted at the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

It is based on claims that Corbyn—who has a well-established record of outspoken support for the Palestinian people’s struggle for their rights—has tolerated or even fostered a culture of anti-semitism within the Labour Party. There are even occasional insinuations that he is an anti-semite himself.

It should be said clearly that the insinuation that Corbyn is an anti-semite is malicious and absurd. Corbyn has an outstanding record of anti-racism, and this has included a history of strong opposition to anti-semitism.

As for the allegations of anti-semitism by some members of the Labour Party, some of these allegations have substance but some appear to be legitimately contested, whilst all of the individuals involved have been marginal figures who carry little weight in the Labour Party. Their number has been tiny. Corbyn himself has moreover strongly condemned manifestations of anti-semitism within the party, and those who have been accused of engaging in it have been subjected to disciplinary action, and where the allegation has been proved, have been expelled.

Nonetheless the anti-semitism campaign against Corbyn has been waged relentlessly for weeks, gaining huge publicity in the media, with Corbyn himself being the primary target of the attacks.

The anti-semitism campaign against Corbyn has moreover been waged far more relentlessly, for much longer, and with far more publicity, than has been the Windrush affair.

This is despite the fact that the Windrush scandal has materially affected large numbers of innocent people, whilst the anti-semitic statements of a very small number of marginal figures in the Labour Party have so far as I can see materially affected no-one at all.

Though anti-semitism should be shown no tolerance, it is impossible to avoid noticing the contrast between the relentless and unjustified criticism of Corbyn over the anti-semitism issue, and the gentle treatment of May over the Windrush affair.

The Change in Britain

The reality is that today’s Britain has become a profoundly illiberal place.

Very much like the contemporary U.S., the media and political establishment in Britain is today relentlessly hostile to anyone who challenges the established orthodoxies of (1) unqualified support for finance capital (concentrated in Britain in the City of London); (2) support for “liberal interventionism” i.e., the U.S.’s regime change wars; and (3) pathological hostility to Russia.

Even an issue like Brexit is often framed around these orthodoxies, with establishment opponents of Brexit blaming Russia—absurdly—for the result of the Brexit referendum, and opposing Brexit because it supposedly serves the interests of Russia.

Someone like Corbyn, who disputes these orthodoxies with his long established criticisms of the City of London, his refusal to join the rush to judgment against Russia in the Skripal case, his staunch opposition to all the regime change wars, and to the recent Syrian strike, is guaranteed the intense loathing of the British establishment, which manifests itself against him literally every day in defense of its threatened interests.

This disturbing picture does however come with a glimmer of hope.

Thursday’s local elections in Britain once again emphasised an essential truth, which is that the British establishment’s hostility to Corbyn and what he stands for is clearly not universally shared by the British public.

Both the Conservative and Labour Parties significantly increased their votes as compared to 2014, the year when these elections were previously held. In the case of Labour that remains a remarkable fact given the almost universal media hostility to Corbyn.

The reality is that since 2015, when Corbyn was elected Labour’s leader against the strong opposition of the leadership of his own party, Labour has electorally consistently outperformed expectations, most spectacularly in the general election last year. The breakdown of the local council vote suggests that if a general election were held this year Labour would beat the Conservatives and would emerge as Britain’s largest party.

Needless to say this is not how the British media is reporting the local council election results. On the contrary, all the talk is of how the local election results were supposedly “disappointing” for Corbyn because he did not achieve the impossibly high targets the media had set for him.

In light of the establishment’s hostility to him, and how his successes routinely get called failures, that should surprise no-one.

In reality the local election results reinforce the view that electorally speaking the British establishment is living on borrowed time.

Hannibal – otherwise known as Jeremy Corbyn – may not yet be at the gates, but he is drawing closer.

Alexander Mercouris is a political commentator and the editor-in-chief of The Duran.




Trotskyist Delusions: Obsessed with Stalin, They See Betrayed Revolutions Everywhere

The trouble with some Trotskyists is they’re always “supporting” other peoples’ revolutions, says Diana Johnstone. Their obsession with permanent revolution in the end provides an alibi for permanent war.

By Diana Johnstone  Special to Consortium News

I first encountered Trotskyists in Minnesota half a century ago during the movement against the Vietnam War. I appreciated their skill in organizing anti-war demonstrations and their courage in daring to call themselves “communists” in the United States of America – a profession of faith that did not groom them for the successful careers enjoyed by their intellectual counterparts in France. So I started my political activism with sympathy toward the movement. In those days it was in clear opposition to U.S. imperialism, but that has changed.

The first thing one learns about Trotskyism is that it is split into rival tendencies. Some remain consistent critics of imperialist war, notably those who write for the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS).

Others, however, have translated the Trotskyist slogan of “permanent revolution” (turning a bourgeois revolution into a working class one) into the hope that every minority uprising in the world must be a sign of the long awaited world revolution – especially those that catch the approving eye of mainstream media. More often than deploring U.S. intervention, they join in reproaching Washington for not intervening sooner on behalf of the alleged revolution.

A recent article in the International Socialist Review (issue #108, March 1, 2018) entitled “Revolution and counterrevolution in Syria” indicates so thoroughly how Trotskyism can go wrong that it is worthy of a critique. Since the author, Tony McKenna, writes well and with evident conviction, this is a strong not a weak example of the Trotskyist mindset.

McKenna starts out with a passionate denunciation of the regime of Bashar al Assad, which, he says, responded to a group of children who simply wrote some graffiti on a wall by “beating them, burning them, pulling their fingernails out.” The source of this grisly information is not given. There could be no eye witnesses to such sadism, and the very extremism sounds very much like war propaganda – Germans carving up Belgian babies in the First World War.

The Issue of Sources

It raises the issue of sources. There are many sources of accusations against the Assad regime, on which McKenna liberally draws, indicating that he is writing not from personal observation, any more than I am. Clearly, he is strongly disposed to believe the worst, and even to embroider it somewhat. He accepts and develops without the shadow of a doubt the theory that Assad himself is responsible for spoiling the good revolution by releasing Islamist prisoners who went on to poison it with their extremism. The notion that Assad himself infected the rebellion with Islamist fanaticism is at best a hypothesis concerning not facts but intentions, which are invisible. But it is presented as unchallengeable evidence of Assad’s perverse wickedness.

This interpretation of events happens to dovetail neatly with the current Western doctrine on Syria, so that it is impossible to tell them apart. In both versions, the West is no more than a passive onlooker, whereas Assad enjoys the backing of Iran and Russia.

Much has been made of Western imperial support for the rebels in the early years of the revolution. This has, in fact, been an ideological lynchpin of first the Iranian and then the Russian military interventions as they took the side of the Assad government. Such interventions were framed in the spirit of anti-colonial rhetoric in which Iran and Russia purported to come to the aid of a beleaguered state very much at the mercy of a rapacious Western imperialism that was seeking to carve the country up according to the appetites of the US government and the International Monetary Fund”, according to McKenna.

Whose “ideological lynchpin?” Not that of Russia, certainly, whose line in the early stages of its intervention was not to denounce Western imperialism but to appeal to the West and especially to the United States to join in the fight against Islamist extremism.

Neither Russia nor Iran “framed their interventions in the spirit of anti-colonial rhetoric” but in terms of the fight against Islamist extremism with Wahhabi roots.

Organic U.S.-Israel Alliance

In reality, a much more pertinent “framing” of Western intervention, taboo in the mainstream and even in Moscow, is that Western support for armed rebels in Syria was being carried out to help Israel destroy its regional enemies. The Middle East nations attacked by the West – Iraq, Libya and Syria – all just happen to be, or have been, the last strongholds of secular Arab nationalism and support for Palestinian rights. There are a few alternative hypotheses to Western motives – oil pipelines, imperialist atavism, desire to arouse Islamist extremism to weaken Russia (the Brzezinski gambit) – but none are as coherent as the organic alliance between Israel and the United States, and its NATO sidekicks.

It is remarkable that McKenna’s long article (some 12 thousand words) about the war in Syria mentions Israel only once (aside from a footnote citing Israeli national news as a source). And this mention actually equates Israelis and Palestinians as co-victims of Assad propaganda: the Syrian government “used the mass media to slander the protestors, to present the revolution as the chaos orchestrated by subversive international interests (the Israelis and the Palestinians were both implicated in the role of foreign infiltrators).”

No other mention of Israel, which occupies Syrian territory (the Golan Heights) and bombs Syria whenever it wants to.

Only one, innocuous mention of Israel. But this article by a Trotskyist mentions Stalin, Stalinists, Stalinism no less than twenty-two times.

And what about Saudi Arabia, Israel’s de facto ally in the effort to destroy Syria in order to weaken Iran? Two mentions, both implicitly denying that notorious fact. The only negative mention is blaming the Saudi family enterprise for investing billions in the Syrian economy in its neoliberal phase. But far from blaming Saudi Arabia for supporting Islamist groups, McKenna portrays the House of Saud as a victim of ISIS hostility.

Clearly, this Trotskyist delusion is to see the Russian Revolution everywhere, forever being repressed by a new Stalin. Assad is likened to Stalin several times.

More About Stalin Than Syria

This article is more about the Trotskyist case against Stalin than it is about Syria.

This repetitive obsession does not lead to a clear grasp of events, which are not the Russian revolution. And even on this pet subject, something is wrong.

The Trotskyists keep yearning for a new revolution, just like the Bolshevik revolution. Yes, but the Bolshevik revolution ended in Stalinism. Doesn’t that tell them something? Isn’t it quite possible that their much-desired “revolution” might turn out just as badly in Syria, if not much worse (jihadists taking over the country)?

Throughout history, revolts, uprisings, rebellions happen all the time, and usually end in repression. Revolution is very rare. It is more a myth than a reality, especially as some Trotskyists tend to imagine it: the people all rising up in one great general strike, chasing their oppressors from power and instituting people’s democracy. Has this ever happened?

For these Trotskyists, this seem to be the natural way things should happen and is stopped only by bad guys who spoil it out of meanness.

In our era, the most successful revolutions have been in Third World countries, where national liberation from Western powers was a powerful emotional engine. Successful revolutions have a program that unifies people and leaders who personify the aspirations of broad sectors of the population. Socialism or communism was above all a rallying cry meaning independence and “modernization” – which is indeed what the Bolshevik revolution turned out to be. If the Bolshevik revolution turned Stalinist, maybe it was in part because a strong repressive leader was the only way to save “the revolution” from its internal and external enemies. There is no evidence that, had he defeated Stalin, Trotsky would have been more tender-hearted.

Countries that are deeply divided ideologically and ethnically, such as Syria, are not likely to be “modernized” without a strong ruler.

McKenna acknowledges that the beginning of the Assad regime somewhat redeemed its repressive nature by modernization and social reforms. This modernization benefited from Russian aid and trade, which was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. Yes, there was a Soviet bloc, which despite its failure to carry out world revolution as Trotsky advocated, did support the progressive development of newly independent countries.

No Excuse for Bashar

If Bashar’s father Hafez al Assad had some revolutionary legitimacy in McKenna’s eyes, there is no excuse for Bashar. In the context of a global neoliberalism, where governments across the board were enacting the most pronounced forms of deregulation and overseeing the carving up of state industries by private capital, the Assad government responded to the heightening contradictions in the Syrian economy by following suit—by showing the ability to march to the tempo of foreign investment while evincing a willingness to cut subsidies for workers and farmers.”

The neoliberal turn impoverished people in the countryside, therefore creating a situation that justified “revolution”.

This is rather amazing, if one thinks about it. Without the alternative Soviet bloc, virtually the whole world has been obliged to conform to anti-social neoliberal policies. Syria included. Does this make Bashar al Assad so much more a villain than every other leader conforming to U.S.-led globalization?

McKenna concludes by quoting Louis Proyect: “If we line up on the wrong side of the barricades in a struggle between the rural poor and oligarchs in Syria, how can we possibly begin to provide a class-struggle leadership in the USA, Britain, or any other advanced capitalist country?”

One could turn that around. Shouldn’t such a Marxist revolutionary be saying: “If we can’t defeat the oligarchs in the West, who are responsible for the neoliberal policies imposed on the rest of the world, how can we possibly begin to provide class-struggle leadership in Syria?”

The trouble with these Trotskyists is that they are always “supporting” other people’s more or less imaginary revolutions. They are always telling others what to do. They know it all. The practical result of this verbal agitation is simply to align this brand of Trotskyism with U.S imperialism. The obsession with permanent revolution ends up providing an ideological alibi for permanent war.

For the sake of world peace and progress, both the United States and its inadvertent Trotskyist apologists should go home and mind their own business.

Diana Johnstone is a political writer, focusing primarily on European politics and Western foreign policy. She received a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and was active in the movement against the Vietnam War. Johnstone was European editor of the U.S. weekly In These Times from 1979 to 1990, and continues to be a correspondent for the publication. She was press officer of the Green group in the European Parliament from 1990 to 1996. Her books include Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary ClintonCounterPunch Books (2016) and Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western DelusionsPluto Press (2002).