Risks of a New ‘Zero-Sum’ Cold War

The one-sided uproar in Official Washington over the Ukraine crisis, a cartoonish depiction even including parallels to Hitler, ignores the many on-the-ground gray areas. It also threatens to recreate the Cold War’s dangerous “zero-sum” calculations, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

It is perhaps unsurprising, but nevertheless unhelpful, for so much of the discussion in the United States about policy toward Ukraine to be fueled by Cold War-type juices that the crisis has gotten flowing. Current-day Russia gets equated with the earlier USSR, within a frame of mind that equates any Russian advance with a setback for U.S. interests.

Even the Cold War itself was never that zero-sum, and a failure to realize that fact got the United States into some significant mistakes, the Vietnam War being the costliest one. But at least in the Cold War there was a global competition of ideologies, in which the United States and the Soviet Union were the two lodestars.

No such competition is involved in the standoff in Crimea. The balance of forces in the northern Black Sea region is of major importance to Russia; it is not of such importance to the United States.

Some of the most outspoken and unadulterated expressions of the frame of mind involved come from Sen. John McCain. He declares that for Vladimir Putin, “all rivalries are zero-sum.” The senator warns us that even if President Obama says we are not in competition with Russia, “Mr. Putin believes Russia is in competition with us, and pretending otherwise is an unrealistic basis for a great nation’s foreign policy.”

Of course Russia is in competition with the United States in various respects, just as every other nation in the world, including ones generally termed “allies,” are in competition with the United States on something or other. But clearly McCain is making a much more extensive assertion than that, one that sees an all-encompassing zero-sum competition.

Even if Putin did think in such terms, why should the United States let itself get sucked into a similar brand of mistaken thinking? That sounds like letting our competitor set the rules of the game.

This situation most resembles accepting a playground dare: buying into some win-or-lose proposition just because a tough kid we don’t especially like challenges us to do so. And don’t worry, Sen. McCain assures us, about possibly losing, because, check your lexicon of foreign policy clichés, the “tide of history” is on the side of Ukraine and “the political values of the West.”

In fact, Putin surely is smart enough to realize that not all rivalries are zero-sum. Moreover, he probably realizes what he would be losing if he swallows Crimea. The losses would include not only economic countermeasures by the West but also a major blow to any hope of moving the rest of Ukraine, shorn of one of its more pro-Russian pieces, closer into the Russian orbit.

A tough-thinking Vladimir Putin has good reasons to be thinking about possible ways out of this crisis that are not all unilateral, not all military, and certainly not all zero-sum.

While he is doing such thinking, he also sees how domestic Russian politics have been working to his benefit in a traditional rally-round-the-flag way in response to this crisis and to how the Russian regime and media have been spinning it. The tough Putin we see is surely responding more to this political dynamic than acting out delusions about zero-sum competition with the West.

The West does have an interest in this dynamic, but it is not the one Sen. McCain is talking about. We have an interest in not encouraging and empowering the sort of elements within Russia that would welcome a new Cold War. Unfortunately a zero-sum, Cold War-like reaction from our side may already be tending to do that.

The Center for the National Interest’s Dimitri Simes observes about what is going on in Russia, “Hard-line people, more nationalist people, they are being energized, they think this may be their moment,” and besides the hardliners from whom we are already hearing “there is a lot behind them that is potentially more serious and more ominous.”

There is much sound policy advice about the Ukraine crisis available on the U.S. side that is not at all stuck in Cold War thinking, such as from John Mearsheimer or Graham Allison. Mearsheimer stresses the importance of thinking in geopolitical terms, understanding the concept of spheres of interest, and realizing that Russia has much more at stake in and around Ukraine than the United States does.

Such thinking is what leads two of America’s foremost elder strategists steeped in the continental realist tradition, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger, both to invoke explicitly Finland as a model for how Ukraine could exist peacefully and prosperously with both Russia and the European Union. That concept is in sharp contrast to how “Finlandization” was used as a dirty word at times during the Cold War and again has been invoked as a pejorative in the current crisis.

The zero-sum mentality frequently accompanies the notion of supposed American weakness as the cause of ills throughout the world, and McCain joins in that theme with gusto. He blames the current U.S. administration and “a growing disregard for America’s credibility” for having “emboldened” not only Vladimir Putin but a wide variety of “other aggressive actors.”

Looking backward, that notion is invalid as gauged by the historical record. Looking forward, the notion is poor policy guidance both for that reason and because if one were to start drawing lines in sand to try to demonstrate credibility, the Ukraine crisis would be a poor place to do it.

Mearsheimer persuasively emphasizes how much the current crisis grew out of earlier Western and especially U.S. moves to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. The fact that a central part of the crisis has been the overthrow of a fairly elected, even if corrupt, leader also ill serves the cause of democracy and other “political values of the West.”

In years following the Cold War one has heard much lecturing in Washington about the need to get past a “Cold War mindset.” Such a mindset, unfortunately, is alive and well today, although not primarily in the government bureaucracies that were the principal targets of the lectures.

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama have many challenges if they are, along with leaders of the European Union and Ukraine, to resolve the current crisis successfully. One of those challenges is to cope with domestic elements in both countries that pine for the Cold War and that end every addition problem with the number zero.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Corporate Interests Behind Ukraine Putsch

Behind the U.S.-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected president of Ukraine are the economic interests of giant corporations from Cargill to Chevron which see the country as a potential “gold mine” of profits from agricultural and energy exploitation, reports JP Sottile.

By JP Sottile

On Jan. 12, a reported 50,000 “pro-Western” Ukrainians descended upon Kiev’s Independence Square to protest against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Stoked in part by an attack on opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko, the protest marked the beginning of the end of Yanukovych’s four year-long government.

That same day, the Financial Times reported a major deal for U.S. agribusiness titan Cargill.

Despite the turmoil within Ukrainian politics after Yanukovych rejected a major trade deal with the European Union just seven weeks earlier, Cargill was confident enough about the future to fork over $200 million to buy a stake in Ukraine’s UkrLandFarming. According to Financial Times, UkrLandFarming is the world’s eighth-largest land cultivator and second biggest egg producer. And those aren’t the only eggs in Cargill’s increasingly-ample basket.

On Dec. 13, Cargill announced the purchase of a stake in a Black Sea port. Cargill’s port at Novorossiysk, to the east of Russia’s strategically significant and historically important Crimean naval base, gives them a major entry-point to Russian markets and adds them to the list of Big Ag companies investing in ports around the Black Sea, both in Russia and Ukraine.

Cargill has been in Ukraine for over two decades, investing in grain elevators and acquiring a major Ukrainian animal feed company in 2011. And, based on its investment in UkrLandFarming, Cargill was decidedly confident amidst the post-EU deal chaos. It’s a stark juxtaposition to the alarm bells ringing out from the U.S. media, bellicose politicians on Capitol Hill and perplexed policymakers in the White House.

It’s even starker when compared to the anxiety expressed by Morgan Williams, President and CEO of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, which, according to its website, has been “Promoting U.S.-Ukraine business relations since 1995.” Williams was interviewed by the International Business Times on March 13 and, despite Cargill’s demonstrated willingness to spend, he said, “The instability has forced businesses to just go about their daily business and not make future plans for investment, expansion and hiring more employees.”

In fact, Williams, who does double-duty as Director of Government Affairs at the private equity firm SigmaBleyzer, claimed, “Business plans have been at a standstill.”

Apparently, he wasn’t aware of Cargill’s investment, which is odd given the fact that he could’ve simply called Van A. Yeutter, Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Cargill, and asked him about his company’s quite active business plan. There is little doubt Williams has the phone number because Mr. Yuetter serves on the Executive Committee of the selfsame U.S.-Ukraine Business Council. It’s quite a cozy investment club, too.

According to his SigmaBleyzer profile, Williams “started his work regarding Ukraine in 1992” and has since advised American agribusinesses “investing in the former Soviet Union.” As an experienced fixer for Big Ag, he must be fairly friendly with the folks on the Executive Committee.

Big Ag Luminaries

And what a committee it is, it’s a veritable who’s who of Big Ag. Among the luminaries working tirelessly and no doubt selflessly for a better, freer Ukraine are:

–Melissa Agustin, Director, International Government Affairs & Trade for Monsanto

–Brigitte Dias Ferreira, Counsel, International Affairs for John Deere

–Steven Nadherny, Director, Institutional Relations for agriculture equipment-maker CNH Industrial

–Jeff Rowe, Regional Director for DuPont Pioneer

–John F. Steele, Director, International Affairs for Eli Lilly & Company

And, of course, Cargill’s Van A. Yeutter. But Cargill isn’t alone in their warm feelings toward Ukraine. As Reuters reported in May 2013, Monsanto, the largest seed company in the world, plans to build a $140 million “non-GM (genetically modified) corn seed plant in Ukraine.”

And right after the decision on the EU trade deal, Jesus Madrazo, Monsanto’s Vice President for Corporate Engagement, reaffirmed his company’s “commitment to Ukraine” and “the importance of creating a favorable environment that encourages innovation and fosters the continued development of agriculture.”

Monsanto’s strategy includes a little “hearts and minds” public relations, too. On the heels of Mr. Madrazo’s reaffirmation, Monsanto announced “a social development program titled “Grain Basket of the Future” to help rural villagers in the country improve their quality of life.” The initiative will dole out grants of up to $25,000 to develop programs providing “educational opportunities, community empowerment, or small business development.”

The well-crafted moniker “Grain Basket of the Future” is telling because, once upon a time, Ukraine was known as “the breadbasket” of the Soviet Union. The CIA ranks Soviet-era Ukraine second only to Mother Russia as the “most economically important component of the former Soviet Union.”

In many ways, the farmland of Ukraine was the backbone of the USSR. Its “fertile black soil” generated over a quarter of the USSR’s agriculture. It exported “substantial quantities” of food to other republics and its farms generated four times the output of “the next-ranking republic.”

Although Ukraine’s agricultural output plummeted in the first decade after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the farming sector has been growing spectacularly in recent years. While Europe struggled to shake-off the Great Recession, Ukraine’s agriculture sector grew 13.7% in 2013.

Ukraine’s agriculture economy is hot. Russia’s is not. Hampered by the effects of climate change and 25 million hectares of uncultivated agricultural land, Russia lags behind its former breadbasket.

According to the Centre for Eastern Studies, Ukraine’s agricultural exports rose from $4.3 billion in 2005 to $17.9 billion in 2012 and, harkening the heyday of the USSR, farming currently accounts for 25 percent of its total exports. Ukraine is also the world’s third-largest exporter of wheat and of corn. And corn is not just food. It is also ethanol.

Feeding Europe

But people gotta eat, particularly in Europe. As Frank Holmes of U.S. Global Investors assessed in 2011, Ukraine is poised to become Europe’s butcher. Meat is difficult to ship, but Ukraine is perfectly located to satiate Europe’s hunger.

Just two days after Cargill bought into UkrLandFarming, Global Meat News (yes, “Global Meat News” is a thing) reported a huge forecasted spike in “all kinds” of Ukrainian meat exports, with an increase of  8.1% overall and staggering 71.4% spike in pork exports. No wonder Eli Lilly is represented on the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council’s Executive Committee. Its Elanco Animal Health unit is a major manufacturer of feed supplements.

And it is also notable that Monsanto’s planned seed plant is non-GMO, perhaps anticipating an emerging GMO-unfriendly European market and Europe’s growing appetite for organic foods. When it comes to Big Ag’s profitable future in Europe, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

For Russia and its hampered farming economy, it’s another in a long string of losses to U.S. encroachment, from NATO expansion into Eastern Europe to U.S. military presence to its south and onto a major shale gas development deal recently signed by Chevron in Ukraine.

So, why was Big Ag so bullish on Ukraine, even in the face of so much uncertainty and the predictable reaction by Russia?

The answer is that the seeds of Ukraine’s turn from Russia have been sown for the last two decades by the persistent Cold War alliance between corporations and foreign policy. It’s a version of the “Deep State” that is usually associated with the oil and defense industries, but also exists in America’s other heavily subsidized industry, agriculture.

Morgan Williams is at the nexus of Big Ag’s alliance with U.S. foreign policy. To wit, SigmaBleyzer touts Mr. Williams’ work with “various agencies of the U.S. government, members of Congress, congressional committees, the Embassy of Ukraine to the U.S., international financial institutions, think tanks and other organizations on U.S.-Ukraine business, trade, investment and economic development issues.”

As President of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, Williams has access to Council cohort, David Kramer, President of Freedom House. Officially a non-governmental organization, it has been linked with overt and covert “democracy” efforts in places where the door isn’t open to American interests, a.k.a. U.S. corporations.

Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy and National Democratic Institute helped fund and support the Ukrainian “Orange Revolution” in 2004. Freedom House is funded directly by the U.S. Government, the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Department of State.

David Kramer is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and, according to his Freedom House bio page, formerly a “Senior Fellow at the Project for the New American Century.”

Nuland’s Role

That puts Kramer and, by one degree of separation, Big Ag fixer Morgan Williams in the company of PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan who, as coincidence would have it, is married to Victoria “F*ck the EU” Nuland, the current Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Interestingly enough, Ms. Nuland spoke to the U.S.-Ukrainian Foundation last Dec. 13, extolling the virtues of the Euromaidan movement as the embodiment of “the principles and values that are the cornerstones for all free democracies.”

Nuland also told the group that the United States had invested more than $5 billion in support of Ukraine’s “European aspirations,” meaning pulling Ukraine away from Russia. She made her remarks on a dais featuring a backdrop emblazoned with a Chevron logo.

Also, her colleague and phone call buddy U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt helped Chevron cook up their 50-year shale gas deal right in Russia’s kitchen.

Although Chevron sponsored that event, it is not listed as a supporter of the Foundation. But the Foundation does list the Coca-Cola Company, ExxonMobil and Raytheon as major sponsors. And, to close the circle of influence, the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council is also listed as a supporter.

Which brings the story back to Big Ag’s fixer, Morgan Williams.

Although he was glum about the current state of investment in Ukraine, he’s gotta wear shades when he looks into the future. He told the International Business Times, “The potential here for agriculture/agribusiness is amazing production here could double.  The world needs the food Ukraine could produce in the future. Ukraine’s agriculture could be a real gold mine.”

Of course, his priority is to ensure that the bread of well-connected businesses gets lavishly buttered in Russia’s former breadbasket. And there is no better connected group of Ukraine-interested corporations than American agribusiness.

Given the extent of U.S. official involvement in Ukrainian politics, including the interesting fact that Ambassador Pyatt pledged U.S. assistance to the new government in investigating and rooting-out corruption, Cargill’s seemingly risky investment strategy probably wasn’t that risky, after all.

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, radio co-host, documentary filmmaker and former broadcast news producer in Washington, D.C. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa and is available online. He blogs at Newsvandal.com or you can follow him on Twitter, http://twitter/newsvandal.




Can Obama Speak Strongly for Peace?

Exclusive: Sen. John McCain is baiting President Obama for making America “look weak” and is demanding more aggressive responses toward Syria, Iran and Russia. Thus, Obama faces a turning-point moment when he must confront neocon warmongering or surrender to it, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

With the neocons again ascendant and with the U.S. news media again failing to describe a foreign crisis honestly Barack Obama faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his presidency, a moment when he needs to find the courage to correct a false narrative that his own administration has spun regarding Ukraine and to explain why it’s crucial to cooperate with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the cause of world peace.

In other words, if Obama is to salvage his historical legacy, he must find within himself the strength and eloquence that President John F. Kennedy displayed in possibly his greatest oration, his June 10, 1963 address at American University in Washington, D.C. In that speech, Kennedy outlined the need to collaborate with Soviet leaders to avert dangerous confrontations, like the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Kennedy also declared that it was wrong for America to seek world domination, and he asserted that U.S. foreign policy must be guided by a respect for the understandable interests of adversaries as well as allies. Kennedy said:

“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children, not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

Kennedy recognized that his appeal for this serious pursuit of peace would be dismissed by the cynics and the warmongers as unrealistic and even dangerous. The Cold War was near its peak when Kennedy spoke. But he was determined to change the frame of the foreign policy debate, away from the endless bravado of militarism:

“I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.

“Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

And then, in arguably the most important words that he ever spoke, Kennedy said, “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

Kennedy followed up his AU speech with practical efforts to work with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to rein in dangers from nuclear weapons and to discuss other ways of reducing international tensions, initiatives that Khrushchev welcomed although many of the hopeful prospects were cut short by Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

Eisenhower’s Warning

Kennedy’s AU oration was, in many ways, a follow-up to what turned out to be President Dwight Eisenhower’s most famous speech, his farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961. That’s when Eisenhower ominously warned that “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Arguably no modern speeches by American presidents were as important as those two. Without the phony trumpets that often herald what are supposed to be “important” presidential addresses, Eisenhower’s stark warning and Kennedy’s humanistic appeal defined the challenges that Americans have faced in the more than half century since then.

Those two speeches, especially Eisenhower’s phrase “military-industrial complex” and Kennedy’s “we all inhabit this small planet,” resonate to the present because they were rare moments when presidents spoke truthfully to the American people.

Nearly all later “famous” remarks by presidents were either phony self-aggrandizement (Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall” when the wall wasn’t torn down until George H.W. Bush was president and wasn’t torn down by Mikhail Gorbachev anyway but by the German people). Or they are unintentionally self-revealing (Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” or Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”)

Obama has yet to leave behind any memorable quote, despite his undeniable eloquence. There are his slogans, like “hope and change” and some thoughtful speeches about race and income inequality, but nothing of the substance and the magnitude of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” and Kennedy’s “we all inhabit this small planet.”

But now may be the time for Obama to deliver a speech that grapples with the central foreign policy question facing the United States, essentially whether America will continue seeking to be an Empire or return to being a Republic. Obama also needs to confront the crisis in the political/media worlds where propaganda holds sway and the public is misled.

If Obama doesn’t meet this challenge head on and explain to the American people why he has sought (mostly behind the scenes) to work with Russian President Putin to reduce tensions over Syria and Iran he can expect that the final years of his presidency will be overwhelmed by neocon demands that he start up a new Cold War.

Taunting Obama as Weak

On the op-ed page of Saturday’s New York Times, Sen. John McCain gave Obama a taste of what that will be like. The newspaper version of the op-ed was entitled “Obama Made America Look Weak” with a subhead saying, “Crimea is our chance to restore our country’s credibility.”

McCain, the neocon/hawkish  Republican who lost to Obama in 2008, wrote: “Crimea has exposed the disturbing lack of realism that has characterized our foreign policy under President Obama. It is this worldview, or lack of one, that must change. For five years, Americans have been told that ‘the tide of war is receding,’ that we can pull back from the world at little cost to our interests and values. This has fed a perception that the United States is weak, and to people like Mr. Putin, weakness is provocative.

“In Afghanistan and Iraq, [Obama’s] military decisions have appeared driven more by a desire to withdraw than to succeed. Defense budgets have been slashed based on hope, not strategy. Iran and China have bullied America’s allies at no discernible cost.”

McCain also restated the old narrative blaming the Syrian government for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus, even though that case has largely collapsed. McCain wrote: “Perhaps worst of all, Bashar al-Assad crossed President Obama’s ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons in Syria, and nothing happened to him.”

The New York Times, which only grudgingly acknowledged its own erroneous reporting on the Syria CW incident, made no effort on Saturday to insist that McCain’s accusations were truthful, fitting with how major U.S. news organizations have performed as propaganda vehicles rather than serious journalistic entities in recent decades. [For more on the Syrian dispute, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mistaken Guns of Last August.”]

From McCain’s op-ed and other neocon writings, it’s also clear that the new goal is to go beyond Ukraine and use it as a lever to destabilize and topple Putin himself. McCain wrote: “Eventually, Russians will come for Mr. Putin in the same way and for the same reasons that Ukrainians came for Viktor F. Yanukovych. We must prepare for that day now.”

This plan for overthrowing Putin was expressed, too, by neocon Carl Gershman, the longtime president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, a more than $100 million-a-year slush fund that was founded in 1983 to provide financial support for groups organizing to destabilize governments that Official Washington considered troublesome.

In a Washington Post op-ed last September, Gershman wrote that “Ukraine is the biggest prize,” but added that once Ukraine was pried loose from a close association with Russia, the next target would be Putin, who “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

If President Obama doesn’t actually believe that the United States should undertake the willful destabilization of nuclear-armed Russia, he might want to tell the American people before these matters get out of hand. He also should describe more honestly the events now overtaking Ukraine.

But it has been Obama’s custom to allow his administration’s foreign policy to be set by powerful “rivals” who often have profoundly different notions about what needs to be done in the world. Obama then tries to finesse their arguments, more like the moderator of an academic debate than President.

The best documented case of this pattern was how Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General David Petraeus maneuvered Obama into what turned out to be a pointless “surge” in Afghanistan in 2009. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Robert Gates Double-Crosses Obama.”]

Kerry’s Double-Dealing

But Obama has been undercut, too, by his current Secretary of State John Kerry, who has behaved more like President John McCain’s top diplomat than President Obama’s. To the surprise of many Democratic friends, Kerry has chosen to take highly belligerent and factually dubious positions on Iran, Syria and now Ukraine.

For instance, on Aug. 30, 2013, Kerry delivered what sounded like a declaration of war against Syria over what Kerry falsely presented as clear-cut evidence that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad had launched a major chemical weapons attack on Damascus suburbs. But Kerry never presented any actual evidence to support his charges, and subsequent investigations, including a scientific assessment on the limited range of the one Sarin-laden missile, undercut Kerry’s claims.

After Kerry’s bombastic speech, President Putin helped President Obama find a face-saving way out of the crisis by getting Assad to agree to eliminate his entire chemical weapons arsenal (though Assad continued denying any role in the attack). Last fall, Putin also assisted Obama in getting Iran to sign an agreement on limiting its nuclear program, though Kerry again nearly scuttled the deal.

As Obama quietly tried to build on his collaboration with Putin, Kerry’s State Department undercut the relationship once more when neocon holdover Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland stoked the crisis in Ukraine on Russia’s border.

Last December, Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, told a group of Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion to promote the country’s “European aspirations.” She also personally encouraged anti-government protesters in Kiev by passing out cookies and discussed in an intercepted phone call who should serve in the new regime once President Yanukovych was gone.

Last month, when snipers opened fire and the violence killed both protesters and police, Kerry’s State Department was quick to point the finger of blame at the democratically elected President Yanukovych, although more recent evidence, including an intercepted call involving the Estonian foreign minister, suggests that elements of the opposition shot both protesters and police as a provocation.

Nevertheless, the State Department’s rush to judgment blaming Yanukovych and the gullible acceptance of this narrative by the mainstream U.S. news media created a storyline of “white-hat” protesters vs. a “black-hat” government, ignoring the many “brown shirts” of neo-Nazi militias who had moved to the front of the Kiev uprising.

As the crisis worsened, Putin, who was focused on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, appears to have favored some compromise with the protesters, urging Yanukovych to sign an agreement with the opposition and European nations on Feb. 21 accepting a cutback in his powers and moving up elections that would have removed him from office constitutionally.

But Putin reportedly warned Yanukovych about another element of the deal in which Ukrainian police pulled back. That created an opening for the neo-Nazi militias to seize government buildings by force and to force Yanukovych to flee for his life. Under the watchful eye of these modern-day storm troopers and with pro-Yanukovych officials facing physical threats a rump parliament voted in lock step to go outside the constitution and remove Yanukovych from office. [For a thorough account of the uprising, see “The Ukrainian Pendulum” by Israeli journalist Israel Shamir.]

A Murky Reality

Despite the many violations of democratic and constitutional procedures, Kerry’s State Department immediately recognized the coup government as “legitimate,” as did the European Union. In reality, Ukraine had experienced a putsch which ousted the duly elected president whose political support had come from the east and south, whereas the Kiev protesters represented a minority of voters in the west.

Faced with a violent coup on its border, Russia continued to recognize Yanukovych as the legal president and to urge the reinstitution of the Feb. 21 agreement. But the West simply insisted that the coup regime was now the “legitimate” government and demanded that Russia accept the fait accompli.

Instead, Russia moved to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea and in the eastern Ukraine. That, in turn, brought charges from Kerry’s State Department about Russian “aggression” and threats that a secession vote by the people of Crimea (to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia) was illegal.

What should now be obvious is that Secretary Kerry and his team have been operating with a self-serving and ever-changing set of rules as to what is legal and what isn’t, with the mainstream U.S. press tagging along, conveniently forgetting the many cases when the U.S. government has supported plebiscites on self-determination, including just recently Kosovo and South Sudan, or when the U.S. military has intervened in other countries, including wars supported by Sen. Kerry, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and so forth.)

But another reason why the Ukraine crisis represents a make-or-break moment for Obama’ s presidency is that he is facing extraordinary attacks from neocons and Republicans accusing him of inviting “Russian aggression” by making deals with international adversaries, rather than making war against them.

So, if Obama hopes to continue cooperating with Putin in efforts to resolve disputes with Iran, Syria and elsewhere, he is going to have to explain bluntly to the American people the real choices they face: continued warfare and costly confrontations as advocated by McCain and the neocons or compromise in the cause of peace, even with difficult adversaries.

At this point, it looks as if Obama will again try to finesse the crisis in Ukraine, embracing Official Washington’s false narrative while perhaps holding back a bit on the retaliation against Russia. But that sort of timidity is what put Obama in the corner that he now finds himself.

If Obama hopes to give himself some real maneuvering room and have a lasting influence on how the United States deals with the rest of the world he finally has to speak truth to the American people. He finally has to find his voice as Eisenhower and Kennedy did.

[For more of Consortiumnews.com’s exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see “Neocons Have Weathered the Storm”; “Crimea’s Case for Leaving Ukraine”; “The ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Group Think”; “Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?”; “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy”; “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”; “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?”; “A Shadow US Foreign Policy”; “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine”; “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Neocons Have Weathered the Storm

Exclusive: Official Washington’s bipartisan hysteria over Ukraine and Crimea is evidence that the neocons not only weathered the public fury over the Iraq War but are now back shaping U.S. geopolitical strategies, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

By the middle of last decade, the storm clouds were building over the neocons: their “regime change” in Iraq was a disaster; President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech was a running joke; news articles were appearing about their “dark side” behavior in the “war on terror”; and the public was tired of the blood and treasure being wasted.

You might have expected that the neocons would have been banished to the farthest reaches of U.S. policymaking, so far away that they would never be heard from again. However, instead of disappearing, the neocons have proved their staying power, now reemerging as the architects of the U.S. strategy toward Ukraine.

Neocons played key behind-the-scenes roles in instigating the Feb. 22 coup that overthrew a democratically elected president with the help of neo-Nazi militias; the neocons have since whipped Official Washington into a frenzy of bipartisan support for the coup regime; and they are pushing for a new Cold War if the people of Crimea vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

A few weeks ago, most Americans probably had never heard of Ukraine and had no idea that Crimea was part of it. But, all of a sudden, the deficit-obsessed U.S. Congress is rushing to send billions of dollars to the coup regime in Kiev, as if the future of Ukraine were the most important issue facing the American people.

Even opinion writers who have resisted other neocon-driven stampedes have joined this one, apparently out of fear of being labeled “an apologist” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, it is almost impossible to find any mainstream U.S. politician or pundit who has not fallen into line with the belligerent neocon position on Ukraine.

And the skies ahead are even brighter. The neocons can expect to assert more power as President Barack Obama fades into “lame-duck” status, as his diplomatic initiatives on Syria and Iran struggle (in part because the Ukraine crisis has driven a deep wedge between Obama and Putin), as neocon-leaning Democrat Hillary Clinton scares off any serious opposition for the 2016 presidential nomination, and as her most likely Republican presidential rivals also grovel for the neocons’ blessings.

But this stunning turn of fate would have been hard to predict after the neocons had steered the United States into the catastrophic Iraq War and its ugly bloodletting, including the death and maiming of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and the squandering of perhaps $1 trillion in U.S. taxpayers’ money.

In Election 2006, GOP congressional candidates took a pounding because Bush and the Republicans were most associated with the neocons. In Election 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite who had voted for the Iraq War, lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Sen. Barack Obama, who had opposed invading Iraq. Then, in the general election, Obama defeated neocon standard-bearer John McCain to win the White House.

At that moment, it looked like the neocons were in serious trouble. Indeed, many of them did have to pack up their personal belongings and depart government, seeking new jobs at think tanks or other neocon-friendly non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

More significantly, their grand strategy seemed discredited. Many Americans considered the neocons’ dream of more “regime change” across the Middle East — in countries opposed to Israel, especially Syria and Iran — to be an unending nightmare of death and destruction.

After taking office, President Obama called for winding down Bush’s wars and doing some “nation-building at home.” The broad American public seemed to agree. Even some right-wing Republicans were having second thoughts about the neocons’ advocacy of an American Empire, recognizing its devastating impact on the American Republic.

The Comeback

But the neocons were anything but finished. They had positioned themselves wisely.

They still controlled government-funded operations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); they held prominent positions inside think tanks, from the American Enterprise Institute to the Council on Foreign Relations to the Brookings Institution; they had powerful allies in Congress, such as Senators McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman; and they dominated TV chat shows and opinion pages, particularly at the Washington Post, the capital’s hometown newspaper.

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s when they first emerged as a noticeable force in Washington, the neocons had become “insiders.” They were both admired and feared for their intellectual ferocity, but — most important for their long-term survival — they had secured access to government money, including the slush fund at NED whose budget grew to over $100 million during the Bush-43 years.

NED, which was founded in 1983, is best known for investing in other countries’ “democracy building” (or CIA-style “destabilization” campaigns, depending on your point of view), but much of NED’s money actually goes to NGOs in Washington, meaning that it became a lifeline for neocon operatives who found themselves out of work because of the arrival of Obama.

While ideological advocates for other failed movements might have had to move back home or take up new professions, the neocons had their financial ballast (from NED and many other sources) so their ideological ship could ride out the rough weather.

And, despite Obama’s opposition to the neocons’ obsession with endless warfare, he didn’t purge them from his administration. Neocons, who had burrowed deep inside the U.S. government as “civil servants” or “career foreign service officers,” remained as a “stay-behind” force, looking for new allies and biding their time.

Obama compounded this “stay-behind” problem with his fateful decision in November 2008 to adopt the trendy idea of “a team of rivals,” including keeping Republican operative (and neocon ally) Robert Gates at the Defense Department and putting hawkish Democrat Hillary Clinton, another neocon ally, at State. The neocons probably couldn’t believe their luck.

Back in Good Graces

Rather than being ostracized and marginalized as they surely deserved for the Iraq War fiasco key neocons were still held in the highest regard. According to his memoir Duty, Gates let neocon military theorist Frederick Kagan persuade him to support a “surge” of 30,000 U.S. soldiers into the Afghan War in 2009.

Gates wrote that “an important way station in my ‘pilgrim’s progress’ from skepticism to support of more troops [in Afghanistan] was an essay by the historian Fred Kagan, who sent me a prepublication draft.”

Defense Secretary Gates then collaborated with holdovers from Bush’s high command, including neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus, and Secretary of State Clinton to maneuver Obama into a political corner from which he felt he had no choice but to accede to their recommendation for the “surge.”

Obama reportedly regretted the decision almost immediately after he made it. The Afghan “surge,” like the earlier neocon-driven Iraq War “surge,” cost another 1,000 or so dead U.S. soldiers but ultimately didn’t change the war’s strategic direction.

At Clinton’s State Department, other neocons were given influential posts. Frederick Kagan’s brother Robert, a neocon from the Reagan administration and co-founder of the neocon Project for the New American Century, was named to an advisory position on the Foreign Affairs Policy Board. Secretary Clinton also elevated Robert Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, to be State Department spokesperson.

Though Obama’s original “team of rivals” eventually left the scene (Gates in mid-2011, Petraeus in a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013), those three provided the neocons a crucial respite, time to regroup and reorganize. So, when Sen. John Kerry replaced Clinton as Secretary of State (with the considerable help of his neocon friend John McCain), the State Department’s neocons were poised for a powerful comeback.

Nuland was promoted to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs and took personal aim at the elected government of Ukraine, which had become a choice neocon target because it maintained close ties to Russia, whose President Putin was undercutting the neocons’ “regime change” strategies in their most valued area, the Middle East. Most egregiously, Putin was helping Obama avert wars in Syria and Iran.

So, as neocon NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post in September 2013, Ukraine became “the biggest prize,” but he added that the even juicier target beyond Ukraine was Putin, who, Gershman added, “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

In other words, the ultimate goal of the Ukraine gambit is not just “regime change” in Kiev but “regime change” in Moscow. By eliminating the independent-minded and strong-willed Putin, the neocons presumably fantasize about slipping one of their ciphers (perhaps a Russian version of Ahmed Chalabi) into the Kremlin.

Then, the neocons could press ahead, unencumbered, toward their original “regime change” scheme in the Middle East, with wars against Syria and Iran.

As dangerous and even crazy as this neocon vision is (raising the specter of a possible nuclear confrontation between the United States and Russia), the neocons clearly appear back in control of U.S. foreign policy. And, they almost can’t lose in terms of their own self-interest, whichever way the Ukraine crisis breaks.

If Putin backs down in the face of U.S. ultimatums on Ukraine and Crimea, the neocons can beat their chests and argue that similar ultimatums should be presented to other neocon targets, i.e. Syria and Iran. And, if those countries don’t submit to the ultimatums, then there will be no choice but to let the U.S. bombings begin, more “shock and awe.”

On the other hand, if Putin refuses to back down and Crimea votes to abandon Ukraine and reattach itself to Russia (which has ties to Crimea dating back to Catherine the Great in the 1700s), then the neocons can ride the wave of Official Washington’s outrage, demanding that Obama renounce any future cooperation with Putin and thus clear the way for heightened confrontations with Syria and Iran.

Even if Obama can somehow continue to weave his way around the neocon war demands for the next two-plus years, his quiet strategy of collaborating with Putin to resolve difficult disputes with Syria and Iran will be dead in the water. The neocons can then wait for their own sails to fill when either President Hillary Clinton or a Republican (likely to need neocon support) moves into the White House in 2017.

But the neocons don’t need to wait that long to start celebrating. They have weathered the storm.

[For more of Consortiumnews.com’s exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see “Crimea’s Case for Leaving Ukraine”; “The ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Group Think”; “Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?”; “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy”; “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”; “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?”; “A Shadow US Foreign Policy”; “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine”; “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




How ‘Looking Forward’ Tripped Up Obama

Exclusive: President Obama has stumbled into a constitutional firefight between the CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee over the spy agency’s attempted cover-up of its Bush-era torture practices, a clash he could have averted by wielding a declassification stamp, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

When historians set off to write the story of Barack Obama’s administration, they will have to struggle with why the 44th President chose not to hold his predecessor accountable for grave crimes of state and why he failed to take control of his own foreign policy.

This failure, which began with Obama’s early decision to “look forward, not backward” and to retain much of George W. Bush’s national security bureaucracy, has now led Obama into a scandal over the CIA’s resistance to the Senate Intelligence Committee drafting of a long-delayed report on the Bush-era policy of torturing “war on terror” detainees.

This clash surfaced publicly on Tuesday when Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein delivered an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor accusing the CIA of sabotaging the panel’s oversight work through subterfuge and legal threats.

But the biggest mystery may be why the Obama White House has been so solicitous of the CIA’s desire to keep secret the history of a torture program authorized by President George W. Bush and overseen by Vice President Dick Cheney. As Commander in Chief, President Obama has the ultimate say over what stays classified and what gets declassified.

Yet, as the CIA has dragged its feet about declassifying what are now historical records by claiming factual inaccuracies the Obama White House has adopted a posture of powerless supplicant. “We’ve made clear that we want to see the report’s findings declassified,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney, as if the President has no power over this process.

Obama could simply issue a declassification order that would allow the release of both the Senate’s 6,300-page report and an internal CIA review (with whatever redactions would be appropriate). If the CIA wishes to dispute some of the Senate’s findings, it could issue a rebuttal, which is how such disputes have been handled throughout U.S. history.

If every government report required that the party being criticized agree to every detail of the allegations, no report would ever be issued. This idea that secretive CIA officials, who have already obstructed the investigation by destroying videotape of the torture sessions, should now have the right to block the report’s release indefinitely grants the spy agency what amounts to blanket immunity for whatever it does.

So, the question is why. Why does President Obama continue letting holdovers from the Bush administration, including current CIA Director John Brennan, control U.S. national security policies more than five years after President Bush and Vice President Cheney left office?

The Ukraine Crisis

A similar question arises over the Ukraine crisis in which neoconservative holdovers, such as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, and the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy were allowed to spur on the violent coup that overthrew democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and precipitated a dangerous confrontation with Russia.

This Ukraine “regime change” served neocon interests by driving a wedge between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, disrupting their behind-the-scenes relationship that has proved useful in averting U.S. wars in Syria and Iran, conflicts that the neocons have long wanted as part of their grand plan for remaking the Middle East.

Nuland’s husband, former Reagan administration official Robert Kagan, was a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, which in 1998 called for the first step in this “regime change” strategy by seeking a U.S. invasion of Iraq. After the neocons gained control of U.S. foreign policy under President Bush, the Iraq invasion went ahead in 2003, but the occupation proved disastrous and put off the next stages, “regime change” in Syria and Iran.

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was, in part, driven by public revulsion over the bloody conflict in Iraq and revelations about the torture of detainees and other crimes that surrounded Bush’s post-9/11 “war on terror.” Yet, after winning the White House, Obama shied away from a clean break from Bush’s policies.

Obama was persuaded to staff much of his national security team with “a team of rivals,” which meant retaining Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates (something no previous president had ever done), appointing hawkish Sen. Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, and ordering no shake-up of Bush’s military high command, including media-favorite Gen. David Petraeus.

Longtime CIA apparatchik Brennan, who was implicated in some of Bush’s most controversial actions, was named Obama’s White House counterterrorism adviser. As former CIA analyst Ray McGovern wrote, Brennan was “a senior CIA official during President George W. Bush’s ‘dark side’ days of waterboarding detainees, renditioning suspects to Mideast torture centers and making up intelligence to invade Iraq.”

Part of the reason for Obama’s timidity may have been his lack of experience and his fear that any missteps would be seized on by his opponents to question his fitness for the job. By surrounding himself with Bush’s advisers and Democratic adversaries, he may have thought that he was keeping them safely inside his tent.

The Democratic Party also has a very thin bench of national security experts. Official Washington has been so dominated by foreign policy “tough-guy-ism” for decades at least since Ronald Reagan crushed Jimmy Carter in 1980 that most Democrats who could survive a congressional confirmation hearing have had to bow to this prevailing sentiment.

There’s also the U.S. news media, which readily joins any war-fevered stampede. Obama may have calculated that his presidency would have been trampled by endless recriminations if he had fully repudiated Bush’s legacy.

Getting Sucked In

But the consequences of these trade-offs have been severe. For instance, Gates wrote in his memoir Duty that he was persuaded to support an Afghan War “surge” of 30,000 troops by neocon theorist Frederick Kagan (Robert’s brother and Victoria Nuland’s brother-in-law). Though Obama was skeptical, the plan was backed by Petraeus (and other Bush-promoted generals) and Secretary of State Clinton. Ultimately, Obama acquiesced, to his later regret.

Arguably, there were similarities between Obama’s predicament and what confronted a young President John F. Kennedy when he took office in 1961 with the “red scares” of the McCarthy era still fresh in the minds of badly scarred Democrats. Kennedy was persuaded by holdovers from the Eisenhower administration, such as CIA Director Allen Dulles and some of the Pentagon’s high command, to press ahead with the Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba.

After that disaster, Kennedy ousted Dulles and developed his own informal circle of foreign policy advisers, including his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, President Kennedy relied on these close advisers to counter the pressure from senior generals to escalate this nuclear Cold War confrontation.

Kennedy appeared ready to chart a course toward greater cooperation with Soviet leaders and to disengage from Vietnam at the time of his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, though it will never be known how Kennedy would have ultimately addressed those challenges if he had won reelection in 1964.

However, after Kennedy’s death, President Lyndon Johnson agreed to Pentagon calls for sending combat troops to Vietnam. The historical record shows that Johnson’s decisions were influenced by his fears that otherwise Democrats would be accused of “losing” Indochina, much as Sen. Joe McCarthy and other right-wingers had accused them of “losing” China.

Despite some parallels between the Kennedy-Johnson era and the present, Obama’s secretive conduct of his foreign policy without offering a thorough explication to the public may be unprecedented. While displaying a surface “tough-guy-ism” of counterterrorism, including drone strikes and Special Forces raids, such as killing Osama bin Laden, Obama has maneuvered quietly toward a slow and steady pullback from America’s war footing.

To continue that process often in the face of belligerent rhetoric from key members of Congress and prominent U.S. pundits Obama has relied not only on an inner circle at the White House (buttressed by some sympathetic CIA analysts), but on cooperation from President Putin and other Russian leaders.

Not Taking Command

Though the original “team of rivals” is gone (Gates in mid-2011, Petraeus after a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013), Obama still has not grabbed control of his national security apparatus. Secretary of State John Kerry often behaves as if he thinks he’s President John McCain’s top diplomat or a captive of the hawkish State Department bureaucracy, the likes of Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

For example, amid murky evidence regarding a chemical weapons attack in Syria, Kerry delivered what sounded like a declaration of war on Aug. 30, 2013, only to have Obama walk the U.S. bombing threats back over the next few weeks and finally put them to rest with the help of Putin who got the Syrian regime to agree to surrender all of its chemical weapons.

Similarly, Obama and Putin oversaw the hammering out of a framework to resolve the Iran nuclear dispute last November. Kerry was supposed to go to Geneva and sign the deal, but instead inserted some last-minute poison-pill language advocated by the French (who were carrying water for the Saudis), causing a breakdown of the talks. I’m told that White House officials then instructed Kerry to return and sign the deal, which he finally did.

But Obama’s back-pocket foreign policy and the extra energy that such an indirect management style requires have allowed for some serious mischief-making by neocons in the government and their sympathizers in the media, especially in areas of the world where Obama has not directed his personal attention.

The crisis in Ukraine apparently caught the President off-guard, even though elements of the U.S. government were stoking the fires of political unrest on Russia’s border. Assistant Secretary Nuland was openly advocating for Ukraine’s “European aspirations” and literally passing out cookies to anti-government protesters.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (essentially a three-decade-old neocon-controlled slush fund that pours money into “democracy building” or destabilization campaigns depending on your point of view), was running 65 projects in Ukraine. Last September, NED’s president Carl Gershman called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and expressed hope that “Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

In other words, even as Obama leaned on Putin to avert more wars in the Middle East, the U.S. government was seeking to embarrass and undermine Putin at home. Not surprisingly, this double-dealing has provoked the Russian government’s suspicion and confusion, made worse because the latest U.S. media swagger in support of the coup regime in Kiev has forced Obama to puff out his own chest and do some breast-beating at Putin’s expense.

One Putin adviser compared Obama’s treatment of Putin to a married man with a mistress who when things get touchy pretends not to know the mistress.

Now, Obama’s reluctance to confront the CIA over its Bush-era crimes has created another controversy. CIA Director John Brennan is resisting release of investigative reports critical of the CIA’s torture policies, a standoff that, in turn, has led to alleged CIA efforts to intimidate and spy on staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has dubbed the public clash between Sen. Feinstein, defending the committee’s investigation, and Director Brennan, defending the CIA’s reaction to the investigation, “a true Obama scandal.” Milbank noted the seriousness of the controversy as Feinstein accuses “Obama’s CIA of illegal and unconstitutional actions violating the separation of powers by searching the committee’s computers and intimidating congressional staffers with bogus legal threats.”

At the heart of this “scandal” is Obama’s decision to let Brennan have control over an investigation that threatened to embarrass if not directly implicate Brennan in Bush’s torture of detainees. The problem could have been avoided if Obama had simply asserted his presidential authority to declassify the torture reports in a timely fashion.

But Obama seems to feel that even though he’s been Commander in Chief for half a decade he still must tread softly to avoid upsetting the Bush holdovers and their many influential friends in Official Washington. It’s an attitude that historians may find puzzling.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




How Reagan Enforced US Hypocrisy

Exclusive: The mainstream U.S. news media has so fully bought into the U.S. government’s narrative on Ukraine that almost no one sees the layers of hypocrisy, an achievement in “group think” that dates back to Ronald Reagan’s war against “moral equivalence,” writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Official Washington’s hearty disdain for anyone who cites U.S. hypocrisy toward the Ukraine crisis can be traced back to a propaganda strategy hatched by the Reagan administration in 1984, dismissing any comparisons between U.S. and Soviet behavior as unacceptable expressions of “moral equivalence.”

This “moral equivalence” concern stemmed, in part, from the prior decade’s disclosures of U.S. government misconduct — the Vietnam War, CIA-sponsored coups and other intelligence abuses at home and abroad. In that climate of heightened skepticism, U.S. journalists felt it was their job to show some skepticism and hold U.S. officials accountable for their behavior.

For President Ronald Reagan, that meant journalists taking note of his administration’s support for terrorism by the Contra rebels in Nicaragua and for death-squad-tainted governments slaughtering civilians in countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador.

So, to counter this P.R. problem, Reagan administration officials developed a propaganda “theme” that, in effect, asserted that the U.S. government should not be held to the same human rights standards as the Soviet government because the United States was morally superior to the Soviet Union.

According to documents recently released by the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the Reagan administration established a “Moral Equivalence Working Group” in 1984 reporting to Walter Raymond Jr., who had been a top psychological warfare specialist at the CIA before being moved to Reagan’s National Security Council where he oversaw a wide-ranging program of domestic and foreign propaganda.

Though the working group’s core complaint was something of a straw man, since it would be hard to find anyone who equated the U.S. and USSR, the Reagan administration made clear that anyone who continued to apply common moral standards to the two governments would be accused of “moral equivalence.”

This framing proved effective in tarring U.S. journalists and human rights activists as, in essence, Soviet apologists. The “theme” was most famously expressed by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick at the Republican National Convention in 1984 when she decried anyone who would “blame America first.”

Link to the Present

As an Associated Press reporter, I encountered this “moral equivalence” attack line when I questioned State Department officials about their hypocrisy in applying strict human rights standards to Nicaragua’s Sandinista government while excusing far more serious abuses by the Contras and other U.S. allies in Central America.

Neocon intellectual Robert Kagan, who then was a senior official in the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America, warned me that I was edging dangerously close to the line on “moral equivalence.”

Ironically, Kagan’s wife, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, is now at the forefront of U.S. support for the Ukrainian coup, which relied on neo-Nazi militias to overthrow a democratically elected president, though the official U.S. narrative is that this was a “democratic” uprising. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

Over the past three decades, the argument against “moral equivalence” has changed little, though it has morphed into what is now more commonly described as American “exceptionalism,” the new trump card against anyone who suggests that the U.S. government should abide by international law and be held to common human rights standards.

Today, if you make the case that universal rules should apply to the United States, you are accused of not embracing America as an “exceptional” country. As a result, very few mainstream observers in Official Washington even blink now at the U.S. government taking contradictory positions on issues such as intervening in other countries.

Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan are “justified” as are drone strikes and aerial bombardments of countries from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to Libya. It’s also okay to threaten to bomb Syria and Iran.

Supporting the overthrow of sovereign governments is also fine for the United States but not for anyone else. Just during the Obama administration, the U.S. government has backed coups in Honduras, Libya and now Ukraine. U.S.-endorsed secessions are okay, too, as with oil-rich South Sudan from Sudan.

Yet, when the geopolitical shoe is on the other foot when Russia objects to the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s duly-elected President Viktor Yanukovych and, as a result, supports a secession referendum by Crimea on whether its citizens want to join the Russian Federation Official Washington cries out in moral outrage.

Suddenly, we see mainstream American journalists searching for some clause in Ukraine’s constitution that prohibits secession, though these journalists had no problem with the violation of the same constitution’s procedures for impeaching a president, rules ignored by the coup regime with barely a peep from U.S. news outlets.

Framing the Debate

This ever-shifting moral playing field was defined by the Reagan administration’s propagandists in the mid-1980s, coincidentally in the iconic year 1984, according to documents at the Reagan Library. I found in Raymond’s files a “concept paper” for a conference to address “moral equivalence,” attached to a memo dated Sept. 4, 1984. The paper read:

“The Moral Equivalence Working Group has for some time been examining ways to counter the common (and for US, very damaging) concept of the ‘moral equivalence of the superpowers,’ i.e., the notion that there is no moral distinction to be made between the US and the USSR, particularly in the areas of foreign and military policy. Moral equivalence is a particularly insidious problem because it permeates almost every level of public discourse both at home and abroad.”

The “concept paper” offers no specific examples of anyone actually engaging in this “moral equivalence,” but it insists that the problem is widespread among elites and could be detected when people, for instance, compared the U.S. invasion of Grenada to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The paper reads:

“This is not to suggest that moral equivalence is in fact a majority perception. There is reason to believe that it is primarily an elite problem and that the broad mass of people has a sounder instinct on the inherent moral differences between the US and Soviet systems. However, given the dominance of morally equivalent thinking among elites, particularly in the media and in academia, public resistance to moral equivalence is provided with little informational or intellectual support.”

The paper then proposes a high-level conference sponsored by the neoconservative Center for Strategic and International Studies with the goal of analyzing “the Moral Equivalence misconception” and devising ways “to combat the problem” including addressing “intellectual fashion and ways to have an impact on it.”

Over the intervening three decades, these U.S. government’s propaganda efforts against holding the United States to the same moral standards as other countries have proved remarkably successful, at least within U.S. opinion circles.

It is now common for mainstream journalists to accept the principle of “American exceptionalism” in both implications of the word: that the United States is a wonderfully exceptional nation and that it is exempted from international law.

Indeed, it is rare for anyone in mainstream journalism to assert that the United States should conform to international law, i.e. respecting the sovereign borders of other countries. Yet, the same opinion leaders express outrage when Russia intervenes in Ukraine in the wake of a neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup on Russia’s border.

No longer do mainstream U.S. journalists and academics try to apply the same rules to Washington and Moscow. The “problem” that Reagan’s team detected in the 1980s has been solved. Today, American hypocrisy is the accepted “group think.”

[For more of Consortiumnews.com’s exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see “Crimea’s Case for Leaving Ukraine,” “The ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Group Think”; “Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?”; “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy”; “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”; “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?”; “A Shadow US Foreign Policy”; “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine”; “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




The Flaw in ‘Cornering’ Russia

Official Washington, including its compliant mainstream media, paints Moscow as the “black hat” in the Ukraine crisis but the fuller picture would show that the supposed U.S. “white hats” are the ones who have violated the deal that ended the Cold War, writes ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

Twenty years ago, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union marked a virtual end to the long-standing military and ideological threat that Moscow represented to the United States.

Yet, instead of “anchoring” Russia to the political and economic architecture of the Western alliance system, which George F. Kennan’s “containment doctrine” endorsed, successive U.S. administrations have not only kept the Kremlin at arm’s length but have drawn the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) closer to Russia itself. This is central to the current crisis over Crimea.

In expanding NATO, the United States has been guilty of betraying a guarantee that Secretary of State James Baker gave to Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in 1990, when the United States stated that it would not “leapfrog” over East Germany to place U.S. military forces in East Europe in the wake of the Soviet military withdrawal from Germany.

The administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ignored that commitment when the United States sponsored the entry of eight former Warsaw Pact members as well as three former Soviet Republics into NATO. The Obama administration, meanwhile, appears ignorant of the geopolitical context of its foreign policies, which have not taken this betrayal into account in the Crimean crisis.

President Clinton seemingly had no appreciation of the great difficulty involved in Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s acceptance of the unification of Germany and German membership in NATO in view of Russian historical memories and huge World War II losses. One of the few sources of Soviet pride in foreign policy was the Soviet defeat of the German Wehrmacht, which was the key to the U.S. and British victory on the Western front. Three-fourths of the German Army fought on the Eastern front, and three-fourths of German losses took place on the Eastern front.

U.S. diplomats and academics, particularly those with expertise in European policy and the Soviet Union such as George Kennan, made a valiant effort to convince President Clinton that the expansion of NATO was bad strategic policy. Even members of the administration, including Secretary of Defense William Perry, tried to dissuade the President from his strategic blunder. In using military power against Serbia in the late 1990s, Clinton seemed to have no idea of the long historical ties between Russia and Serbia.

President Bush made further significant contributions to the alienation of the new Russian leadership by sponsoring NATO membership for former Soviet Republics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania); abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was the cornerstone of strategic deterrence; and deploying a national missile defense system in California and Alaska.

The Bush administration’s disdain for multilateral diplomacy and arms control, as well as its reliance on the use of force, particularly the unnecessary war against Iraq, angered the Russian leadership as well as many European leaders. President Bush explained that national missile defense as well as the regional missile defense in East Europe would not be aimed at Russia, but rather  the “world’s least-responsible states,” which the President did not name. Of course, no one in the Kremlin believed him.

While a warning to Russia, the Bush administration was a welcome relief to the neoconservative community. The appointment of right-wing ideologues who brandished a deep animosity to the Russian state included Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, CIA Director Porter Goss as well as such Pentagon luminaries as Douglas Feith, William Luti, and Abram Shulsky.

In his memoir Duty, Gates prides himself for opposing any improved relations with Russia, since “making the Russians happy wasn’t exactly on my to-do list.” During meetings with his Russian military counterparts, Gates passed a childish and churlish note to Secretary of State Condi Rice stating “I’d forgotten how much I really don’t like these guys.” President Bush even favored the expansion of NATO into Ukraine and Georgia, and U.S. military support for Georgia played a significant role in the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

President Obama initially received some credit for pushing the “reset” button in relations with Russia, but it was soon obvious that the button was simply symbolic and that no effort was being made to institutionalize bilateral relations. The Obama administration also ignored Secretary of State Baker’s verbal commitment against “leapfrogging” over a united Germany by basing U.S. fighter jets in Poland as well as favoring the deployment of a sophisticated regional missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. He is using the Crimea crisis to base additional fighter jets in Poland and is considering the expansion of fighter patrols over the Baltic States.

At present, there is no U.S. ambassador in Russia, and Secretary of State John Kerry has been holding talks with his Russian counterpart without any senior Russian experts at his side. The intemperate remarks of Kerry’s assistant secretary of state for European affairs last month as the crisis in Kiev was worsening speaks to the lack of diplomatic experience at Foggy Bottom.

During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union played a key role in convincing President John F. Kennedy that, if the United States gave Moscow some diplomatic room, the Kremlin would find a way to withdraw its missiles and bombers from Cuba and thus avoid a military confrontation.

In the Crimean crisis, President Obama seems to be unnecessarily accommodating the right-wing criticism of his administration from politicians and pundits instead of finding a diplomatic solution to the current imbroglio. If the United States offered guarantees against the further expansion of NATO and invited Russia to take part in a multilateral economic aid program for beleaguered Ukraine, then it is possible that President Vladimir Putin would find a way to lower the Russian military presence in the Crimea.

In the meantime, the U.S. reliance on modest military steps, travel bans and economic sanctions will not bring any favorable change to the situation on the ground in Crimea. These steps will only worsen the crisis in the Ukraine and ensure that the United States and Russia cannot discuss important geopolitical matters on arms control and disarmament, nonproliferation and counter-terrorism, which finds them essentially in agreement.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and an adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He was a CIA analyst from 1966 to 1990, and a professor of international security at the National War College from 1986 to 2004.  His most recent books include National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism and The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. [This article previously appeared at Counterpunch and is reprinted with the author’s permission.] 




Crimea’s Case for Leaving Ukraine

Exclusive: Virtually everyone in Official Washington is condemning Russian “aggression” in Ukraine and demanding a belligerent U.S. response to Crimea’s desire to secede and join Russia, as a new Cold War hysteria grips U.S. pols and pundits, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

If you were living in Crimea, would you prefer to remain part of Ukraine with its coup-installed government — with neo-Nazis running four ministries including the Ministry of Defense — or would you want to become part of Russia, which has had ties to Crimea going back to Catherine the Great in the 1700s?

Granted, it’s not the greatest choice in the world, but it’s the practical one facing you. For all its faults, Russia has a functioning economy while Ukraine really doesn’t. Russia surely has its share of political and financial corruption but some of that has been brought under control.

Not so in Ukraine where a moveable feast of some 10 “oligarchs” mostly runs the show in shifting alliances, buying up media outlets and politicians, while the vast majority of the population faces a bleak future, which now includes more European-demanded “austerity,” i.e. slashed pensions and further reductions in already sparse social services.

Even if the U.S.-backed plan for inserting Ukraine into the European Union prevails, Ukrainians would find themselves looking up the socio-economic ladder at the Greeks and other European nationals already living the nightmare of “austerity.”

Beyond that humiliation and misery, the continuing political dislocations across Ukraine would surely feed the further rise of right-wing extremists who espouse not only the goal of expelling ethnic Russians from Ukraine but Jews and other peoples considered not pure Ukrainian.

This troubling racist element of the “inspiring” Ukrainian uprising has been mostly airbrushed from the U.S. media’s narrative, but more honest sources of news have reported this disturbing reality. [For instance, watch this report from the BBC.]

What’s Wrong with Secession?

And, despite what you hear from the U.S. government and the mainstream U.S. media, it’s not at all uncommon for people to separate themselves from prior allegiances.

It’s especially common amid political upheavals, like Ukraine’s neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych after he signed an agreement on Feb. 21 to relinquish much of his power, hold early elections and order police to withdraw.

Though this agreement was co-signed by European nations, they stood aside when neo-Nazi militias exploited the police withdrawal and overran government buildings, forcing Yanukovych and many government officials to flee for their lives.

Then, under the watchful eye of these modern-day storm troopers, the rump parliament “impeached” Yanukovych but did not follow the procedures laid out by Ukraine’s constitution. The overthrow was, in reality, a putsch.

But American political leaders and journalists have pretty well expunged that inconvenient history, making the crisis simply a case of black-hatted villain, Russian President Vladimir Putin, bullying the white-hatted “pro-democracy” coup-making heroes of Ukraine.

U.S. politicians and pundits now cite the Ukrainian constitution as some sacred document as they argue that Crimea has no right to hold a popular referendum on leaving Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation. President Barack Obama says a Crimean plebiscite would be illegitimate unless Crimea gets permission to secede from the national government in Kiev as stipulated in the constitution.

In other words, the Ukrainian constitution can be violated at will when that serves Official Washington’s interests, but it is inviolate when that’s convenient. That situational view also presumes that some normal constitutional process exists in Kiev when one doesn’t.

More Hypocrisy

This U.S. government/media hypocrisy on the Crimean vote is underscored, too, by Official Washington’s frequent role in advocating and even mid-wifing secession movements when they correspond with U.S. foreign policy interests.

Fifteen separate nations emerged from the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 as U.S. politicians celebrated. No one seemed to mind either when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

That same decade, U.S. officials helped negotiate the dissection of Yugoslavia into various ethnic enclaves. Later in the 1990s, the U.S. government even bombed Serbia to help Kosovo gain its independence, despite centuries of deep historical ties between Serbia and Kosovo.

In 2011, the U.S. government supported the creation of South Sudan, carving this new oil-rich nation out of Sudan. The supposed motive for breaking South Sudan loose was to stop a civil war, although independent South Sudan has since slid into political violence.

The Obama administration disputes allegations of U.S. hypocrisy about secessions, calling these comparisons “apples and oranges.” But the truth is that all secession cases are unique, a balance of history, pragmatism and politics. Very seldom are they simple and clear-cut.

In Crimea, the case for secession from Ukraine seems strong: Crimea is populated mostly by ethnic Russians; many people speak Russian; and they have historically viewed themselves as part of Russia. If a large majority of the voters prefer joining Russia, why shouldn’t they?

Perhaps the case for Crimea’s secession would have been weaker if the Western nations hadn’t so eagerly embraced the putsch in Kiev. If the Feb. 21 agreement had been enforced clearing the way for Yanukovych’s orderly departure Obama’s argument might make more sense. The constitutional procedures would have remained intact.

But the haste with which Washington and Brussels recognized the coup government with Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s choice for Ukraine’s leadership, neoconservative favorite Arseny Yatsenyuk, named interim prime minister shattered the formal political process of Ukraine.

That was followed by the post-coup rump parliament passing measures, often unanimously, that targeted the political security of ethnic Russians in the country’s east and south. Combined with threats from the neo-Nazis who have grabbed significant power and favor a purified Ukraine for ethnic Ukrainians, the nation confronts a potential civil war.

In such a case with the prospects of ethnic cleansing and the violence that would surely follow the most reasonable solution might well be to hold referenda in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine on whether the people in those areas want to stay attached to the Kiev regime. If the people in those regions want independence or association with Russia, why should the United States ratchet up a new Cold War to prevent that?

If what’s left of Ukraine wants to join the European Union — and if the EU would want it — then those Ukrainians could vote for their future, too.

Democracy means little if populations are compelled to remain part of an undemocratic regime that has seized power in the capital by force and demonstrates hostility toward outlying regions. Since such a predicament now exists in Ukraine, the best-imperfect solution could be to dispatch international observers to Crimea to monitor the plebiscite and verify whether the popular vote fairly reflects the people’s will.

[For more of Consortiumnews.com’s exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see “The ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Group Think”; “Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?”; “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy”; “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”; “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?”; “A Shadow US Foreign Policy”; “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine”; “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Biased US Media Attacks RT ‘Bias’

U.S. mainstream news media, which routinely shuts out journalists and analysts who question the righteousness of American interventionism, is now targeting the presence of RT as a Russian-financed alternative news source in Washington, writes Danny Schechter.

By Danny Schechter

James Kirchick is just the sort of neutral reporter the Daily Beast would assign to report on the ideological controversy surrounding the Russian-backed RT-TV Channel’s coverage of the crisis in the Ukraine. The Beast lives up to its name by sending a hardcore polemical ideologue to uncover what he predictably labels as ideological media bias.

Kirchick is a veteran of the anti-communist wars, now revived as the anti-Putin wars, not some neutral journo crusading for democracy. According to Wikipedia, he is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, prior to this he was writer-at-large for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He is a graduate of the New Republic and Murdoch’s Weekly Standard and writes for Azure, a magazine that described itself as pro-Zionist and free market.

Okay, just so we know who are dealing with here. And now, to bolster his “credibility” he presents himself as a victim in his latest article that exposes himself, far more than his target, asserting that his rights as a journalist were somehow compromised because of a gutsy quest for truth. Here’s his exhibit:

•The Headline: “Watch RT, Putin’s TV Network, Call the Cops on Me”

•The Lead: “That’s what happens, it seems, when you ask some simple questions outside RT’s Washington headquarters.”

•The Polemic: “What would possess an American to work for a Russian propaganda outlet, especially now that the world is on the brink of a potential war in Eastern Europe? I asked that question of about two dozen people coming in and out of the Washington headquarters of RT, the Kremlin-funded television network that has become infamous in recent days for whitewashing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. No one would answer me directly. Instead, RT called the local cops on me.”

Kirchik’s first story in his jihad against RT was to interview Anchor Liz Wahl who resigned flamboyantly on the air denouncing the channel she worked for and making her an instant shero among Russia-bashers the world over. Wahl offered up sweet innocence laced with the veneer of red, white and blue patriotism.

“I’m very lucky to have grown up here in the United States,” she said. “I’m the daughter of a veteran. My partner is a physician at a military base where he sees every day the first-hand accounts of the ultimate prices that people pay for this country. And that is why personally I cannot be part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth and that is why after this newscast I’m resigning.”

Cue the National Anthem! Funny, after her declaration of independence and stagy pledge to quit was broadcast on a network that could have cut her off none other than former Rep. Ron Paul, whose interview with Wahl she claimed RT had censored, denied it, saying, “I don’t think it was slanted in any way.”

Earlier, another RT on-air personality, Abby Martin, also denounced Putin’s Ukraine policy on the air but was not fired and did not quit. Later, she turned up debating the fairness and objectivity of most American TV with Piers Morgan on CNN, a network considered by some critics as an “American propaganda outlet.”

In an article about Martin in National Journal, Lucia Graves wrote, “While it’s clear the [RT] network maintains a strong pro-Russian bias, Glenn Greenwald on Tuesday defended RT’s coverage, saying it isn’t so different from what we saw on American media outlets in the lead up to the Iraq War.”

“For all the self-celebrating American journalists and political commentators: Was there even a single U.S. television host who said anything comparable to this in the lead up to, or the early stages of, the U.S. invasion of Iraq?” he wrote.

Back to Mr. Kirchick’s heroism in defense of democracy! Watch the video of how he posed some of his “simple” questions to RT employees outside their office.

What you see is a  wise-guy provocateur harassing people entering the building with hostile, if not nasty and self-righteous questions, in an argumentative and aggressively hostile manner. RT later challenged this image-building exercise of the “man who is not afraid of Putin” with a denial that they called the cops, an “update” that the Daily Beast tacked on to their story.

“RT America did not contact the DC police at any point,” Anna Belkina said in a statement. “The building’s security personnel called in the police after an intruder has been reported inside the building. The police questioned Mr. Kirchick as part of the investigation of that incident.”

Kirchick’s shouted out questions were there to call attention to himself, and score political points, and not to challenge the network that actually offers programs with views that are more diverse than on any U.S. TV news channel. It features programs with Tom Hartmann and even Larry King, both of whom deny they have been censored.

As an occasional commentator on RT News myself, I can and have said the same. I am not surprised that the networks I once worked for ABC, CNN and CNBC never have me on, while BBC, RT, Press TV and Saudi TV, among others, feature my commentaries without telling me what to say.

Kirchick is less bothered by what gets on RT than that it exists at all, and especially because the network has built an audience among Americans disgusted by how controlled and manipulated most U.S. media outlets are.

His real target are RT’s viewers who he bitterly denounces as a “species,” perhaps because they are looking for information you never find on the Daily Beast or many of the outlets he whores for as a self-styled “objective newsman.”

Listen to this: “RT has become the go-to network for a particular species of disillusioned American, fed-up with what the ‘corporate media’ is telling them about the world.” He doesn’t waste any putdowns either from  an arsenal of vituperative broadsides and even get this denounces RT employees as “slovenly.” He then rants on to share what may have been his Yale-bred elitism about his perception of the people the network interviews that includes politicians and commentators of all stripes.

“RT, both in its employment and viewership,” he writes,” seems to attract a particular type of person. You know the man who writes political chain emails IN ALL CAPS or the bag lady shouting on the street corner about the metal device the government has implanted in her head? Under normal circumstances, no one would give them a television show. But these are the people who appear on, and watch, RT.”

Oh, really another round of clichés to keep the truth from getting in the way of his preconceived perceptions. Now, now, feel better Mr. Kirchick, time to take your medication, before you melt down, or stir up more hatred and animosity for people who lack your years of slimy experience as a media warrior in the service of a neocon empire.

MR KIRCHICK? Oh, you have more to say?

“For the past 9 years, RT has provided steady paychecks and frequent media appearances to a veritable insane asylum of the great unwashed and unemployable dredges of the American fringe.”

Whew, I am glad he got that out of his system, until tomorrow, of course, when he will find another way of cursing without cursing, while showcasing superiority to those of us in that other sub- human “species.” Now, let me get back to my Rolling Stones record:

I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ll never be your beast of burden
Never, never, never, never, never, never, never be

Also, by the way, do I need to say that I am not a Putin booster, my father was a veteran, I have pledged allegiance to the flag many times, and wrote two books and made a film about media miscoverage of the Iraq War. My critique was based, in part, in my own experience in network TV.

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org and blogs at NewsDissector.net. His latest book is Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.




Explaining US Hypocrisy on Ukraine

U.S. government hypocrisy toward the Ukraine crisis has been breathtaking, as has the U.S. press corps’ stubborn refusal to see the hypocrisy (i.e. the Iraq War and many other U.S. interventions). William Blum looks at the reasons behind the double standards.

By William Blum

When it gets complicated and confusing, when you’re overwhelmed with too much information, changing daily; too many explanations, some contradictory try putting it into some kind of context by stepping back and looking at the larger, long-term picture.

The United States strives for world domination, hegemony wherever possible, their main occupation for over a century, it’s what they do for a living. The United States, NATO and the European Union form The Holy Triumvirate.

 

The Holy Triumvirate has subsidiaries, chiefly The International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, International Criminal Court all help to keep in line those governments lacking the Holy Triumvirate Seal Of Approval: the IMF, WB, and WTO impose market fundamentalism, while foreign leaders who act too independent are threatened with being handed over to the ICC for heavy punishment, as the United States imposes sanctions on governments and their leaders as only the King of Sanctions can, lacking any sense of hypocrisy or irony.

And who threatens United States domination? Who can challenge The Holy Triumvirate’s hegemony? Only Russia and China, if they were as imperialistic as the Western powers. (No, the Soviet Union wasn’t imperialistic; that was self-defense; Eastern Europe was a highway twice used by the West to invade; tens of millions of Russians killed or wounded.)

Since the end of the Cold War the United States has been surrounding Russia, building one base after another, ceaselessly looking for new ones, including in Ukraine; one missile site after another, with Moscow in range; NATO has grabbed one former Soviet Republic after another.

The White House, and the unquestioning American mainstream media, have assured us that such operations have nothing to do with Russia. And Russia has been told the same, much to Moscow’s continuous skepticism.

“Look,” said Russian president Vladimir Putin about NATO some years ago, “is this is a military organization? Yes, it’s military. Is it moving towards our border? It’s moving towards our border. Why?” [Guardian Weekly (London), June 27, 2001]

The Holy Triumvirate would love to rip Ukraine from the Moscow bosom, evict the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and establish a U.S. military and/or NATO presence on Russia’s border. (In case you were wondering what prompted the Russian military action.)

Kiev’s membership in the EU would then not be far off; after which the country could embrace the joys of neo-conservatism, receiving the benefits of the standard privatization-deregulation-austerity package and join Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain as an impoverished orphan of the family; but no price is too great to pay to for being part of glorious Europe and the West!

The Ukrainian insurgents and their Western-power supporters didn’t care who their Ukrainian allies were in carrying out their coup against President Viktor Yanukovych last month thugs who set policemen on fire head to toe all manner of extreme right-wingers, including Chechnyan Islamic militants  [RT.com, Moscow/Washington, DC, March 1, 2014] a deputy of the ultra-right Svoboda Party, part of the new government, who threatens to rebuild Ukraine’s nukes in three to six months. [Deputy Mikhail Golovko, RT, March 1, 2014]  the snipers firing on the protestors who apparently were not what they appeared to be A bugged phone conversation between Urmas Paet, the Estonian foreign minister, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, reveals Paet saying: “There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition.” [RT, March 5, 2014, “The EU’s Ukraine policy and moral bankruptcy”; the phone conversation is believed to have taken place Feb. 26.]  neo-Nazi protesters in Kiev who have openly denounced Jews, hoisting a banner honoring Stepan Bandera, the infamous Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II and whose militias participated in atrocities against Jews and Poles.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Feb. 24 that Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman advised “Kiev’s Jews to leave the city and even the country.” Edward Dolinsky, head of an umbrella organization of Ukrainian Jews, described the situation for Ukrainian Jews as “dire” and requested Israel’s help.

All in all a questionable gang of allies for a dubious cause; reminiscent of the Kosovo Liberation Army thugs Washington put into power for an earlier regime change, and has kept in power since 1999.

The now-famous recorded phone conversation between top U.S. State Department official Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, wherein they discuss which Ukrainians would be to Washington’s liking in a new government, and which not, is an example of this regime-change mentality. Nuland’s choice, Arseniy Yatseniuk, emerged as interim prime minister.

The National Endowment for Democracy, an agency created by the Reagan administration in 1983 to promote political action and psychological warfare against states not in love with U.S. foreign policy, is Washington’s foremost non-military tool for effecting regime change.

The NED website lists 65 projects that it has supported financially in recent years in Ukraine.  The descriptions NED gives to the projects don’t reveal the fact that generally their programs impart the basic philosophy that working people and other citizens are best served under a system of free enterprise, class cooperation, collective bargaining, minimal government intervention in the economy, and opposition to socialism in any shape or form. A free-market economy is equated with democracy, reform and growth; and the merits of foreign investment in their economy are emphasized. [NED 2012 Annual Report]

The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, declared in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” [Washington Post, Sept. 22, 1991]

NED, receives virtually all its financing from the U.S. government, but it likes to refer to itself as an NGO (Non-governmental organization) because this helps to maintain a certain credibility abroad that an official U.S. government agency might not have. But NGO is the wrong category. NED is a GO. Its long-time intervention in Ukraine is as supra-legal as the Russian military deployment there.

Journalist Robert Parry has observed: “For NED and American neocons, Yanukovych’s electoral legitimacy lasted only as long as he accepted European demands for new ‘trade agreements’ and stern economic ‘reforms’ required by the International Monetary Fund. When Yanukovych was negotiating those pacts, he won praise, but when he judged the price too high for Ukraine and opted for a more generous deal from Russia, he immediately became a target for ‘regime change.’”

Thus, we have to ask, as Mr. Putin asked “Why?” Why has NED been funding 65 projects in one foreign country? Why were Washington officials grooming a replacement for President Yanukovych, legally and democratically elected in 2010, who, in the face of protests, moved elections up so he could have been voted out of office not thrown out by a mob?

Yanukovych made repeated important concessions, including amnesty for those arrested and offering, on Jan. 25, to make two of his adversaries prime minister and deputy prime minister; all to no avail; key elements of the protesters, and those behind them, wanted their putsch.

Carl Gershman, president of NED, wrote last September that “Ukraine is the biggest prize.” [Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2013] The man knows whereof he speaks. He has presided over NED since its beginning, overseeing the Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004), the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon (2005), the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005), the Green Revolution in Iran (2009), and now Ukraine once again. It’s as if the Cold War never ended.

The current unbridled animosity of the American media toward Putin also reflects an old practice. The United States is so accustomed to world leaders holding their tongue and not voicing criticism of Washington’s policies appropriate to the criminality of those policies, that when a Vladimir Putin comes along and expresses even a relatively mild condemnation he is labeled Public Enemy Number One and his words are accordingly ridiculed or ignored.

On March 2, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s “incredible act of aggression” in Ukraine (Crimea) and threatened economic sanctions. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” [“Face the Nation”, CBS, March 2, 2014]

Iraq was in the 21st century. Sen. John Kerry voted for it. Hypocrisy of this magnitude has to be respected.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report,  http://williamblum.org/ .]