New York Times: Apologist for Power

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

By Robert Parry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiding Gore’s Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rationalizing War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The MH-17 Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concealing History            

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reagan’s Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy Deflategate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Puff Piece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Troubling Pattern

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

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

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

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

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.




NYT Admits Key Al Qaeda Role in Aleppo

Exclusive: In a backhand way, The New York Times admits that the U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels in east Aleppo are fighting alongside Al Qaeda jihadists, an almost casual admission of this long-obscured reality, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As much as The New York Times and the mainstream U.S. media have become propaganda outlets on most foreign policy issues, like the one-sided coverage of the bloody Syrian war, sometimes the truth seeps through in on-the-ground reporting by correspondents, even ones who usually are pushing the “propo.”

Such was the case with Anne Barnard’s new reporting from inside west Aleppo, the major portion of the city which is in government hands and copes with regular terror rocket and mortar attacks from rebel-held east Aleppo where Al Qaeda militants and U.S.-armed-and-funded “moderate” rebels fight side-by-side.

Almost in passing, Barnard’s article on Sunday acknowledged the rarely admitted reality of the Al Qaeda/”moderate” rebel collaboration, which puts the United States into a de facto alliance with Al Qaeda terrorists and their jihadist allies, fighting under banners such as Nusra Front (recently renamed Syria Conquest Front) and Ahrar al-Sham.

Barnard also finally puts the blame for preventing civilians in east Aleppo from escaping the fighting on a rebel policy of keeping them in harm’s way rather than letting them transit through “humanitarian corridors” to safety. Some of her earlier pro-rebel accounts suggested that it wasn’t clear who was stopping movement of civilians through those corridors.

However, on Sunday, she reported: “We had arrived at a critical moment, as Russia said there was only one day left to pass through a corridor it had provided for people to escape eastern Aleppo before the rebel side was flattened, a corridor through which precious few had passed. The government says rebels are preventing civilians from leaving. Rebels refuse any evacuation without international supervision and a broader deal to deliver humanitarian aid.”

Granted, you still have to read between the lines, but at least there is the acknowledgement that rebels are refusing civilian evacuations under the current conditions. How that is different from Islamic State terrorists in Mosul, Iraq, preventing departures from their areas – a practice which the Times and other U.S. outlets condemn as using women and children as “human shields” – isn’t addressed. But Barnard’s crimped admission is at least a start.

Barnard then writes: “Instead [of allowing civilians to move through the humanitarian corridors], they [the rebels] are trying to break the siege, with Qaeda-linked groups and those backed by the United States working together — the opposite of what Russia has demanded.”

Again, that isn’t the clearest description of the situation, which is stunning enough that one might have expected it in the lede rather than buried deep inside the story, but it is significant that the Times is recognizing that Al Qaeda and the U.S.-backed “moderates” are “working together” and that Russia opposes that collaboration.

She also noted that “Three Qaeda-linked suicide bombers attacked a military position with explosive-packed personnel carriers on Thursday, military officials said, and mortar fire was raining on neighborhoods that until now had been relatively safe. It was among the most intense rounds in four years of rebel shelling that officials say has killed 11,000 civilians.”

While she then throws in a caveat about the impossibility of verifying the numbers, the acknowledgement that the U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels and their Al Qaeda comrades have been shelling civilians in west Aleppo is significant, too. Before this, all the American people heard was the other side, from rebel-held east Aleppo, about the human suffering there, often conveyed by “activists” with video cameras who have depicted the conflict as simply the willful killing of children by the evil Syrian government and the even more evil Russians.

More Balance

With the admission of rebel terror attacks on civilians in west Aleppo, the picture finally is put into more balance. The Al Qaeda and U.S.-backed rebels have been killing thousands of civilians in government-controlled areas and the Syrian military and its Russian allies have struck back only to be condemned for committing “war crimes.”

Though the human toll in both sides of Aleppo is tragic, we have seen comparable situations before – in which the U.S. government has supported, supplied and encouraged governments to mount fierce offensives to silence rockets or mortars fired by rebels toward civilian areas.

For instance, senior U.S. government officials, including President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, have defended Israel’s right to defend itself from rockets fired from inside Gaza even though those missiles rarely kill anyone. Yet, Israel is allowed to bomb the near-defenseless people of Gaza at will, killing thousands including the four little boys blown apart in July 2014 while playing on a beach during the last round of what the Israelis call “mowing the grass.”

In the context of those deaths, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who has built her career as a supposed humanitarian advocating a “responsibility to protect” civilians, laid the blame not on the Israeli military but on fighters in Gaza who had fired rockets that rarely hit anything besides sand.

At the United Nations on July 18, 2014, Power said, President Obama spoke with [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning to reaffirm the United States’ strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself…. Hamas’ attacks are unacceptable and would be unacceptable to any member state of the United Nations. Israel has the right to defend its citizens and prevent these attacks.”

But that universal right apparently does not extend to Syria where U.S.-supplied rockets are fired into civilian neighborhoods of west Aleppo. In that case, Power and other U.S. officials apply an entirely different set of standards. Any Syrian or Russian destruction of east Aleppo with the goal of suppressing that rocket fire becomes a “war crime.”

Perhaps it’s expected that the U.S. government, like other governments, will engage in hypocrisy regarding affairs of state: one set of rules for U.S. allies and another for countries marked for U.S. “regime change.” Statements by supposed “humanitarians” – such as Samantha Power, “Ms. R2P” – are no exception.

But double standards are even more distasteful when they come from allegedly “objective” journalists such as those who work at The New York Times, The Washington Post and other prestige American news outlets. When they take the “U.S. side” in a dispute and become crude propagandists, they encourage the kind of misguided “group thinks” that led to the criminal Iraq War and other disastrous “regime change” projects over the past two decades.

Yet, that is what we normally see. A thoughtful reader can’t peruse the international reporting of the U.S. mainstream media without realizing that it is corrupted by propaganda from both government officials and from U.S.-funded operations, often disguised as “human rights activists” or “citizen journalists” whose supposed independence makes their “propo” even more effective.

So, it’s worth noting those rare occasions when The New York Times and the rest of the MSM let some of the reality peek through. When evaluating the latest plans from Hillary Clinton and other interventionists to expand the U.S. military intervention in Syria – via prettily named “safe zones” and “no-fly zones” – the American people should realize that they are being asked to come to the aid of Al Qaeda.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The De Facto US/Al Qaeda Alliance.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Obama’s Last Stand Against War on Syria

Exclusive: For five years, President Obama has resisted neocon/liberal-interventionist pressure to go to war against Syria, but – as his departure grows near – the hawks see more “regime change” wars coming into view, says Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

Through five years of war in Syria, President Obama has been in a constant internal struggle with hawks in his administration who want the U.S. to directly intervene militarily to overthrow the Syrian government.

On at least four occasions Obama has stood up to them, although at other times he has compromised and gone half way toward the hawkish position. Now, with less than three months to go in office, Obama appears to be leaving his Syria policy to those aligned with the lead hawk who might soon take Obama’s place.

As Secretary of State until early 2013, Hillary Clinton failed to convince Obama to consistently take a tough line on Syria. She wanted him to realize her two main policies, which she still clings to: a “safe zone” on the ground and a “no-fly zone” in the air – meaning that Syrian government forces and their allies, including the Russians, would be barred from operating in those areas.

Protected by U.S. air power and other military means, rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would, in effect, have an untouchable staging area to launch attacks on the government without its ability to hit back. Clinton has called removing Assad a top foreign policy priority.

Clinton followed a similar model in 2011 when she convinced a reluctant Obama to adopt a plan in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi under the pretext of “protecting civilians” when Gaddafi launched an offensive against rebels in eastern Libya whom he identified as terrorists. After the U.S. and European military intervention, Gaddafi was ousted, tortured and murdered – prompting Clinton to quip “we came, we saw, he died” – but the “regime change” turned Libya into a failed state.

Indeed, the Libyan chaos – now with three rival governments and terrorist enclaves – has become emblematic of the disarray following “regime change” that has marked nearly two decades of neoconservative influence in Washington, a strategy of dividing and weakening defiant states while U.S. contractors profit from the chaos that bleeds the locals to death.

Lost Lessons

Obama learned from Libya, which he deemed his biggest regret for having no plan for the aftermath. The fiasco left him deeply skeptical about intervention in Syria, although – given his prescient opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq – he should have already understood what happens after the U.S. overthrows regimes these days.

In the early years of the CIA — in Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, and Guatemala in 1954, as illegal and as unjustified as those coups were — the agency had viable leaders groomed to take over. But all that changed after the Cold War ended. Then careless wishful thinking — or intended chaos — replaced any careful planning for the future of the countries that were at the receiving end of “regime change.”

“We can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won’t stop us,” arch-neocon Paul Wolfowitz boasted before the Iraq invasion.

Today neoconservatives and liberal interventionists (such as Clinton) act like gamblers who can’t leave the table. Disasters for Iraqis, Libyans and others haven’t dissuaded these American war advocates from pushing more chips onto the table over Syria. Indeed, their failures – and the lack of any personal accountability for their catastrophes – seem to have only emboldened them to keep gambling.

These “regime change” schemes – in the guise of “spreading democracy” in the Middle East – have only spread chaos and terrorism, but those conditions give the hawks more reasons and excuses to intervene, thus creating more chaos and making more money, while weakening nations defying Washington.

Clinton began laying a bet on “regime change” in Damascus by pushing to arm rebels in the summer of 2012. One of her leaked emails explains her motive: to break up the Teheran to Damascus to southern Lebanon supply line to Hezbollah — a longstanding Israeli objective.

At that point, Obama refused to arm the rebels, but the President apparently didn’t have full control over his national security bureaucracy, which seemed to have found ways to aid the Syrian rebels despite Obama’s reluctance, possibly by encouraging U.S. regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel.

An August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document, which was made public last year, showed that U.S. intelligence agencies were well aware of where these operations were headed, with or without Obama’s approval.

Ret. Gen. Mike Flynn, who ran the DIA at the time, has said it was a “willful decision” in Washington to support a “Salafist principality” — a safe area for jihadist rebels — in eastern Syria to put pressure on Assad’s government in Damascus. Flynn didn’t say who in Washington ultimately decided on this risky scheme, but the DIA document warned that the Salafists could join with jihadists from Iraq to form an “Islamic State.” And indeed two years later, that was exactly what happened.

While this “Salafist principality” was gestating in summer 2013, Obama again showed some independence on Syria after assessing the disastrous consequences of the Clinton-led “regime change” in Libya, i.e., a failed state radiating arms and jihadis to Syria and the Sahel.

However, at this point – battered by think-tank and media commentaries decrying him as “soft” and “weak”  – Obama compromised with the hawks and eventually agreed to arm and train some of the rebels, supposedly the “moderate” kind. But he resisted pressure to launch cruise missiles against Syrian government targets after his “red line” was supposedly crossed by a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

As we now know, the CIA did not think it was a “slam dunk” that the Syrian government did it, though the mainstream U.S. media imposed a “group think” blaming the sarin attack on Assad. But significant evidence pointed to the rebels trying to create an incident that would draw the U.S. military into the war directly on the jihadist side.

Sensing that a trap was being laid to entice the U.S. into another Mideast war, Obama instead took Russia’s offer to have Syria give up its chemical weapons stocks, which in time it did, infuriating the neocons.

An Even Bolder Putin Offer

Russian President Vladimir Putin followed with another offer to the United States in September 2015, delivered from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly. He proposed joint U.S.-Russian airstrikes against the now fully formed Islamic State and associated jihadists.

More than three years earlier, I reported that Russia’s motive to support Assad was to stop the spread of jihadism that threatened the West and Russia. Before the U.N., Putin put it on the record, invoking the World War II alliance between the Soviet Union and the West to confront a greater threat, Nazism.

“Similar to the anti-Hitler coalition, it could unite a broad range of parties willing to stand firm against those who, just like the Nazis, sow evil and hatred of humankind,” Putin said.

By then, the jihadists had clearly become the greater evil in Syria with their practice of decapitating Western hostages as well as locals deemed religious “apostates.” In time Islamic State also would plan or inspire terror attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, Egypt and the United States. By contrast, Assad was an undemocratic leader governing a police state but he posed no threat to the West.

However, by 2015, the demonization of Vladimir Putin was well underway and his offer was spurned by Western leaders. Obama, who faced mainstream ridicule for “failing to enforce his red line” in Syria and for not being tough enough on Russia, joined in rejecting Putin’s offer.

We now know why. In a leaked audio conversation with Syrian opposition figures in September, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S., rather than seriously fight Islamic State in Syria, was ready to use the growing strength of the jihadists to pressure Assad to resign, just as outlined in the DIA document.

“We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh [a derisive name for Islamic State] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened,” Kerry said. “We thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.”

Russia began its military intervention in late September 2015 without the United States, with the Kremlin’s motives made abundantly clear by Putin and other Russian officials.

For instance, last month, Putin told French TV channel TF1: “Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organizations were destroyed as states by our Western partners’ forces? … These states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”

Such clear explanations are rarely reported clearly by Western corporate media, which instead peddles the line from officials and think tanks that Russia is trying to recover lost imperial glory in the Middle East.

Worries about Damascus 

But Kerry knew why Russia intervened. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL [another acronym for Islamic State] was getting stronger, Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad,” he said in the leaked discussion. Kerry’s comment suggests that the U.S. was willing to risk Islamic State and its jihadist allies gaining power in order to oust Assad.

Kerry’s comments echoed those of senior Israeli officials who have pronounced the “Shiite crescent” from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah’s territory in Lebanon as Israel’s greatest strategic threat and have expressed a preference for an Al Qaeda or even an Islamic State victory in Syria to shatter that centerpiece of the “Shiite crescent.”

In September 2013, in one of the most explicit expressions of Israel’s views, its Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al Qaeda.

In June 2014, Oren reiterated his position at an Aspen Institute conference. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by Islamic State, which was then massacring captured Iraqi soldiers and beheading Westerners, than the continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria.

“From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

Israel’s preference extended into a tacit alliance with Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria, with which the Israelis developed essentially a non-aggression pact, even caring for Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and mounting lethal air attacks inside Syria against Lebanese and Iranian advisers to the Syrian military.

In hoping that the jihadists could spearhead the overthrow of Assad while somehow not achieving a full-scale victory, U.S. officials may have thought they could somehow eat their cake and have it, too.

Yet, that represents a major risk, essentially assuming that Assad would step down in some orderly transition of power rather than be ousted in a chaotic fight to the finish. But U.S. officials were apparently willing to take the chance of an Al Qaeda/Islamic State victory in Damascus.

Putin warned the General Assembly about such a gamble with terrorism: “The Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere. It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes.” He added that it was irresponsible “to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.”

Stopping the Jihadists

Russia’s intervention seriously reversed the jihadists’ advances, alarming Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In February, they demanded that the U.S. support their invasion of Syria. It was a momentous moment for Obama: Would he risk war with Russia to save another “regime change” project?

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a committed neocon, “welcomed” the Saudi-Turk plan to launch an invasion by air from Turkey’s Incirlik NATO air base and by land through the wastelands of Jordan or western Iraq. The Saudis staged a 30,000-man invasion war game in the desert. But Obama again stood up for reason and stopped it, at least for a time.

In July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his backers crushed an attempted coup. Erdogan seized the opportunity to eliminate almost all opposition to his near-total one-man rule. By late August, Erdogan was ready to make his next move with no one left in Turkey to oppose him.

On Aug. 24, with U.S. air cover, Turkey invaded Syria. This time Obama did not stop him. Washington clearly approved as its planes protected Turkish tanks and infantry rolling across the border. Vice President Joe Biden was in Ankara a day before the invasion.

The pretext was to fight Islamic State, but it became clear immediately that Turkey’s main target was to block advances by the Syrian Kurds, one of Islamic State’s toughest foes on the ground. The U.S. protested those attacks, but Washington surely knew what Turkey’s intentions were.

The date – Aug. 24 – was significant because it was the 500th anniversary of the start of the Ottoman empire when the Ottomans left Turkey and invaded their first country — Syria.

It was hardly a coincidence when one considers Erdogan’s history. He spurred a violent police crackdown in Istanbul’s Ghezi Park in 2013 against demonstrators protesting his plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks in the park. In April, Erdogan named a new bridge over the Bosphorus after Osman, founder of the Ottoman Empire.

An initial target of the invasion also was significant. On Oct. 16, Turkish-backed rebels captured the Syrian town of Dabiq from Islamic State, the site of a victory in 1516 that established the Ottoman Empire.

Listening to Russia

Still, Obama continued to drag his heels regarding a deeper U.S. role in Syria. Obama resisted the hawks again this summer by allowing Kerry to negotiate with Russia on Putin’s offer at the U.N.: to form a military alliance against Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Syria. Russia’s 2015 entry had turned the tide of the war in Syria’s favor but the war against the insurgency has stalled in Aleppo, where a third of the city remains largely under Al Qaeda control.

While Obama publicly slammed the Russians, projecting that they were on an imperial adventure that would wind up in a quagmire (exactly what has afflicted U.S. imperial adventures in various theaters), he kept plans for a safe zone and no-fly zone on hold.

Nearly a year after Putin’s U.N. offer and after months of intermittent talks, Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sept. 9 finally reached a deal to jointly fight terrorists in Syria. It was clear the agreement would ground the Syrian air force, resume humanitarian aid and agree on the identity of rebels to be jointly attacked, but U.S. officials insisted the terms remain secret.

But Defense Secretary Ash Carter made no secret of his objection. On Sept. 8, he said: “In the current circumstance, it is not possible for the United States to associate itself with — let alone to cooperate in — a venture that is only fueling violence and civil war.”

It was an extraordinary act of insubordination for which Carter was not punished. Once again Obama chose not to completely stand up to the hawks while authorizing a policy that they opposed.

But then Carter’s objection to the deal went beyond words. Two days before it was to go into effect, warplanes from the U.S. military coalition killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers near Deir ez Zor in an air strike the Pentagon later said was an “accident.” U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power was hardly repentant as she condemned Russia’s attempt to discuss the incident at the Security Council as a “stunt.”

Four days later, a U.N. aid convoy was attacked near Aleppo, killing more than 20 aid workers. The U.S. immediately blamed Russian air strikes without presenting any evidence. Russia says rebels were responsible. The U.S.-Russia deal was dead.

Moscow eventually revealed the deal’s terms. At its heart was the separation of U.S.-backed rebels from Al Qaeda, which dominates a third of Aleppo. But once again, despite repeated pledges to do so, the U.S. government failed to separate them. Indeed, some “moderate” groups double-downed on their alliance with Al Qaeda.

Syria and Russia had enough and declared all rebels fighting with Al Qaeda to be fair game. They commenced a furious bombardment of east Aleppo to crush the insurgency there once and for all.  Putting all of Aleppo back into government hands would be a major turning point in the war but it has not proven easy. Instead the fierce aerial assaults have claimed numerous civilian lives, handing Russia’s opponents a public relations coup.

Complaints of War Crimes

Washington, London and Paris are leading the chorus of war crimes accusations against Russia (though the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraq without Security Council authorization in an act of aggression that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and can reasonably be seen as the supreme war crime.)

Russia’s actions in Aleppo have been compared to Israel’s in Gaza. Two U.N. reports have said Israel may have been guilty of war crimes in 2012 and 2014 attacks on Gaza, but Israel has not been prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

The differences between Gaza and Aleppo are stark, however. Gazans are an indigenous people attacked by an Occupying Power. Syria and Russia are attacking the occupiers of east Aleppo – many of them foreign-backed mercenaries.

People in Gaza cannot escape the city because of their attackers, while people in east Aleppo can’t escape because civilians who attempt to leave come under sniper fire. Also, rebel rockets fired from east Aleppo into west Aleppo kill large numbers of civilians, unlike Hamas’ rockets fired into Israel.

But the most significant difference between the two cases of terrible human suffering is that the West defends Israel and deflects charges of war crimes while it accuses Russia and Syria of war crimes.

Isolated from the context of the entire Syrian war against a foreign-backed rebellion, the battle for east Aleppo (usually reported as the whole city) has been framed by Western liberal media in the same way Sarajevo was in the 1990s.

Then a highly complex war was boiled down to one battle, where Bosnian Serbs fired into civilian areas as part of a larger war aim (although the attacks were portrayed as simply a lust to kill civilians). Today it is Russia that Is accused of acting out of the pure intent to kill civilians with no other motive.

The media’s reaction to the bombardment of east Aleppo has led to a sharp increase in rabid calls for Western military intervention against the Syrian government and possibly against Russia. The British parliament held a Russia-bashing session in October, including calls for war against Moscow. Neocon newspapers, such as The Washington Post, are itching for battle. A British general said the U.K. would be ready to fight Russia in two years — enough time for a Clinton administration to prepare.

Already, U.S. neocons and liberal hawks are dreaming about “regime change” in Moscow with Putin replaced by a Wall Street-friendly leader like Boris Yeltsin who let Western interests plunder Russia’s resources during the 1990s. Yet, that may be just another example of the U.S. failure to anticipate the likely consequences of interventions.

Even if Russia could be destabilized sufficiently to unseat Putin, the more likely result would be the rise of a fierce Russian nationalist, not a pro-Western “liberal” in the mold of Yeltsin. That might increase the risks of nuclear war, rather than give the West another compliant Russia.

Plus, Putin would not be easily ousted, especially given his strong popular support, according to opinion polls. Indeed, some internal criticism of Putin has been that he has tried too hard to accommodate the West.

But Washington’s modus operandi has been to continually provoke and blame a country until it becomes an adversary and stands up for itself, as Putin’s Russia has done. Then, the West accuses the country of “aggression” and justifies attacks against it as “self-defense.”

We see these winds of war blowing in Ukraine, the Baltics, Poland and the Balkans — with NATO’s military posturing to counter “Russian aggression” — and in Syria, where neocon calls are increasing for the U.S. to strike the Syrian government.

One More Stand

Obama, apparently for the fourth time, kept the hawks at bay after a White House meeting last month in which military action was turned down in the face of Russia’s warning that it would target attacking U.S. aircraft.

Over the past five years, Obama has been almost the only brake on keeping the Syrian conflict — and relations with Russia — from spiraling completely out of control. But his voice is fading as he prepares to leave office on Jan. 20, 2017.

Into this fevered environment steps Hillary Clinton who may win the White House within the week. She continues to call for a safe zone and a no-fly zone, despite the warning last month from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs, that that would mean war with Russia.

Still, Hillary Clinton has continued pushing for a military intervention as recently as the last presidential debate.

“I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria … not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians,” Clinton declared.

She said this after admitting in one of her paid speeches, released by Wikileaks, that a no-fly zone will “kill a lot of Syrians.”

The “safe zone” is supposed to shelter internally displaced Syrians to prevent them from becoming refugees. But it could also be used as a staging ground to train and equip jihadists intent on regime change, as was done in Libya. A safe area would need ground troops to protect it, although Clinton says there will be no U.S. ground troops in Syria.

But Turkey also has been clamoring for a safe area on the ground for the past few years. Erdogan called for one (as well as a no-fly zone in northern Syria) as recently as last September in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Russia’s reaction has been defiant, setting up an ominous game of chicken that could go nuclear. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russia would shoot down any American plane attacking the Syrian government. Russia has also deployed sophisticated air defenses in the country. This has given U.S. brass deep pause about confronting Russia in Syria. So far Russia has come out on top there, lessening the risks of confrontation that could escalate to the most dangerous levels.

But would Hillary Clinton back down from her harsh rhetoric if she’s elected? Or would she appoint more hawkish military leaders? Obama’s half-way measures in Syria have left the door open to a Clinton administration that appears determined to ratchet up the regime change operation by calling Putin’s bluff.

She also seems poised to arm the Ukrainian government and perhaps give Putin an ultimatum: give back Crimea or else. But what if Putin calls Clinton’s bluff and refuses, given the fact that the people of Crimea voted by 96 percent in a referendum to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia? It’s a roll of the dice the hawks might be ready to toss.

Washington’s hawks appear to have bested Obama this last time, since he has not stood in the way of Clinton’s allies inside his administration letting Erdogan pursue his neo-Ottoman fantasy (even to the point of fighting U.S.-backed Kurds) in exchange for Turkish NATO forces establishing a safe area without U.S. ground troops. Turkey and its rebel forces already control about 490 square miles in northern Syria.

With less than three months left in office, Obama appears to have finally surrendered on Syrian policy, ceding it to the next president.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached atjoelauria@gmail.com  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.




US Hypocrisy Over Russian ‘War Crimes’

Amid the sludge of propaganda, it’s hard to know what’s really happening in Syria, but the West’s outrage over Russian-inflicted civilian casualties is clearly hypocritical given the U.S.-Israeli slaughters elsewhere in the region, notes Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

The Russian-Syrian bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo, which has ended at least for the time being, has been described in press reports and op-eds as though it were unique in modern military history in its indiscriminateness. In an unusual move for a senior U.S. official, Secretary of State John Kerry called for an investigation of war crimes in Aleppo.

The discussion has been lacking in historical context, however. Certainly the civilian death toll from the bombing and shelling in Aleppo has been high, but many of the strikes may not be all that dissimilar from the major U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003, nor as indiscriminate as Israel’s recent campaigns in densely populated cities.

The impression that the bombing in Aleppo was uniquely indiscriminate was a result of news reporting and commentary suggesting, by implication, that there are no real military targets in east Aleppo.

But in fact, al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s affiliate) turned Aleppo into the central hub of a massive system of conventional warfare in Aleppo province in late January 2016 when it sent an enormous convoy of at least 200 vehicles with troops and weaponry into eastern Aleppo. A dramatic three-minute al-Nusra video shows what appears to be hundreds of vehicles full of troops and trucks with weapons mounted on them.

The Russian command in Syria has drones observing the routes in and out of Aleppo, so it certainly knew where many of those military sites were located. Syrian opposition sources also revealed that Nusra began immediately to put the military assets at its disposal underground, digging deep bunkers to protect troops, military equipment and tunnels through which troops and weapons could be moved unseen.

The move underground explains the Russian use of bunker-buster bombs for the first time in the war. As the Guardian reported, Justin Bronk of the British defense think tank Royal United Service Institute concluded that the Russians “have high-grade intelligence of the whereabouts of Syrian opposition positions,” mainly because bunker buster bombs are too expensive to use simply to destroy buildings at random.

But like Hamas fighters in Gaza in 2014, the Nusra Front-led command in Aleppo has moved its troops, weapons and command centers around in the tunnels that they have built. So many of the Russian and Syrian air strikes are almost certainly hitting targets that have already been abandoned. And in other cases, the wrong target has undoubtedly been hit.

The Aleppo Health Directorate, a local monitoring group, estimated that 400 civilians had been killed in the first three weeks of bombing in east Aleppo. The United Nations put the death toll at 360.

Drop the Superiority Act

As terrible as that toll of civilian lives is, the United States should drop the stance of moral superiority. When the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003, it made no effort to keep track of how many civilians were killed in its bombing and artillery fire, claiming it had no way to tell who was civilian and who was not.

And the best estimates of civilians killed in U.S. and Israeli urban wars don’t provide any basis for moral superiority. A survey of Baghdad’s hospitals by the Los Angeles Times in May 2003 produced an estimate of at least 1,700 civilians killed in the first five weeks of American war. The estimate included those who had died in ground fighting and from unexploded ordnance, but even with those contributing factors subtracted from the total, it would still be far greater than those killed in the assault on east Aleppo on a weekly basis.

The three-week Israeli war on Gaza City in 2009 and the seven-week war on Gaza in 2014 were also far deadlier than Aleppo. The former killed 773 civilians, according to an investigation by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. The latter killed 1,473 Palestinian civilians, according to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The one feature of the Russian-Syrian air offensive on east Aleppo that seems most clearly to violate the laws of war is the targeting of hospitals. Media accounts have referred to air strikes with barrel bombs that have hit two major hospitals in the rebel-held part of the city.

The Syrian government has been acting as though it regards the hospitals in eastern Aleppo as serving the Nusra Front command, and the hospitals, which are under intense pressure from the militants who run that part of Aleppo, have fed the government’s suspicions.

As a detailed report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on the air strikes that hit the Al Quds hospital on April 27 explains, the local organization that created a new system of hospitals in 2011 decided not to declare the hospitals openly but to keep them “underground” – meaning secret from the government.

In fact, of course, the government knows perfectly well where all 10 hospitals in east Aleppo are located. The April 27 air strike that damaged the Al Quds hospital shows how the government has responded. It began with an air strike that destroyed a building across the street from the hospital. The building was a school, but former residents of east Aleppo who have gotten out have confirmed that organizations associated with the al-Qaeda-dominated command have located their offices in schools to try to hide their staff.

Within a few minutes of the initial strike, according to the MSF account, Al Quds hospital staff were pulling survivors out of the rubble and taking them across the street to the emergency room, whereupon the Syrian air force dropped a barrel bomb at the entrance to the emergency room, killing several of the hospital staff, including one doctor. Then it dropped one close enough to the side of the hospital to hit the emergency room and, minutes later, hit a building down the block where hospital staff were staying.

Such attacks on those who try to save the lives of survivors of bombing attacks – sometimes called “double tap” attacks” – are rightly condemned as violations of humanitarian law. And the belief that the staff at the hospital are operating in effect as medics for the adversary’s military does not justify attacking it and the wounded sheltered there.

But such violations of the laws of war are hardly unique to Aleppo or Syria.

Hardly Unique

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have hit rescuers or mourners after hitting their initial targets in numerous documented cases. In the 2009 Gaza attacks, the Israeli military argued that Hamas fighters were using hospitals to hide from Israeli bombing, but offered no valid evidence to support it, as the Goldstone Report showed.

In 2014, the Israelis completely destroyed the Al-Wafa hospital in an air strike recorded for public release after claiming falsely that it had been fired on by Palestinian gunmen.

In its wars in Gaza and in Lebanon, the IDF has gone well beyond the Russian and Syrian Aleppo campaign in refusing to recognize any distinction between civilian targets. It not only targeted civilian offices in both Gaza wars, but treated entire areas of the city as a legitimate target, on the premise that all civilians had been ordered to leave.

And in both Gaza and in Beirut suburb of Dahiya, the IDF levelled several high-rise buildings where they believed Hezbollah had offices. The IDF called it the “Dahiya doctrine”, and threatened “great damage and destruction” on any adversary in any future war in the region.

Heavy bombing in a city is inherently fraught with moral risk, and attacks on genuine civilian targets can never be excused. But such practices have been carried out and legitimized in the past by the very government that is now claiming the role of moral and legal arbiter. That hypocrisy needs to be recognized and curbed as well.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye.]




America’s Rocky Road to Raqqa

Exclusive: Though the U.S. has no legal right to operate inside Syria, Official Washington is boasting about its plans to liberate Raqqa from ISIS. But another problem: the battle plan makes no sense, says Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

In her final debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton promised that the United States and its allies would follow up the offensive against ISIS-occupied Mosul with an assault on ISIS headquarters in Raqqa in neighboring Syria. Last week, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter assured the press that an offensive was on the way.

“It starts in the next few weeks,” Carter said. “That has long been our plan and we will be capable of resourcing both,” i.e. dual assaults on Mosul and Raqqa.

“We think this is the right moment to begin pushing in Raqqa,” a Pentagon spokesman added on Monday. “There is a plan in place to begin this.”

Except that the more the administration assures the public that an assault is just around the corner, the more distant it seems to become. In fact, it looks more and more like an assault on Raqqa won’t occur at all. The reason is simple. The strategy is half-baked even by U.S. standards.

The effort to take back Mosul is off to a dangerous enough start as it is. The problem is not the military campaign, which seems to be making good progress as Iraqi troops enter the city for the first time in two years. Rather, it is the larger political setting.

Powerful cross-currents are at work involving the Iraqi army, Turkey, Iranian-backed Shi‘ite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces, or Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, and the Kurdish Peshmerga. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s neo-Ottoman president, has unsettled the Iraqis by claiming that Mosul lies within his country’s traditional sphere of influence and by vowing to protect the city’s Sunni population against revenge by Al-Hashd for anti-Shi‘ite atrocities committed by ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh).

Unfortunately, Erdogan’s fears are not unfounded since Al-Hashd has already been accused of atrocities in Tikrit and Fallujah while at least one militia leader has sworn to take vengeance in Mosul as well. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Clinton’s Slog Deeper into the Big Muddy.”]

Although the Iraqi government has promised that the militias will confine their activities to the city’s outskirts, the Iraqi army is seen as hardly less threatening since its Shi‘ite flags are now ubiquitous. Mosul residents also feel threatened by the Kurds since they remember all too well when the Peshmerga took over in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion, sparking a wave of looting that stripped the city clean.

Shi‘ite militia members similarly remember when they clashed with the Kurds in the central Iraqi town of Tuz Khurma as recently as April and are leery of coming into contact with them as well.

Leery ‘Allies’

So everyone is leery of everyone else, which means that the more such forces converge on Mosul, the greater the risk that years of accumulated fears and hatreds will reach a critical mass and explode.

Erdogan is meanwhile refusing to abandon a military beachhead that he maintains in the small town of Bashiqa a few miles to the northeast, while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is threatening that Turkey will be “dismantled” if it tries to mount a full-scale invasion.

“We do not want war with Turkey,” Abadi said, “and we do not want a confrontation with Turkey. But if a confrontation happens, we are ready for it. We will consider [Turkey] an enemy and we will deal with it as an enemy.”

Turkey’s reply has been to continue massing troops, tanks, and other military hardware on the Iraqi border just 90 miles to the north. On Wednesday, it piled on yet more abuse as Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded of Abadi, “If you have the strength, why did you surrender Mosul to terror organizations?”

But as dangerous as all this is, the situation some 280 miles to the west around Raqqa in Syria is even worse. As the U.S. tries to assemble a force capable of taking on ISIS, it finds itself picking its way through a list of contenders that is little short of dizzying.

In addition to Syria, Russia and Turkey, the list includes the so-called Free Syrian Army; Kurdish People’s Protection Units known as the YPG; Sunni Arabs who have joined with the YPG in an umbrella federation known as the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF; plus the same Iranian-backed Shi‘ite militias in Iraq that have lately begun threatening to cross the border and join in the assault on Raqqa as well.

Also dizzying are the local animosities. While Turkey gets along well with Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq, the story is very different in northern Syria, where the left-leaning YPG is dominant. Since the YPG’s parent body, the Kurdish Democratic Union, is allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been leading an insurgency inside Turkey since the 1980s, Erdogan sees the militia as no better than Islamic State and possibly even worse.

The YPG feels the same way, describing Erdogan and ISIS as nothing less than brothers under the skin. The YPG is hostile to the Free Syrian Army since it took part in last summer’s Turkish incursion into northern Syria, whose primary goal was to prevent Kurdish militia units in northeastern Syria from hooking up with fellow YPG fighters in the northwest. The FSA, meanwhile, is not only anti-YPG but anti-U.S. even though its Turkish sponsors are nominally pro.

Thus, Free Syrian Army members erupted in anti-American chanting when a convoy of U.S. commandoes showed up in the Turkish-occupied town of Al-Rai in mid-September, forcing the Americans to flee.

“Christians and Americans have no place among us,” one militant shouted. “They want to wage a crusader war to occupy Syria.” Another called out: “The collaborators of America are dogs and pigs. They wage a crusader war against Syria and Islam.”

This is one of the groups that Washington classifies as “secular” and “moderate.” Still, Washington’s hope is that the various factions will put their differences aside long enough to “liberate” Raqqa. The prospect seems unlikely especially since fighting between the Turkish-backed FSA and the YPG seems to be spreading.

Turkey Killing Kurds

On Oct. 20, Turkish jets and artillery pounded YPG-SDF positions northeast of Aleppo, killing as many as 200 fighters. Since then, the two groups – Turkey and the Free Syrian Army on one side, the YPG and anti-Turkish Arabs of the SDF on the other – have been engaged in a struggle for control of ISIS-occupied Al-Bab, 20 miles or so south of the Turkish border and roughly the same distance northeast of Aleppo.

 

If Turkish-FSA forces take Al-Bab, then Kurdish hopes of linking up their forces in northeastern and northwestern Syria will have been dashed. The FSA would then be in a position to push east to Raqqa, which would mean a clash with both the main body of the YPG and ISIS. Or, as the often perceptive Moon of Alabama website suggests, it could instead wheel about and attempt to relieve its fellow Salafists besieged in Aleppo.

That would mean a head-on collision with Syrian government forces and exposure to Russian jets, a point that a Syrian government helicopter drove home last week by bombing Turkish-FSA forces engaged in combat with the YPG.

Internecine warfare like this can only benefit Islamic State, an undisputed expert at using its opponents’ differences to its own advantage. This is why it was able to put down roots in Syria in the first place – because the U.S. was too busy trying to topple Bashar al-Assad to worry about an Al Qaeda offshoot that Obama famously dismissed as nothing more than “a JV team.”

It’s also why Islamic State was able to establish bases and supply lines in Turkey – because Erdogan was more concerned with fighting Assad and the Kurds to concern himself with what his fellow Sunnis were up to. A northern Syrian and Iraqi landscape torn by infighting is perfect for a hyper-violent Sunni-Salafist group skilled at playing one group off against another.

The White House dimly senses that it has gotten itself into a mess, which is why officials turn vague and inscrutable whenever reporters press for details concerning a reported assault on Raqqa. The problem, as the U.S. officials see it, is that Erdogan remains unalterably opposed to the YPG-SDF even though it is the only ground force capable of fighting Islamic State. Hence, it is impossible to take Raqqa without alienating a fellow member of NATO.

“We do not need terrorist organizations like the PYD-YPG,” Erdogan says he told Obama in an Oct. 26 phone call, referring to the militia and Kurdish Democratic Union. “I said, ‘Come, let’s remove [Islamic State] from Raqqa together. We will sort this out together with you.’  We have the strength.”

The U.S. doubts that Erdogan does have that capability yet is unable to say no. The upshot is talks, negotiations, and growing delays. Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria expert at the neocon Institute for the Study of War, grouses that the administration is “stalling” while, on the other side of the debate, foreign-policy “realists” wonder why the administration is rushing ahead with a strategy that it knows won’t work.

Skeptical Analysis

In a hard-hitting analysis in the conservative but often skeptical National Interest, Daniel L. Davis, a retired army colonel and Afghan veteran, points out that whereas a national army, well-armed militias, U.S. ground and intelligence forces, and “resupply lines through friendly territory” are all in place in northern Iraq, “none of those things exist” with regard to Raqqa. The political problems, he adds, are even more daunting.

When Kurdish units liberated the ISIS-occupied town of Manbij in August, Davis notes, grateful residents told YPG members, “You are our children, you are our heroes, you are the blood of our hearts.” Yet the YPG’s reward was to be denounced as terrorists by Erdogan and instructed to leave by the U.S.

“What possible assurances could the United States give to the Kurds,” Davis writes, “that upon successful liberation of Raqqa, the Turkish army isn’t going to turn on them? Why would the Turks bomb the Kurdish troops one day and then work with them the next, or allow the Kurds to maintain a presence after liberating Raqqa? There is no recognizable logic in these unsubstantiated hopes.”

Davis is correct. But, then, there is no recognizable logic in the Obama administration’s intervention in Syria in general. Why insist that Assad step down, for example, when the only effect will be to clear a path for Al Qaeda and Islamic State straight through to the presidential palace in Damascus?

Why back a Turkish incursion into northern Syria when the only result is to infuriate Kurds who are the only effective anti-ISIS fighting force that the U.S. has on its side? Why insist that the U.S. wants a democratic solution to the Syrian civil war when the countries backing the anti-Assad forces, i.e. Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil monarchies, are some of the most undemocratic societies on earth?

None of it makes sense. But since the Israelis, Turks and Saudis all want Assad to go, the Obama administration feels that it has no choice but to comply. How else can it keep a fractious empire together if not by catering to its client states’ whims and desires?

When empires are strong, they can afford to say no. But when they are weak and over-extended, they do as they are told. This is why the U.S. is frozen with regard to Raqqa. It can’t disappoint its allies by calling an assault off, and it can’t push ahead with a plan that doesn’t add up. So it dawdles.

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




How the West Provoked the New Cold War

The mainstream U.S. media portrays the New Cold War as “white-hatted” Americans standing up to “black-hatted” Russians to stop aggression against NATO and to save children in Syria, but the reality is much more gray, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

How did the “growing trust” that Russian President Vladimir Putin once said marked his “working and personal relationship with President Obama” change into today’s deep distrust and saber-rattling?

Their relationship reached its zenith after Mr. Putin persuaded Syria to give up its chemical weapons for verified destruction, enabling Mr. Obama at the last minute to call off, with some grace, plans to attack Syria in late summer 2013.

But at an international conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi last week, Mr. Putin spoke of the “feverish” state of international relations and lamented: “My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results.” He complained about “people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice” and, referring to Syria, decried the lack of a “common front against terrorism after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort, and difficult compromises.”

A month earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who chooses his words carefully, told Russian TV viewers, “My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the U.S. military machine. Despite [Mr. Kerry’s] assurances that the U.S. commander in chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin) apparently the military does not really listen to the commander in chief.”

Do not chalk this up to paranoia. The U.S.-led coalition air strikes on known Syrian army positions killing scores of troops just five days into the September cease-fire — not to mention statements at the time by the most senior U.S. generals — were evidence enough to convince the Russians that the Pentagon was intent on scuttling meaningful cooperation with Russia.

A New Nadir

Relations between the U.S. and Russian presidents have now reached a nadir, and Mr. Putin has ordered his own defense ministry to throw down the gauntlet.

On Oct. 6, ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russia is prepared to shoot down unidentified aircraft — including any stealth aircraft — over Syria, and warned ominously that Russian air defense will not have time to identify the origin of the aircraft.

It seems possible that the U.S. air force will challenge that claim in due course — perhaps even without seeking prior permission from the White House. Last week, National Intelligence Director and former Air Force General James Clapper commented offhandedly, “I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft … if they felt it was threatening their forces on the ground.”

Injecting additional volatility into the equation, major news outlets are playing down or ignoring Russia’s warnings. Thus, Americans who depend on the corporate media can be expected to be suitably shocked by what that same media will no doubt cast as naked aggression out of the blue if Russian air defenses down a U.S. or coalition aircraft.

Meanwhile in Europe, as NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters the U.S. is contributing “a persistent rotational armored brigade combat team” as a “major sign of the U.S. commitment to strengthening deterrence here.”

“This was a decision made by the alliance leaders in Warsaw,” he explained, referring to NATO’s July summit meeting in the Polish capital. “The United States will lead a battalion in Poland and deploy an entire battle-ready battalion task force of approximately 900 soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which is based in Germany.”

On Thursday, at the Valdai Conference in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, President Putin accused the West of promoting the “myth” of a “Russian military threat,” calling this a “profitable business that can be used to pump new money into defense budgets … expand NATO and bring its infrastructure, military units, and arms closer to our borders.”

Myth or not, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was correct to point out last spring that military posturing on Russia’s borders will bring less regional security. Mr. Steinmeier warned against “saber-rattling,” adding that, “We are well advised not to create pretexts to renew an old confrontation.”

Speaking of such pretexts, it is high time to acknowledge that the marked increase in East-West tensions over the past two-and-a-half years originally stemmed from the Western-sponsored coup d’état in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, and Russia’s reaction in annexing Crimea. Americans malnourished on the diet served up by “mainstream” media are blissfully unaware that two weeks before the coup, YouTube published a recording of an intercepted conversation between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, during which “Yats” (for Arseniy Yatsenyuk) was identified as Washington’s choice to become the new prime minister of the coup government in Kiev.

This unique set of circumstances prompted George Friedman, president of the think-tank STRATFOR, to label the putsch in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, “really the most blatant coup in history.”

It’s time for Western politicians and media to learn their lesson and pay attention to the statements coming out of Russia. Ask yourselves: Why all this hype now?

Ray McGovern (rrmcgovern@gmail.com) was an Army officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, during which he was chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and later a presidential briefer during President Reagan’s first term. [This article was originally published in The Baltimore Sun and is reposted here with the permission of the author.]




The De Facto US/Al Qaeda Alliance

Exclusive: Buried deep inside Saturday’s New York Times was a grudging acknowledgement that the U.S.-armed “moderate” rebels in Syria are using their U.S. firepower to back an Al Qaeda offensive, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A curious aspect of the Syrian conflict – a rebellion sponsored largely by the United States and its Gulf state allies – is the disappearance in much of the American mainstream news media of references to the prominent role played by Al Qaeda in seeking to overthrow the secular Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

There’s much said in the U.S. press about ISIS, the former “Al Qaeda in Iraq” which splintered off several years ago, but Al Qaeda’s central role in commanding Syria’s “moderate” rebels in Aleppo and elsewhere is the almost unspoken reality of the Syrian war. Even in the U.S. presidential debates, the arguing between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has been almost exclusively about ISIS, not Al Qaeda.

Though Al Qaeda got the ball rolling on America’s revenge wars in the Middle East 15 years ago by killing several thousand Americans and others in the 9/11 attacks, the terrorist group has faded into the background of U.S. attention, most likely because it messes up the preferred “good guy/bad guy” narrative regarding the Syrian war.

For instance, the conflict in Aleppo between Syrian government forces and rebels operating primarily under Al Qaeda’s command is treated in the Western media as simply a case of the barbaric Assad and his evil Russian ally Vladimir Putin mercilessly bombing what is portrayed as the east Aleppo equivalent of Disney World, a place where innocent children and their families peacefully congregate until they are targeted for death by the Assad-Putin war-crime family.

The photos sent out to the world by skillful rebel propagandists are almost always of wounded children being cared for by the “White Helmet” rebel civil defense corps, which has come under growing criticism for serving as a public-relations arm of Al Qaeda and other insurgents. (There also are allegations that some of the most notable images have been staged, like a fake war scene from the 1997 dark comedy, “Wag the Dog.”)

Rare Glimpse of Truth

Yet, occasionally, the reality of Al Qaeda’s importance in the rebellion breaks through, even in the mainstream U.S. media, although usually downplayed and deep inside the news pages, such as the A9 article in Saturday’s New York Times by Hwaida Saad and Anne Barnard describing a rebel offensive in Aleppo. It acknowledges:

“The new offensive was a strong sign that rebel groups vetted by the United States were continuing their tactical alliances with groups linked to Al Qaeda, rather than distancing themselves as Russia has demanded and the Americans have urged. … The rebels argue that they cannot afford to shun any potential allies while they are under fire, including well-armed and motivated jihadists, without more robust aid from their international backers.” (You might note how the article subtly blames the rebel dependence on Al Qaeda on the lack of “robust aid” from the Obama administration and other outside countries – even though such arms shipments violate international law.)

What the article also makes clear in a hazy kind of way is that Al Qaeda’s affiliate, the recently renamed Nusra Front, and its jihadist allies, such as Ahrar al-Sham, are waging the brunt of the fighting while the CIA-vetted “moderates” are serving in mostly support roles. The Times reported:

“The insurgents have a diverse range of objectives and backers, but they issued statements of unity on Friday. Those taking part in the offensive include the Levant Conquest Front, a militant group formerly known as the Nusra Front that grew out of Al Qaeda; another hard-line Islamist faction, Ahrar al-Sham; and other rebel factions fighting Mr. Assad that have been vetted by the United States and its allies.”

The article cites Charles Lister, a senior fellow and Syria specialist at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and other analysts noting that “the vast majority of the American-vetted rebel factions in Aleppo were fighting inside the city itself and conducting significant bombardments against Syrian government troops in support of the Qaeda-affiliated fighters carrying out the brunt of front-line fighting.”

Lister noted that 11 of the 20 or so rebel groups conducting the Aleppo “offensive have been vetted by the C.I.A. and have received arms from the agency, including anti-tank missiles. …

“In addition to arms provided by the United States, much of the rebels’ weaponry comes from regional states, like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Lister said, including truck-borne multiple-rocket launcher systems and Czech-made Grad rockets with extended ranges.”

The U.S./Al Qaeda Alliance

In other words, the U.S. government and its allies have smuggled sophisticated weapons into Syria to arm rebels who are operating in support of Al Qaeda’s new military offensive against Syrian government forces in Aleppo. By any logical analysis, that makes the United States an ally of Al Qaeda.

The Times article also includes a quote from Genevieve Casagrande, a Syria research analyst from the Institute for the Study of War, a neoconservative “think tank” that has supported more aggressive U.S. military involvement in Syria and the Middle East.

“The unfortunate truth, however, is that these U.S.-backed groups remain somewhat dependent upon the Al Qaeda linked groups for organization and firepower in these operations,” Casagrande said.

The other unfortunate truth is that the U.S.-supplied rebels have served, either directly or indirectly, as conduits to funnel U.S. military equipment and ordnance to Al Qaeda.

One might think that the editors of The New York Times – if they were operating with old-fashioned news judgment rather than with propagandistic blinders on – would have recast the article to highlight the tacit U.S. alliance with Al Qaeda and put that at the top of the front page.

Still, the admissions are significant, confirming what we have reported at Consortiumnews.com for many months, including Gareth Porter’s article last February saying: “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces [of Idlib and Aleppo] is engaged in a military structure controlled by [Al Qaeda’s] Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it. …

“At least since 2014 the Obama administration has armed a number of Syrian rebel groups even though it knew the groups were coordinating closely with the Nusra Front, which was simultaneously getting arms from Turkey and Qatar.”

Double Standards

The Times article on page A9 also deviated from the normal propaganda themes by allowing a statement by Syrian officials and the Russians regarding their suspension of airstrikes over the past week to permit the evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo and the rebels’ refusal to let people leave, even to the point of firing on the humanitarian corridors:

“The [Syrian] government and its [Russian] allies accused the rebels of forcing Aleppo residents to stay, and of using them as human shields.”

The “human shields” argument is one that is common when the United States or its allies are pummeling some city controlled by “enemy” forces whether Israel’s bombardment of Gaza or the U.S. Marines’ leveling of Fallujah in Iraq or the current campaign against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Mosul. In those cases, the horrific civilian bloodshed, including the killing of children by U.S. or allied forces, is blamed on Hamas or Sunni insurgents or ISIS but never on the people dropping the bombs.

An entirely opposite narrative is applied when U.S. adversaries, such as Syria or Russia, are trying to drive terrorists and insurgents out of an urban area. Then, there is usually no reference to “human shields” and all the carnage is blamed on “war crimes” by the U.S. adversaries. That propaganda imperative helps explain why Al Qaeda and its jihadist comrades have been largely whited out of the conflict in Aleppo.

Over the past few years, U.S. regional allies, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, also have shifted their public attitudes toward Al Qaeda, seeing it as a blunt instrument to smash the so-called “Shiite crescent” reaching from Iran through Syria to Lebanon. For instance, in September 2013, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored Syria’s Sunni extremists over President Assad.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were with Al Qaeda.

And, in June 2014, speaking as a former ambassador at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren expanded on his position, saying Israel would even prefer a victory by the brutal Islamic State over continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.

Warming to Al Qaeda

As Israeli officials shifted toward viewing Al Qaeda and even ISIS as the lesser evils and built a behind-the-scenes alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states, American neoconservatives also began softening their tone regarding the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

Across the U.S. foreign policy establishment, pressure built for “regime change” in Damascus even if that risked handing Syria to Sunni jihadists. That strategy hit a road bump in 2014 when ISIS began chopping off the heads of Western hostages in Syria and capturing swathes of territory in Iraq, including Mosul.

That bloody development forced President Barack Obama to begin targeting ISIS militants in both Iraq and Syria, but the neocon-dominated Washington establishment still favored the Israeli-Saudi objective of “regime change” in Syria regardless of how that might help Al Qaeda.

Thus, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its jihadist ally, Ahrar al-Sham, faded into the background under the fiction that the anti-Assad forces were primarily noble “moderates” trying to save the children from the bloodthirsty fiends, Assad and Putin.

Grudgingly, The New York Times, deep inside Saturday’s newspaper, acknowledged at least part of the troubling reality, that the U.S. government has, in effect, allied itself with Al Qaeda terrorists.

[For more background on this issue, see Consortiumnews.com’s “New Group Think for War with Syria/Russia.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Only Making Matters Worse in Syria

Exclusive: Washington’s foreign policy establishment is determined to escalate U.S. military attacks in Syria even though that won’t resolve the conflict and will only get more people killed, a dilemma addressed by Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Middle East policy has reached an inflexion point, a moment when Official Washington seems to be caught in the middle between escalation and retreat.

On one hand, the rhetoric has not been more militant since Hillary Clinton’s famous “we came, we saw, he died” moment in October 2011. With Barack Obama halfway out the door and Clinton all but crowned, Washington’s laptop bombardiers are rejoicing that the half-measures are over and judgment day nearly at hand.

Thus, The New York Times assures us that that the Middle East is “desperate for American leadership” while the Washington Post reports that “the Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the ground work for a more assertive American foreign policy.”

Leading think tanks are publishing “a flurry of reports” urging stepped-up intervention, including U.S.-backed “safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces” and even “limited” cruise-missile strikes. But while differing on the details, all agree something must be done. The time to act is now.

As Vox puts it: “The hot new policy idea in Washington is the hottest old idea: direct US military intervention in Syria’s civil war.”

But reading between the lines, a very different picture emerges, a realization that the U.S. has painted itself into a corner and that there is little it can do after all.  Thus, the Times observes that while the Middle East is clamoring for U.S. leadership, it is not clamoring for Bush-style intervention but for some mythical “middle ground” in between him and Obama.

While reporting that pro-escalation sentiment is unanimous in Washington’s vast foreign-policy establishment – sometimes known as “the blob” – the Washington Post notes that “even pinprick cruise-missile strikes designed to hobble the Syrian air force or punish [President Bashar al-]Assad would risk a direct confrontation with Russian forces” and wonders whether a war-weary public will support any intervention at all.

“My concern is that we may be talking to each other and agreeing with each other,” it quotes one expert as saying, “but that these discussions are isolated from where the public may be right now.”

Official Washington in a Bubble

Thus, even the Establishment worries that it lives in a bubble. Washington wants war, it needs war, and yet it admits in practically the same breath that it can’t have it. So what will it do?

Then there are the mild liberals over at Vox, the hip and successful Washington website founded by journalistic wunderkind Ezra Klein. Voxers pride themselves on being sharp and practical yet in the end they are sealed off as well. The poster boy for this tendency is Zack Beauchamp, a young writer who stars in a recent Vox video entitled, “The crisis in Aleppo, explained in 4 minutes.”

As Beauchamp lectures away amid fancy graphics and cool background music, the video faithfully toes the Washington line, both the stirring gung-ho part and the downbeat refrain that inevitably follows. Thus, he describes the Syrian civil war as a “story of flip-flops,” with Assad seemingly on the ropes until Iran and Russia put him back on his feet, at which point the Saudis and Qataris put the rebels back on their feet so the game can continue.

But the real turning point, he says, occurred in September 2015 when Russia stepped in with airstrikes that allowed the government to besiege the Salafists in eastern Aleppo.

“A siege,” Beauchamp then explains, “involves trapping a group of people, civilians and fighters both, inside a certain territory and denying them supplies until they can no longer fight. Assad’s strategy has a vicious logic to it. When you deprive people of food and you bomb them over and over again, they’re likely to give in just to make the fighting stop.”

The upshot, he says, is “a humanitarian crisis … roughly 250,000 people trapped in the city … running dangerously low on supplies, access to clean water and medicine.” So what should the U.S. do in response? The video’s tone at this point turns pessimistic and then pitch black:

“The United States has the military power to break the siege of Aleppo,” Beauchamp says, “but doing so would be extremely dangerous. For one thing, it would need to coordinate with rebels on the ground, some of whom are extremists. For another, it means that the US would be operating in hostile air space with Russian planes.If the US were to engage with Russian planes, that could theoretically mean direct fire between two nuclear-armed superpowers, a risk that very few people in the United States are willing to take. And three, even if the US did temporarily break the siege, it would have to maintain a commitment to insure that things didn’t get worse. That could mean an open-ended war. And there’s no guarantee that this would make anything better, but, rather, it might just get more people killed over the long run.”

So U.S. options are zero: “Every diplomatic solution tried so far has failed, and failed miserably, and there’s simply no economic tool that can be used to end the fighting or ease the suffering of the people inside besieged territories. There’s no good answer. There’s nothing that anyone has that could simply solve the crisis. It’s a disaster and a disaster without any end in sight.”

Falsehoods and Obfuscations 

Beauchamp’s explanation – which is really not an explanation at all, merely an assertion – is studded with falsehoods and obfuscations. By describing Assad’s strategy as uniquely “vicious,” he ignores obvious parallels between the Russian air campaign in Aleppo and U.S. air assaults on Fallujah, Tikrit, and Ramadi, all in central Iraq and all largely destroyed in the course of “liberating” them from ISIS.

By referring to the events in Syria as a civil war, he fails to acknowledge the degree to which it is actually a foreign invasion by the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf states. By repeatedly referring to the Salafists as “rebels” – which suggests that they are Syrians rising up from within – he ignores the fact that large numbers – 36,500, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper – are foreign-born.

While asserting that 250,000 people are trapped inside east Aleppo, he ignores reports that the real figure is far lower. The Guardian’s Martin Chulov, for example, estimated in March 2015 that only 40,000 people remained in rebel-held areas while Vice News reported last July that “most of Aleppo’s residents have fled the city. There are just a handful of civilians and rebel fighters holding on in the shattered ruins.”

Beauchamp also implies that it is the government that has “trapped” people in east Aleppo when reports in the London Independent and elsewhere indicate that Salafists are firing on anyone trying to take the government up on its offer of safe passage. While acknowledging that “some” fighters are “extremists,” he ignores the fact that the U.S. military has admitted that Al Nusra, the local branch of Al Qaeda, is firmly in charge.

When Salafists launched a short-lived offensive in east Aleppo last summer, for instance, The New York Times reported that they named it in honor of Ibrahim al-Yousef, a Muslim Brotherhood member who led a horrendous massacre of Alawite military cadets in 1979. It was indicative of how anti-Alawite sectarianism of the most bloodthirsty sort is the common denominator underlying all anti-government factions.

One could go on, but the point is clear. The foreign-policy establishment has not only cut itself off from the public but, with the help of sympathetic media outlets like Vox, has cut itself off from its own intellectual history. Incapable of examining the U.S. role in the Syrian debacle in an honest and straightforward way, it can only blunder about in the dark, staggering backward or forward as circumstances dictate. Now seems to be the moment when it is poised between the two.

So how will the United States respond now that Washington is preparing for a transition between Obama-style abstention and Hillary-style neo-conservatism? Here’s is one reporter’s modest attempt at reading the tea leaves:

Washington will continue to fume as the catastrophe deepens in both Syria and Iraq. As the drive to push ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh) out of Mosul in northern Iraq degenerates into ethno-sectarian warfare among Turks, Sunni Arabs, Shi‘ites, and Kurds, the drive to take back Raqqa, ISIS’s capital in north-central Syria will similarly falter as fighting breaks out between pro-Turkish forces and Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

The fall of east Aleppo, which now seems to be a foregone conclusion, will drive the foreign-policy establishment to a fury. Obama may be able to hold the hawks off.  But by the time he leaves office, “the blob” will be in an uproar and demanding that something be done.

With that, Zack Beauchamp will star in another Vox video entitled, “U.S. military intervention in Syria, explained in 4 minutes.” In it, he’ll tell how Russian atrocities in Aleppo, plus backhanded Syrian government support for ISIS, leave the U.S. no choice but to launch a swarm of cruise missiles at Syrian military facilities.

When Russian soldiers are killed, he’ll try to shift blame to Vladimir Putin for stirring up trouble in the eastern Ukraine or the Baltics. He’ll note that dissent is limited to a few cranky websites and far-left groups, all of which can be safely ignored since they’re not part of the mainstream. Russia will then counter-attack, leading to … no one knows.

While anything can go wrong with this scenario, one thing is clear. The mood in Official Washington is the opposite of 2003 when all the “experts” agreed that an invasion of Iraq would be a walk in the park. Now they’re filled with trepidation. But they’re still trying to talk themselves into an escalation and may succeed. If the election goes as expected, the Clinton II presidency will be an interesting one.

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




Selling ‘Regime Change’ Wars to the Masses

Propaganda is now such a pervasive part of Western governance that any foreign leader who resists the prevailing power structure can be turned into a demon and made a target of a “regime change” war, explains John Pilger.

By John Pilger

American journalist Edward Bernays is often described as the man who invented modern propaganda. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, it was Bernays who coined the term “public relations” as a euphemism for spin and its deceptions.

In 1929, as a publicist for the cigarette industry, Bernays persuaded feminists to promote cigarettes for women by smoking in the New York Easter Parade – behavior then considered outlandish. One feminist, Ruth Booth, declared, “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!”

Bernays’s influence extended far beyond advertising. His greatest success was his role in convincing the American public to join the slaughter of the First World War. The secret, he said, was “engineering the consent” of people in order to “control and regiment [them] according to our will without their knowing about it.”

He described this as “the true ruling power in our society” and called it an “invisible government.”

Today, the invisible government has never been more powerful and less understood. In my career as a journalist and filmmaker, I have never known propaganda to insinuate our lives and as it does now and to go unchallenged.

Tale of Two Cities

Imagine two cities. Both are under siege by the forces of the government of that country. Both cities are occupied by fanatics, who commit terrible atrocities, such as beheading people. But there is a vital difference. In one siege, the government soldiers are described as liberators by Western reporters embedded with them, who enthusiastically report their battles and air strikes. There are front-page pictures of these heroic soldiers giving a V-sign for victory. There is scant mention of civilian casualties.

In the second city – in another country nearby – almost exactly the same is happening. Government forces are laying siege to a city controlled by the same breed of fanatics.

The difference is that these fanatics are supported, supplied and armed by “us” – by the United States and Britain. They even have a media center that is funded by Britain and America.

Another difference is that the government soldiers laying siege to this city are the “bad guys,” condemned for assaulting and bombing the city – which is exactly what the good soldiers do in the first city.

Confusing? Not really. Such is the basic double standard that is the essence of propaganda. I am referring, of course, to the current siege of the city of Mosul by the government forces of Iraq, who are backed by the United States and Britain, and to the siege of Aleppo by the government forces of Syria, backed by Russia. One is good; the other is bad.

Behind the Fanatics

What is seldom reported is that both cities would not be occupied by fanatics and ravaged by war if Britain and the United States had not invaded Iraq in 2003. That criminal enterprise was launched on lies strikingly similar to the propaganda that now distorts our understanding of the civil war in Syria.

Without this drumbeat of propaganda dressed up as news, the monstrous ISIS and Al Qaeda and the Nusra Front and the rest of the jihadist gang might not exist, and the people of Syria might not be fighting for their lives today.

Some may remember in 2003 a succession of BBC reporters turning to the camera and telling us that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was “vindicated” for what turned out to be the crime of the century, the invasion of Iraq. The U.S. television networks produced the same validation for George W. Bush. Fox News brought on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to effuse over then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s fabrications.

The same year, soon after the invasion, I filmed an interview in Washington with Charles Lewis, the renowned American investigative journalist. I asked him, “What would have happened if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged what turned out to be crude propaganda?”

He replied that if journalists had done their job, “there is a very, very good chance we would not have gone to war in Iraq.”

It was a shocking statement, and one supported by other famous journalists to whom I put the same question — Dan Rather of CBS, David Rose of the Observer, and journalists and producers in the BBC, who wished to remain anonymous.

In other words, had journalists done their job, had they challenged and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children would be alive today, and there would be no ISIS and no siege of Aleppo or Mosul.

There would have been no atrocity on the London Underground on July 7, 2005. There would have been no flight of millions of refugees; there would be no miserable camps.

When the terrorist atrocity happened in Paris last November, President Francoise Hollande immediately sent planes to bomb Syria – and more terrorism followed, predictably, the product of Hollande’s bombast about France being “at war” and “showing no mercy.” That state violence and jihadist violence feed off each other is the truth that no national leader has the courage to speak.

“When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”

Punishing Independence

The attack on Iraq, the attack on Libya, the attack on Syria happened because the leader in each of these countries was not a puppet of the West. The human rights record of a Saddam or a Gaddafi was irrelevant. They did not obey orders and surrender control of their country.

The same fate awaited Slobodan Milosevic once he had refused to sign an “agreement” that demanded the occupation of Serbia and its conversion to a market economy. His people were bombed, and he was prosecuted in The Hague. Independence of this kind is intolerable.

As WikLeaks has revealed, it was only when the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2009 rejected an oil pipeline, running through his country from Qatar to Europe, that he was attacked. From that moment, the CIA planned to destroy the government of Syria with jihadist fanatics – the same fanatics currently holding the people of Mosul and eastern Aleppo hostage.

Why is this not news? The former British Foreign Office official Carne Ross, who was responsible for operating sanctions against Iraq, told me: “We would feed journalists factoids of sanitized intelligence, or we would freeze them out. That is how it worked.”

The West’s medieval client, Saudi Arabia – to which the U.S. and Britain sell billions of dollars’ worth of arms – is at present destroying Yemen, a country so poor that in the best of times, half the children are malnourished.

Look on YouTube and you will see the kind of massive bombs – “our” bombs – that the Saudis use against dirt-poor villages, and against weddings, and funerals. The explosions look like small atomic bombs. The bomb aimers in Saudi Arabia work side-by-side with British officers. This fact is not on the evening news.

Refined Messengers

Propaganda is most effective when our consent is engineered by those with a fine education – Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Columbia – and with careers on the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post.

These organizations are known as the “liberal media.” They present themselves as enlightened, progressive tribunes of the moral zeitgeist. They are anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT. And they love war. While they speak up for feminism, they support rapacious wars that deny the rights of countless women, including the right to life.

In 2011, Libya, then a modern state, was destroyed on the pretext that Muammar Gaddafi was about to commit genocide on his own people. That was the incessant news; and there was no evidence. It was a lie.

In fact, Britain, Europe and the United States wanted what they like to call “regime change” in Libya, the biggest oil producer in Africa. Gaddafi’s influence in the continent and, above all, his independence were intolerable.

So Gaddafi was murdered with a knife in his rear by fanatics, backed by America, Britain and France. Hillary Clinton cheered his gruesome death for the camera, declaring, “We came, we saw, he died!”

The destruction of Libya was a media triumph. As the war drums were beaten, Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian: “Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong.”

Intervention – what a polite, benign, Guardian word, whose real meaning, for Libya, was death and destruction.

According to its own records, NATO launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. They included missiles with uranium warheads. Look at the photographs of the rubble of Misurata and Sirte, and the mass graves identified by the Red Cross. The Unicef report on the children killed says, “most [of them] under the age of ten.”

As a direct consequence, Sirte became a capital of ISIS.

Ukraine is another media triumph. Respectable liberal newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian, and mainstream broadcasters such as the BBC, NBC, CBS, CNN have played a critical role in conditioning their viewers to accept a new and

dangerous Cold War. All have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia when, in fact, the coup in Ukraine in 2014 was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and NATO.

Inversion of Reality

This inversion of reality is so pervasive that Washington’s military intimidation of Russia is not news; it is suppressed behind a smear-and-scare campaign of the kind I grew up with during the first Cold War. Once again, the Russkies are coming to get us, led by another Stalin, whom The Economist depicts as the devil.

The suppression of the truth about Ukraine is one of the most complete news blackouts I can remember. The fascists who engineered the coup in Kiev are the same breed that backed the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Of all the scares about the rise of fascist anti-Semitism in Europe, no leader ever mentions the fascists in Ukraine – except Vladimir Putin, but he does not count.

Many in the Western media have worked hard to present the ethnic Russian-speaking population of Ukraine as outsiders in their own country, as agents of Moscow, almost never as Ukrainians seeking a federation within Ukraine and as Ukrainian citizens resisting a foreign-orchestrated coup against their elected government.

There is almost the joie d’esprit of a class reunion of warmongers. The drum-beaters of the Washington Post inciting war with Russia are the very same editorial writers who published the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

A Freak Show 

To most of us, the American presidential campaign is a media freak show, in which Donald Trump is the arch villain. But Trump is loathed by those with power in the United States for reasons that have little to do with his obnoxious behavior and opinions.

To the invisible government in Washington, the unpredictable Trump is an obstacle to America’s design for the Twenty-first Century. This is to maintain the dominance of the United States and to subjugate Russia, and, if possible, China.

To the militarists in Washington, the real problem with Trump is that, in his lucid moments, he seems not to want a war with Russia; he wants to talk with the Russian president, not fight him; he says he wants to talk with the president of China.

In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump promised not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict. He said, “I would certainly not do first strike. Once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over.” That was not news.

Did he really mean it? Who knows? He often contradicts himself. But what is clear is that Trump is considered a serious threat to the status quo maintained by the vast national security machine that runs the United States, regardless of who is in the White House.

The CIA wants him beaten. The Pentagon wants him beaten. The media wants him beaten. Even his own party wants him beaten. He is a threat to the rulers of the world – unlike Hillary Clinton who has left no doubt she is prepared to go to war with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

The Clinton Danger   

Clinton has the form, as she often boasts. Indeed, her record is proven. As a senator, she backed the bloodbath in Iraq. When she ran against Obama in 2008, she threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran. As Secretary of State, she colluded in the destruction of governments in Libya and Honduras and set in train the baiting of China.

She has now pledged to support a “no-fly zone” in Syria – a direct provocation for war with Russia. Clinton may well become the most dangerous president of the United States in my lifetime – a distinction for which the competition is fierce.

Without a shred of public evidence, Clinton has accused Russia of supporting Trump and hacking her emails. Released by WikiLeaks, these emails tell us that what Clinton says in private, in speeches to the rich and powerful, is the opposite of what she says in public.

That is why silencing and threatening Julian Assange is so important. As the editor of WikiLeaks, Assange knows the truth. And let me assure those who are concerned, he is well, and WikiLeaks is operating on all cylinders.

Today, the greatest build-up of American-led forces since World War Two is under way – in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, on the border with Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, where China is the target.

Keep that in mind when the presidential election circus reaches its finale on Nov. 8. If the winner is Clinton, a Greek chorus of witless commentators will celebrate her coronation as a great step forward for women. None will mention Clinton’s victims: the women of Syria, the women of Iraq, the women of Libya. None will mention the civil defense drills being conducted in Russia. None will recall Edward Bernays’s “torches of freedom.”

Scott McClellan, who had been George W. Bush’s press spokesman, once called the media “complicit enablers.” Coming from a senior official in an administration whose lies, enabled by the media, caused such suffering, that description is a warning from history.

In 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal prosecutor said of the German media: “Before every major aggression, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically for the attack. In the propaganda system, it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”

This is adapted from an address to the Sheffield Festival of Words, Sheffield, England. JohnPilger.com – the films and journalism of John Pilger.




Bernie Sanders’s Hopes and Regrets

Bernie Sanders hopes to hold a President Hillary Clinton to the Democratic platform’s commitment to progressive policies, but the Vermont senator may be having doubts and possibly regrets, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

Leading protests and stirring up trouble in the Senate might be all that’s left for Bernie Sanders to do in contesting Hillary Clinton’s administration if, as many expect, it deviates from her public embrace of some Sanders positions if and when she becomes President.

“I won’t stay silent if Clinton nominates the same old, same old Wall Street guys,” Sanders said this week. “The leverage that I think I take into the Senate is taking on the entire Democratic Party establishment, and, you know, taking on a very powerful political organization with the Clinton people. We won 22 states and 46 percent of the pledged delegates, 13.4 million votes . . . and a majority of the younger people, the future of the country. . . . That gives me a lot of leverage, leverage that I intend to use.”

Looking forward to Clinton’s expected election on Nov. 8, the 75-year-old Vermont senator said he’s begun to draft some of his planks that were accepted into the Democratic platform into legislation: on climate change, minimum wage and breaking up big banks. But given what we now know about what the Clinton machine thinks of him, it’s debatable how much leverage he’ll have.

It’s not hard to imagine Sanders contemplating what could have been as he sees the two most unpopular candidates in modern history beset by ever deepening scandals: Clinton from Wikileaks revelations and Trump from exposure of alleged sexual misconduct.

Sanders now knows for certain how the Democratic National Committee undermined his candidacy when it was supposed to remain neutral. And he knows from Wikileaks’ disclosure of Clinton’s Wall Street speeches, which he repeatedly demanded that she make public, how cozy she is with plutocrats.

A Third-Party Run

In the context of these revelations, is it not reasonable to assume that if Sanders had taken Jill Stein’s offer to head the Green Party ticket that such a team would have gotten 15 percent in the polls and a place at the debates? Wouldn’t Sanders’s presence at the debates have given an alternative to voters who detest both Trump and Clinton and at least a chance to build a viable third-party movement?

Sanders said he supports Clinton because an independent or a third-party run could have handed the election to Trump. “I don’t want to end up like Ralph Nader,” Sanders told journalist Chris Hedges. Nader is blamed for handing the 2000 election to George W. Bush over Al Gore with his Green Party run, which kept the vote in Florida close enough for Bush, with the help of five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court, to claim its electoral votes and thus the presidency. [For how a full Florida recount would have given Gore the White House, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Gore’s Victory” and “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]

But it is questionable whether Sanders would have divided the Clinton vote to make Trump president. Millions of angry voters from an eroding middle class could have supported Sanders instead of Trump. In other words, Sanders could have taken away just as many and perhaps more votes from Trump, as both were insurgency candidates against the Establishment’s choice.

Sanders who hasn’t even a whiff of corruption about him might well be soaring above both of them in the polls by now.

It also appears that Sanders made his decision to support Clinton almost wholly based on domestic issues, which he focused nearly exclusively on during his primary campaign. On immigration, climate change, gun control and a number of other issues, Sanders aligns with Clinton rather than Trump.

And, Sanders rightly feared Trump’s xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, racism and demagoguery. But Sanders overlooked Trump’s conciliatory approach toward Russia and Clinton’s warmongering on Syria and her open hostility toward Russia. Given Sanders’s accurate critique of Clinton’s fondness for “regime change” wars, a Sanders’s victory would have likely offered a greater hope for peace.

In other words, Sanders had an historic opportunity and, arguably, an obligation in the face of the ruin of the American middle class and the danger of looming global conflict, but he failed to seize it. He either did not take seriously or failed to understand the urgency of the situation. He talked about a “revolution” to upend the status quo but ended up supporting a status quo candidate for President.

Given his comments this week, he might well be regretting his decision.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached atjoelauria@gmail.com  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.