Saturday, July 21, 2018

Dementia in the Western Establishment

Donald Trump was Elected by Russia? Mass Dementia in the Western Establishment

by Diana Johnstone - Global Research

July 20, 2018

Mainstream Media Reaction to Trump-Putin Meeting


Where to begin to analyze the madness of mainstream media in reaction to the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki? By focusing on the individual, psychology has neglected the problem of mass insanity, which has now overwhelmed the United States establishment, its mass media and most of its copycat European subsidiaries.

The individuals may be sane, but as a herd they are ready to leap off the cliff.

For the past two years, a particular power group has sought to explain away its loss of power – or rather, its loss of the Presidency, as it still holds a predominance of institutional power – by creation of a myth. Mainstream media is known for its herd behavior, and in this case the editors, commentators, journalists have talked themselves into a story that initially they themselves could hardly take seriously.

Donald Trump was elected by Russia?

On the face of it, this is preposterous. Okay, the United States can manage to rig elections in Honduras, or Serbia, or even Ukraine, but the United States is a bit too big and complex to leave the choice of the Presidency to a barrage of electronic messages totally unread by most voters. If this were so, Russia wouldn’t need to try to “undermine our democracy”. It would mean that our democracy was already undermined, in tatters, dead. A standing corpse ready to be knocked over by a tweet.

Even if, as is alleged without evidence, an army of Russian bots (even bigger than the notorious Israeli army of bots) was besieging social media with its nefarious slanders against poor innocent Hillary Clinton, this could determine an election only in a vacuum, with no other influences in the field. But there was a lot of other stuff going on in the 2016 election, some for Trump and some for Hillary, and Hillary herself scored a crucial own goal by denigrating millions of Americans as “deplorables” because they didn’t fit into her identity politics constituencies.

The Russians could do nothing to build support for Trump, and there is not a hint of evidence that they tried. They might have done something to harm Hillary, because there was so much there: the private server emails, the Clinton foundation, the murder of Moammer Gaddafi, the call for a no-fly zone in Syria … they didn’t have to invent it. It was there. So was the hanky panky at the Democratic National Committee, on which the Clintonite accusations focus, perhaps to cause everyone to forget much worse things.

When you come to think of it, the DNC scandal focused on Debbie Wasserman Schultz, not on Hillary herself. Screaming about “Russian hacking the DNC” has been a distraction from much more serious accusations against Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders supporters didn’t need those “revelations” to make them stop loving Hillary or even to discover that the DNC was working against Bernie. It was always perfectly obvious.

So at worst, “the Russians” are accused of revealing some relatively minor facts concerning the Hillary Clinton campaign. Big deal.

But that is enough, after two years of fakery, to send the establishment into a frenzy of accusations of “treason” when Trump does what he said he would do while campaigning, try to normalize relations with Russia.

This screaming comes not only from the US mainstream, but also from that European elite which has been housebroken for seventy years as obedient poodles, dachshunds or corgis in the American menagerie, via intense vetting by US trans-Atlantic “cooperation” associations.

They have based their careers on the illusion of sharing the world empire by following U.S. whims in the Middle East and transforming the mission of their armed forces from defense into foreign intervention units of NATO under U.S. command. Having not thought seriously about the implications of this for over half a century, they panic at the suggestion of being left to themselves.

The Western elite is now suffering from self-inflicted dementia.

Donald Trump is not particularly articulate, navigating through the language with a small repetitive vocabulary, but what he said at his Helsinki press conference was honest and even brave. As the hounds bay for his blood, he quite correctly refused to endorse the “findings” of US intelligence agencies, fourteen years after the same agencies “found” that Iraq was bursting with weapons of mass destruction. How in the world could anyone expect anything else?

But for the mainstream media, “the story” at the Helsinki summit, even the only story, was Trump’s reaction to the, er, trumped up charges of Russian interference in our democracy. Were you or were you not elected thanks to Russian hackers? All they wanted was a yes or no answer. Which could not possibly be yes. So they could write their reports in advance.

Anyone who has frequented mainstream journalists, especially those who cover the “big stories” on international affairs, is aware of their obligatory conformism, with few exceptions. To get the job, one must have important “sources”, meaning government spokesmen who are willing to tell you what “the story” is, often without being identified. Once they know what “the story” is, competition sets in: competition as to how to tell it. That leads to an escalation of rhetoric, variations on the theme: “The President has betrayed our great country to the Russian enemy. Treason!”

This demented chorus on “Russian hacking” prevented mainstream media from even doing their job. Not even mentioning, much less analyzing, any of the real issues at the summit. To find analysis, one must go on line, away from the official fake news to independent reporting.

For example, “the Moon of Alabama” site offers an intelligent interpretation of the Trump strategy, which sounds infinitely more plausible than “the story”. In short, Trump is trying to woo Russia away from China, in a reverse version of Kissinger’s strategy forty years ago to woo China away from Russia, thus avoiding a continental alliance against the United States. This may not work because the United States has proven so untrustworthy that the cautious Russians are highly unlikely to abandon their alliance with China for shadows. But it makes perfect sense as an explanation of Trump’s policy, unlike the caterwauling we’ve been hearing from Senators and talking heads on CNN.

Those people seem to have no idea of what diplomacy is about. They cannot conceive of agreements that would be beneficial to both sides. No, it’s got to be a zero sum game, winner take all. If they win, we lose, and vice versa.

They also have no idea of the harm to both sides if they do not agree. They have no project, no strategy. Just hate Trump.

He seems totally isolated, and every morning I look at the news to see if he has been assassinated yet.

It is unimaginable for our Manichean moralists that Putin might also be under fire at home for failing to chide the American president for U.S. violations of human rights in Guantanamo, murderous drone strikes against defenseless citizens throughout the Middle East, the destruction of Libya in violation of the UN mandate, interference in the elections of countless countries by government-financed “non-governmental organizations” (the National Endowment of Democracy), worldwide electronic spying, invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the world’s greatest prison population and regular massacres of school children.

But the diplomatic Russians know how to be polite.

Still, if Trump actually makes a “deal”, there may be losers – neither the U.S. nor Russia but third parties. When two great powers reach agreement, it is often at somebody else’s expense. The West Europeans are afraid it will be them, but such fears are groundless. All Putin wants is normal relations with the West, which is not much to ask.

Rather, candidate number one for paying the price are the Palestinians, or even Iran, in marginal ways. At the press conference, asked about possible areas of cooperation between the two nuclear powers, Trump suggested that the two could agree on helping Israel:

“We both spoke with Bibi Netanyahu. They would like to do certain things with respect to Syria, having to do with the safety of Israel. In that respect, we absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel. Israel will be working with us. So both countries would work jointly.”

In political terms, Trump knows where political power lies, and is counting on the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, which recognizes the defeat in Syria and the rising influence of Russia, to save him from the liberal imperialists – a daring bet, but he does not have much choice.

On another subject, Trump said that “our militaries” get along with the Russians “better than our politicians”. This is another daring bet, on military realism that could somehow neutralize military industrial congressional complex lobbying for more and more weapons.

In short, the only chance to end the nuclear war threat may depend on support for Trump from Israel and the Pentagon!

The hysterical neoliberal globalists seem to have ruled out any other possibility – and perhaps this one too.

“Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia forwards the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world”
Trump declared “I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.”

That is more than his political enemies can claim.

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. The memoirs of Diana Johnstone’s father Paul H. Johnstone, From MAD to Madness, was published by Clarity Press, with her commentary. She is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG). She can be reached at

Triangulating Russia: Is There Cunning Behind Trump's Courting?

Is Trump Implementing the ‘Bannon Strategy’ by Courting Russia?


July 20, 2018

Prof. Gerald Horne examines the Trump-Bannon objectives of forming an alliance with Russia to isolate China and Iran, while Democrats spin out of control in their attacks against Trump.

Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston. He is the author of over 30 books, including 'The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America'. 

We can't show you everything!

Twitter Reminds: We can't show you everything!

July 21, 2018

 We can't show you everything!

We automatically hide photos that might contain sensitive content. - Twitter

Israel Concedes: Apartheid State Declared in Knesset

De Facto and Now De Jure Racism/Apartheid

by Mazin Qumsiyeh

July 21, 2018

Finally, the Israeli Knesset puts it into words/law and is now de jure as well as de facto racist/apartheid "Jewish nation-state".

The new "law"violates international treaties and norms (including the 1976 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid).

But on the bright side no one can now defend Israel as a "democracy" since it is now not by practice alone but by clearly worded "law" that it is an apartheid racist state for and by the Jewish people (imagine if a similar law about "whites" or "Christians" was instituted in any other country).

ADALAH responds to racist law

First Ever: 40 Jewish Groups Worldwide Oppose Equating Anti-Semitism with Criticism Of Israel

Netanyahu leaked tape: We made trump nix Iran deal

New lows reached: Qatar funded Zionist Organization of America

"Russian actions on its own doorstep in Eastern Europe do not in fact threaten the United States or any actual vital interest. Nor does Moscow threaten the U.S. through its intervention on behalf of the Syrian government in the Middle East. 
That Russia is described incessantly as a threat in those areas is largely a contrivance arranged by the media, the Democratic and Republican National Committees and by the White House. Candidate Donald Trump appeared to recognize that fact before he began listening to Michael Flynn, who has a rather different view. 
Hopefully the old Trump will prevail, there is, however, another country that has interfered in U.S. elections, has endangered Americans living or working overseas and has corrupted America’s legislative and executive branches. It has exploited that corruption to initiate legislation favorable to itself, has promoted unnecessary and unwinnable wars and has stolen American technology and military secrets. 
Its ready access to the mainstream media to spread its own propaganda provides it with cover for its actions and it accomplishes all that and more through the agency of a powerful and well-funded domestic lobby that oddly is not subject to the accountability afforded by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 even though it manifestly works on behalf of a foreign government. That country is, of course, Israel” - Julian Assange

In speaking to the flotilla participants I quoted Martin Luther King Jr:

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’
Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’
Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’
But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

Stay Human and ACT for conscience

Mazin Qumsiyeh

A Bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
Professor, Founder, and (volunteer) Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History
Palestine Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability
Bethlehem University
Occupied Palestine
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Human Rights newsletter

Friday, July 20, 2018

Burning Nicaragua

Former Prisoner of Conscience Condemns Amnesty International

by Camilo E. Mejia - TeleSur

13 June 2018

An open letter to Amnesty International, by former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Camilo E. Mejia, on the violence gripping his native Nicaragua.

Through this letter I express my unequivocal condemnation of Amnesty International with regards to the destabilizing role it has played in Nicaragua, my country of birth.

I open this letter quoting Donatella Rovera, who at the time of speaking had been one of Amnesty International's field investigators for more than 20 years:

"Conflict situations create highly politicized and polarized environments… Players and interested parties go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate or manufacture 'evidence' for both internal and external consumption.
"A recent – though by no means the only – example is provided by the Syrian conflict in what is often referred to as the 'YouTube war,' with a myriad techniques employed to manipulate video footage of incidents which occurred at other times in other places – including in other countries – and present them as 'proof' of atrocities committed by one or other parties to the conflict in Syria."

Rovera's remarks, made in 2014, properly describe the situation in Nicaragua today, where even the preamble of the crisis was manipulated to generate rejection of the Nicaraguan government. Amnesty International's maliciously titled report – 'Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua's Strategy to Repress Protest' – could be dismantled point by point, but doing so requires precious time that the Nicaraguan people don't have, therefore I will concentrate on two main points:

1. The report completely lacks neutrality
2. Amnesty International's role is contributing to the chaos in which the nation finds itself

The operating narrative, agreed upon by the local opposition and the corporate western media, is as follows: that President Daniel Ortega sought to cut 5 percent from retirees' monthly retirement checks and that he was going to increase contributions, made by employees and employers, into the social security system.

The reforms sparked protests, the response to which was a government-ordered genocide of peaceful protesters: more than 60, mostly students. A day or two after that, the Nicaraguan government would wait until nightfall to send its police force out in order to decimate the Nicaraguan population, night after night, city by city, in the process destroying its own public buildings and killing its own police force, to then culminate its murderous rampage with a Mothers' Day massacre, and so on.

While the above narrative is not uniformly expressed by all anti-government actors, the unifying elements are that the government is committing genocide, and that the president and vice-president must go.

Amnesty International's assertions are mostly based on testimony by anti-government witnesses and victims, or uncorroborated and highly manipulated information emitted by U.S.-financed anti-government media outlets and non-profit organizations, collectively known as 'civil society.'

The three main media organizations cited by the report – Confidencial, 100% Noticias, and La Prensa – are sworn enemies of the Ortega government. Most of these opposition news media organizations – along with some, if not all, of the main non-profits cited by the report – are funded by the United States through organizations such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has been characterized by retired U.S. Congressman Ron Paul as "an organization that uses U.S. tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas. It underwrites color-coded 'people's revolutions' overseas that look more like pages out of Lenin's writings on stealing power than genuine Indigenous democratic movements."

Amnesty's report heavily relies on 100% Noticias, an anti-government news outlet that has aired manipulated and inflammatory material to generate hatred against the Nicaraguan government, including footage of peaceful protesters – unaware of the fact that the protesters were carrying pistols and rifles and were shooting at police officers during incidents reported by the network as acts of police repression of opposition marches. On Mothers' Day, 100% Noticias reported the purported shooting of unarmed protesters by police marksmen, including an incident in which a young man's brains were spilling out of his skull. The network followed the report with a photograph that Rovera would refer to as an incident "which occurred at other times in other places." The picture included in the report was quickly met on social media by links to past online articles depicting the same image.

One of the sources (footnote #77) cited to corroborate the alleged denial of medical care at state hospitals to patients injured at opposition events – one of the main accusations repeated and reaffirmed by Amnesty International – is a press conference published by La Prensa, in which the chief of surgery denies claims he had been fired, or that hospital officials denied care to protesters at the beginning of the conflict. "I repeat," he is heard saying, "as the chief of surgery, I repeat order: to take care of, I will be clear, to take care of the entire population that comes here, without investigating anything at all." In other words, one of Amnesty International's own sources contradicts one of the report's main claims.

The above-mentioned examples of manipulated and manufactured evidence, to borrow the words of Amnesty's own investigator, are just a small sample, but they capture the essence of this modality of U.S.-sponsored regime change. The report feeds on claims from those on one side of the conflict and relies on deeply corrupted evidence. It ultimately helps create the mirage of a genocidal state, in turn generating more anti-government sentiment locally and abroad, and paving the way for ever more aggressive foreign intervention.

A Different Narrative

The original reforms to social security were not proposed by the Sandinista government, but by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and they were supported by an influential business group known as COSEP. They included raising the retirement age from 60 to 65 and doubling the number of quotas necessary to get full social security from 750 to 1500. Among the impacted retirees, approximately 53,000 are the families of combatants who died in the armed conflict of the 1980s, from both the Sandinista army and the 'Contras': the mercenary army financed by the U.S. government in the 1980s, around the same time the NED was created, in part, to stop the spread of Sandinismo in Latin America.

The Nicaraguan government countered the IMF reforms by rejecting the cutting out of any retirees, with a proposed 5 percent cut to all retirement checks, an increase in all contributions to the social security system, and with fiscal reform that removed a tax-ceiling that protected Nicaragua's biggest salaries from higher taxation. The business sector was furious and together with non-governmental organizations organized the first marches, using the pretext of the reforms in the same manipulative way Amnesty International's report explains them: "The reform increased social security contributions by both employers and employees and imposed an additional 5 percent contribution on pensioners."

The continuing narrative, repeated and validated by Amnesty International, is that the protesters are peaceful and the genocidal government is irrationally bent on committing atrocities in plain sight. Meanwhile, the number of dead among Sandinista supporters and police officers continues to rise. The report states that ballistic investigations suggest that those shooting at protesters are likely trained snipers, pointing to government involvement, but fails to mention that many of the victims are Sandinistas, regular citizens and police officers. It also does not mention that the 'peaceful protesters' have burned down and destroyed more than 60 public buildings, among them many city halls, Sandinista houses, markets, artisan shops, radio stations and more. Nor does it mention that the protesters have established 'tranques' (roadblocks) in order to debilitate the economy as a tactic to oust the government. Such 'tranques' have become extremely dangerous scenes where murder, robbery, kidnapping and the rape of at least one child have taken place; a young pregnant woman whose ambulance wasn't let through died on May 17. All of these crimes occur daily and are highly documented, but aren't included in Amnesty International's report.

While the organization is right to criticize the government's belittling response to the initial protests, such response was not entirely untrue. According to the report, Vice-President Murillo said: "They (the protesters) had made up the reports of fatalities… as part of an anti-government strategy." What Amnesty leaves out is that several of the students reported dead later turned up alive – one of them in Spain – while others weren't killed at rallies, nor were they students or activists: one died from a stray bullet and another died in bed from a heart attack.

Amnesty's report also leaves out that many students have deserted the movement, alleging there are criminals entrenched at universities and the various 'tranques' who are only interested in destabilizing the nation. Those criminals have created a state of sustained fear among the population, imposing 'taxes' on those who want passage; persecuting those who refuse to be detained; kidnapping, beating and torturing them, and setting their cars on fire. In one common practice, they undress their victims, paint their naked bodies in public with the blue and white of the Nicaraguan flag then set them free, prompting them to run right before shooting them with homemade mortars. All of this information, which did not make the report, is available in numerous videos and other sources.

Why Nicaragua?

The most basic review of the history between Nicaragua and the United States will show a clear rivalry. Beginning in the mid-1800s, Nicaragua has been resisting U.S. intervention in its domestic affairs, a resistance that continued through the 20th century: first with General August C. Sandino's fight in the 1920s and 30s, then with the Sandinistas – organized as the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) – which overthrew the U.S.-supported, 40-year Somoza family dictatorship in 1979. The FSLN, despite having gained power through armed struggle, called for elections shortly after its triumph in 1984, and eventually lost to yet another U.S.-supported coalition of right-wing political parties in 1990. The FSLN once again managed, aided by pacts made with the church and the opposition, to win the election of 2006 and has remained in power since.

In addition to Nicaragua's close ties with Venezuela, Cuba, Russia and especially China, with whom the country signed a contract to build a canal, the other main reason the United States is after the Sandinistas is Nicaragua's highly successful economic model, which represents an existential threat to the neoliberal economic order imposed by the United States and its allies.

Despite always being among the poorest nations in the American continent and the world, Nicaragua has managed – since Ortega returned to power in 2007 – to cut poverty by three quarters. Prior to the protests in April, the economy sustained a steady annual economic growth of about 5 percent for several years; the country had the third fastest-growing economy in Latin America, and Nicaragua was one of the safest nations in the region.

The government's infrastructural upgrades have facilitated trade among Nicaragua's poorest citizens; they have created universal access to education: primary, secondary and university; there are programs on land, housing, nutrition and more; the healthcare system, while modest, is not only excellent but accessible to everyone. Approximately 90 percent of the food consumed by Nicaraguans is produced in Nicaragua, and about 70 percent of jobs come from the grassroots economy – rather than from transnational corporations – including from small investors from the United States and Europe who have moved to the country and are now a driving force behind the tourism industry.

The audacity of success – of giving its poorest citizens a life with dignity, of being an example of sovereignty to wealthier, more powerful nations, all in direct contradiction to the neoliberal model and its emphasis on privatization and austerity – has once again placed Nicaragua in the crosshairs of U.S. intervention. Imagine the example to other nations, their economies already strangled by neoliberal policies, becoming aware of one of the poorest countries on earth being able to feed its people and grow its economy without throwing its poorest citizens under the iron boot of capitalism. The United States will never tolerate such a dangerous example.

In Closing

The Nicaraguan government has deficiencies and contradictions to work on, like all governments, and as a Sandinista myself I would like to see the party transformed in various important ways, both internally and externally. I have refrained from writing of those deficiencies and contradictions, however, because the violent protests and ensuing chaos we have seen are not the result of the Nicaraguan government's shortcomings, but rather of its many successes; that inconvenient truth is the reason the United States and its allies, including Amnesty International, have chosen to "create highly politicized and polarized environments… and go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate or manufacture 'evidence' for both internal and external consumption."

At a time when even the Organization of American States, the United Nations and the Vatican have called for peaceful and constitutional reforms as the only way out of the conflict, Amnesty International has continued to beseech the international community to not "abandon the Nicaraguan people." Such a biased stance, obscenely bloated on highly manipulated, distorted and one-sided information, has made the terrible situation in Nicaragua even worse. The loss of Nicaraguan lives, including the blood of those ignored by Amnesty International, has been used to manufacture the 'evidence' used in the organization's report, which makes the organization complicit in what future foreign intervention might fall upon the Nicaraguan people. It is now up to the organization to correct that wrong and to do so in a way that reflects a firm commitment first and foremost to the truth – wherever it might fall – and to neutrality, peace, democracy and always to the sovereignty of every nation on earth.


Camilo E. Mejia
Iraq war veteran, resister and conscientious objector (2003-2004);
Amnesty International prisoner of conscience (June 2004).

Nicaragua: Cutting Through the Media Misinformation

Nicaragua - Lee Camp interviews Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance 

by Lee Camp - Redacted Tonight

via Tortilla con Sal

July 19, 2018

Lee Camp speaks with Kevin Zeese about the situation unfolding in Nicaragua. Then, he explains the recent court ruling that airport security can sexually assault you.

Follow Kevin Zeese on Twitter: 

Spinning Insecurity for Gain and Profit

The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive 

by Brian Cloughley - CounterPunch

July 20, 2018

Photo by Addicted04 | CC BY 2.0

Perhaps we should feel sorry for Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general and titular head of the NATO military alliance, because he dances to the drum beats of the Pentagon and doesn’t have any real power, as the top dog of the US-NATO pack is the grandly-titled Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, who takes his orders from Washington, the hub of the Military-Industrial Complex and the Deep State.

It must be sad for Mr Stoltenberg to be an inconsequential little puppy, for he seems at heart to be quite a pleasant fellow and it may be — just possibly — that he attempts to look beyond the dark horizons of the war-profits that come from military confrontation of Russia.

Yet Stoltenberg keeps saying he is in favor of an enormously potent NATO, and at a media conference following the chaotic Trump-NATO ding-dong in Brussels on 10-11 July announced that “we decided to raise the readiness of our forces; to increase our ability to move them across the Atlantic and within Europe; to modernize our command structure” and so on, which was normal saber-rattling stuff. Then he felt he had to praise Donald Trump who had not only insulted the President and people of Germany at the farcical assembly, but repeatedly interrupted Stoltenberg in the most scornful manner.

Puppy dog Stoltenberg rolled over and put his paws in the air and begged the loutish Trump to scratch his tummy. At his press conference he fawningly oozed that “there is a new sense of urgency due to President Trump’s strong leadership on defense spending,” which was nauseating endorsement of Trump’s wild-eyed rant in which he demanded that the Europeans should hike their military spending to four percent of their countries’ economic output — which Stoltenberg said would “allow US spending to go down.”

The ludicrous absurdity of that statement was spotlighted by the analyst Jacob Hornberger who noted witheringly that Trump was “pressuring NATO members to plunder and loot their citizens through higher taxation to help pay for NATO’s exorbitant expenses. Big deal.

How is that helpful? Does anyone really think that that is going to result in a reduction of expenditures for the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA? If so, I’ve got a nice bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.”

But Stoltenberg didn’t backtrack on his puppy-dog approach to the belligerent Trump who the Washington Post reported as “demanding credit from Stoltenberg for forcing an increase of NATO defense budgets.”

The tail-wagging secretary general obviously wanted a head-pat or even a juicy bone and was happy to reiterate that the enforced increase “was also because of your leadership,” which was as ridiculous a statement as can be imagined. Trump’s “leadership” was demonstrated by him cancelling meetings with two presidents, being 30 minutes late for the final meeting, and ending up by “declaring victory and boasting that he threatened allies and it worked.”

As one diplomat told Vanity Fair “this meeting confirmed that Trump barely knows the politics, if even the geography, of Europe. Diplomacy has become a sadly hilarious affair with him.” Quite so, but it would have helped if those at the conference had been more forthright when he was stupidly critical concerning subjects about which he knows very little.

Chancellor Merkel did most to try to put him in his place, after Trump declared that Germany contributed too little to Europe’s defense, but she didn’t slap him down, confining herself to saying that,

“Germany does a lot for Nato. . . Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to Nato and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States.” 

But Trump pays no attention to fact, logic or diplomatic decorum.

The President of the United States is probably the loosest political wheel on the planet, and after the meeting that he had done so much to disrupt he held a press conference at which, as the Guardian reported, he claimed proudly that,

“European leaders had caved in to his demands – something both the French and Germans later denied. He said they had agreed to reach the Nato target of spending 2% of GDP on defense faster than previously planned, and he claimed financial commitments would increase beyond that in the future.”

But Stoltenberg was also living in his own world of make-believe, and had given Trump at least some reason for his ridiculous assertions by holding an emergency session with all NATO leaders and then announcing that,

“We had a very frank and open discussion . . . That discussion has made Nato stronger. It has created a new sense of urgency. A clear message from President Trump is having an impact.” 

And what an impact. Certainly the Trumpian message made the puppy dog wag its tail again, but it didn’t impress any of the national leaders whose post-debacle comments were sensible but muted.

The rationale for NATO’s existence is the defense of its members. Article 5 is succinct, in that member nations,

“agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Is there any chance of an “armed attack” on any member nation? 

Even Mr Stoltenberg admits that “we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally”, so what is all the fuss about? Certainly he declared in March 2018 that “we see a much more assertive Russia” but was adamant that “NATO does not want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race.”

If this is really what NATO wants, the Trump approach is bizarre, to put it mildly. In any event, the arms race is one-sided because, as recorded in the 2018 World Report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute “In 2017 the USA spent more on its military [$610 billion] than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. . . . at $66.3 billion, Russia’s military spending in 2017 was 20 per cent lower than in 2016.” Some race.

In April 2018 Trump ordered US government agencies to expand arms sales abroad, and there might be a grain of logic in his insistence that NATO should spend a lot more money, because the Pentagon is said to have calculated that “overseas weapons sales by US firms rose $8.3 billion from 2016 to 2017, with US arms makers moving a total of $41.9 billion in advanced weaponry to foreign militaries last year.”

Of equal relevance, State’s assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, Tina Kaidanow, was reported as saying that “longtime American partners in Europe and NATO recognize the strategic value of the connection between US defense firms and foreign militaries.”

There is money in sowing suspicion and supporting armed confrontation, and if you’ve got a supportive puppy, who knows what the profits might be?

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.
More articles by:Brian Cloughley

Remembering the "Intelligence Community": Ten Reminiscences of Institutional Treachery

“Democratic Institutions?” – 10 Lessons from history that will destroy your trust in the CIA

by Kit - Off Guardian

July 20, 2018

Did everyone urging us to trust the CIA forget this happened? Or do they just want us to?

In the hysterical wake of the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki, President Donald Trump was roundly criticised in the media for taking the side of a “hostile state” over his own intelligence agencies. The Guardian referred to Mueller as a “heroic marine” who Trump disbelieved in favour of a “Russian dictator”.

In the past, when Trump has criticised the FBI, CIA or NSA he has been accused of “undermining faith in our institutions”. He’s been blamed for a collapse of trust in the government. But was this trust ever earned?

At every corner, we are urged to simply believe what we are told. Whether it is about believing Porton Down and MI6 about “novichok”, or believing the White Helmets about Sarin, or believing the FBI about “collusion”, we are presented with no facts, just assertions from authority.

Those who question those assertions are deemed “bots” at best or “traitors” at worst.

Well here, fellow traitors, are the Top Ten reasons to question anything and everything the CIA – or any intelligence agency – has ever told you.

10. OPERATION PAPERCLIP – we’ll start with an oldie but a goody. In 1945, as the allies were advancing on Berlin from both sides, American Army Intelligence (this was before the CIA were founded) were “capturing” (read: recruiting) over 1600 Nazi scientists and engineers. Most famous of them was Werhner von Braun…sorry, SS Sturmbannführer von Braun.

Whilst Allied soldiers died in the name of defeating fascism, the CIA’s predecessors were actively recruiting Nazis to come and build bombs for them.

9. OPERATION NORTHWOODS – The original, and important, precedent for accusations that the CIA et al. might engage in false-flag attacks. Operation Northwoods was a joint CIA/Pentagon proposal designed around the idea of escalating a war with Cuba by stoking public anger:

"The proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other U.S. government operatives to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians and military targets, blaming it on the Cuban government, and using it to justify a war against Cuba."

The idea was vetoed by President Kennedy. Fifty years later, the CIA and Pentagon still very much exist, but there’s no longer a Kennedy there to veto their more psychopathic ideas. Funny how that worked out.

8. ALLENDE COUP – In 1970 Salvador Allende was elected to the Chilean Presidency. A Physician and dedicated socialist, Allende was the first socialist president elected in South America. The Nixon-lead government of the United States immediately implemented “economic warfare” (as they do, to this day, against Cuba, Venezuela and others). The economic warfare did not work, and in 1973 Allende’s socialist party increased their parliamentary majority.

In response, the US “assisted” (read: instructed) the Chilean military in carrying out a coup. Allende allegedly shot himself, and Augusto Pinochet was placed in power as the first dictator in Chile’s history. Pinochet was a fascist who executed Chilean “subversives” by the thousand…and was the darling of Western leaders.

7. MOSADDEGH COUP – I could just copy-and-paste the above paragraph and the change the names for this entry. In 1953, the Prime Minister of Iran – Mohammad Mosaddegh, a democratic socialist – wanted to audit the income of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company with an eye to limiting foreign control of Iran’s oil. Within a few months, a joint US/UK operation – Operation Ajax – had removed Mosaddegh’s elected government and turned over full control of the state to the Shah. He was a brutal absolute monarch, but the question of Western control of Iran’s enormous oil reserves wasn’t raised again under his leadership.

6. OPERATION MOCKINGBIRD – A CIA operation that you could deduce existed, even if were not proven….and it is proven. Mockingbird was the CIA project to coerce, train, control or plant CIA-friendly journalists in major news networks all across the country and in every medium. It’s existence is no longer disputed, thanks to FOIA releases of internal memos.

Mockingbird was allegedly shut down in 1976 – just after its existence was leaked – then CIA director George HW Bush claiming:

"…effective immediately, CIA will not enter into any paid or contractual relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station."

If you’re willing to stake anything on the word of a Bush, well, good luck with that. It’s a decision that flies in the face of historical evidence.

Remember this one when you hear about the need to trust the CIA from some pundit on CNN or MSNBC.

5. MASS SURVEILLANCE – It’s not really talked about much these days – what with the vast majority of the media and huge sections of the supposedly “anti-establishment” progressive left marching in-step with the Deep State – but the NSA spied on the whole world. The whole world. We know this to be true because an employee of the Deep State – Edward Snowden – leaked the information.

When challenged on this issue, representatives of the NSA and CIA lied. They lied to the public, and they lied to congress. When they were proven to have lied, they carefully qualified their lies.

A qualified lie is still a lie.

There is no indication they have stopped this illegal surveillance, but they may have passed laws to make it legal.

4. NAYIRAH – A classic of “atrocity propaganda”, Nayirah should be required reading material for anybody looking to hop on a pro-war bandwagon. Nayirah – who originally gave only her first name – was a fifteen year old girl who testified in front of the United States Congress. She claimed to be a volunteer at a Kuwaiti hospital, and to be an eye-witness to Iraqi soldiers throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and leaving them to die:

"I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital with twelve other women who wanted to help as well. I was the youngest volunteer. The other women were from twenty to thirty years old. While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying."

It was later revealed, not only that her full name was Nayirah al-Sabah and she was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, but that she had never volunteered at a hospital and had seen no babies, soldiers or incubators. The whole thing was a fiction. A fiction paid for by the “Citizens of Free Kuwait”, an NGO (and obvious CIA front) set up to lobby the US to intervene in the Iraq-Kuwait war.

By the time this fiction was revealed it was too late, and the US had launched Operation Desert Storm….which was, of course, the entire point of the exercise

Remember this, when you hear about Assad gassing children or bombing kittens.

3. COINTELPRO – The FBI’s long running (and sometimes illegal) COunter INTELligence PROgram, COINTELPRO was a series of domestic projects carried out by the FBI (with cooperation from other agencies), over decades, with the aim of “surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations”.

These political organizations included anti-Vietnam protestors, civil rights groups (including both MLK and Malcolm X), socialists, Communist Party USA, environmental groups and feminist organizations.

The brief for these “disruptions” came straight from J. Edgar Hoover who wanted the FBI to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise Neutralize” people he perceived to be enemies of the state. The capital N in “neutralise” is no accident, as the FBI was implicated in the deaths of several Black Panther leaders, including Fred Hampton.

COINTELPRO didn’t just involve undermining left-wing groups, but also creating right-wing groups:

"The FBI also financed, armed, and controlled an extreme right-wing group of former Minutemen, transforming it into a group called the Secret Army Organization that targeted groups, activists, and leaders involved in the Anti-War Movement, using both intimidation and violent acts."

Whether this was done to actually push a right-wing agenda, create a fake threat to step up police powers, or just sow division and chaos, is unclear. But it definitely happened.

Much like MKUltra (below), COINTELPRO was “officially shut down”, not long after the public found out it existed. However, the accidental outing of undercover policeman at a rally in Oakland, and recent relaxation of the laws limiting the FBI’s powers, means that COINTELPRO – or a modern successor – is very likely still a thing.

The aim of COINTELPRO was to “Neutralize” anti-establishment political figures – the vast majority of targets were left wingers – through “smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media”. Remember that when you see Rand Paul called a “traitor” on twitter, or read about “Russian collusion”, or see Jeremy Corbyn branded an anti-Semite.

Remember that it is proven that the Deep State – our trusted intelligence agencies – pay people to plant false stories and discredit political opponents.

2. PROJECT MKULTRA – It might sound like something from a 70s sci-fi TV series, but it is unfortunately real. MKUltra was a series of (illegal) experiments carried out by the CIA from 1953 until it was *cough* “officially halted” in 1973 (just after its existence was leaked). The experiments were wide-ranging, achieved varied levels of success, but pretty uniformly brutal and unethical. They included, but were not limited too:

– Giving LSD to unsuspecting soldiers to see what happened.
– Mass hypnosis and mass suggestion
– Torture studies
– Studies on the effect of verbal and/or sexual abuse

We’ll never know the full range of studies, or how they were carried out, because in 1973 Richard Helms, then director of the CIA, ordered all MKUltra files destroyed. Only a fraction of them survive, thanks to FOIA requests, but it’s reasonable to assume they destroyed the worst parts and kept the more quote-unquote innocent files.

The CIA were not unique in this regard either, MKUltra was their baby – but there were parallel projects in other quarters of the deep state. Army Intelligence had Edgewood Arsenal, whilst the Department of Defense had Project 112. All these projects were “officially halted” in the early 70s…just around the time the public found out they existed.

The CIA (et al.) have strongly denied that these experiments and projects have ever been continued in any way, shape or form…but if you’d asked them in 1969, they would have denied they had ever taken place at all.

1. THE IRAQ WAR – This might not be the most callous, the most dangerous, the most recent, the most secret or the most insidious of the items on this list, nevertheless it is – must be – number one…because it is the most brazen.

The war was started in the name of “weapons of mass destruction” that everyone – everyone – knew never existed. They all knew the truth, but they lied.

The President lied, the vice-president lied, the secretary of defence lied, the secretary of state lied. The Prime Minister lied, the defence minister lied, the foreign minister lied. They lied to the press, the people and the UN.

The CIA, the NSA, the FBI – then headed by the “heroic marine” Robert Mueller – they lied too. The press repeated these lies, without question (see: Operation Mockingbird). They weren’t “misinformed”, they weren’t “mistaken”. They lied, they lied repeatedly – and provably – and they did it in order to start a war, make money, take control, spread influence.

One million Iraqis died.

Our ruling class is peopled with psychopaths and war criminals, who have so little regard for the people they lie to they recycle the same childishly simple falsehoods to further their evil agenda again and again and again. They tried the same in Libya…it worked again. They tried again in Syria…luckily, it didn’t work there.

Our “democratic institutions” lie to start wars. There’s no reason to think they aren’t doing – or wouldn’t do – the same thing about Iran, North Korea…or Russia.

That’s our list, and there’s really only one lesson you can take away from it:

These people, agencies and institutions deserve no trust, have earned no trust and have abused every micron of trust ever placed in them. To suggest we have a duty to believe them – or that they have ever done anything to serve the public good – is to live in a dream world.

This list is not a full catalogue of Deep State crimes, it would be 1000s of entries long if it were, but these ten are important. They’re important because they are admitted, proven and beyond debate. They are important because they show the many facets of dishonesty, hypocrisy and abuses of power that Intelligence agencies engage in, and they are important because they form the best riposte to the disingenuous clamour for “trust” in our “democratic institutions”.

Never trust the CIA, they have proved they don’t deserve it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shooting the Messenger in the Middle: Trump in Translation

'Absolutely Not': GOP Says Questioning Trump's Translator Would End Presidential Diplomacy

by RT

July 19, 2018

Republicans in Congress rejected calls from the Democrats to summon President Donald Trump’s translator from the Helsinki summit, saying it would block future presidential diplomatic efforts.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a frequent critic of the president, said he would “absolutely not” support having the translator testify before Congress, arguing it would have a chilling effect on future presidential meetings.

“That would be the last time you ever have a foreign leader meet with a president of the US privately,” he told Politico.
“I can’t imagine how that would affect future presidents in terms of their ability to talk to foreign leaders.”

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee and another Trump critic, said that summoning the translator and demanding her notes would set a bad precedent.

“If we are going to start getting translator’s notes, I think we are moving to a precedent that – unless some crime has been committed – is unprecedented and just not appropriate,” Corker said on Thursday.

Following Monday’s meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Democrats insinuated that the US president could not be trusted and demanded to get an account of his two-hour meeting with Putin from the translator, who was identified as Marina Gross.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), wanted the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to summon Gross “to determine what was specifically discussed and agreed to on the US behalf.”

Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, Democrats from California, pushed for Gross to be summoned before the House Intelligence Committee as well, but their proposal was shot down by the Republican majority.

Senate Republicans did, however, join the Democrats in unanimously denouncing Putin’s Helsinki proposal to grant US and Russian prosecutors access to suspects under a 1999 treaty.

The Senate unanimously adopted the proposal by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), expressing the sense that,

“[T]he United States should refuse to make available any current or former diplomat, civil servant, political appointee, law enforcement official or member of the Armed Forces of the United States for questioning by the government or Vladimir Putin."

Putin’s proposal would have enabled Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors to speak with Russians they’ve accused of hacking during the 2016 US presidential election, in exchange for Russian investigators questioning US officials, such as former ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul and businessman Bill Browder, who is suspected of financial misdeeds in Russia.

Tits and Tats, Shits and Shats: After Helsinki

Warfighting Strategy After Helsinki — Tit for Tat, Shit for Shat

by John Helmer - Dances with Bears

July 19, 2018

 Moscow - In the armchair warrior’s version of game theory played with and without nuclear weapons, there’s a special place for the calculation of strategic deterrence that’s called tit for tat.

President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump agreed between themselves that in the tit-for-tat game between the Kremlin and the White House, anticipating, reciprocating and deterring are best achieved by cooperating.

That word was used nineteen times in the presidents’ news conference. It appeared nine times in Putin’s opening statement; four times in Trump’s opening statement; and six times in Putin’s answers to questions.

Because the two sides had agreed in advance not to issue an official communiqué revealing (to Trump’s adversaries at home) what they had agreed, these remarks were staged in front of the cameras instead. Cooperation was the obvious point of agreement.

However, since they left Helsinki, lower-level American officials and their media – Russian officials and their media, too — have replaced tit for tat with shit for shat. That’s information warfare jargon for opening the mouth and talking drivel.

In game theory, tit for tat produces cooperation on condition that the adversaries recognize that one side’s tat is just as ready and powerful (destructive, costly, etc.) as the other side’s tit. On the battlefield, however, US forces do not fight if the other side approaches a force ratio of better than one to five. There will be no US warfighters on the field, not even American mercenaries, if there’s parity between the sides. Stavka, the Russian military command, has studied this carefully. In Syria they tested it.

This is what Putin meant when he announced in Helsinki: “We have all the requisite elements for effective cooperation on Syria. Notably, Russian and American military have gained useful experience of interaction and coordination in the air and on land.”

Trump meant the same thing when he followed Putin by saying: “the crisis in Syria is a complex one. Cooperation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives.”

It’s also what Putin meant when he revealed that, rather than talk concretely to Trump about nuclear warfighting, US missile threats in Romania and Poland, etc., he and Trump had agreed in principle on “dialogue on strategic stability and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction… We made a note with a number of concrete proposals on this matter available to our American colleagues.”

Trump replied with the same point: “if we are going to solve many of the problems facing our world, then we are going to have to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests. Too often in both the recent past and long ago we have seen the consequences when diplomacy is left on the table… We also agreed that representatives from our national security councils will meet to follow up on all of the issues we addressed today and to continue the progress we have started right here in Helsinki.”

In the standard form of game theory known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, cooperation is the option which two adversaries ought rationally to choose because the outcome will turn out better for them both.

However, in practice the two prisoners opt to betray each other because the individual payoff seems more certain. When this game is played over and over – the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma – so that each player can count the gains and losses at each round and modify his decisions in the following rounds, it turns out that cooperation will be chosen by the players so long as tit for tat is the game they recognize both are committed to playing. For more theory, experiments, and references, read this.

Shit for shat is what happens in politics when arms are replaced by words. Arms kill; words don’t. This has been recognized for much longer than the 19th century expression about sticks and stones breaking bones but names never hurting. That’s what soldiers say. Presidential spokesmen, propaganda chiefs, PR men, lobbyists, pollsters, media proprietors, active measures experts, hackers and journalists — these types believe words are weapons to inflict pain, taking home much bigger salaries than soldiers for doing so. For them, tit for tat is a game that doesn’t pay half as well as name-calling – and it’s safer for them to play than shooting matches.


There’s no theoretical difference between Americans and Russians in games of tit for tat. The practical difference is that if the Pentagon is sure Russian tat will be lethal for them on the battlefield, they will cooperate. Repeating the game to test Russian lethality is what the Pentagon is paid to do, and vice versa.

Shit for shat is not lethal enough to deter either side, so cooperation is not a rational, cost-effective option. The practical difference between Americans and Russians in games of shit for shat is that the Russians who are playing it ignore the advice of the Stavka to stick to the option of silence; in other words, they play the wrong game. This miscalculation is repeated over and over by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the most pro-American official in the Kremlin; click to open the archive.

General Anatoly Antonov, the Russian Ambassador to the US since August 2017, participated in the Helsinki summit this week, and helped draft Putin’s private and public positions.

 Left, General Antonov, then Deputy Minister of Defence, at a press conference in 
Moscow, July 2015. Centre, Ambassador Antonov at a press conference in 
San Francisco, November 2017.  Right, Antonov commenting on the summit 
results for Russian television broadcast, July 18, 2018.

He then responded to official leaks from the US side, Congressional attacks, and American press reporting by announcing:

“It was an important meeting. It was meaty, productive and constructive. I think important oral agreements were reached.” 

Predictably, the American retaliation was to demand Trump explain what oral agreements were reached with Putin. Had Antonov kept silent, such agreements as were reached could be left to the battlefield to test. This, Russian sources believe, is where the game should be played.

Over "There": Confronting Israel's Right to Exist

Middle East Alliances, Old and New: Confronting “That Part of the World”

by Rebecca Gordon - TomDispatch

July 19, 2018  

My father and I always had a tacit agreement: “We will never speak of That Part of the World.” He’d grown up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Norfolk, Virginia. His own father, a refugee from early-twentieth-century pogroms in what is now Ukraine, had been the president of his local Zionist organization. A liberal in most things (including his ardent opposition to both of the U.S. wars against Iraq), my father remained a Zionist to his dying day. 
We both knew that if we were ever to have a real conversation about Israel/Palestine, unforgivable things would be said.

As a child in the 1950s, I absorbed the ambient belief that the state of Israel had been created after World War II as an apology gift from the rest of the world to European Jews who had survived the Holocaust. 
I was raised to think that if the worst were to happen and Jews were once again to become targets of genocidal rage, my family could always emigrate to Israel, where we would be safe. As a young woman, I developed a different (and, in retrospect, silly) line on That Part of the World: there’s entirely too much sun there, and it’s made them all crazy.

It wasn’t until I'd reached my thirties that I began to pay serious attention to the region that is variously known as the Middle East, the Arab world, or the Greater Middle East and North Africa. And when I did, I discovered how deep my ignorance (like that of so many fellow Americans) really was and how much history, geography, and politics there is to try to understand. What follows is my attempt to get a handle on how the Trump presidency has affected U.S. policy and actions in That Part of the World.

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Making Sense of U.S. Moves in the Middle East 
 [Note for TomDispatch Readers: If you’re already a TD subscriber, then yesterday you got my biannual email importuning you for money (my least favorite part of the TomDispatch year and undoubtedly yours, too). But since this site doesn’t take advertising and doesn’t have a secret stream of funds, you’re the ones who really do keep it going. So a million thanks to those of you who have already sent in contributions! As for those of you who are regular readers but don’t get our pieces by email, take just a moment, if you can, to read my message and consider donating by clicking here. Much appreciated. Tom]
The report was devastating -- or would have been, if anyone here had noticed it. "Between 2001 and 2017," it concluded, "U.S. government efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan mostly failed." I’m thinking of “Stabilization: Lessons From the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan” put out by the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR. It focused on 15 years of U.S. efforts to defeat the Taliban and “reconstruct” that country. Issued in late May, it got a few cursory news reports before disappearing into the maw of Trump addiction. But don’t blame The Donald for that. When was the last time -- even before he entered the Oval Office -- that any serious attention was paid here to the longest war in American history, our forever war or “generational struggle” or “infinite war”? When was the last true policy debate on it?

Presidents -- even Donald Trump -- just re-up on coming into office, surge more U.S. troops in, and watch as things devolve. The generals fight; U.S. commanders come and go (the 17th of the Afghan war is just arriving); our European allies ever more wearily support the last superpower on the planet; and things only get worse while SIGAR issues its reports. Even its latest one only ended up recommending yet more military and other efforts at greater cost to “stabilize” that country. There’s a certain pathos to it, even as yet more Afghans die, more lives are ruined or uprooted, and yet more insurgent/terror groups form in that country (and neighboring Pakistan). It has all the charm of watching mice on a treadmill. Recently, for instance, there was a new “insider attack” that took the life of an American serviceman and wounded two others, the first in perhaps a year; the Taliban seemed once again to be gaining ground as Afghan government security forces shrank; British Prime Minister Theresa May, preparing to be kicked in the teeth by President Trump, obsequiously came close to doubling her country’s force in Afghanistan; approximately 15,000 U.S. military personnel (not counting private contractors) continue to serve there; the U.S. air war has been ramped up; the latest Pentagon review of the American effort may soon be launched; and undoubtedly SIGAR has begun to clear the way for its next report.

Meanwhile, in this country, America’s forever wars, which should be on all our minds, have long since largely dropped from public consciousness. There is neither discussion, nor debate, nor protest of any significant sort about them, which is why it seemed worthwhile to ask TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon to review America’s wars in the Middle East before a new one, in Iran, can be added to the mix. Tom

Middle East Alliances, Old and New: 

Confronting “That Part of the World”

by Rebecca Gordon


Old Alliances...

The United States has a long-standing and deep alliance with Israel. During the Cold War, Washington viewed that country as its bulwark in the oil-rich region against both a rising pan-Arab nationalism and real or imagined Soviet encroachments. In fact, according to the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding.”

The vast majority of this largesse has been in military aid, which has allowed Israel, a country of a little more than eight million people, to become the 14th or 15th strongest military power on the planet. It is also the only nuclear power in the region with an arsenal of at least 80 weapons (even if its government has never officially acknowledged this reality). By comparison, Iran, its present archenemy, ranks 21st, despite having a population 10 times greater.

The history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights -- territories it captured in the 1967 war -- is too long and complex for even a brief recap here. Suffice it to say that the United States has often been Israel’s sole ally as, in direct contravention of international law, that country has used its own settlements to carve Palestinian territory into a jigsaw puzzle of disparate pieces, making a contiguous Palestinian state a near impossibility.

Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explained Israel’s plan for the Palestinian people in 1973 when he said, “We'll make a pastrami sandwich of them." Promising to insert “a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank,” he insisted that “in 25 years' time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

Forty-five years later, his strategy has been fully implemented, as Barack Obama reportedly learned to his shock when, in 2015, he saw a State Department map of the shredded remains of the land on which Palestinians are allowed to exist on the West Bank.

The “pastrami sandwich” strategy has effectively killed any hope for a two-state solution. Now, as the number of non-Jews begins to surpass that of Jews in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, that country once again confronts the inherent contradiction of a state that aims to be both democratic and, in some sense, Jewish. If everyone living in Israel/Palestine today had equal political and economic rights, majority rule would no longer be Jewish rule. In effect, as some Israelis argue, Israel can be Jewish or democratic, but not both.

A solution to this demographic dilemma -- one supported by present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- is to legislate permanent inequality through what’s called “the basic law on Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which is now being debated in the country’s parliament, the Knesset. Among other provisions, that “basic” law (which, if passed, would have the equivalent of constitutional status) will allow citizens “to establish ‘pure’ communities on the basis of religion or ethnicity.” In other words, it will put in place an official framework of legalized segregation.

In the Trump era, Washington’s alliance with Israel has only grown tighter. After recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital -- despite almost universal international objections -- Trump sealed the deal in May, traveling to Jerusalem with a coterie of Zionist evangelical Christians and, on Israeli Independence Day, opening a new U.S. embassy there. That day, May 14th, was the eve of the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the nakba (the catastrophe of Israel’s seizure of Palestinian homes and lands in 1948).

Donald Trump could not have sent a clearer signal to the world about exactly where the United States stands on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That same day, as Time reported, “cameras captured the chaos as Israeli soldiers methodically cut down some 2,700 Palestinians, 60 fatally, as they marched toward the fence that separates Israel from the Gaza Strip.” Gazans, in case you’ve forgotten, have been subject for years to a vicious blockade, both literal and economic, that has turned their homes into what has been called the world’s largest open-air prison. And keep in mind that Israel also launched major military operations against that tiny territory in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014, and appears to be ramping up for a new one.

It’s unlikely, to say the least, that the new “peace deal” that the world awaits from President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will offer Palestinians much more than another bite of that pastrami sandwich.

...And New Ones

Geopolitics (and a common enemy) can make strange bedfellows. In a recent New Yorker article, Adam Entous suggests that a new ménage-à-quatre was formed in the region in the run-up to Donald Trump’s election, bringing Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States ever closer. As it happened, there was even an unexpected fifth player lurking in the shadows: Russia. Entous reports that Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and one of UAE's most powerful men, suggested to an American friend that Russian President Vladimir Putin “might be interested in resolving the conflict in Syria in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.”

The goal of this new alliance was not so much an end to the brutal Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad as an end to the Iranian military presence in Syria. The unofficial alliance of the Saudis, the UAE, and the Israelis was, above all, meant to push back or even bring an end to the present government of Iran. This seems to have been the genesis of a 2016 meeting in the Seychelles Islands between Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious hire-a-mercenary company, Blackwater, and a confidant of then-Trump adviser Steve Bannon as well as the brother of present Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and a figure who might serve as a Russian-UAE go-between. Endous indicates that the deal then proved “unworkable,” because Russia had neither the desire nor the capacity to evict Iran from Syria.

Nevertheless, this July 10th, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu flew to Moscow to meet with Putin for a discussion of the Syrian situation in which the Russians are now, of course, deeply enmeshed. At the same time, a top foreign policy adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was also on his way to Russia to speak with Putin. Netanyahu returned from Moscow with less than he’d hoped for, but at least with “a commitment to keep Iranian forces tens of kilometers from Israel,” according to the New York Times. The fact that these meetings were happening the week before presidents Trump and Putin were to sit down together in Helsinki and discuss Syria, among other topics, is, however, suggestive. Bloomberg News reported that Putin has “stepped up efforts to broker a deal on the pullback of pro-Iranian militias from Syria’s border with Israel" as he prepared for his summit with Trump.

The American president has already backed away from his predecessor’s insistence that the departure of Syrian leader Assad be a precondition for a peace settlement in that country. For his part, Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel can accept Assad in power as long as the Iranian military units in that country are withdrawn. Before leaving for Moscow, he told reporters, “We haven't had a problem with the Assad regime; for 40 years not a single bullet was fired on the Golan Heights.” Presumably, Trump and his feckless son-in-law feel the same way.

In the end, the target of all these machinations remains Iran. The dangers represented by a conflict between the Trump administration and Iran (with the Israelis, the Saudis, and the UAE all potentially involved) threaten to make the invasion of Iraq and ensuing events there look mild by comparison. And it’s hardly out of the question. As University of Michigan history professor and Middle East expert Juan Cole notes, overshadowed by other absurdities in Trump’s bombastic post-NATO-summit news conference was this warning: “I would say there might be an escalation between us and the Iranians.”

Meanwhile, in Syria...

Meanwhile, if it weren’t for Yemen (see below), it might be hard to imagine a more miserable place in 2018 than Syria. Since 2011, when a nonviolent movement to unseat Assad devolved into a vicious civil war, more than half the country’s pre-war population of 22 million has become internally displaced or refugees, according to numbers from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. Actual casualty figures are impossible to pin down with any exactitude. In April 2018, however, the New York Times reported that the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the number of directly caused deaths at 511,000, including fighters and civilians.

Death and destruction have come from all sides: al-Qaeda-linked terror groups and the Islamic State killing civilians; the Syrian military, which is presently driving opposition forces out of the southern city of Dara’a, where the original uprising began (creating a quarter-million refugees with literally no place to go); and U.S. bombs and other munitions -- 20,000 of them -- reducing the city of Raqqa to rubble in a campaign to liberate it from ISIS militants. Add it all up and the war, still ongoing, has destroyed millions of homes and businesses, along with crucial infrastructure throughout an increasingly impoverished country.

So many military forces -- foreign and domestic -- are contending in Syria that it’s difficult to keep track. Wikipedia’s list of those fighting fills screen after screen. On the side of Assad’s government are the Syrian military, elements of the militia of the Iranian-supported Lebanese party Hezbollah (part of the government in that country), some Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, and of course the Russian military. On the other side are various militant terror groups, including what’s left of the Islamic State, and a wide variety of U.S.-supported anti-Assad groups, including those hailing from the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, a semi-autonomous, multi-ethnic area in the country’s northeast. Throw in Kurdish fighters, including Syrian natives and Kurds from Turkey, and the Turkish military itself (in its bid to tamp down any errant Kurdish nationalism), at least 2,000 U.S. military personnel, and the Israeli air force, striking at Iranian targets in the country, and even with an eventual peace settlement, Syria, the birthplace of the alphabet, will be a desperate nation for decades to come.

Whose fault was all of this? There’s plenty of blame to go around and plenty of actors to shoulder that blame. But when you begin to make that list, make sure to include Washington’s so-called neoconservatives who, as far back as 1996, offered Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel’s prime minister then, too) their “Clean Break” strategy to rebuild the Middle East. That plan started with unseating Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and went on to destabilize Syria. A number of these neocons, including Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, then became top officials in George W. Bush’s administration, invading Iraq themselves to make sure their dream for the Israelis came true. And what a nightmare it proved to be. Nor should we forget that one of that plan’s loudest advocates during the Bush administration -- John Bolton -- is now Trump’s national security advisor. In other words, there’s plenty of blame to go around and plenty to worry about.

Does Anyone Remember Yemen?

If there is a place in the greater Middle East even more desperate than Syria, it has to be Yemen. With U.S. logistical and financial support, Saudi Arabia has waged a cruel air war against the Houthis, a home-grown movement that in 2015 overthrew the government of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. What is the Saudi interest in Yemen? As in their support for a potential UAE-Israel-Russia-U.S. alliance in Syria, they’re intent on fighting a proxy war -- and someday perhaps via the U.S. and Israel, a real war -- with Iran.

In this case, however, it seems that the other side in that war hasn’t shown up. Although, like the Iranian government and most Iranians, the Houthi are Shi’a Muslims, there is little evidence of Iranian involvement in Yemen. That hasn’t stopped the Saudis (with American support) from turning that country into “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Their destruction of infrastructure in rebel-held areas has collapsed a once-functioning public health system, touching off a cholera epidemic, with the World Health Organization reporting a total of 1,105,371 suspected cases between April 2017 and June 2018. The infection rate now stands at 934 per 10,000 people.

Even worse than the largely unchecked spread of cholera, however, is Yemen’s man-made famine. Photographs from the country display the familiar iconography of widespread hunger: children with stick-like limbs and blank, sunken eyes. As it happens, though, this famine was not caused by drought or any other natural disaster. It’s a direct result of a brutal Saudi air campaign and a naval blockade aimed directly at the country’s economic life.

Before the war, Yemen imported 80% of its food and even today, despite a disastrous ongoing Saudi/UAE campaign to blockade and take the port of Hodeidah, Yemen’s main economic center, there is actually plenty of food in the country. It now simply costs more than most Yemenis can pay. Because the war has destroyed almost all economic activity in Houthi-controlled areas, people there have no money with which to buy food. In other words, the Saudi offensive against Hodeidah is starving people in two ways: directly by preventing the delivery of international food aid and indirectly by making the food in Yemen unaffordable for ordinary people.

We Have to Talk about It

With President Trump and his secretary of state now talking openly about a possible “escalation between us and the Iranians,” there is a real risk that some combination of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia could initiate a war with Iran. If there’s one lesson to be learned from U.S. wars since 9/11, it’s “don’t start another one.”

For more than 70 years, Americans have largely ignored the effects of U.S. foreign policy in the rest of the world. Rubble in Syria? Famine in Yemen? It’s terribly sad, yes, but what, we still wonder, does it have to do with us?

That Part of the World doesn’t wonder about how U.S. actions and policies affect them. That Part of the World knows -- and what it knows is devastating. It’s time that real debate about future U.S. policy there becomes part of our world, too.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 Rebecca Gordon