All posts by Philip Giraldi

Does Washington Rule the World?

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One of the most disturbing aspects of the past two years of Donald Trump foreign policy has been the assumption that decisions made by the United States are binding on the rest of the world. Apart from time of war, no other nation has ever sought to prevent other nations from trading with each other. And the United States has also uniquely sought to penalize other countries for alleged crimes that did not occur in the US and that did not involve American citizens, while also insisting that all nations must comply with whatever penalties are meted out by Washington.

The United States now sees itself as judge, jury and executioner in policing the international community, a conceit that began post World War 2 when American presidents began referring to themselves as “leader of the free world.” This pretense received legislative backing with passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987 (ATA) as amended in 1992 plus subsequent related legislation, to include the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act of 2016 (JASTA). The body of legislation can be used by US citizens or residents to obtain civil judgments against alleged terrorists anywhere in the world and can be employed to punish governments, international organizations and even corporations that are perceived to be supportive of terrorists, even indirectly or unknowingly. Plaintiffs are able to sue for injuries to their “person, property, or business” and have ten years to bring a claim.

Sometimes the connections and level of proof required by a US court to take action are tenuous, and that is being polite. Suits currently can claim secondary liability for third parties, including banks and large corporations, under “material support” of terrorism statutes. This includes “aiding and abetting” liability as well as providing “services” to any group that the United States considers to be terrorist, even if the terrorist label is dubious and/or if that support is inadvertent.

There have been two recent lawsuits seeking civil damages under ATA and JASTA involved Iran and Syria. Regarding Iran, in June 2017 a jury deliberated for one day before delivering a guilty verdict against two Iranian foundations for violation of US sanctions, allowing a federal court to authorize the US government seizure of a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. It was the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in United States history. The presiding judge decided to distribute proceeds from the building’s sale, which could amount to as much as $1 billion, to the families of victims of terrorism, including the September 11th attacks. The court ruled that Iran had some culpability for the 9/11 attacks as a state sponsor of terrorism, though it could not determine that Iran was directly involved in the attacks.

The ruling against Iran has to be considered somewhat bizarre as it is clear that Iran had nothing to do with 9/11 but was considered guilty anyway because the State Department in Washington has declared it to be a state sponsor of terror. Being able to determine guilt based on an interpretation of a foreign government’s behavior puts incredible power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats who are making political decisions regarding who is “good” and who is “bad.”

A second, more recent, court case has involved Syria. Last week a federal court in the District of Columbia ruled that Syria was liable for the targeting and killing of an American journalist who was covering the shelling of a rebel held area of Homs in 2012.

The court awarded $302.5 million to the family of the journalist, Marie Colvin. In her ruling, Judge Amy Berman Jackson cited “Syria’s longstanding policy of violence” seeking “to intimidate journalists” and “suppress dissent.” As it is normally not possible even in American courts to sue a foreign government, a so-called human rights group funded by the US and other governments called the Center for Justice and Accountability made its case relying on the designation of Damascus as a state sponsor of terrorism. The judge believed that the evidence presented was “credible and convincing.”

The complexities of what is going on in Syria are such that it is difficult to imagine that a Washington based judge could possibly render judgment in any credible fashion. Colvin was in a war zone and the plaintiffs, whose agenda was to compile a dossier of war crimes against Syria, made their case using documents that they provided, which certainly presented a partisan viewpoint and might themselves have been fabricated. Based on her own comments, Judge Amy Berman Jackson certainly came into the game with her own particular view on Syria and what the conflict there was all about.

Another American gift to international jurisprudence has been the Magnitsky Act of 2012, a product of the feel-good enthusiasm of the Barack Obama Administration. It was based on a narrative regarding what went on in Russia under the clueless Boris Yeltsin and his nationalist successor Vladimir Putin that was peddled by one Bill Browder, who many believe to have been a major player in the looting of the former Soviet Union. It was claimed by Browder and his accomplices in the media that the Russian government had been complicit in the arrest, torture and killing of one Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant turned whistleblower working for Browder. Almost every aspect of the story has been challenged, but it was completely bought into by the Congress and White House and led to sanctions on the Russians who were allegedly involved despite Moscow’s complaints that the US had no legal right to interfere in its internal affairs relating to a Russian citizen.

Worse still, the Magnitsky Act has been broadened and is now the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2017. It is being used to sanction and otherwise punish alleged “human rights abusers” in other countries. It was most recently used in the Jamal Khashoggi case, in which the US sanctioned the alleged killers of the Saudi dissident journalist even though no one had actually been convicted of any crime.

Independent of Magnitsky and the various ATA acts is the ability of the US Treasury Department and its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to sanction a country’s ability to move money through the US controlled dollar financial system. That is what is taking place currently regarding payments for Venezuela’s oil exports, which have been sanctioned and will not be able to use the dollar denominated system after April 28th. A similar US imposed sanctioning is currently in effect against Iran, with all potential purchasers of Iranian oil themselves being subject to secondary sanctions if they continue to make purchases after May 5th.

Most of the world oil business is transacted in dollars, so the Treasury Department has an effective weapon in hand to interfere in foreign countries without having to send in the Marines, but there is, of course, a danger that the rest of the world will eventually read the tea leaves and abandon the use of petrodollars altogether. If that occurs it will make it more difficult for the American government to continue to print dollars without regard for deficits as there will be little demand for the extra US currency in circulation.

The principle that Washington should respect the sovereignty of other states even when it disagrees with their internal policies has effectively been abandoned. And, as if things were not bad enough, some new legislation virtually guarantees that in the near future the United States will be doing still more to interfere in and destabilize much of the world. Congress has passed and President Trump has signed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which seeks to improve Washington’s response to mass killings. The prevention of genocide and mass murder is now a part of American national security agenda. There will be a Mass Atrocity Task Force and State Department officers will receive training to sensitize them to impending genocide, though presumably the new program will not apply to the Palestinians as the law’s namesake never was troubled by their suppression and killing by the state of Israel.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Venezuela in Flames

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There is a familiar smell about what is taking place vis-à-vis Venezuela. The official US government line is that the sanctions against the country and the decision to recognize the head of its national assembly Jose Guaido as interim president is based on a flawed election won by populist Nicholas Maduro last May. Guaido was reportedly promised US support for his soft coup by no less than Vice President Mike Pence in a phone call the night before he declared himself acting president while the American State Department is oddly proclaiming that it is intervening to support the Venezuelan constitution. Unfortunately for that argument, a quick perusal of the document itself does not seem to reveal an article empowering the United States to appoint the Venezuelan president.

Indeed, politics in Venezuela have long been particularly incendiary. There may or may not have been electoral fraud, regarding which little in the way of actual evidence has been presented, but the entire affair smacks of a pretext to initiate regime change in Caracas, an objective of the United States government ever since Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998.

The thuggish Chavez, a populist who set out with an agenda to dismantle the oligarchy that had been running Venezuela for decades, certainly wound up doing extreme damage to the country’s economy while also further polarizing the existing class and political divisions. Corrupt and venal, he was emphatically not a modern Simon Bolivar, the “Libertador” that he sought to model himself on, but his views might conceivably have moderated if he had not been subjected to relentless US pressure from the git-go, to include a successful coup that ousted him briefly in 2002. Chavez’s successor Maduro has been embroiled in a worsening crisis that his policies have exacerbated, with food shortages, massive unemployment, hyperinflation, political rioting and a regional refugee problem caused by the departure of possibly as many as three million Venezuelans.

One might observe that if supporting foreign constitutions against electoral fraud were actually a vital interest for the US Washington would be intervening in more than 100 countries. In this case, the Trump Administration is also declaring that it is intervening to restore democracy and liberate the Venezuelan people, but the reality on the ground is quite different. As the sanctions do not hurt the rulers of the country, nor the military which benefits greatly financially from the status quo and supports the leadership, all that occurs is the infliction of more pain on the ordinary people, who have no say in what occurs. It is similar to what is taking place vis-à-vis Iran. The expectation of ideologues like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo is that the people in both Iran and Venezuela will eventually rise up in revolt and depose their governments, replacing them with something more acceptable to the United States.

Ron Paul has observed that there is a certain irony that a White House which has for two years been “fighting charges that a foreign country meddled in the US elections would turn around and not only meddle in foreign elections but actually demand the right to name a foreign country’s president!” Dr. Paul also notes Trump’s appointment of “a convicted criminal Elliot Abrams as his point person to ‘restore democracy’ in Venezuela,” observing that “Abrams played a key role in the Iran-Contra affair and went on to be one of the chief architects of the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003. His role in helping promote the horrible violence in Latin America in the 1980s should disqualify him from ever holding public office again.”

The argument that Washington is responding appropriately to the current developments in Venezuela is deeply flawed, in part because President Donald Trump has several times raised the issue of possible military intervention even before last May’s national election. Another more recent report linked to John Bolton suggests that there is a plan for dealing with Venezuela that appears to include the insertion of 5,000 US troops.

Attacks on Venezuela’s government and leader were common both under George W. Bush and Barack Obama and it is plausible to suggest that the CIA has been active engaged in subverting the country’s government for the past twenty years. Mike Pompeo, when still head of the Agency, spoke at an Aspen Institute security conference in July 2017, saying that he was “hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is [sic] doing its best to understand the dynamic there.” Pompeo also said that Mexico and Colombia were also discussing with him options for “change” for Venezuela.

Pompeo’s comment was particularly interesting as CIA is not exactly an organization that seeks to “understand…dynamics.” One should assume that the CIA Station in Caracas is possibly half of the remaining forty or so diplomats and other officers assigned to the post. They would have been spending their time funding the opposition to Chavez and then Maduro, recruiting officers in the army and other security forces to make them coup-able, and paying journalists and other opinion makers both in Venezuela and in neighboring countries to write articles attacking the country’s regime. If Venezuela is experiencing a crisis, it is at least in part attributable to American covert action.

If the United States persists in a new dose of “regime change” in Latin America and gets away with it, advisers like Bolton and Pompeo will be empowered and will demand more of the same. In his UN speech earlier this week Pompeo warned that “…now it’s time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.” It all sounds a bit like George W. Bush in 2001, and “success” as seen from the White House perspective could mean a reversal of the withdrawal from Syria and even more pressure on Iran, to name only two “hot spots.” That an American administration will once again see itself on steroids, as a global arbiter, the “leader of the free world,” is the real danger that comes with what is going on in Venezuela.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

NewsGuard: A Neoconservative Contrivance Which Promotes an Establishment View

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There’s a new thought policeman in town. He calls himself NewsGuard and he promises to restore “Trust and Accountability” to what one reads online. His website elaborates that “NewsGuard uses journalism to fight false news, misinformation, and disinformation. Our trained analysts, who are experienced journalists, research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism—and which are not…Our Green-Red ratings signal if a website is trying to get it right or instead has a hidden agenda or knowingly publishes falsehoods or propaganda.”

One might well stop reading immediately after running into “our trained analysts” with all that implies, but that would deny the greater pleasure derived from considering news-sites that have “…a hidden agenda or knowingly [publish] falsehoods or propaganda.” Excuse me, but hidden agendas, lies, and propaganda are what the mainstream media is all about, note particularly the recent feeding frenzy over the Covington school incident at the Lincoln Memorial. Catholic racist white boys vs. elderly Native American war hero was how the story was framed all over the mainstream media before it became clear that the entire chosen narrative was upside down. Only a couple of news outlets bothered to apologize when the truth became known.

NewsGuard claims to have a staff of 50 that evaluates 2,000 websites in something like real time. How exactly it does that is not clear, but The New York Times repeats company claims that “the sites it rates account for 96 percent of online news and information engagement in the US.” NewsGuard also told The Times that it intends to quadruple its vetting of sites and seeks to make its coverage “ubiquitous.”

Make no mistake, NewsGuard is a neoconservative contrivance which promotes an establishment view of what is true and what is false. Its co-founder Gordon Crovitz is an ex-editor of The Wall Street Journal, who has enthused over the project, saying that it is “a milestone in the fight to bring consumers the information they need to counter false information, misinformation and disinformation online.” Crovitz has also been associated with the leading neocon foundation The American Enterprise Institute while the NewsGuard advisory board includes Tom Ridge, who was head of the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, and Michael Hayden, who directed both the CIA and NSA. It is as government-establishment in orientation as it is possible to be.

In a sense seeking to establish “accuracy” in news reporting is nothing new as the social media, to include Facebook and Twitter, have had that objective for some time, but NewsGuard defines itself as having as its target the screening of the entire media in a politically impartial fashion, as “an information resource.” And the real danger is that it will soon be appearing on your computer or phone whether you want it there or not. It is already installed on local library computers in Hawaii and Ohio and is working with university and even high school libraries to include its software on all public computers. Worse still, NewsGuard is in partnership with Microsoft as part of the latter’s Defending Democracy Program. Microsoft currently has NewsGuard on its Edge browser and it intends to install the tool on its Microsoft 10 operating system as a built-in feature. Microsoft 10 is the standard operating system on nearly all computers sold in the United States.

When you go to a news site NewsGuard has a little shield that pops up in the corner of your screen that will tell you whether that site is a reliable source or not. A green tag displays for approved and red for not compliant. Similarly, if you do a search the responses that come up will feature a green or red shield as part of the results. The site for NBC news shows green, approved, with the heading “this website generally maintains basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” It then uses what it calls a “nutrition label” to break down the nine specific areas that were assessed, each of which also receives and individual green check for NBC. Under “Credibility” appears “Does not repeatedly publish false content; Gathers and presents information responsibly; Regularly corrects or clarifies errors; Handles the difference between news and opinion responsibly; and Avoids deceptive headlines.” Under “Accountability” appears “Website discloses ownership and financing; Clearly labels advertising; Reveals who’s in charge including any possible conflict of interest; and The site provides names of any content creators along with either contact or biographical information.”

The first thing one might observe about the system is that it is designed to favor large, well-funded establishment news sources that are staffed to go through the motions of fact checks and corrections. All of the major news networks are approved, including Fox, MSNBC and CNN, all of which editorialize heavily, almost constantly, in their news coverage. Voice of America, which is a US government propaganda instrument by design, also is approved. NewsGuard also has approved all major newspapers to include The New York Times, which frequently gets the story wrong, and The Washington Post, where news stories are nearly indistinguishable from editorials through the use of evocative headlines and slanted narrative. All the US media currently leadoff, for example, with stories about Russia that include the assertion that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election, a claim that has yet to be confirmed through actual evidence.

Russian media operating in the US including RT America and Sputnik get red ratings with a warning “Proceed with caution: this website fails to basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” RT is apparently guilty of “repeatedly publishing false content,” “not gather[ing] and publish[ing] information responsibly,” “not handl[ing] the difference between news and opinion responsibly” and “not provid[ing] the names of creators.” Al-Jazeera, another news service that often criticizes the United States and its governmental policies also is rated red, suggesting that the true criterion for rejection by NewsGuard is one’s relationship to the official establishment and globalist/interventionist line being promoted by the United States.

A glaring example of NewsGuard’s political bias relates to BuzzFeed, which is an approved site. The Washington Post reported recently how a BuzzFeed story about Michael Cohen and President Trump claimed that the president had directed his lawyer to lie to Congress regarding a proposed office tower project in Moscow, which would have been both a crime and impeachable. A day later Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office intervened and described the story as untrue. The New York Times ran the first story on page one but the retraction that followed appeared on page 11.

And it was not the first major bit of fake news for BuzzFeed. The same two journalists had previously reported that Russia had financed the 2016 election.

CNN, another NewsGuard green authority, inevitably bemoaned possible consequences arising from the Cohen-Trump story by complaining that it would be used to justify “bad stereotypes about the news media,” had its own Russiagate misstep when it falsely claimed that Donald Trump Jr had had access to WikiLeaks’ DNC emails before their 2016 publication.

The BBC, yet another reliable source approved by NewsGuard, reported back in September that the US government had evidence that the Syrian “regime” was continuing to develop chemical weapons. It added an assessment from the completely befuddled US envoy for Syria James Jeffrey that “President Assad had ‘no future as a ruler’ in Syria…Right now [the Syrian government] is a cadaver sitting in rubble with just half the territory of Syria under regime control on a good day."

The fact is that Jeffrey was completely wrong about developments in Syria, where the government had been extremely successful in re-asserting control over nearly all of the country, while the claims of chemical weapons use have been rebutted many times, including by actual witnesses and journalists on the ground during the alleged attack at Douma in April.

Reuters news agency, yet another NewsGuard green light, is also into the game. In November 2013 it published an article, part of a series, entitled “Khamenei controls massive financial empire based on property seizures,” which claimed that an Iranian government charitable foundation called Setad (also known as EIKO) actually exists to take control of property for the use of the government’s religious leadership.

subsequent news report that appeared in January in the alternative media revealed that the investigative journalists who wrote the story did so from Dubai, London and New York and never visited the properties they identified, in most cases completely misrepresenting what could be seen on the ground.

Robert Fontina of Counterpunch has also rejected the depiction of Setad as anything but a charitable foundation. The truth is that Setad engages in major social projects, including rural poverty alleviation, empowering women, home and school building, and provision of healthcare. Fontina observes that American sanctions against it and similar entities hit ordinary Iranians’ lives by producing food insecurity while also restricting the supplies of needed medications. Ahmad Noroozi of the Barakat Foundation claims that numerous Iranians have already been affected by US-initiated sanctions directed against his country, restricting access to cancer treatments and other pharmaceuticals.

So who gets the endorsement from NewsGuard? Those who toe the line on US policy and the establishment globalist/interventionist agenda. It would be interesting to know what NewsGuard’s staff of analysts is really looking for when it researches a site or media outlet. As the examples cited above demonstrate, NewsGuard has nothing to do with taking pains to report the news accurately, nor is there any evidence of real accountability. It is all about who pays the bills and who is in charge. They give the orders and one either falls in line or goes out the door. That is the reality of today’s mainstream media.

Reprinted with permission from American Herald Tribune.

The United States Is at It Again: Compiling an Enemies List

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Many American still long for the good old days when men were still manly and President George W. Bush was able to announce that there was a “new sheriff in town” pledged to wipe terrorism from the face of the earth. “You’re either with us or against us,” he growled and he backed up his warning of lethal retribution with an enemies list that he called the “axis of evil.”

The axis of evil identified in those days in the 2002 State of the Union Address consisted of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Iraq, which had not yet been invaded and conquered by the American war machine, was number one on the list, with Saddam allegedly brandishing weapons of mass destruction deliverable by the feared transatlantic gliders that could easily strike the United States. Bush explained that "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world."

North Korea meanwhile was described as "A regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens” while Iran "aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."

The phrase “axis of evil” proved so enticing that Undersecretary of State John Bolton used it two months later in a speech entitled "Beyond the Axis of Evil." He included three more countries – Cuba, Libya and Syria because they were "state sponsors of terrorism that are pursuing or who have the potential to pursue weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or have the capability to do so in violation of their treaty obligations.” The nice thing about an Axis of Evil List is that you can make up the criteria as you go along so you can always add more evildoers.

Iraq was removed from the playing field in March 2003 while Libya had to wait for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be dealt with, but North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Iran are still around. Nevertheless, the idea of an enemies list continues to intrigue policy makers since it would be impossible to maintain the crippling burden of the military industrial complex without a simple expression that would convey to the public that there were bad actors out there waiting to pounce but for the magnificent efforts being made by Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon to defend freedom.

The Administration of President Donald Trump, not to be outdone by its predecessors, has recently come up with two enemies lists. The first one was coined by the irrepressible John Bolton, who is now National Security Adviser. He has come up with the “troika of tyranny” to describe Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, where he sees “…the dangers of poisonous ideologies without control, and the dangers of domination and suppression… I am here to convey a clear message from the President of the United States about our policy towards these three regimes. Under this administration, we will no longer appease the dictators and despots near our coasts in this hemisphere. The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — has finally found its rival.”

Bolton also demonstrated that he has a light touch, adding “These tyrants fancy themselves strongmen and revolutionaries, icons and luminaries. In reality, they are clownish, pitiful figures more akin to Larry, Curly, and Moe. The three stooges of socialism are true believers, but they worship a false God.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has apparently also been looking at Venezuela and not liking what he is seeing. On his recent road trip to the Middle East he told reporters that "It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government [in Caracas].” He declared that “The Maduro regime is illegitimate and the United States will work diligently to restore a real democracy to that country. We are very hopeful we can be a force for good to allow the region to come together to deliver that.” “Force for good” is another key soundbite used by Pompeo. In his Cairo speech on January 10th, he described the United States as a “force for good” in the entire Middle East.

Bolton might have thought “troika of tyranny” was a hands down winner, but he was actually upstaged by the dour Vice President Mike Pence who declared to a gathering of US Ambassadors that “Beyond our global competitors, the United States faces a ‘wolf pack of rogue states.’ No shared ideology or objective unites our competitors and adversaries except this one: They seek to overturn the international order that the United States has upheld for more than half a century.” The states Pence identified were North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Of the five, only North Korea can even plausibly be considered as a possible threat to the United States.

As wolves are actually very social animals the metaphor provided by Pence does not hold together very well. But Pence, Bolton and Pompeo are all talking about the same thing, which is the continued existence of some governments that are reluctant to fall in line with Washington’s demands. They have to be banished from polite discourse by declaring them “rogue” or “tyrannical” or “evil.” Other nations with far worse human rights records – to include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel and Egypt – are given a pass as long as they stay aligned with the US on policy.

So useful “lists” are all about what Washington wants the world to believe about itself and its adversaries. Put competitors on a list and condemn them to eternal denigration whenever their names come up. And, as Pence observes, it is all done to prevent the overturning of the “international order.” However, his is a curious conceit as it is the United States and some of its allies, through their repeated and illegal interventions in foreign countries, that have established something like international disorder. Who is really doing what to whom is pretty much dependent on which side of the fence one is standing on.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Pompeo Turns Reality Upside Down

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The speech made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the American University in Cairo on January 10th deserves more attention than it has received from the US media. In it, Pompeo reveals his own peculiar vision of what is taking place in the Middle East, to include the impact of his own personal religiosity, and his belief that Washington’s proper role in the region is to act as “a force for good.” The extent to which the Secretary of State was speaking for himself was not completely clear, but the text of the presentation was posted on the State Department website without any qualification, so one has to assume that Pompeo was representing White House policy.

Pompeo immediately set the stage for what was to follow, asserting in his first several paragraphs that “This trip is especially meaningful for me as an evangelical Christian… In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth. And it’s the truth, lower-case ‘t,’ that I’m here to talk about today. It is a truth that isn’t often spoken in this part of the world, but because I’m a military man by training, I’ll be very blunt and direct today: America is a force for good in the Middle East.”

Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence are quite likely the two most prominent Evangelical Christians in the Donald Trump Administration. Further, the two are Christian Zionists, which means that the return of the Jews to the Middle East is an essential precursor component of their belief that certain steps must be taken to bring about the second coming of Christ. Some Christian Zionists believe that the second coming is imminent, but whether or not that is true of Pence and Pompeo, they nevertheless share the conviction that the state of Israel must be protected at all costs, a view that certainly shapes their policy recommendations regarding the Middle East. And that view also has an impact on policy towards Israel’s neighbors, with Iran in particular being vilified as the purely evil foe, a “cancerous influence,” that will be destroyed in the great battle of Armageddon which will lead to the second coming and the rapture of all good Christians into Heaven.

Beyond that, Pompeo sought in his speech to disparage the Middle Eastern policy of Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama and to make clear that something fresh and exciting has arrived in its place. He said that the United States had been “absent too much” to help friends in the Middle East. “Why? Because our leaders gravely misread our history, and your historical moment. These fundamental misunderstandings, set forth in this city in 2009, adversely affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Egypt and all across the region. Remember: It was here, here in this city, that another American stood before you. He told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from an ideology. He told you that 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals, particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed, quote, ‘a new beginning,’ end of quote. The results of these misjudgments have been dire.”

Along the way Pompeo trots out a lot of half-truths and even completely fabricated lies, saying that America’s “timidity” had let to the rise of ISIS, had enabled Iran’s government to crush the “Green Revolution,” had freed Tehran to interfere all over the region, had allowed Hezbollah to accumulate a massive arsenal to threaten Israel, and had permitted Bashar al-Assad to kill his own people with chemical weapons. And worst of all, there was a false desire for peace that led to “a [nuclear] deal with Iran, our common enemy.”

Pompeo concludes from the record of calamities that “So today, what did we learn from all of this? We learned that when America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds. And when we partner with enemies, they advance… The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real new beginning. In just 24 months, actually less than two years, the United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region.”

Apart from the histrionics, the speech was clearly intended to deliver a simple political message to the audience and particularly to the Egyptian and Gulf governments. By asserting a “force for good” mandate, Pompeo was actually telling all the autocratic regimes in the Middle East that they can do whatever they want as long as they hate Iran.

To be sure, Pompeo’s speech contained a number of lines that might be considered attempts at humor given the absurdity of some of the claims being made. He said “For those who fret about the use of American power, remember this: America has always been, and always will be, a liberating force, not an occupying power. We’ve never dreamed of domination in the Middle East. Can you say the same about Iran?” Actually, you could say exactly that about Iran, which hasn’t occupied anyone since the seventeenth century. It is the US that has land, sea and air power based all over the region while also fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It is America’s best friend and ally Israel that is occupying Palestine.

But the best line was towards the end, “And in Yemen, we will continue to work for a lasting peace. And I think this is clear, but it is worth reiterating: The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against the Iranian regime’s aggressive adventurism. We will continue to ensure that Israel has the military capacity to do so decisively.”

As Yemen is achieving peace through American bombs supplied to the Saudis while “ally” Israel is the most persistent aggressor in the Middle East second only to Washington, it is ludicrous to think that America in some way has become a “force for good.” Tell that to the Libyans whose prosperous state was reduced to anarchy by American bombing and support of terrorist groups. Visit Fallujah or Raqqa, or what’s left of them. US forces and sanctions have killed 1.7 million Iraqi civilians, including 500,000 children. By one estimate, as many as 4 million Muslims have died as a direct or indirect consequence of America’s wars in Asia since 1990. US ally Saudi Arabia meanwhile bombs Yemeni schools, buses, and hospitals, starving children as part of a major humanitarian catastrophe, while Israel attacks Syria nearly on a daily basis.

It should be terrifying to learn that Mike Pompeo has an open Bible on his desk, particularly as he seems disinclined to read the New Testament part with its message of love and forgiveness. Now the White House appears to be entering into a new America as a “force for good” phase that relies on naked aggression and collective punishment for those who do not choose to submit. And, per Pompeo, God is on our side.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Trump Foreign Policy for 2019 – Is it for real or more bait and switch?

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Never before has any presidential administration been as all over the place in terms of national security and foreign policy as is that of Donald J. Trump. Indeed, one might well argue that there is no overriding policy at all in terms of a rational doctrine arrived at through risk versus gain analysis of developing international situations. Instead, there has been a pattern of emotional reactions fueled by media disinformation supplemented by “gut feelings” about a series of ultimately bilateral relationships that frequently have little or nothing to do with American national interests.

This is not to suggest that the “gut feelings” are always wrong. Established wisdom in Washington has long reflected the view that the United States must exercise leadership in establishing and maintaining the neoliberal consensus that gained currency after the devastation of the Second World War. Elections, free trade and a free media were to be the benchmarks of the new world order but they also came packaged with U.S. hegemony to confront those who resisted the development. And it turned out that those “benefits” were frequently difficult to achieve as elections sometimes produced bad results while trade agreements and an uncontrolled media often worked against broader U.S. objectives. All too often the United States found itself going to war against nations that it disapproves of for reasons unrelated to any actual interests, routinely claiming inaccurately that dissident regimes were both “threatening” and disruptive of the universal values that Washington claimed to be promoting.

To consider how the neoliberal order works in practice one only has to consider the Clintons, who justified brutal military interventions in the Balkans and in Libya based on what they claimed to be humanitarian principles. Or Obama, who demanded regime change in Damascus and was prepared to launch a large-scale attack on Syria before he realized that there was no public support for such a move and backed down.

More recently, particularly since 9/11, neoconservatives have dominated U.S. foreign policy through their think tanks, access to the media and their ability to infiltrate both major political parties based on their essentially fraudulent appraisals of threats to national security. They have been so successful at selling their product that the bogus claims that Iran is a threat to the United States are generally accepted without question by both Democrats and Republicans, not to mention the White House. Russia, meanwhile, remains the target of bipartisan wrath, from the left over the results of the 2016 election and from the right due to fearmongering over alleged threats to Eastern Europe.

But hope springs eternal, even in 2019. There have recently been some encouraging signs that change is in the air. Donald Trump has declared that he will be pulling all American soldiers out of Syria and half of U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, though the timetable appears to have slipped somewhat and might slow even more as the Establishment pushes back. That Trump may have chosen to break with the interventionist model with Syria, if he succeeds in doing so, is certainly commendable, but one wit has observed that the departure will be somewhat like the line in the Eagles’ song Hotel California, “you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.”

There are other indications that something is afoot. On January 3rd, Trump offhandedly commented that Iran could do what it wishes in Syria, a comment that generated shock waves through the neoconnish Washington Post’s coverage of the remarks. To be sure, other Administration officials have continued to send different signals, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisting that the U.S. will stay in Syria as long as Iran remains there.

Pompeo has also cautioned Iran against the development of ballistic missiles in connection with a claimed space program, a warning that Tehran has rejected. Israel meanwhile, presumably acting with U.S. connivance, has introduced a new destabilizing element into the Middle East cauldron, using civilian airliners to mask the approach of its military jets to attack targets in Syria. The possibility of an airliner being shot down with great loss of life by “accident” has thereby gone up exponentially.

To be sure, there are some who believe that the Trump anti-interventionist turn is essentially fraudulent. They cite the unrelenting hostility coming out of the White House regarding Iran, which is vilified on a nearly daily basis for its alleged threats not only to the Middle East region but also to Western Europe and the United States. That the Administration’s fulminations have little basis in reality is beside the point as it would seem that Trump, Pompeo, John Bolton and the now departed Nikki Haley all believe that the case for disarming Iran and bringing about regime change has been made effectively. Indeed, warfare directed against the Iranian economy has already begun by virtue of a punitive series of targeted sanctions with much more to come when a complete ban on oil exports kicks in in May.

Iran has responded to the threats by restating in early December its intention to exercise control over all ship traffic leaving the Persian Gulf via the Straits of Hormuz if its own oil exports are blocked by the United States. The U.S. responded immediately by sending the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis to the Gulf, the first such deployment in the region in eight months. With all the pieces in place, the possibility that there will be some accident in the region, presumably involving Iranian Revolutionary Guards and U.S. naval units, will escalate just as the largely contrived Gulf of Tonkin incident famously accelerated American involvement in the Vietnam War.

Much of what happens in the Middle East will ultimately depend on the extent to which America’s feckless allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, succeed in selling their version of what is going on in the region. Trump, uncharacteristically, seems to be standing firm, telling a journalist that concerns about the Syria pullout are misplaced because “We give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And we give them, frankly, a lot more money than that, if you look at the books — a lot more money than that. And they’ve been doing a very good job for themselves.” Likewise, the much more important relationship, with Russia, will depend on the ability to ignore congressional hostility towards the Kremlin as well as the media bias that continues to promote Russiagate as a national security threat.

There is also North Korea, which has now indicated clearly that it is willing to talk to the U.S. but will revert to its nuclear development program unless sanctions are removed. And anyone for Latin America? Bolton has dubbed Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela as a “troika of tyranny,” though fortunately suggestions that Venezuela might be invaded by the U.S. to restore order appear to have faded.

If one reads the neocon press one cannot help but notice that China is the anointed over the horizon threat, but it is also a major trading partner and the drive to somehow renegotiate the terms whereby the two nations are linked economically will be complicated. Care must be taken lest what now appears to be an aggravated sense of great power competition becomes something more dangerous. The detention of Weng Manzhou in Canada one month ago together with the implication that the United States can and will enforce U.S. imposed sanctions globally could easily develop into a major problem with China as well as with others, including some NATO allies. The arrest has already disappeared from the media but several Canadians have been detained by Beijing and the U.S. government has warned American businessmen about traveling to China at the present time.

All of the above sounds somewhat depressingly familiar, but the real question is whether in 2019 Donald J. Trump will have both the vision and the necessary gumption to fulfill his campaign promises to change the face of American foreign policy by withdrawing from useless wars overseas and mending fences with countries that are actually important like Russia. There is admittedly a long way to go and it is very much a work in progress, but Trump actually has the ability to overrule the hawks in his administration and change the entire conversation about America’s place in the world.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

The Mattis Dilemma

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The resignation letter of Secretary of Defense James Mattis that was published last Thursday revealed much of the Deep State mindset that has produced the foreign policy catastrophes of the past seventeen years. Mattis, an active duty general in the Marine Corps who reportedly occasionally reads books, received a lot of good press during his time at Defense, sometimes being referred to as “the only adult in the room” when President Donald Trump’s national security and foreign policy team was meeting. Conveniently forgotten are Mattis comments relating to how to “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” His sobriquet in the Corps was “Mad Dog.”

In the media firestorm that has followed upon General Mattis’s resignation, he has been generally lauded as a highly experienced and respected leader who has numerous friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Of course, the press coverage should be taken with a grain of salt as it is designed less to praise Mattis and more to get at Trump over the decision to leave Syria, which is being assailed by both neoliberals and neoconservatives who believe that war is the health of the state.

The arguments against the Trump decisions to depart from Syria and downsize in Afghanistan are contrived for the most part and based on the premise that American intervention in places that Washington deems not to be sufficiently promoting democracy, rule of law and free trade is a good thing. Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria, put it nicely when discussing the reaction in the media: “Trump's critics…will have the vapors about 'losing ground to Russia', 'making Iran's day', and 'abdicating influence,' but their criticism is ill-founded. Contrary to their apparent belief, the US does not have a God-given right to send its forces anywhere on the planet it deems fit. Withdrawal will see the US in one respect at least follow the international rules-based system we are so fond of enjoining on others, and will therefore be a victory of sorts for upholders of international law.”

The central argument of the Mattis resignation letter that is being cited by critics relates to Washington’s relationship with the rest of the world and is framed as a failure by President Trump to understand who are friends and who are enemies. Mattis wrote
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
General Mattis does indeed hold views that were shaped by four decades of experience, but most of it was bad and produced wrong conclusions about America’s place in the world. The Cold War was essentially a bi-polar conflict pitting two adversaries that had the ability to destroy all life on the planet. It generated a Manichean viewpoint on good vs. evil that did not reflect reality which was succeeded by a global war on terror declared by Washington that also exploited the good and evil paradigm. Mattis was a product of that kind of thinking, which was also fueled by the concept of American exceptionalism, which saw the United States as the proper promoter and enforcer of universal values.

There is, of course, another viewpoint, which is that American blundering and use of force as a first option has, in fact, created the current dystopia. The United States is not currently venerated as a force for good, quite the opposite. Opinion polls suggest that Washington is overwhelmingly viewed negatively worldwide and it is perceived as being the nation most likely to start wars. That is not exactly what the nation’s Founders envisioned back in 1783.

Trump is right about leaving Syria where nothing beyond prolonging the bloody conflict is being accomplished. Mattis is wrong about supporting “friends.” For an educated man, he misreads history. The First World War and Second World War developed as they did because of alliances. Countries that appear friendly can exploit relationships with other more powerful nations that will have devastating results. Alliances should be temporary, coming and going based on the interests of the nations involved. In the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia are not actually friends of the United States, and are engaged instead in manipulating Washington to suit their own purposes. Mattis does not understand that and sees a permanent state of war requiring the continued existence of NATO, for example, as a vehicle for deterrence and peace. It is neither. Its very existence depends on a perception of being threatened even where no threat exists, which has poisoned the relationship with Russia since the fall of communism. Worse still, that false perception of threat can lead to war and a global nuclear holocaust.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Syria Withdrawal Enrages the Chickenhawks

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President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw from Syria has been greeted, predictably, with an avalanche of condemnation culminating in last Thursday’s resignation by Defense Secretary James Mattis. The Mattis resignation letter focused on the betrayal of allies, though it was inevitably light on details, suggesting that the Marine Corps General was having some difficulty in discerning that American interests might be somewhat different than those of feckless and faux allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia that are adept at manipulating the levers of power in Washington and in the media. Mattis clearly appreciates that having allies is a force multiplier in wartime but fails to understand that it is a liability otherwise as the allies create an obligation to go to war on their behalf rather than in response to any actual national interest.

The media was quick to line up behind Mattis. On Friday, The New York Times featured a lead editorial entitled “Jim Mattis was right” while neocon twitter accounts blazed with indignation. Prominent chickenhawk mouthpieces David Frum and Bill Kristol, among many others, tweeted that the end is nigh.

During the day preceding Mattis’s dramatic announcement, the press went to war against the Administration over Syria and also regarding other reports that there would be troop reductions in Afghanistan. The following headline actually appeared on a Reuters online article the day after the announcement by the president: “In Syria retreat, Trump rebuffs top advisers and blindsides US commanders.” It would be difficult to imagine stuffing more bullshit into one relatively short sentence. “Retreat,” “rebuffs” and “blindsides” are not words that are intended to convey any sort of even-handed assessment of what is occurring in US policy towards the Middle East. They are instead meant to imply that “Hey, that moron in the White House has screwed up again!”

Consider for a moment the agenda that Reuters is apparently pushing. It is supporting an illegal and unconstitutional invasion of Syria by the United States that has a stated primary objective of removing a terrorist organization which is already mostly gone and a less frequently acknowledged goal of regime change for the legitimate government in Damascus and the expulsion of that government’s principal allies. Reuters is asserting that staying in Syria would be a good thing for the United States and also for its “allies” in the region even though there is no way to “win” and no exit strategy.

Reuters is presumably basing its assessment on the collective judgments of a group of “top advisers” who are warmongers that the rest of the world as well as many Americans consider to be psychopaths or possibly even insane. And then there are the preferences of the “blindsided” generals, like Mattis, who have a personal interest in career terms for maintaining a constant state of warfare. If you want to really know how what the military thinks about an ongoing war ask a sergeant or a private, never a general. They will tell you that they are sick of endless deployments that accomplish nothing.

The New York Times lead story headline on Thursday also let you know that its Editors were not pleased by Trump’s move. It read “US Exit Seen as a Betrayal of the Kurds, and a Boon for ISIS.” They also editorialized “Trump’s Decision to Withdraw From Syria Is Alarming. Just Ask His Advisers.”

The Washington Post was not far behind. It immediately ran an op-ed by the redoubtable neocon chickenhawk Max Boot, whom Caitlin Johnstone has dubbed The Man Who Has Been Wrong About Everything. The piece was entitled Trump’s surprise Syria pullout is a giant Christmas gift to our enemies making a twofer with an incredible “F*ck the EU” Victoria Nuland’s piece entitled “In a single tweet Trump destroys US policy in the Middle East,” which appeared simultaneously. That anyone would regard Boot and Nuland as objective authorities on the Middle East given their ultimate and prevailing loyalty to Israel has to be wondered at, but then again Fred Hiatt is the editorial/opinion page editor and he is of the same persuasion, both ethnically and philosophically. They are all, of course, devoted Zionists and the big lie about what is going on in the region is apparently always worth repeating. As Joseph Goebbels put it in 1941 “…when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it…even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

Comments relating to the articles, op-eds and editorials in the Post and Times bordered on the hysterical, sometimes suggesting that readers actually believe that Trump was following orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin. And what was stirring at Reuters, The Times, and the Post was only the tip of the iceberg. The mainstream television news providers united in condemning the audacity of a president who might actually try to end a war while the only favorable commentary on Trump’s having taken a step that is long overdue came from the alternative media.

One might profitably recall how Trump has only been praised as “presidential” by the Establishment twice – when he staged cruise missile attacks on Syria based on faulty intelligence. The Deep State wants blood, make no mistake about it and it is not interested in “retreat.” And Trump will also get almost no support from Congress, with only longtime critics of Syrian policy Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee as well as Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard praising the move initially.

The arguments being made to criticize the Trump initiative were essentially cookie cutter neocon soundbites. The Reuters piece in its first few lines of text asserts that the reversal of policy “stunned lawmakers and allies with his order for US troops to leave Syria, a decision that upends American policy in the Middle East. The result, said current and former officials and people briefed on the decision, will empower Russia and Iran and leave unfinished the goal of erasing the risk that Islamic State, or ISIS, which has lost all but a sliver territory, could rebuild.” The article goes on to quote an anonymous Pentagon source who opined that “… Trump’s decision was widely seen in the Pentagon as benefiting Russia as well as Iran, both of which have used their support for the Syrian government to bolster their regional influence. Iran also has improved its ability to ship arms to Lebanese Hezbollah for use against Israel. Asked who gained from the withdrawal, the defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, replied: ‘Geopolitically Russia, regionally Iran.’”

Another so-called expert Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute was also cited in the article, saying “It completely takes apart America’s broader strategy in Syria, but perhaps more importantly, the centerpiece of the Trump administration policy, which is containing Iran.”

Israel is also turning up the heat on Trump, claiming that the move will make it more insecure. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to increase air attacks on Iranian targets in Syria as an added security measure to make up for the American betrayal. Normally liberal American Jews have joined the hue and cry against Trump on behalf of Israel. Filmmaker Rob Reiner tweeted on Thursday that the president is a “childish moronic mentally unstable malignant narcissist” who is “committing Treason” against the United States.

The real story, lost in the wailing and gnashing to teeth, is that even after conceding that Donald Trump’s hyperbolic claim that the United States had defeated ISIS as the motive for the withdrawal is nonsense, there is still no good reason for Washington to continue to keep troops in Syria. The US in reality did far less in the war against the terrorist groups infesting the region than did the Russians, Iranians or the Syrians themselves and, as a result, it will have less say in what kind of Syria emerges from the carnage. That is almost certainly a good thing for the Syrian people.

But let’s assume for sake of argument that the US invasion really was about ISIS. Well, ISIS continues to hold on to a small bit of territory near the Euphrates River and is reported to have between one and two thousand remaining fighters. There are other estimates suggesting that between 10,000 and 20,000 followers have dispersed and gone underground awaiting a possible resurgence by the group. The argument that ISIS will reorganize and re-emerge as a result of the American withdrawal assumes that it is the 2,000 strong US armed forces that are keeping it down, which is ridiculous. The best remedy against an ISIS recovery is to support a restored and re-unified Syria, which will have more than enough resources available to eliminate the last bits of the terrorist groups remaining in its territory.

So we go to fallback argument B, which is “containing Iran.” “Containment” was a US policy devised by George Kennan in 1947 to inhibit the expansion of a powerful and sometimes aggressive soon-to-be nuclear armed Soviet Union, which was rightly seen as a serious threat. Iran is a second world country with a small military and economy with no nuclear arsenal and it neither threatens the United States nor any of its neighbors. But Israel supported by Saudi Arabia does not like Iran and has induced Washington to follow its lead. Withdrawing from Syria recognizes that Iran is no threat in reality. Positioning American military forces to “counter” Iran does not reduce the threat against the United States because there was no threat there to begin with.

And then there is the argument that the US departure empowers Iran and Russia. Staying in Syria is, on the contrary, a drain on both those countries’ limited resources. The more money and manpower they have to commit to Syria the less they have to become engaged elsewhere and it is hard to imagine how either country would exploit the “victory” in Syria to leverage their involvement in other parts of the world. Both would be delighted if a final settlement of the Syrian problem could be arrived at so they can get out.

And as for the United States, the military should only be deployed anywhere to defend the US itself or vital interests. There is nothing like that at stake in Syria. So, is American national security better or worse if the US leaves? As Russian and American soldiers only confront each other directly in Syria, US national security would in fact be greatly improved because the danger of igniting an accidental war with Russia would be dramatically reduced. There have reportedly already been a dozen incidents between US and Russian troops, including some involving shooting. That has been a dozen too many. Even the possibility of starting an unintended war with Iran would potentially be disastrous for the United States as well as for everyone else in the region, so it is far better to put some distance between the two sides.

And finally, it is necessary to go to the argument for disengagement from Syria that is too little heard in the western media or from the usual bonehead politicians named Graham and Rubio who pronounce on foreign policy. How has American intervention in the Middle East and south and central Asia benefited the people in the countries that have been invaded or bombed? Not at all. By some estimates four million Muslims have been killed as a consequence of the wars since 2001 and millions more displaced. More than eight thousand US military have died in the process in wars that had no purpose and no exit strategy. And the wars have been expensive – $6 trillion and counting, much of it borrowed. War without end means killing without end and it has to stop.

Withdrawing from Syria is the right thing to do, though one has to be concerned that there might be some secret side deals with Israel or Turkey that could actually result in more attacks on Syria and on the Kurds. Donald Trump is already under extreme pressure coming from all directions to reverse his decision to leave Syria and it is quite possible that he will either fold completely or bend at least a bit. It is to be hoped that he will not do so as a Christmas present to the American people. And he might want to think of a Christmas present for 2019. One might suggest a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Reprinted with permission from Unz Review.

What Foreign Threats? The Biggest Threats to America Come From its ‘Friends’

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One of the local Washington television stations was doing a typical early morning honoring our soldiers schtick just before Thanksgiving. In it soldiers stationed far from home were treated to videolinks so they could talk to their families and everyone could nod happily and wish themselves a wonderful holiday. Not really listening, I became interested when I half heard that the soldier being interviewed was spending his Thanksgiving in Ukraine.

It occurred to me that the soldier just might have committed a security faux pas by revealing where he was, but I also recalled that there have been joint military maneuvers as well as some kind of training mission going on in the country, teaching the Ukrainian Army how to use the shiny new sophisticated weapons that the United States was providing it with to defend against “Russian aggression.”

Ukraine is only one part of the world where the Trump Administration has expanded the mission of democracy promotion, only in Kiev the reality is more like faux democracy promotion since Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is clearly exploiting a situation that he himself provoked. He envisions setting himself up as a victim of Moscow to aid in his attempts to establish his own power through a security relationship with Washington. That in turn will help his bid for reelection in March 2019 elections, in which his poll numbers are currently running embarrassingly low largely due to the widescale corruption in his government. Poroshenko has already done much to silence the press in his county while the developing crisis with Russia has enabled him to declare martial law in the eastern parts of the country where he is most poorly regarded. If it all works out, he hopes to win the election and subsequently, it is widely believed, he will move to expand his own executive authority.

There also has to be some consideration the encounter with the Russians on the Kerch Strait was contrived by Poroshenko with the assistance of a gaggle of American neoconservative and Israeli advisers who have been actively engaged with the Ukrainian government for the past several years. The timing was good for Poroshenko for his own domestic political reasons but it was also an opportunity for the neocons warmongers that surround Trump and proliferate inside the Beltway to scuttle any possible meeting between a vulnerable Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 gathering in Argentina.

The defection of Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, together with the assumption that a lot of anti-Trump dirt will be spilled soon, means that the American president had to be even more cautious than ever in any dealings with Moscow and all he needed was a nod of approval from National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cancel the encounter. A heads-of-state meeting might not have solved anything but it certainly would be better than the current drift towards a new cold war. If the United States has only one vitally important relationship anywhere it is with Russia as the two countries are ready, able and apparently willing to destroy the world under the aegis of self-defense.

Given the anti-Russian hysteria prevailing in the US and the ability of the neocons to switch on the media, it should come as no surprise that the Russian-Ukrainian incident immediately generated calls from the press and politicians for the White House to get tough with the Kremlin. It is important to note that the United States has no actual national interest in getting involved in a war between Russia and Ukraine if that should come about. The two Eastern European countries are neighbors and have a long history of both friendship and hostility but the only thing clear about the conflict is that it is up to them to sort things out and no amount of sanctions and jawing by concerned congressmen will change that fact.

Other Eastern European nations that similarly have problems with Russia should also be considered provocateurs as they seek to create tension to bind the United States more closely to them through the NATO alliance. The reality is that today’s Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union and it neither aspires to nor can afford hegemony over its former allies. What it has made very clear that it does want is a modus vivendi where Russia itself is not being threatened by the West.

Recent military maneuvers in Poland and Lithuania and the stationing of new missiles in Eastern Europe do indeed pose a genuine threat to Moscow as it places NATO forces on top of Russia’s border. When Russia reacts to incursions by NATO warships and planes right along its borders, it is accused of acting aggressively. One wonders how the US government would respond if a Russian aircraft carrier were to take up position off the eastern seaboard and were to begin staging reconnaissance flights. Or if the Russian army were to begin military exercises with the Cubans? Does anyone today remember the Bay of Pigs?

When it comes to international conflicts context is everything. Seeing the incident between Russia and Ukraine in Manichean terms as an example of Moscow’s aggressive instincts is satisfying in some circles, but it does not in any way reflect the reality on the ground. Internal politics of the two countries combined with deliberate fabrications that are expected to generate a certain response operate together to create a largely false narrative for both international and domestic consumption. Unfortunately, narratives have consequences: in this case, the sacrifice of the possibly beneficial meeting between Trump and Putin.

The same dynamic works vis-à-vis Washington’s other enemy du jour Iran. In the case of Russia, useless “friend” Ukraine is pulling the strings while regarding Iran it is conniving Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iran has been accused of being the world’s leading sponsor of terror, of destabilizing the Middle East, and of having a secret nuclear weapon program that will be used to attack Israel and Europe. None of those assertions are true. The terrorism tag comes from the country’s relationship with Hezbollah, which is only a terrorist group insofar as it is hostile to Israel and pledged to resist any future Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Washington and Israel have pushed the terrorism label for Hezbollah, but most Europeans have begun to disregard the designation since the group has become a part of the Lebanese government.

And regarding destabilizing the Middle East, that has largely been the end result of actions undertaken by the United States, Israel, and the Saudis, while the alleged Persian nuclear weapons program is a fantasy. If someone in the US national security apparatus had any brains the United States would work to improve relations with Iran real soon as the Iranians would in the long run quite likely prove to be better friends than those rascals who are currently running around using that label.

And there are other friends in unlikely places. Beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May is wailing loudly against a Trump threat to reveal classified documents relating to Russiagate. The real problem is that the documents apparently don’t expose anything done by the Russians. Rather, they seem to appear to reveal a plot by the British intelligence and security services working in collusion with then CIA Director John Brennan to subvert the course of the 2016 election in favor of the Deep State and Establishment favorite Hillary Clinton. How did that one work out?

So how about it? Teenagers who get in trouble often have to ditch their bad friends to turn their lives around. There is still a chance for the United States if we keep our distance from the bad friends we have been nurturing all around the world, friends who have been convincing us to make poor choices. Get rid of the ties the bind to the Saudis, Israelis, Ukrainians, Poles, and yes, even the British. Deal fairly with all nations and treat everyone the same, but bear in mind that there are only two relationships that really matter – Russia and China. Make a serious effort to avoid a war by learning how to get along with those two nations and America might actually survive to celebrate a tricentennial in 2076.

Reprinted with permission from Unz Review.

US Foreign Policy Has No Policy

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President Donald Trump’s recent statement on the Jamal Khashoggi killing by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince might well be considered a metaphor for his foreign policy. Several commentators have suggested that the text appears to be something that Trump wrote himself without any adult supervision, similar to the poorly expressed random arguments presented in his tweeting only longer. That might be the case, but it would not be wise to dismiss the document as merely frivolous or misguided as it does in reality express the kind of thinking that has produced a foreign policy that seems to drift randomly to no real end, a kind of leaderless creative destruction of the United States as a world power.

Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of Britain in the mid nineteenth century, famously said that “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”The United States currently has neither real friends nor any clearly defined interests. It is, however, infested with parasites that have convinced an at-drift America that their causes are identical to the interests of the United States. Leading the charge to reduce the US to “bitch” status, as Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has artfully put it, are Israel and Saudi Arabia, but there are many other countries, alliances and advocacy groups that have learned how to subvert and direct the “leader of the free world.”

Trump’s memo on the Saudis begins with the headline “The world is a very dangerous place!” Indeed, it is and behavior by the three occupants of the White House since 2000 is largely to blame. It is difficult to find a part of the world where an actual American interest is being served by Washington’s foreign and global security policies. Indeed, a national security policy that sees competitors and adversaries as enemies in a military sense has made nuclear war, unthinkable since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, thinkable once again. The fact that no one in the media or in political circles is even talking about that terrible danger suggests that war has again become mainstreamed, tacitly benefiting from bipartisan acceptance of it as a viable foreign policy tool by the media, in the US Congress and also in the White House.

The part of the world where American meddling coupled with ignorance has produced the worst result is inevitably the Middle East. Washington has been led by the nose by Israel and Saudi Arabia, currently working in sync, to have the United States destroy Iran even though the Iranians represent no threat whatsoever to Americans or any serious US interests. The wildly skewed view of what is taking place in that region is reflected in Trump’s memo in the first paragraph, which reads:
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, ‘Death to America!’ and ‘Death to Israel!’ Iran is considered ‘the world’s leading sponsor of terror.’
Almost all of that is either patently untrue or grossly exaggerated, meaning that Trump’s profoundly ignorant statement is remarkable for the number of lies that it incorporates into 631 words which are wrapped around a central premise that the United States will always do whatever it wants wherever it wants just because it can. The war being waged by the Saudis against Yemen, which reportedly has killed as many as 80,000 children, is not a proxy struggle against Iran as Trump prefers to think. It is naked aggression bordering on genocide that is enabled by the United States under completely false pretenses. Iran did not start the war and plays almost no role in it apart from serving as a Saudi and Emirati excuse to justify the fighting. Other lies include that Bashar al-Assad of Syria has killed millions of his own citizens and that Saudi Arabia is fighting terrorism. Quite the contrary is true as the Saudis have been a major source of Islamic terrorism. And as for Iran being the “world’s leading sponsor of terrorism,” that honor currently belongs to the US, Israel and the Saudis.

The core of Trump’s thinking about Khashoggi and the Saudis comes down to Riyadh’s willingness to buy weapons to benefit America’s defense contractors and this one sentence: “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.” Yes, once again it is Israel pulling Trump’s strings, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leading the charge to give Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman a pass on the gruesome murder of a legal resident of the United States who, once upon a time, might have actually had the US government on his side.

The reckless calibrations employed to set American policies in other parts of the world are also playing out badly. Russia has been hounded relentlessly since the 2016 election, wasting the opportunity to establish a modus vivendi that Trump appeared to be offering in his campaign. Russian and American soldiers confront each other in Syria, where the US has absolutely no real interests beyond supporting feckless Israel and Saudi Arabia in an unnecessary armed conflict that has already been lost. There is now talk of war coming from both Moscow and Washington while NATO in the middle has turned aggressive in an attempt to justify its existence. The bilateral relationship between the US and Russia is now worse than it was towards the end of the Cold War while the expansion of NATO up to Russia’s doorstep has threatened the Kremlin’s vital interests without advancing any interest of the United States.

Afghanistan has become the longest war in US history with no end in sight and China too has seen what began as a dispute over trade turned into something more vitriolic, a military rivalry over the South China Sea that could explode. And North Korea? A love fest between two leaders that is devoid of content.

One might also add Venezuela to the list, with the US initiating sanctions over the state of the country’s internal politics and even considering, according to some in the media, a military intervention.

All of the White House’s actions have one thing in common and that is that they do not benefit Americans in any way unless one works for a weapons manufacturer, and that is not even taking into consideration the dead soldiers and civilians and the massive debt that has been incurred to intervene all over the world. One might also add that most of America’s interventions are built on deliberate lies by the government and its associated media, intended to increase tension and create a casus belli where none exists.

So what is to be done as it often seems that the best thing Trump has going for him is that he is not Hillary Clinton? First of all, a comprehensive rethink of what the real interests of the United States are in the world arena is past due. America is less safe now than it was in 2001 as it continues to make enemies with its blundering everywhere it goes. There are now four times as many designated terrorists as there were in 2001, active in 70 countries. One would quite plausibly soon arrive at George Washington’s dictum in his Farewell Address, counseling his countrymen to “observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.” And Washington might have somehow foreseen the poisonous relationships with Israel and the Saudis when he warned that “…a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

George Washington or any of the other Founders would be appalled to see an America with 800 military bases overseas, allegedly for self-defense. The transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the military industrial complex and related entities like Wall Street has been catastrophic. The United States does not need to protect Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries that are armed to the teeth and well able to defend themselves. Nor does it have to be in Syria and Afghanistan. And, by the way, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union and NATO should be abolished.

If the United States were to withdraw its military from the Middle East and the rest of Asia tomorrow, it would be to nearly everyone’s benefit. If the armed forces were to be subsequently reduced to a level sufficient to defend the United States it would put money back in the pockets of Americans and end the continuous fearmongering through surfacing of “threats” by career militarists justifying the bloated budgets.

Will that produce the peaceable kingdom? Probably not, but there are signs that some in powerful positions are beginning to see the light. Senator Rand Paul’s courageous decision to place a “hold” on aid to Israel is long overdue as Israel is a liability to the United States and is also legally ineligible for aid due to its undeclared nuclear arsenal and its unwillingness to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The hysterical reactions of American Jews and Israel suggest that any redirection of US Middle East policy will produce a hostile reaction from the Establishment, but even small steps in the right direction could initiate a gradual process of turning the United States into a more normal country in its relationships with the rest of the world rather than a universal predator and bully.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.