All posts by Philip Giraldi

America the Punitive

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There has been a dramatic shift in how the United States government carries out its business internationally. Admittedly, Washington has had a tendency to employ force to get what it has wanted ever since 9/11, but it also sometimes recognized that other countries had legitimate interests and accepted there was a place for diplomacy to resolve issues short of armed conflict. The Bush Administration reluctance to broaden its engagement in the Middle East after it recognized that it had blundered with Iraq followed by Obama’s relaxation of tensions with Cuba and his negotiation of a nuclear agreement with Iran demonstrated that sanity sometimes prevailed in the West Wing.

That willingness to be occasionally accommodating has changed dramatically, with the State Department under Mike Pompeo currently more prone to deliver threats than any suggestions that we all might try to get along. It would be reasonable enough to criticize such behavior because it is intrinsically wrong, but the truly frightening aspect of it would appear to be that it is based on the essentially neoconservative assumption that other countries will always back down when confronted with force majeure and that the use of violence as a tool in international relations is, ultimately, consequence free.

I am particularly disturbed with the consequence free part as it in turn is rooted in the belief that countries that have been threatened or even invaded have no collective memory of what occurred and will not respond vengefully when the situation changes. There have been a number of stunningly mindless acts of aggression over the past several weeks that are particularly troubling as they suggest that they will produce many more problems down the road than solutions.

The most recent is the new sanctioning of Russia over the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury England. For those not following developments, last week Washington abruptly and without any new evidence being presented, imposed additional trade sanctions on Russia in the belief that Moscow ordered and carried out the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4th. The report of the new sanctions was particularly surprising as Yulia Skripal has recently announced that she intends to return to her home in Russia, leading to the conclusion that even one of the alleged victims does not believe the narrative being promoted by the British and American governments.

Though Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded with restraint, avoiding a tit-for-tat, he is reported to be angry about the new move by the US government and now believes it to be an unreliable negotiating partner. Considering the friendly recent exchanges between Putin and Trump, the punishment of Russia has to be viewed as something of a surprise, suggesting that the president of the United States may not be in control of his own foreign policy.

Turkey is also feeling America’s wrath over the continued detention of an American Protestant Pastor Andrew Brunson by Ankara over charges that he was connected to the coup plotters of 2016, which were allegedly directed by Fetullah Gulen, a Muslim religious leader, who now resides in Pennsylvania. Donald Trump has made the detention the centerpiece of his Turkish policy, introducing sanctions and tariffs that have led in part to a collapse of the Turkish lira and a run on the banking system which could easily lead to default and grave damage to European banks that hold a large party of the country’s debt.

And then there is perennial favorite Iran, which was hit with reinstated sanctions last week and is confronting a ban on oil sales scheduled to go into effect on November 4th. The US has said it will sanction any country that buys Iranian oil after that date, though a number of governments including Turkey, India and China appear to be prepared to defy that demand. Several European countries are reportedly preparing mechanisms that will allow them to trade around US restrictions.

What do Russia, Turkey and Iran have in common? All are on the receiving end of punitive action by the United States over allegations of misbehavior that have not been demonstrated. Nobody has shown that Russia poisoned the Skripals, Turkey just might have a case that the Reverend Brunson was in contact with coup plotters, and Iran is in full compliance with the nuclear arms agreement signed in 2015. One has to conclude that the United States has now become the ultimate angry imperial power, lashing out with the only thing that seems to work – its ability to interfere in and control financial markets – to punish nations that do not play by its rules.

Given Washington’s diminishing clout worldwide, it is a situation that is unsustainable and which will ultimately only really punish the American people as the United States becomes more isolated and its imperial overreach bankrupts the nation. As America weakens, Russia, Turkey, Iran and all the other countries that have been steamrolled by Washington will likely seek revenge. To avoid that, a dramatic course correction by the US is needed, but, unfortunately, is unlikely to take place.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

The US-Turkey Crisis: The NATO Alliance Forged in 1949 Is Today Largely Irrelevant

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There has been some reporting in the United States mass media about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara and what it might mean. Such a falling out between NATO members has not been seen since France left the alliance in 1966 and observers note that the hostility emanating from both sides suggests that far worse is to come as neither party appears prepared to moderate its current position while diplomatic exchanges have been half-hearted and designed to lead nowhere.

The immediate cause of the breakdown is ostensibly President Donald Trump’s demand that an American Protestant minister who has lived in Turkey for twenty-three years be released from detention. Andrew Brunson was arrested 21 months ago and charged with being a supporter of the alleged conspiracy behind the military coup in 2016 that sought to kill or replace President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has asserted that the coup was directed by former political associate Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, but has produced little credible evidence to support that claim. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan has had himself voted extraordinary special powers to maintain public order and has arrested 160,000 people, including 20 Americans, who have been imprisoned. More than 170,000 civil servants, teachers, and military personnel have lost their jobs, the judiciary has been hobbled, and senior army officers have been replaced by loyalists.

Gulen is a religious leader who claims to promote a moderate brand of Islam that is compatible with western values. His power base consists of a large number of private schools that educate according to his curriculum, with particular emphasis on math and sciences. Many of the graduates become part of a loose affiliation that has sometimes been described as a cult. Gulen also owns and operates a number of media outlets, all of which have now been shut by Erdogan as part of his clamp down on the press. Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country.

It is widely believed that Erdogan has been offering to release Brunson in exchange for Gulen, but President Donald Trump has instead offered only a Turkish banker currently in a U.S. prison while also turning the heat up in the belief that pressure on Turkey will force it to yield. Washington began the tit-for-tat by imposing sanctions on two cabinet-level officials in Erdogan’s government: Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. Ankara has now also been on the receiving end of a Trump tweet and tariffs have been placed on a broad range of Turkish products, to include steel and aluminum.

The view that economic pressure will force the Turks to yield could be mistaken and demonstrates that the Administration does not include anyone who knows that Americans have been unpopular in Turkey since the Gulf War. The threats from Washington might actually rally skeptical and normally pro-western Turks around Erdogan but U.S. sanctions have already hit the Turkish economy hard, with the lira having lost 40% of its value this year and continuing to sink rapidly. Foreign investors, who fueled much of Turkey’s recent economic growth, have fled the market, suggesting that a collapse in credit might be on the way. Those European banks that hold Turkish debt are fearing a possible default.

It is a spectacle of one NATO member driving another NATO member’s economy into the ground over a political dispute. Erdogan has responded in his autocratic fashion by condemning “interest rates” and calling for an “economic war” against the U.S., telling his supporters to unload all their liquid valuables, gold and foreign to buy the plummeting lira, a certain recipe for disaster. If they do that, they will likely lose everything.

Other contentious issues involved in the badly damaged bilateral relationship are conflicting views on what to do about Syria, where the Turks have a legitimate interest due to potential Kurdish terrorism and are seeking a buffer zone, as well as Ankara’s interest in buying Russian air defense missile systems, which has prompted the U.S. to suspend sales of the new F-35 fighter. The Turks have also indicated that they have no interest in enforcing the sanctions on Iran that were re-imposed last week and they will continue to buy Iranian oil after the November 4th initiation of a U.S. ban on such purchases. The Trump Administration has warned that it will sanction any country that refuses to comply, setting the stage for a massive confrontation between Washington and Ankara involving the Turkish Central Bank.

In terms of U.S. interests, Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, is of strategic value because it is Muslim, countering arguments that the alliance is some kind of Christian club working to suppress Islam in the Middle East. And it is also important because of its geographic location close to hot spots where the American military is currently engaged. If the U.S. heeds Trump’s call to cut back on involvement in the region, Turkey will become less valuable, but currently, access to the Incirlik Airbase, near Adana and the Syrian border, is vital.

Indeed, Incirlik has become one of the flashpoints in the argument with Washington. Last week, a group of lawyers connected politically to Erdogan initiated legal action against U.S. officers at Incirlik over claimed ties to “terrorists” linked to Gulen. The “Association for Social Justice and Aid” has called for a temporary halt to all operations at the base to permit a search for evidence. The attorneys are asking for the detention of seven named American Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command based in Germany is also cited. If the lawyers are successful in court, it will mean a major conflict as Washington asserts the rights of the officers under the Status of Forces Agreement, while Turkey will no doubt insist that the Americans are criminals and have no protection.

Another trial balloon being floated by Erdogan is even more frightening in terms of the demons that it could be unleashing. Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist writing in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Atik, has suggested that there might well be a second terrorist attack on the United States like 9/11. Dilipak threatened that if Trump does nothing to reduce tension “…some people will teach him [to do] that. It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility.” Dilipak also warned that presumed Gulenist “U.S. collaborators” inside Turkey would be severely punished if they dared to go out into the streets to protest in support of Washington.

If recent developments in Turkey deteriorate further it might well suggest that Donald Trump’s instinct to disengage from the Middle East was the right call, though it could equally be seen as a rejection of the tactic being employed, i.e. using heavy-handed sanctions and tariffs to compel obedience from governments disinclined to follow Washington’s leadership. Either way, the Turkish-American relationship is in trouble and increasingly a liability for both sides, yet another indication that the NATO alliance forged in 1949 against the Soviet Union is today largely irrelevant.

Reprinted with permission from American Herald Tribune.

Butina Case: Neo-McCarthyism Engulfs America

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The United States Department of Justice would apparently have you believe that the Kremlin sought to subvert the five-million-member strong National Rifle Association (NRA) by having two Russian citizens take out life memberships in the organization with the intention of corrupting it and turning it into a mouthpiece for President Vladimir Putin. Both of the Russians – Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin – have, by the way, long well documented histories as advocates for gun ownership and were founders of Right to Bear Arms, which is not an intelligence front organization of some kind and is rather a genuine lobbying group with an active membership and agenda. Contrary to what has been reported in the mainstream media, Russians can own guns but the licensing and registration procedures are long and complicated, which Right to Bear Arms, modeling itself on the NRA, is seeking to change.

Maria Butina, a graduate student at American University, is now in solitary confinement in a federal prison, having been charged with collusion with Torshin and failure to register as an agent of the Russian Federation. It is unusual to arrest and confine someone who has failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, but she has not been granted bail because, as a Russian citizen, she is considered to be a “flight risk,” likely to try to flee the US and return home. It is to be presumed that she is being pressured to identify others involved in her alleged scheme to overthrow American democracy through NRA membership.

Indeed, in any event, it would be difficult to imagine why anyone would consider the NRA to be a legitimate intelligence target. It only flexes its admitted powerful legislative muscles over issues relating to gun ownership, not regarding policy on Russia. In short, Butina and by extension Torshin appear to have done nothing wrong. Both are energetic advocates for their country and guns rights, which they appear to believe in, and Butina’s aggressive networking has broken no law except not registering, which in itself assumes that she is a Russian government agent, something that has not been demonstrated. To put the shoe on the other foot, will every American who now travels to Russia and engages in political conversations with local people be suspected of acting as an agent of the US government? Once you open the door, it swings both ways.

One might dismiss the entire Affair Butina as little more than a reflection of the anti-Russia hysteria that has been sweeping the United States since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, but that would be unfair to those remaining honest FBI agents who may have investigated Butina and Torshin and come up with what they believed to be a plausible case for an indictment. There were possibly suspicious money transfers as well as email intercepts that might be interpreted as incriminating.

But two important elements are clearly missing. The first is motive. Did the Kremlin seriously believe that it could get anything substantial out of having a gun totin’ attractive young Russian woman as a life member in the NRA? What did the presumed puppet masters in Moscow expect to obtain apart from the sorts of group photos including Butina that one gets while posing with politicians at the annual NRA convention? Sure, the photo might even evolve into a cup of coffee together, but what is the end game?

Second is the lack of any of the hallmarks of an intelligence operation, which is referred to in the business as tradecraft. Spies meet secretly or at least outside the public eye with prospective agents whereas Maria operated completely in the open and she made no effort to conceal her love for her country and her desire that Washington and Moscow normalize relations. Spies also communicate securely, which means that they use encrypted systems or various cut-outs, i.e. mis-directions, when maintaining contact with those who are running them. Again, Maria did none of that, which is why the FBI has her emails. Also spies work under what is referred to as an “operating directive” in CIA-speak where they have very specific information that they seek to obtain from their contacts. There is no indication that Maria Butina in any way sought classified information or intelligence that would relate either to the security of the United States or to America’s political system. And finally, Maria made no attempt to recruit anyone and turn them into an actual controlled Russian agent, which is what spies eventually seek to do.

It has come down to this: if you are a Russian and you are caught talking to anyone in any way influential, there is potentially hell to pay because the FBI will be watching you. You are automatically assumed to be part of a conspiracy. Once “evidence” is collected, you will be indicted and sent to prison, mostly to send a message to Moscow. It is the ultimate irony that how the old Soviet Union’s judiciary used to function is now becoming standing operating procedure in the United States.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

More Lies About the White Helmets

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When is a terrorist group not a terrorist group? Apparently the answer is that it ceases to be terrorist when it terrorizes someone who is an enemy of the United States. The most prominent recent example is the Mujaheddin e Khalq (MEK), a murderous Iranian Marxist cult which assassinated five Americans in the 1970s as part of its campaign against the Shah’s government. It was removed from the State Department terrorist list in 2012 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after it had promised not to kill any more Americans but really because it had bought the support of prominent politicians to include Elaine Chao, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and John Bolton. It also had the behind the scenes endorsement of both the Israeli Mossad and CIA, both of whom have been using it in their operations to kill Iranians and damage the country’s infrastructure. Someone high up in the federal government, perhaps Hillary or even President Obama himself, must have decided that terrorists who kill only Iranians deserve a get out of jail free card from the State Department.

There are other examples of cynical doublespeak from the Syrian conflict, including labeling rebels against the Damascus government “freedom fighters” when in reality they were as often as not allied with the al-Qaeda affiliated group Al-Nusra or even with ISIS. Frequently they received training and weapons from Washington only to turn around and either join Al-Nusra and ISIS as volunteers or surrender their weapons to them.

But perhaps there is no bigger fraud making the rounds than the so-called White Helmets. The recent media coverage derives from the documentary The White Helmets, which was produced by the group itself and tells a very convincing tale promoted as “the story of real-life heroes and impossible hope.” It is a very impressive piece of propaganda, so much so that it has won numerous awards including the Oscar for Best Documentary Short last year and the White Helmets themselves were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. More to the point, however, is the undeniable fact that the documentary has helped shape the public understanding of what is going on in Syria, describing the government in Damascus in purely negative terms.

The fawning Hollywood and Congressional depictions of the group go something like this: “the White Helmets are an heroic impartial non-government humanitarian volunteer group that engages in 'first response' emergency rescue and medical treatment for all those who have been impacted by the fighting in Syria. The Syrian government hates the group because it assists victims of the fighting who are either rebels or living in rebel held areas. Recently, with the Syrian Army closing in on the last White Helmet affiliates still operating in the country, the Israeli government, assisted by the United States, staged an emergency humanitarian evacuation of the group’s members and their families to Israel and then on to Jordan.”

Virtually all the mainstream media coverage of the White Helmets is bogus, but by far the most ridiculous account of the Exodus from Syria came from the BBC. For those who are not familiar with it, the BBC, which once upon a time had a reputation for journalistic integrity, has become one of the worst pro-government propaganda shills of all time. Reading its articles is even worse that having a similar go at The Washington Post, which is the prime newspaper exemplar of fake news and phony journalism pretending to be a respectable news source in the United States. Let’s face it, Donald Trump has a point. Nearly all of the mainstream media lies persistently these days but some sources are worse than others. People complain about Fox, and rightly so, but CNN is the absolute pits when it comes to slanting its coverage, as is MSNBC.

BBC’s article is entitled Syria conflict: White Helmets evacuated by Israel. It makes the following statements, many coming directly from Israeli official sources, regarding the White Helmets, its activities and the group’s relationship to some governments, to include Britain:
The IDF said they had ‘completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families’, saying there was an ‘immediate threat to their lives.’ The transfer of the displaced Syrians through Israel was an exceptional humanitarian gesture.

Although Israel is not directly involved in the Syria conflict, the two countries have been in a state of war for decades. Despite the intervention, the IDF said that ‘Israel continues to maintain a non-intervention policy regarding the Syrian conflict.’

A statement from Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: ‘White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection. We pay tribute to the brave and selfless work that White Helmet volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict.’

Their official name is the Syrian Civil Defense and it began in early 2013 as an organization of volunteers from all walks of life, including electricians and builders. Its main task soon became to rescue civilians in war zones in the immediate aftermath of air strikes, and it says its volunteers have saved the lives of more than 100,000 people during the civil war.
The BBC story could have been written by the White Helmets themselves or by their press department. Or alternatively by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. First of all, the Israelis do not do humanitarian gestures. They helped bail out the White Helmets at the request of the US because capture by the Syrians would have produced embarrassing revelations about how the group was funded and what its affiliation with terrorists was all about. And Israel’s denial of involvement in Syria is nonsense, unless one considers demonstrated collaboration with the terrorist groups punctuated by nearly weekly bombing and missile attacks to be non-involvement.

The British too are into the deception up to their eyeballs. The comment by Hunt and Mordaunt is complete fabrication regarding what the White Helmets represent. The same goes for the BBC account of how the group developed, which comes directly from the White Helmet’s own propaganda division as amplified by Hollywood and the US and U.K. governments.

Just as important as what is said about the White Helmets’ activities is the exclusion of a great deal of credible negative reporting on the group. The carefully edited scenes of heroism under fire that have been filmed and released worldwide conceal the White Helmets’ relationship with the al-Qaeda affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra and its participation in the torture and execution of “rebel” opponents. Indeed, the White Helmets only operate in rebel held territory, which enables them to shape the narrative both regarding who they are and what is occurring on the ground.

Exploiting their access to the western media, the White Helmets thereby de facto became a major source of “eyewitness” news regarding what was going on in those many parts of Syria where European and American journalists were quite rightly afraid to go. It was all part of a broader largely successful “rebel” effort to manufacture fake news that depicts the Damascus government as engaging in war crimes directed against civilians, an effort that led to several attacks on government forces and facilities by the US military.

The White Helmets travel to bombing sites with their film crews trailing behind them. Once at the sites, with no independent observers, they are able to arrange or even stage what is filmed to conform to their selected narrative which consistently promotes tales of government atrocities against civilians to encourage outside military intervention in Syria and bring about regime change in Damascus. The White Helmets were, for example, the propagators of the totally false but propagandistically effective claims regarding the government use of so-called “barrel bombs” against civilians.

Peter Ford, British Ambassador in Damascus from 2003-2006, recently described the group in an audio interview saying, “The White Helmets are jihadi auxiliaries. They are not, as claimed by themselves and by their supporters… simple rescuers. They are not volunteers. They are paid professionals of disinformation.” He noted particularly the large size of the organization’s “press department”, saying, “This gives us an idea what the priority is for this very dubious organization… All their activities are directed at mobilizing Western opinion behind the jihadis with whom they associate. They co-locate their centers with the Al-Qaeda organization known as Al-Nusra and with other militant groups such as Jaish al-Islam. They have in the past been shown associating with and waving the flags of ISIS.”

The group is currently largely funded by a number of non-government organizations (NGOs) as well as governments, including the United States, Britain and some European Union member states. The US has directly provided $23 million through the USAID (US Agency for International Development) as of 2016 and almost certainly considerably more indirectly. Max Blumenthal has explored in some detail the various funding resources and relationships that the organization draws on, mostly in Europe and the United States.

Perhaps the most serious charge against the White Helmets consists of the evidence that they actively participated in the atrocities, to include torture and murder, carried out by their al-Nusra hosts. There have been numerous photos of the White Helmets operating directly with armed terrorists and also celebrating over the bodies of execution victims and murdered Iraqi soldiers. The group’s jihadi associates regard the White Helmets as fellow “mujahideen” and “soldiers of the revolution.”

So Israel’s celebrated rescue of the White Helmets was little more than a theatrical performance intended to perpetuate the myth that the al-Assad government was thwarted in an attempt to capture and possibly kill an honorable non-partisan group engaged in humanitarian relief for those caught up in a bloody conflict seeking to oust a ruthless dictator. The reality is quite different. The White Helmets were and are part and parcel of the attempt to overthrow a legitimate government and install a regime friendly to western, American and Israeli interests. For Israel in particular the ongoing chaos in Syria was and is part of its plan for dividing all of its neighbors into warring ethnicities and sects, making them less viable as threats to the Jewish state.

The 800 White Helmets rescued reportedly will be resettled in the US, Britain and Germany. One hopes those coming to America can end up in Los Angeles, where they would presumably mingle with Hollywood big shots and the usual snowflakes while working on their next documentary. As some of them are most certainly radical Jihadists, it will be interesting to observe exactly how that will play out.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

Revolving Door: How Security Clearances Perpetuate Top-Level Corruption in the United States

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President Donald Trump is threatening to take away the security clearances of a number of former senior intelligence and security officers who have been extremely critical of him. Most Americans were unaware that any ex-officials continued to hold clearances after they retired and the controversy has inevitably raised the question why that should be so. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.

A security clearance is granted to a person but it is also linked to “need to know” in terms of what kind of information should or could be accessed, which means that when you are no longer working as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency you don’t necessarily need to know anything about China’s spying on the United States. Or do you? If you transition into a directorship or staff position of a major intelligence or security contractor, which many retirees do, you might need to retain the qualification for your job, which makes the clearance an essential component in the notorious revolving door whereby government officials transit to the private sector and then directly lobby their former colleagues to keep the flow of cash coming.

At top levels among the beltway bandit companies, where little work is actually done, some make the case that you have to remain “well informed” to function properly. The fact is that many top-level bureaucrats do retain their clearances for those nebulous reasons and also sometimes as a courtesy. Some have even received regular briefings from the CIA and the office of the Director of National intelligence even though they hold no government positions. A few very senior ex-officials have also been recalled by congress or the White House to provide testimony on particular areas of expertise or on past operations, which can legitimately require a clearance, though it such cases one can be granted on a temporary basis to cover a specific issue.

The problem arises when former officials use their clearances as bona fides to enhance their marketability for non-clearance jobs in the media or corporate world, particularly when those individuals are criticizing current government policies and behaving in a partisan fashion regarding specific candidates for office. Donald Trump was especially assailed by former officials John Brennan, James Clapper, Michael Hayden and Michael Morell before the 2016 election, all of whom continue to attack him currently, most particularly for the recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the 2016 campaign, Morell, who openly supported Hillary Clinton and is the designated intelligence on-air contributor for CBS news, deliberately linked the fact that he was ex-CIA Acting Director to his assertion that Trump was somehow an “unwitting agent of the Russian Federation” to establish his credibility. That type of activity should be considered abusive and an exploitation of one’s former office.

Morell left CIA in June 2013 and by November was a senior counselor with Beacon Global Strategies. According to the firm's website, Beacon Global Strategies is a government and private sector consulting group that specializes in matters of international policy, foreign affairs, national defense, cyber, intelligence, and homeland security. Morell may know little about those issues as they have evolved in the past five years, but citing his clearance gives him credibility for knowledge that he might not really possess and also gives him direct access to former colleagues that he can lobby to obtain government contracts.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who famously voted for the Communist Party candidate for US president in 1976, has also profited greatly from his government service, becoming rich from his board memberships. He sits on the board of directors of SecureAuth + CORE Security and also on the board of The Analysis Corporation. More important in terms of his public profile, he is the “Intelligence Consultant” for NBC News and MSNBC and appears regularly.

Last week Senator Rand Paul met with President Trump and recommended that Brennan’s security clearance be revoked. He argued that Brennan, Trump’s most aggressive critic, has been using his credentials to provide credibility when he calls meeting with Russia’s president “treasonous” and describes the president as “wholly in the pocket of Putin.” Clearance holders also more generally use their privileged access to “secret information” to leverage speaking and television network pundit fees. In other words, Brennan and the others are using their security clearances to enhance their incomes, monetizing their access to classified information to enhance their value.

It is by no means clear whether Trump will revoke the clearances of Clapper, Brennan, Morell and Hayden. As he is the legal source of all government clearances he has the power to do so. An equitable solution on the clearance issue more generally speaking would be to cancel all security clearances on the day when one leaves government service unless there is a direct and immediate transition to a private sector position that absolutely requires such a qualification. That would be fair to lower level employees seeking a second source of income and it would also eliminate many of those who are merely cashing in on their presumed access. As it is a rational solution it is very unlikely that it will be entertained by either the White House or by Congress.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

The Madness Gripping Washington

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The United States and Israel have been threatening Iran for something like twenty years, using the pretext that it was developing a nuclear weapon initially, but also more recently declaring that Tehran has become a threat to the entire Middle East. Both contentions are essentially lies, concocted by an Israel and Saudi Arabia that would prefer to have Iran removed as a possible impediment to their own ambitions. And they would like the United States to do the removing.

Iran is the hottest of all hot spots in the American view, but the tendency of the White House to threaten first before engaging in negotiations has meant that most nations have come to see the United States as the greatest threat to peace worldwide. In a recent interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin observed how the US believes it can intervene militarily anywhere in the world because it is “spreading democracy,” a justification that no one believes in any event as the results of recent crusades in Afghanistan, Syria and Libya have been less that encouraging. Putin commented that Washington should treat all other nations with respect and it will then get respect – and cooperation - in return.

The track record of the Trump White House is not encouraging. It has twice launched barrages of cruise missiles against targets in Syria based on fabricated or incomplete intelligence suggesting that the government in Damascus had used chemical weapons against its own people. It also uniquely added juvenile humiliation to the American diplomatic arsenal, with Trump describing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a “rocket man” before going off into a rhapsody about how the nuclear arsenal button accessible to Trump was “bigger and more powerful” than that available to Pyongyang.

In light of past developments, one might think that it could not possibly get any worse, but it just has. Trump went after the low hanging fruit offered by Iran with a tweet that was both idiotic and embarrassing. Iran has undeniably been the enemy of choice for the White House since May, when Trump made the decision to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that created an intrusive inspection regime to monitor Iran’s compliance in nuclear non-proliferation. The move was applauded by the powerful Israel Lobby and by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of which have their own agendas for the Middle East and would prefer to see an independent Iran bombed into submission by Washington. The rest of the world deplored the decision.

In the latest incident, Trump was tweeting in response to comments made Sunday by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who had told a meeting of Iranian diplomats that war between America and Iran would be a misfortune for everyone, saying “Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret. America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”

Trump responded explosively with a tweet all in capital letters, presumably to express his rage in visual terms, “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”

President Trump’s warning that he would annihilate Iran missed the point that Rouhani was offering peace and urging that both sides work to avoid war. The Administration has already announced that it will reinstate existing sanctions on Iran and will be adding some onerous new ones as well. After November 4th, Washington will sanction any country that buys oil from Iran, markedly increasing the misery level for the Iranian people with the objective of either making their government surrender or rising up in rebellion against it.

Enough already. The immediate knee-jerk resort to threats of using overwhelming conventional military power or even nuclear weapons to resolve international disagreements is being played far too often by a president whose understanding of the world clearly has a manic-aggressive quality derived from a life spent selling and buying real estate in New York City. And the idiotic tweeting as well is beneath the dignity of the office Trump holds, the hallmark of an insecure school bully seeking attention. Donald Trump was elected at least in part to keep America out of wars, not to start several new ones, and it is past time that he stop the posturing and remember that. 

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Is Bill Browder the Most Dangerous Man in the World?

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At the press conference following their summit meeting in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin and American President Donald Trump discussed the possibility of resolving potential criminal cases involving citizens of the two countries by permitting interrogators from Washington and Moscow to participate in joint questioning of the individuals named in indictments prepared by the respective judiciaries. The predictable response by the American nomenklatura was that it was a horrible idea as it would potentially require US officials to answer questions from Russians about their activities.

Putin argued, not unreasonably, that if Washington wants to extradite and talk to any of the twelve recently indicted GRU officers the Justice Department has named then reciprocity is in order for Americans and other identified individuals who are wanted by the Russian authorities for illegal activity while in Russia. And if Russian officials are fair game, so are American officials.

A prime target for such an interrogation would be President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who was widely criticized while in Moscow for being on an apparent mission to cultivate ties with the Russian political opposition and other “pro-democracy” groups. But McFaul was not specifically identified in the press conference, though Russian prosecutors have asked him to answer questions related to the ongoing investigation of another leading critic, Bill Browder, who was named by Putin during the question and answer session. Browder is a major hedge fund figure who, inter alia, is an American by birth. He renounced his US citizenship in 1997 in exchange for British citizenship to avoid paying federal taxes on his worldwide income.

Bill Browder is what used to be referred to as an oligarch, having set up shop in 1999 as Hermitage Capital Management Fund, a hedge fund registered in tax havens Guernsey and the Cayman Islands. It focused on “investing” in Russia, taking advantage initially of the loans-for-shares scheme under Russia’s drunkard President Boris Yeltsin, and then continuing to profit greatly during the early years of Vladimir Putin. By 2005 Hermitage was the largest foreign investor in Russia.

Yeltsin had won a fraudulent election in 1996 supported by the oligarch-controlled media and by President Bill Clinton, who secured a $20.2 billion IMF loan that enabled him to buy support. Today we would refer to Clinton’s action as “interference in the 1996 election,” but at that time a helpless and bankrupt Russia was not well placed to object to what was being done to it. Yeltsin proved keen to follow oligarchical advice regarding how to strip the former Soviet Union of its vast state-owned assets. Browder’s Hermitage Investments profited hugely from the commodities deals that were struck at that time.

Browder and his apologists portray him as an honest and honorable Western businessman attempting to operate in a corrupt Russian business world. Nevertheless, the loans-for-shares scheme that made him his initial fortune has been correctly characterized as the epitome of corruption by all parties involved, an arrangement whereby foreign investors worked with local oligarchs to strip the former Soviet economy of its assets paying pennies on each dollar of value. Along the way, Browder was reportedly involved in money laundering, making false representations on official documents, and bribery.

Browder was eventually charged by the Russian authorities for fraud and tax evasion. He was banned from re-entering Russia in 2005 and began to withdraw his assets from the country, but three companies controlled by Hermitage were eventually seized by the authorities. Browder himself was convicted of tax evasion in absentia in 2013 and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Browder, who refers to himself as Putin’s “public enemy #1,” has notably been able to sell his tale of innocence to leading American politicians like Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Ben Cardin and ex-Senator Joe Lieberman, all of whom are always receptive when criticizing Russia, as well as to a number of European parliamentarians and media outlets. In the wake of the Helsinki press conference he has, for example, claimed that Putin named him personally because he is a threat to continue to expose the crimes of the mafia that he claims is currently running Russia, but there is, inevitably, another less discussed alternative view of his self-serving narrative.

Central to the tale of what Browder really represents is the Magnitsky Act, which the US Congress passed into law to sanction individual Kremlin officials for their treatment of alleged whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, arrested and imprisoned in Russia. Browder has sold a narrative which basically says that he and his “lawyer” Sergei Magnitsky uncovered massive tax fraud and, when they attempted to report it, were punished by a corrupt police force and magistracy, which had actually stolen the money. Magnitsky was arrested and died in prison, allegedly murdered by the police to silence him.

The Magnitsky case is of particular importance because both the European Union and the United States have initiated sanctions against the identified Russian officials who were allegedly involved. In the Magnitsky Act, sponsored by Russia-phobic Senator Ben Cardin and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, the US asserted its willingness to punish foreign governments for human rights abuses. The Act, initially limited to Russia, has now been expanded by virtue of 2016’s Global Magnitsky Act, which enabled US sanctions worldwide.

Russia reacted angrily to the first iteration of the Act, noting that the actions taken by its government internally, notably the operation of its judiciary, were being subjected to outside interference, while other judicial authorities also questioned Washington’s claimed right to respond to criminal acts committed outside the United States. Moscow reciprocated with sanctions against US officials as well as by increasing pressure on foreign non-governmental pro-democracy groups operating in Russia. Some have referred to the Magnitsky Act as the start of the new Cold War.

The contrary narrative to that provided by Browder concedes that there was indeed a huge fraud related to as much as $230 million in unpaid Russian taxes on an estimated $1.5 billion of income, but that it was not carried out by corrupt officials. Instead, it was deliberately ordered and engineered by Browder with Magnitsky, who was actually an accountant, personally developing and implementing the scheme, using multiple companies and tax avoidance schemes to carry out the deception. Magnitsky, who was on cardiac medication, was indeed arrested and convicted, but he, according to his own family, reportedly died due to his heart condition, possibly exacerbated by negligent authorities who failed to medicate him adequately when he became ill.

The two competing Browder narratives have been explored in some detail by a Russian documentary film maker Andrei Nekrasov, an outspoken anti-Putin activist, who was actually initially engaged by Browder to do the film. An affable Browder appears extensively in the beginning describing his career and the events surrounding Magnitsky.

As Nekrasov worked on the documentary, he discovered that the Browder supported narrative was full of contradictions, omissions and fabrication of evidence. By the time he finished, he realized that the more accurate account of what had occurred with Browder and Magnitsky had been that provided by the Russian authorities.

When Nekrasov prepared to air his work “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes,” he inevitably found himself confronted by billionaire Browder and a battery of lawyers, who together blocked the showing of the film in Europe and the United States. Anyone subsequently attempting to promote the documentary has been immediately confronted with 300 plus pages of supporting documents accompanying a letter threatening a lawsuit if the film were to be shown to the public.

A single viewing of “The Magnitsky Act” in Washington in June 2016 turned into a riot when Browder supporters used tickets given to Congressional staffers to disrupt the proceedings. At a subsequent hearing before Congress, where he was featured as an expert witness on Russian corruption before a fawning Senate Judiciary Committee, Bill Browder suggested that those who had challenged his narrative and arranged the film’s viewing in Washington should be prosecuted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA), which includes penalties of up to five years in prison.

Because of the pressure from Browder, there has never been a second public showing of “The Magnitsky Act” but it is possible to see it online at this site.

Bill Browder, who benefited enormously from Russian corruption, has expertly repackaged himself as a paragon among businessmen, endearing himself to the Russia-haters in Washington and the media. Curiously, however, he has proven reluctant to testify in cases regarding his own business dealings. He has, for example, repeatedly run away, literally, from attempts to subpoena him so he would have to testify under oath.

When one gets past all of his bluster and posturing, by one significant metric Bill Browder might well be accounted the most dangerous man in the world. Driven by extreme hatred of Putin and of Russia, he personally and his Magnitsky Myth have together done more to launch and sustain a dangerous new Cold War between a nuclear armed United States and a nuclear armed Russia. Blind to what he has accomplished, he continues to pontificate about how Putin is out to get him when instead he is the crook who quite likely stole $230 million dollars and should be facing the consequences. That the US media and Congress appear to be entranced by Browder and dismissive of Moscow’s charges against him is symptomatic of just how far the Russia-phobia in the West has robbed people of their ability to see what is right in front of them. To suggest that what is taking place driven by Browder and his friends in high places could well lead to tragedy for all of us would be an understatement.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

The Establishment Strikes Back

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There are a number of elements in the recent release of an indictment of twelve named alleged Russian military intelligence GRU officers by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein looking into possible ties between Moscow and the Trump Administration that I find either implausible or even incoherent. But before considering that, it is necessary to consider the context of the announcement.

The Department of Justice, which had, based on evidence already revealed, actually interfered in the 2016 election more that Moscow could possibly have done, continued in that proud tradition by releasing the indictment three days before President Donald Trump was due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Helsinki Summit between the two leaders was critically important to anyone interested in preserving the planet Earth as we know it and there was no reason at all to release a non-time sensitive document that was clearly intended to cast a shadow over the proceedings. In fact, the surfacing of the indictment might easily be explained as a deliberate attempt by a politicized Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller to torpedo President Trump over concerns that he might actually come to some understanding with Putin.

The 30-page long indictment is full of painstaking details about alleged Russian involvement but it makes numerous assertions that the reader is required to accept on faith because there is little or no evidence provided to back up the claims and the claims themselves could be false trails set up by any number of hostile intelligence services to implicate Moscow. From an intelligence officer’s point of view, there are even some significant areas where operational implausibility completely undermines the case being made.

The indictment identifies by name and position the twelve alleged GRU officers who “knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other, and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury (collectively the ‘Conspirators’), to gain unauthorized access (to ‘hack’) into the computers of US persons and entities involved in the 2016 US presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election.”

All twelve alleged GRU officers are described in detail, together with the cover mechanisms they reportedly used and the targets they pursued. But they are all in Russia and there is virtually no chance that they will be extradited to stand trial in Washington, which was certainly understood when the indictment was prepared. That means the “facts” as stated in the document will never be subjected to the normal judicial review process or discovery that takes place whenever someone is accused of a crime, which in turn means that information contained in the indictment will never be challenged.

The document itself also provides no information on how the Russian officers and their positions were identified, which suggests that it could have been a US hack or agent in place, either run by CIA or NSA, that came up with a list of those individuals connected to GRU cyber operations. That would be information involving sources and methods, codeword protected material beyond Top Secret.

If the GRU list is authentic, it would expose US ability to penetrate that organization, leading to Moscow tightening up security to the detriment of American intelligence. But it might alternatively be suggested that the drafters needed a group of plausible Russians and used a generic list provided by either CIA or NSA to come up with the culprits and then used those identities and the detailed information regarding them to provide credibility to their account. What they did not do, however, is provide the actual evidence connecting the individuals to the “hack/interference” or to connect the same to the Russian government. If the information in the indictment is completely accurate, which may not be the case, there is some suggestion that alleged Moscow linked proxies may have deliberately sought to undermine the campaign of Hillary Clinton to favor Bernie Sanders, but absolutely no evidence that they did anything to help Donald Trump.

Beyond what is or is not contained in the document itself, there is a clear misunderstanding regarding how a sophisticated intelligence organization, which certainly includes the GRU, operates. If there had been a large-scale Kremlin sanctioned plan to disrupt the US election, it would not be run by twelve identifiable GRU officers working with what appears to be only limited cover and resources. If the facts are correct, the activity might have been a routine probing, collecting and selective dissemination of information effort that all intelligence agencies engage in. The United States does so routinely in many countries, interfering in elections worldwide, far more than Russia with its limited resources, and even carrying out regime change.

If the Kremlin’s objective were truly to undermine American democracy, a task that is already being undertaken very ably by the GOP and Democrats, hundreds of officers would be involved, all working under deep cover and operating securely out of dispersed sites. And no one involved would be using computers connected to networks that could be penetrated to enable personal identification or discovery of the ultimate source of the activity. Everyone would be working in alias on stand-alone machines and the transmission of information would be done using cut-outs to break any chain of custody. A cut-out might consist of using thumb drives to transmit information from one computer to another, for example. There would be no sending or receiving of information by channels that could be identified by NSA or CIA and compromised.

So the idea that the United States government identified twelve culprits who were responsible for trying to overthrow American democracy is by any measure ludicrous, if indeed there was a major plan to disrupt the election at all. The indictment is little more than a political document seeking to undermine any effort by Donald Trump to establish rapprochement with Vladimir Putin. It will also serve to give fuel to the Democrats, who are still at a loss to understand what happened to Hillary Clinton, and Republican hawks like John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse who persist in seeking to refight the Cold War. As Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin said in their Helsinki press conference, the coming together of the leaders of the world’s two most powerful nuclear armed countries is too important an opportunity to let pass. Cold Warriors in Washington should take note.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

A Tale of Two Poisonings

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Poisoning enemies has a long history with Augustus Caesar’s wife Livia allegedly a master of the art, as were the Borgias in Renaissance Italy. Lately there has been a resurgence in allegations regarding the use of poisons of various types by several governments. The claims are particularly damaging both morally and legally as international conventions regard the use of poisonous chemical compounds as particularly heinous, condemning their use because they, when employed in quantity, become “weapons of mass destruction,” killing indiscriminately and horribly, making no distinction between combatants and civilians. Their use is considered to be a “war crime” and the government officials who ordered their deployment are “war criminals,” subject to prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

There are two important poisoning stories that have made the news recently. Both are follow-ups to reporting that has appeared in the news over the past few months and both are particularly interesting because they tend to repudiate earlier coverage that had been largely accepted by several governments as well as the media and the chattering class of paid experts that appears on television.

The first story relates to the poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March. There was quite a bit that was odd about the Skripal case, which relied from the start “…on circumstantial evidence and secret intelligence.” And there was inevitably a rush to judgment. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson blamed Russia less than forty-eight hours after the Skripals were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury England, too soon for any chemical analysis of the alleged poisoning to have taken place.

British Prime Minister Theresa May threw gasoline on the fire when she addressed Parliament shortly thereafter to blame the Kremlin and demand a Russian official response to the event in 36 hours, declaring that the apparent poisoning was “very likely” caused by a made-in-Russia nerve agent referred to by its generic name novichok. The British media was soon on board with a vengeance, spreading the government line that such a highly sensitive operation would require the approval of President Vladimir Putin himself. The expulsion of Russian diplomats soon followed with the United States and other countries following suit.

Repeated requests by Russia to obtain a sample of the alleged nerve agent for testing were rejected by the British government in spite of the fact that a military grade nerve agent would have surely killed both the Skripals as well as anyone else within 100 yards. As the latest British account of the location of the alleged poison places it on the door handle of the Scripals’ residence, the timetable element was also unconvincing. That meant that the two would have spent three hours, including a stop at a pub and lunch, before succumbing on a park bench. Military grade nerve agents kill instantly.

The head of Britain’s own chemical weapons facility Porton Down even contradicted claims made by May, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, and British Ambassador in Moscow Laurie Bristow. The lab’s Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead testified that he did not know if the nerve agent was actually produced in Russia, a not surprising observation as the chemical formula was revealed to the public in a scientific paper in 1992 and there are an estimated twenty countries capable of producing it. There are also presumed stocks of novichok remaining in independent countries that once were part of the Soviet Union, to include Russia’s enemy du jourUkraine, while a false flag operation by the British themselves, the CIA or Mossad, is not unthinkable.

Nevertheless, the politically weak May government, desperately seeking a formidable foreign enemy to rally around against, insisted that Russia, almost certainly acting under orders from Vladimir Putin himself, carried out the killing of a former British double agent who had been released from a Kremlin prison in a spy swap and who was no longer capable of doing any damage to Russia. Putin apparently did all that in spite of the fact that he had an election coming up and would be the host of the World Cup in the summer, an event that would be an absolute top priority to have go smoothly.

Now there has been an actual death in Amesbury near Salisbury that has been attributed to novichok. On June 30th, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were admitted to hospital after being found unconscious. Sturgess died eight days later. The May government has not yet blamed it on Putin or even on a clumsy Russian operative that might have inadvertently left behind a vial of poison or a used syringe, though Home Secretary Sajid Javid came close to that when he suggested that Russia was using Britain as a “dumping ground for poisons.” Police suggestions that the poisoned couple appear to have handled novichok infused material of some kind before succumbing appears to be contradicted by inability to find the actual source of the alleged exposure.

British government dancing around the issue notwithstanding, there have been suggestions that the closest source of more novichok might well be the U.K. government labs at nearby Porton Down, only seven miles from Salisbury and Amesbury, which increases suspicion about the original story promulgated by Downing Street. Would the British government actually poison an expendable ex-Russian spy and his daughter to divert attention from a domestic political problem at home? It’s worth considering as the “blame it all on Putin narrative” becomes even less credible.

The second story comes from Syria, where there is also a Russian hand as Moscow is aiding the government of Bashar al-Assad. The by now notorious April 7, 2018 alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held Syrian city of Douma was widely blamed by Western countries and the mainstream media on Assad’s forces. This resulted in a decision by US  President Donald Trump to order massive US -led retaliatory airstrikes against targets reportedly involved in chemical production in and around Damascus.

Trump blamed “animal Assad” for “using nerve agents” and both the media and most European governments followed that line, concluding that Damascus had ordered the chemical attacks a mere moments after videos purporting to show scores of chemical attack victims first surfaced from rebel sources, long before US  intelligence could have made its own assessment. A 5-page White House assessment released on April 13th, just days after the alleged attack asserted that sarin was used at Douma, claiming that “A significant body of information points to the regime using chlorine in its bombardment of Duma, while some additional information points to the regime also using the nerve agent sarin.”

Independent sources warned at the time that not a single neutral observer was on the ground to confirm that chemical agents launched by the Syrian government had, in fact, been used, but were ignored. All of the sources reporting the attack were either affiliated with the rebels who occupied the area or were not physically present in Douma.

Now, finally, three months later, there has been a credible independent report on what was determined about the attack through chemical analysis of traces recovered in Douma. A preliminary report published last Friday by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found no traces of any nerve agent like sarin at the site. The OPCW report states this clearly: “No organophosphorous nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties.”

This means that the Trump Administration claimed to have details relating to an event in a foreign country that it did not know and could not actually confirm to be true. And it used that as a justification for ordering an airstrike that killed people and destroyed targets in Syria. Will the White House respond to the OPCW report and apologize, possibly to include reparations for an unjustified attack on another sovereign nation? Don’t hold your breath.

The Salisbury and Douma attacks are illustrative of just what happens when a government is prepared to dissimulate or even lie to go the extra mile to make a case to justify preemptive action that otherwise might be challenged. Theresa May is, unfortunately, still in power and so is Donald Trump. In a better world an outraged public would demand that they be thrown out of office and even possibly subjected to the tender ministrations of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. With power comes accountability, or at least that should be the rule, but it is a dictum that has for some time been ignored. Even given that, one might hope that the blunders will not be repeated, but there is not even any assurance that either May or Trump is much given to “lessons learned” or that a Mike Pence or Boris Johnson would be any better. That is our tragedy.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

Imperial Hubris Redefined

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There have been two developments in the past month that illustrate clearly what is wrong with the White House’s perception of America’s place in the world. Going far beyond the oft-repeated nonsense that the United States is somehow the “leader of the free world,” the Trump Administration has taken several positions that sustain the bizarre view that such leadership can only be exercised if the United States is completely dominant in all relevant areas. Beyond that, Washington is now also asserting that those who do not go along with the charade and abide by the rules laid down will be subject to punishment to force compliance. 

The first issue has to do with outer space. There is an international treaty agreed to in 1967, the so-called Outer Space Treaty, which has been signed by 107 countries including most Europeans, Russia, China and the United States. Conventional weapons or electronic systems designed to protect orbiting satellites from attack are permitted over where the atmosphere ends 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, but outer space is supposed to be free to all. The treaty also forbids any colonization or appropriation of the moon or planets by any national authority.

President Donald Trump apparently is not familiar with the treaty. Speaking before an audience at the National Space Council on June 18th, he said that he was, on his own presidential authority “…hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces…our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security. It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.”

The idea that the US would seek to have a major presence in space would probably surprise no one, but Trump is saying something quite different. He is creating a military command for space, the moon and the planets and is intent on using that to support an offensive capability that provides dominance in those areas. As no one in his right mind would allow Washington to militarily dominate outer space based on its track record of irresponsible leadership since 9/11, the Trump proposal should be and will be opposed by virtually the entire world.

A fantasy of space dominance is a symptom of a governing class that cannot distinguish between what is important and what is not. It is rooted in a nation that has been constantly fed fear since 9/11 even though it is not threatened. Iran, the second issue surfaced recently, is part of that alleged threat matrix, with the United States and its barking dog Israel repeatedly claiming that the country is both a terrorism supporter and is involved in a secret nuclear weapons program. Both claims are basically false.

Trump has complied with Israel’s demands to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) restricting Iran’s nuclear program even though Tehran was in complete compliance. On June 26th, the White House announced Iran’s punishment, declaring that it would sanction anyone buying Iranian oil, starting on November 4th. The “zero tolerance” global Iranian oil ban deliberately seeks to devastate most sectors of the country’s economy to force it to comply with Israeli, Saudi and US demands that it should effectively disarm.

The threat of sanctions is blatant bullying as the United Nations and all other signatories of the JCPOA continue to support the agreement and have no reason to punish Iran, but there is also an appreciation that sanctions would include being blocked from US financial markets, meaning that the warning must be taken seriously. There are reports that a number of European and Asia refiners and their financial backers are already moving to cut purchases and exit the Iran market well before November.

But there also has been some pushback. Turkey is refusing to go along with the American demand and it is unlikely that China, Russia and India will comply, even if threatened with sanctions. If the European Community were to unite and develop a backbone to take a stand against submitting to US pressure it might actually force Washington to save face by issuing waivers to mitigate the impact of its demand.

There is no rational US interest that compels a hubristic American government to establish a space military or to create a global sanction against Iran, but it is clear that the Trump Administration does not care much for genuine interests as it huffs and puffs to show its power and determination. It is time for the rest of the world to wake up to the danger posed by Washington and mobilize to stand up against it. 

Reprinted with permission from the Strategic Culture Foundation.