All posts by Philip Giraldi

America Goes to War: Fighting Russia, China and al-Qaeda Simultaneously Requires More Money

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Some believe that the Cold War ended in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart. In retrospect, many observers also believe that a golden opportunity was missed to heal the wounds inflicted by over 45 years to hostility between the Washington and Moscow. Rather than encouraging development of a Russia that would adhere to Western European norms for elections, transparency and individual liberties, some in Europe and America instead sought to steal the country’s natural resources and other assets, a process that went on for some years under President Boris Yeltsin. The looting went hand-in-hand with particularly inept political moves on the part of President Bill Clinton, who ignored end of Cold War agreements to not use the break-up of the Soviet Union as an excuse to bring its former member states in Eastern Europe into NATO or any other military alliance hostile to Russia. The process of NATO expansion continues to this day, together with military maneuvers and the placement of new missile systems right along the Russian border, increasing Moscow’s justifiable paranoia about its security.

The military moves have been accompanied by a political deep freeze, particularly ironic as President Donald Trump during his campaign for office pledged to improve relations with Russia. They are now at their lowest ebb since the hottest days of the Cold War, including as they do the totally bogus sanctioning of Russian government officials under the maliciously conceived Magnitsky Act and the ongoing saga of Russiagate, which blames Moscow for interference in America’s 2016 election, so far without any real evidence being provided.

For those who think all of this is theater, think again. Some critics are beginning to recognize that the United States has become a country addicted to war and one need look no farther than the federal budget, where everything is being cut except military spending, which is set to increase even though there is no country or group of countries in the world that genuinely threaten the US.

Two recent stories in particular demonstrate just how far Washington has gone towards accepting that war has more-or-less become a natural condition for the United States of America. The first is an article, “After years of fighting insurgencies, the Army pivots to training for a major war” that has largely been ignored, regarding how the US military is changing its doctrine and training to enable it to fight a major war against a powerful national opponent. Previously, the armed forces were emphasizing countering non-government hostile agents like al-Qaeda and ISIS, the so-called counter-insurgency doctrine or COIN. According to Pentagon spokesmen, the shift is in recognition of the fact that over the horizon major conflicts are no longer as unthinkable as they once were.

According to the article, US commanders are now beginning to emphasize the type of training that prevailed during the Cold War, tanks against tanks, artillery bombardments, and use of close air support. The change in doctrine derives from the 2018 National Defense Strategy assessment, which identified four national players that might go to war with the United States. They are major powers Russia and China, supplemented by nuclear North Korea and conventionally armed Iran.

The transition was discussed by former and current senior officers at the recent annual meeting of the Association of the US Army, with particular concern being expressed that the “lessons learned” from the past seventeen years of insurgency warfare not be lost as the military returns to a more conventional model. There was also concern that the army is insufficiently resourced to continue to fight insurgencies while also taking on a major conventional component. Some officers believed that the army can handle both jobs simultaneously, but others were not so sure, observing that one really needs two distinct armies, one trained for conventional warfare and the other trained for insurgency operations, which are far more likely to occur and which are more difficult to manage.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, explained that “The future of war will be a hybrid threat. There’ll be everything from tanks and missiles and fighter-bombers down to criminal gangs, terrorists, suicide bombers and guerrilla cells. … We’re going to have to do all of that, the full spectrum of conflict.”

General David Petraeus, the “very model of a modern major general” i.e. one who never actually experiences combat, put his finger on why the change to conventional warfare is taking place now. It’s all about money, or as he put it, “it’s about getting resources. And big wars get you big resources.”

Retired Lt. General Guy Swan explained the challenge for the Army in military-speak, citing the career of his son, a West Point produced first lieutenant “…who hasn’t deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, and what he’s been doing has been tank gunnery. He is focused on Russians and other high-end competitors.”

Between Petraeus’ comment on “big” resources and Swan’s on enemies to be killed as “high-end competitors” one might well begin to understand what today’s bloated defense establishment is all about. More money and business school jargon to euphemize wars and killing, with little regard for the possible consequences, including those competitors’ possession of nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them on target. Russia has already warned that if it were attacked by a superior force (NATO) it would used tactical nuclear weapons as a first resort to defend itself. So much for learning tank gunnery.

The second article, also little commented on, made plain that the “competitive” army that is now evolving won’t be just some pretty toy sitting on a shelf unused. The former US commander in Europe from 2014-7 retired Lt. General Ben Hodges spoke at the Warsaw Security Forum on October 24th, where he told NATO allies that they would have to increase defense spending because the United States will not be able to protect them against a “resurgent Russia” while it is fighting China. He predicted that the US will probably be at war with China within 15 years to protect its interests in the Pacific region.

Hodges cited increasing tension between Washington and Beijing in the South China Sea, China’s alleged “constant stealing [of] technology,” and Beijing’s perfectly legal purchasing of infrastructure in Africa, Latin America and Europe through the funding of and investment in projects. There was no mention of China actually threatening the United States and those were presumably Hodges’ reasons for going to war against a powerful nuclear armed nation.

Hodges is currently a strategic expert with the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington-based think tank that is heavily funded by globalists, NATO governments, and democracy promoters. Supporters include the US government funded National Endowment for Democracy, the US Mission to NATO, the NATO Public Diplomacy Division, the US Department of Defense, the US Department of State, the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the Raytheon Company, the European Defense Agency, the Chevron Corporation, Bell Helicopter, Textron Systems and BAE Systems. Oh yes, and also the neocon heavy United States Institute of Peace. The Center’s “experts” and staff are top heavy with Eastern Europeans who are focused on the threat from Russia, as is the institute. Donations to the Center are fully tax deductible by the IRS.

The awfulness of the two articles should be evident. The Army is only “under-resourced” if one considers its appropriate role to be continuously fighting countries in Asia and Europe that pose no threat to the United States. And the reality is that there is no reason for China and Russia to be viewed as threats at all. They are only turning into enemies due to the actions of the United States in their own neighborhoods, to include the NATO expansion and other provocations in the Middle East. Regarding China, the US clearly believes that it is entitled to a sphere of influence that includes the entire Pacific Ocean while China cannot assert that it has any interests on own doorstep in the South China Sea.

And then there is the Strangelovean General Hodges and his pro-war establishment think tank. I wonder how much he gets paid for being a dependable mouthpiece for continuous aggression? He “predicts” war with China within 15 years. And what are the issues for what would justify risking a nuclear war? China stealing technology and protecting its local interests in Asia. And investing in the third world to acquire access to resources, which is precisely what the United States and Europeans have been doing to their benefit for many, many years. Smedley Butler once opined that “war is a racket.” If he were around today he would probably say that it is in reality a low-risk high-cost business designed to keep “heroes” like Petraeus, Swan, Townsend and Hodges fully employed.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

Jamal Khashoggi Died for Nothing

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The angst over the Jamal Khashoggi murder in the Saudi Arabian Consulate General building in Istanbul is already somewhat fading as the media has moved on in search of fresh meat, recently focusing on the series of attempted mail bombings, and currently on the mass shooting in Pittsburgh. But the affaire Khashoggi is still important as it potentially brings with it possible political realignments in the Middle East as well as in Europe as countries feel emboldened to redefine their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The Turks know exactly what occurred in the Consulate General building and are now putting the squeeze on the Saudis, requiring them to fess up and no doubt demanding compensation. Some sources in Turkey believe that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will actually demand recreation of the Caliphate, which the Kemal Ataturk led Turkish Republic’s government abolished in 1924. That would diminish Saudi Arabia’s ability to regard itself as the pre-eminent Islamic state due to its guardianship over the holy sites in Mecca and Medina. It would be a major realignment of the Islamic umma and would be akin to a restoration of some semblance of Ottoman supremacy over the region.

To be sure, the brutally effective Turkish intelligence service, known by its acronym MIT, is very active when it comes to monitoring the activities of both friendly and unfriendly foreign embassies and their employees throughout Turkey. It uses electronic surveillance and, if the foreign mission has local Turks as employees, many of those individuals will be agents reporting to MIT. As a result, it should be presumed that MIT had the Consulate General building covered with both cameras and microphones, possibly inside the building as well as outside, meaning that the audio of the actual killing that has been reported in the media is no doubt authentic and might even be supplemented with video.

One recent report, on BBC, indicates that CIA Director Gina Haspel has traveled to Turkey and has been allowed to hear the recordings of Khashoggi being tortured and killed. It’s a good thing the Trump White House sent Haspel as she would know exactly what that sort of thing sounds like based on her own personal experience in Thailand. She will presumably be able to explain the operation of a bone saw to the president.

So the Saudis seem to be in a hopeless situation, but they have several cards to play. They have many lobbyists of their own in Washington that have bought their way into think tanks and onto editorial pages. They are also in bed with Israel in opposition to Iran, which means that the Israel Lobby and its many friends in the US Congress will complain about killing Khashoggi but ultimately will not do anything about it. The White House will also discourage America’s close allies from adopting measures that would do serious damage to the Saudis. In regional terms, Saudi Arabia is also key to Trump’s anticipated Middle East peace plan. If it pulls out from the expected financial guarantees aspect, the plan will fall apart, so Washington will be pressing hard on Ankara in particular to not overdo its bid for compensation.

All of which leads to some consideration of the hypocrisy of the outrage over Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia murdered a citizen in a diplomatic facility located in Turkey, apparently because they believed that individual to be a dissident who was a threat to national security. They then seriously botched the cover-up. In spite of all that, it would seem that the issue involves only two parties directly, the Saudis and the Turks, though there have been calls from a number of countries to punish the Saudis for what was clearly a particularly gruesome murder carried out in contravention of all existing rules for behavior of diplomatic missions in foreign countries.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular missions grants to Diplomats a certain level of immunity in foreign posts, but that does not include murder. In consular posts, like Istanbul, consular immunity only extends to officials who are actually performing consular duties when an alleged infraction occurs. I know from personal experience how subjective that process can be as I was arrested by Turkish police when I was the US Consulate duty officer in Istanbul while looking for a missing American who turned out to be a drug dealer. The Turks weren’t sure what to do with me as I was Consular so I spent 24 hours playing cards with the prison governor before I was released.

The hypocrisy comes in when the US Congress and media become enraged and demand that there be “consequences,” in part because Khashoggi was a US legal resident and therefore under law a “US person.” Saudi Arabia is, to be sure, a country that most would consider to be an undesirable destination if one is seeking to eat, drink, and be merry. Or just about anything else having to do with personal liberty. An absolute dictatorship run by one family, it has long both relied on and been the exporter of the most backward looking and unpleasant form of Islam, Wahabbism. But for the fact that the Saudis are the world’s leading exporter of oil, and, for Muslims, guardian of the religion’s holy sites, the country would long ago have been regarded as a pariah.

But that said, Congress and the White House might well consider how the rest of the world views the United States when it comes to killing indiscriminately without fear of consequences. President Barack Obama, who has practically been beatified by the US mainstream media, was the first American head of state to openly target and kill American citizens overseas. He and his intelligence advisor John Brennan would sit down for a Tuesday morning meeting to revise the list of Americans living outside the US who could be assassinated. To cite only one example, the executions of Yemeni dissident Anwar al-Awlaki and his son were carried out by drone after being ordered from the White House without any due process apart from claimed presidential authority. Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also attacked Libya, a nation with which America was not at war, destroyed its government, and reduced the country to its current state of anarchy. When its former ruler Moammar Gaddafi was captured and killed by having a bayonet inserted up his anus, Hillary giggled and said “We came, we saw, he died.”

The United States is also supporting the ongoing war in Syria and also enables the Saudis to continue their brutal attacks on Yemen, which have produced cholera, starvation and the deaths of an estimated 60,000 Yemenis plus millions more threatened by disease and the deliberate cutting off of food supplies. And the White House looks the other way as its other best friend in the Middle East, Israel, shoots thousands of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. Overall one might argue that if there is a smell in the room it is coming from Washington and one death in Istanbul, no matter how heinous, pales in comparison to what the US itself, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been doing without any pushback whatsoever.

And then there is the small matter of actual American interests. If Washington persists in going after the Saudis, which it will not do, it will presumably jeopardize future weapons sales worth tens of billions of dollars. The Saudis also support the system of petrodollars, which basically requires nearly all international purchases of petroleum to be paid in dollars. Petrodollars in turn enable the United States to print money for which there is no backing knowing that there will always be international demand for dollars to buy oil. The Saudis, who also use their own petrodollars to buy US treasury bonds, could pull the plug on that arrangement. Those are actual American interests. If one pulls them all together it means that the United States will be looking for an outcome to Khashoggi’s slaying that will not do too much damage to Saudi Arabia.

So, what do I think will happen as a result of the Khashoggi killing? Nothing that means anything. There are too many bilateral interests that bind the Saudis to Europe and America’s movers and shakers. Too much money is on the table. In two more weeks mentioning the name Khashoggi in Washington’s political circles will produce a tepid response and a shake of the head. “Khashoggi who?” one might ask.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

Two Stories from the Propaganda War

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Two recent stories about Russians have demonstrated how the news is selected and manipulated in the United States. The first is about Maria Butina, who apparently sought to overthrow American democracy, such as it is, by obtaining a life membership in the National Rifle Association. Maria, a graduate student at American University, is now in detention in a federal prison, having been charged with collusion and failure to register as an agent of the Russian Federation. She has been in prison since July, for most of the time in solitary confinement, and has not been granted bail because, as a Russian citizen, she is considered to be a “flight risk.”

Maria, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, is now seeking donations to help pay for her legal defense as the Russian government renews demands that she be released from jail or be tried on whatever charges the Justice Department can come up with, but her release is unlikely as she is really a political prisoner.

The media has been silent about Maria Butina because the case against her is falling apart. In early September prosecutors admitted that they had misunderstood text messages used to support claims that she had offered to trade sex for access to information. Demands that she consequently be released from prison were, however, rejected. Her lawyer observed that "The impact of this inflammatory allegation, which painted Ms. Butina as some type of Kremlin-trained seductress, or spy-novel honeypot character, trading sex for access and power, cannot be overstated."

In an attempt to make the Butina embarrassment disappear from the news, the Justice Department has proposed an unprecedented gag order to prevent her attorney from appearing in the media in a way that could prejudice a jury should her case eventually come to trial. Currently there is no court date and Maria remains in jail indefinitely, but the press could care less – she is just one more Russiagate casualty in an ongoing saga that has long since passed her by.

Given the Maria Butina story and the hysteria over all things Russian it was perhaps inevitable that the tale of Kremlin interference in American elections would be resurrected and repeated. Federal prosecutors are now reporting that another Russian woman has illegally conspired with others to “defraud the United States” and interfere with the U.S. political system, to include plans for conducting “information warfare” to subvert the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

The complaint was filed on October 19th at a federal court in Virginia which handles most national security cases. According to the court documents, Elena Alekseevna Khusyainova, a 44-year-old resident of St. Petersburg in Russia, has worked as the head accountant for “Project Lakhta,” a Russian influence operation backed by an oligarch close to President Vladi­mir Putin. According to the Justice Department, the operation “spread misinformation about US political issues including immigration, gun control, the Confederate flag, and protests by NFL players. It also used events including the Las Vegas mass shooting, and the far-Right rally in Charlottesville, to spread discord.”

Khusyainova, who is not likely to be extradited to the United States for trial, allegedly purchased advertising in social networks and also supported dissident groups. The accusation of the American authorities emphasizes the connection between Khusyainova and St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was previously identified by the media as the owner of a ‘Troll Factory’ in St. Petersburg. In the U.S., several charges have already been brought against him and his staff, including interfering in the presidential elections in 2016. 

The Maria Butina story reveals how there is a fundamental flaw in the justice system in the United States. When someone is found guilty by the media there is no way to right the wrong when the story shifts and starts to break down. The New York Times or Washington Post is unlikely to leap to the defense of the accused. Maria Butina has been raked over the coals in stories that were partly true but mostly false in terms of any criminal intent. She is still waiting for justice and will likely be doing so for some time.

The case of Elena Khusyainova is Maria Butina redux, only even more idiotic. No actual evidence is presented in the indictment and since Elena is in Russia and not likely to visit the United States, the entire affair is a bit of theater intended to heighten hysteria about the U.S. midterm elections. Is the U.S. electoral system really so fragile and what did Elena actually seek to do? The Justice Department is silent on the issue beyond vague accusations about trolling on the internet by Russians. One wonders who in the federal government ordered the investigation and signed off on the indictment.

Both Maria and Elena are victims of a politicized miscarriage of justice. Maria Butina should be released from prison now and allowed to pay her fine for being an unregistered agent before leaving the country. There is no justification for holding her in prison. And the indictment of Elena Khusyainova is not worth the paper it is written on. It should be torn up and thrown away.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

The White Helmets Ride Again

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I am often asked to explain why countries like Iran appear to be so aggressive, involving themselves in foreign wars and seeking to create alliances that they know will provoke the worst and most paranoid responses from some of their neighbors. My response is invariably that perceptions of threat depend very much on which side of the fence you are standing on. Saudi Arabia and Israel might well perceive Iranian actions as aggressive given the fact that all three countries are competing for dominance in the same region, but Iran, which is surrounded by powerful enemies, could equally explain its activity as defensive, seeking to create a belt of allies that can be called upon if needed if a real shooting war breaks out.

The United States and Israel are, of course, masters at seeing everything as a threat, justifying doing whatever is deemed necessary to defend against what are perceived to be enemies. They even exercise extraterritoriality, with Washington claiming a right to go after certain categories of “terrorists” in countries with which it is not at war, most particularly Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Israel does likewise in its attacks on Lebanon and Syria. Both Tel Aviv and Washington have regularly crossed the line drawn by international legal authorities in terms of what constitutes initiating a “just” or “legal” war, i.e. an imminent threat to use force by a hostile power. Neither Israel nor the United States has really been threatened by an enemy or enemies in the past seventy years, so the definition of threat has been expanded to include after-the-fact as with 9/11 and potential as in the case of Israel and Iran.

The “which side of the fence” formulation has also had some interesting spin-offs in terms of how so-called non-state players that use violence are perceived and portrayed. Nearly all widely accepted definitions of terrorism include language that condemns the “use of politically motivated violence against non-combatants to provoke a state of terror.”

It is quite easy to identify some groups that are unambiguously “terrorist.” Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) and its various affiliates fit the definition perfectly, but even in that case there is some ambiguity by those state actors who are ostensibly pledged to eradicate terrorists. There have been credible claims that the United States has been protecting the last enclaves of ISIS in order to maintain its “right” to stay in Syria, allegedly based on the stated objective of completely destroying the group before withdrawal. As long as ISIS is still around in Syria, Washington will have an admittedly illegal justification for doing likewise.

There are two notable groups that should be universally condemned as terrorists but are not for political reasons. They are the Mujaheddin e Khalq (MEK), Iranian dissidents that are based in Paris and Washington, and the so-called White Helmets who have been active in Syria. MEK is particularly liked by Israel and its friends inside the Beltway because it retains resources inside Iran that enable it to carry out assassinations and sabotage, and if it is only Iranians that are dying, that’s okay.

MEK has been on the State Department roster of foreign terrorist organizations since the list was established in 1997. Its inclusion derives from its having killed six Americans in the 1970s and from its record of violence both inside and outside Iran since that time. The group was driven out of Iran, denied refuge in France, and eventually armed and given a military base by Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein. Saddam used the group to carry out terrorist acts inside Iran. MEK is widely regarded as a cult headed by a husband and wife team Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. Its members were required to be celibate and there are reports that they are subjected to extensive brainwashing, physical torture, severe beatings even unto death, and prolonged solitary confinement if they question the leadership. One scholar who has studied them describes their beliefs as a “weird combination of Marxism and Islamic fundamentalism.” Like many other terrorist groups MEK has a political wing that operates openly referred to as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is based in Paris, and another front organization called Executive Action which operates in Washington.

MEK was regarded as a terrorist group until 2012, when it was taken off the Special Designation list by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was removed because multi-million dollar contracts with Washington lobbying firms experienced at “working” congress backed up by handsome speaking fees had induced many prominent Americans to join the chorus supporting NCRI. Prior to 2012, speaking fees for the group started at $15,000 and went up from there. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell reported more than $150,000 in honoraria. Rudy Giuliani has been paid generously for years at $20,000 per appearance for brief, twenty-minute speeches. Bear in mind that MEK was a listed terrorist group at the time and accepting money from it to promote its interests should have constituted material support of terrorism.

The group’s well-connected friends have included prominent neocons like current National Security Advisor John Bolton and ex-CIA Directors James Woolsey, Michael Hayden and Porter Goss as well as former Generals Anthony Zinni, Peter Pace, Wesley Clark, and Hugh Shelton. Traditional conservatives close to the Trump Administration like Newt Gingrich, Fran Townsend and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao are also fans of NCRI. Townsend in particular, as a self-proclaimed national security specialist, has appeared on television to denounce Iran, calling its actions “acts of war” without indicating that she has received money from an opposition group.

MEK’s formula for success in removing itself from the terrorism lift involved paying its way through a corrupt political system. More interesting perhaps is the tale of the White Helmets, who have just been given the 2019 Elie Wiesel Award by the National Holocaust Museum, with the citation “These volunteer rescue workers have saved lives on all sides of the conflict in Syria. Their motto is ‘To save one life is to save all of humanity.’”

The White Helmets have been praised by those who hate the government of President Bashar al-Asad in Syria and want to see it removed because of its role as a leading element in the propaganda campaign that seeks to instigate violence or use fabricated information to depict the Damascus government as guilty of slaughtering its own citizens. The propaganda is intended to terrorize the civilian population, which is part of the definition of terrorism.

Favorable 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.

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. It was described in a BBC article that included “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.’”

All of the Israeli assertions are nonsense, including its claimed “humanitarianism” and “non-intervention” in the Syrian war, where it has been bombing almost daily. 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.

The White Helmets travelled 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. 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, 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 has led to several attacks on government forces and facilities by the US military. This is precisely the propaganda that has been supported both by Tel Aviv and Washington.

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, the National Holocaust Museum, which is taxpayer funded, has given an apparently prestigious award to a terrorist group, something which could have been discerned with even a little fact checking. And the museum also might have been sensitive to how the White Helmets have been used in support of Israeli propaganda vis-à-vis Syria. Perhaps, while they are at it, the museum’s board just might also want to check out Elie Wiesel, for whom the award is named. Wiesel, who was a chronicler of Jewish victimhood while persistently refusing to acknowledge what Israel was doing to the Palestinians, notoriously mixed fact and fiction in his best-selling holocaust memoir Night. Ironically, the award and recipient are well matched in this case as mixing fact and fiction is what both Elie Wiesel and the White Helmets are all about.

Reprinted with permission from Unz.com.

Killing Jamal Khashoggi Was Easy. Explaining It Is Much Harder

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Getting to the bottom of the Jamal Khashoggi disappearance is a bit like peeling an onion. It is known that Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd to get a document that would enable him to marry a Turkish woman. It is also known, from surveillance cameras situated outside the building, that he never came out walking the same way he entered. The presumption is that he was either killed inside or abducted, though the abduction theory would have to be based on a Consulate vehicle leaving the building with him presumably concealed inside, something that has not been confirmed by the Turks. If he was killed inside the building and dismembered, as seems likely, he could have had his body parts removed in the suitcases carried by the alleged fifteen official Saudis who had arrived that morning by private jet and left that afternoon the same way. The supposition is that the fifteen men, which may have included some members of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s bodyguard as well as a physician skilled in autopsies who was carrying a bone saw, constituted the execution party for Khashoggi.

There are certain things that should be observed about the Turks, since they are the ones claiming that the disappearance of Khashoggi may have included a summary execution and dismemberment. The Turkish intelligence service, known by its acronym MIT, is very good, very active and very focused on monitoring the activities of foreign embassies and their employees throughout Turkey. They use electronic surveillance and, if the foreign mission has local employees, many of those individuals will be agents reporting to the Turkish government. In my own experience when I was in Istanbul, I had microphones concealed in various places in my residence and both my office and home phones were tapped. A number of local hire consulate employees were believed to be informants for MIT but they were not allowed anywhere near sensitive information.

As Turkey and Saudi Arabia might be termed rivals if not something stronger, it is to be presumed that MIT had the Consulate General building covered with both cameras and microphones, possibly inside the building as well as outside, and may have had a Turkish employer inside who observed some of what was going on. Which is to say that the Turks certainly know exactly what occurred but are playing their cards closely to see what they can derive from that knowledge. The two countries have already initiated a joint investigation into what took place. Turkey’s economy is in free fall and would benefit from “investment” from the Saudis to create an incentive to close the book on Khashoggi. In other words, Turkey’s perspective on the disappearance could easily be influenced by Saudi money and the investigation might well turn up nothing that is definitive.

Saudi Arabia, for its part, has a couple of cards to play also even if it did kill and dismember Khashoggi under orders from the Crown Prince. First of all, the system of petrodollars, which basically requires nearly all purchases of petroleum to be paid in dollars, is underwritten by the Saudis. Petrodollars in turn enable the United States to print money for which there is no backing knowing that there will always be international demand for dollars to buy oil. The Saudis, who also use their own petrodollars to buy US treasury bonds, could pull the plug on that arrangement. That all means that the United States will be looking for an outcome that will not do too much damage to the Saudis.

Second, Saudi Arabia is in bed with Israel in opposition to Iran. This means the Israel Lobby and its many friends in Congress will squawk loudly about Khashoggi but ultimately shy away from doing anything about it. It already appears that a cover story is halfway in place to explain what happened. It is being suggested that a “rogue” element from Saudi Arabia might have carried out without the knowledge of the Crown Prince an interrogation or abduction attempt that went too far. Donald Trump speculated on Monday that that might be the case, suggesting that it may already be part of the official line that will be promoted. Those who know Saudi Arabia well, however, consider a high-level assassination not ordered by the Crown Prince directly to be extremely unlikely, but that does not necessarily mean that a cover story including that feature might not be successfully floated.

In regional terms, Saudi Arabia is also key to Trump’s anticipated Middle East peace plan. If it pulls out from the expected financial guarantees aspect, the plan will fall apart. Riyadh is also committed to buy tens of billions of dollars’ worth of American arms, an agreement that could be canceled if Washington begins to pressure the Saudis for answers. Beyond that, Saudi Arabia could stop pumping oil or fail to increase production when Iranian oil becomes subject to US sanctions early next month, driving the price per barrel up dramatically for everyone. The Saudi government has already indicated that it will respond forcefully to any attempts to punish it over Khashoggi and there is no reason to doubt the seriousness of that threat.

There are, of course, possible impediments to selling the fake news narrative. Some early reports suggested that Khashoggi’s fiancé had observed and possibly recorded the execution inside the consulate using the victim’s Apple wristwatch linked to an iPad in her possession. If that is true, the release of such material to the media will create worldwide demand to learn the truth that will be difficult to control. Also, there are unconfirmed reports that US intelligence knew in advance of Saudi plans to abduct Khashoggi, which could prove embarrassing to the Trump administration and could narrow its options.

The trick will be to see how a bit of extreme brutal behavior by the Saudis can be manipulated by all interested parties to produce a solution that doesn’t damage anyone too much. It will undoubtedly be far from the truth, but truth doesn’t necessarily matter much these days.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

The Two Brett Kavanaugh Stories

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There were two simultaneous Brett Kavanaugh stories. Together, as part of the confirmation process regarding his nomination as Supreme Court Justice, they revealed how political discourse in the United States has reached a new low, with debate over the man’s possible predilection to make judgments based on his own preferences rather than the US Constitution being ignored in favor of the politically motivated kabuki theater that was deliberately arranged to avoid that issue and instead go after his character.

Consider first of all, his flaws as a candidate. He was regularly framed as a “conservative,” but what did that mean in the context of his career? Some of the critics are referring to his time spent as a government lawyer, specifically for the George W. Bush Administration, where he was a supporter of wide executive authority in the context of the war against terror while others point to his decisions and writings during his time as a US Circuit judge from 2006 until the present. That meant essentially that Kavanaugh then supported and apparently continues to support what is now referred to as the John Yoo doctrine, named after the Department of Justice lawyer who penned the memo that made the case for the president to act unilaterally to do whatever is required in national security cases even if there be no direct or immediate threat. Yoo specifically argued that the president, by virtue of his office, is not bound by the War Crimes Act. This theory of government, also more broadly dubbed the unitary executive, was popularized by Yoo, fellow government lawyer Jay Bybee and Eric Posner of the University of Chicago.

For those who find Kavanaugh unacceptable in terms of his judicial philosophy, this repudiation of the constitutional principle of three branches of government that check each other was enough to disqualify him from a position on the Supreme Court, principally as it impacts on both the first and second articles of the constitution by granting to the president the authority to both begin and continue a war on his own recognizance. It also means that the president on his own authority can suspend first and fourth amendment rights to freedom of speech and association as well as freedom from illegal search. He supported, for example, the government’s “right” to conduct mass searches of private data such as was conducted by the NSA. Kavanaugh supports government authority to legitimize incarceration without trial and to order assassinations and torture. Kavanaugh is also on record as favoring limiting the public’s right to use the courts to redress government overreach.

But curiously enough, or perhaps not so curiously, Kavanaugh was treated with kid gloves on those critical issues, basically because both major parties are now supportive of the unitary executive concept even if they would not admit that to be the case. Bill Clinton launched cruise missiles attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan on his own authority and involved the US in a war in the Balkans. George W. Bush did the same in approving torture and expanding the war on terror to Iraq and also globally, while Barack Obama attacked both the Syrian and Libyan governments and assassinated US citizens abroad, all acts of war or war crimes carried out without a congressional declaration of war or without any real pushback by the judiciary.

The failure of Congress to carry out its duty to review Kavanaugh’s ability or lack thereof to interpret the constitution impartially was the more important story line in the confirmation process but it was ignored by the media. The other narrative that ran simultaneously, the purely political attempt made by the Democrats and some Republicans to destroy Kavanaugh as a person through the exploitation of random claims of sexual assault dating from more than thirty-five years ago, was an attempt to discredit the candidate that everyone knew right from the beginning could not be substantiated.

This all means that the important issue of Kavanaugh’s likely comportment as a judge was subjected to too little inquiry while his character as evidenced by tales from his past life received far too much attention. Ironically, the media, which has been frantically searching for an explanation for the breakdown of democracy in the United States, has been pillorying the Russians and more recently the Chinese for outside interference in the process, while ignoring the intense public dissatisfaction with the government it has been allowed to have by the Establishment, which is exemplified by the dystopic reality demonstrated by Kavanaugh. Some Americans would have rejected him based on his merits as a judge, but the case was not clearly made. Many instead came to view him as a victim of a vicious personal campaign and that was apparently enough to win confirmation, at least as reckoned by the calculus of those in Congress who cast the actual votes. In either case, the system failed to produce a good result and we only have our polarized and dysfunctional government to blame for that failure. 

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Aux Barricades Mes Enfants!

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On October 21st there will be a Women’s March on the Pentagon hosted by the Global Women’s Peace Action. My wife and many of our friends will be going and even I will tag along in support in spite of my gender. We participate with some reservations as we have only demonstrated publicly twice since 9/11, once opposing the then about to start Iraq War and once against the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). All too often demonstrations morph into progressive exercises in flagellation of what are now referred to as “deplorable” values with little being accomplished either before, during or afterwards, apart from the piles of debris left behind to be cleaned up by the Park Service. And such events are rarely even covered by the media in Washington, where the Post generally adheres closely to a neocon foreign policy tactic, which means that if you ignore something distasteful it will eventually go away.

Hopefully on this occasion it will be different because the time for talking politics is rapidly being rendered irrelevant by the speed of Washington’s disengagement from reality and Americans of all political persuasions must begin to take to the streets to object to what their government is doing in their name. I am mildly optimistic that change is coming as I find it difficult to imagine that in spite of the relentless flood of mainstream media propaganda there is even a plurality of Americans that supports with any actual conviction what the United States is doing in Syria and what it intends to do in Iran. And apart from a desire to make voting in America safer and insofar as possible interference free, I also believe that most think that Russiagate is a load of hooey and would prefer to be friends with Moscow.

Why now? “Now” is a whole new ballgame, as the expression goes, because the utter insanity coming out of Washington could easily wind up killing most of us here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Specifically, in a press conference on Tuesday, Kay Bailey Hutchison, a former Senator from Texas who is currently the United States’ ambassador to NATO, declared that Washington was prepared to launch a preemptive attack on Russian military installations as a response to alleged treaty violations on the part of Moscow. Note particularly what Hutchison actually said: “At that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries. Counter measures would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty. They are on notice.”

And note further what she was implying, namely that Washington, acting on its own authority, has the right to attack a nuclear armed and powerful foreign country based on what are presumably negotiable definitions of what are acceptable weapons to base on one’s own soil. It would be an attack on a neighbor or competitor with whom one is not at war and which does not necessarily pose any active threat. By that standard, any country with a military capability can be described as threatening and one can attack anyone else based purely on one’s own assessment of what is acceptable or not.

It is quite remarkable how many countries in the world are now “on notice” for punishment when they do things that the United States objects to. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has warned that she will be “taking names” of those United Nations members that criticize US policies in the Middle East. As increasing discomfort with US initiatives there and elsewhere is a worldwide phenomenon, with only Israel, the Philippines, Nigeria and Kenya having a favorable view of Washington, Haley’s list is inevitably a long one. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, when they are not fabricating intelligence and inflating threats, have likewise warned specific countries that they are being judged by Washington and will be punished at a level proportionate to their transgressions.

Hutchison is not known as a deep thinker, so one has to suspect that her expressed views were fed to her by someone in Washington. Her specific grievance against Russia relates to Moscow’s reported deployment of new land-based missiles that have a claimed range of more than 5,000 kilometers, which is enough to hit most targets in Europe. If true, the development would be in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987 and would definitely pose a potential threat to the Europeans, but the more serious question has to be the rationale behind threatening a nuclear war through preemptive action over an issue that might be subject to renewed multilateral negotiation.

Hutchison and the State Department inevitably went into double-speak mode when concerns were expressed about possible preemption against Russia. She clarified her earlier comments with an almost incomprehensible “My point: Russia needs to return to INF Treaty compliance or we will need to match its capabilities to protect US & NATO interests. The current situation, with Russia in blatant violation, is untenable.”

Spokesman Heather Nauert at State then chimed in “What Ambassador Hutchison was talking about was improving overall defense and deterrence posture. The United States is committed to upholding its arms control obligations and expects Russia to do the very same thing.” Both disclaimers were needed, even if lacking in clarity, but they did not dispel the ugly taste of the initial comment regarding starting a war of preemption. Russia took note of the back and forth, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman drily observing “It seems that people who make such statements do not realize the level of their responsibility and the danger of aggressive rhetoric.” Hutchison and Nauert also do not seem aware of the fact that Russia’s frequently stated defense doctrine is to use nuclear weapons if and when it is attacked by a superior force, which might well be Moscow’s assessment of the threat posed by US led NATO.

The disconnect between the White House’s often expressed desire to improve relations with Russia and the bureaucracy’s tendency to send the opposite message is typical of what has been referred to as Trump’s “dual-track presidency”. Gareth Porter has recently observed how President Trump, for all his faults in so many ways, is indeed desirous of military disengagement in some areas but he is repeatedly being overruled or outmaneuvered by the permanent bureaucracies in government, most notably the Pentagon and intelligence services. Hutchison, Haley, Pompeo and Bolton speak and act for that constituency even when they appear to be agreeing with the president.

So given the danger of war based on what Washington itself says about the state of the world and America’s presumed role in it, it is time to take the gloves off and march. That a high-level official can even stand up and speak about preventive war with a major nuclear power is disgraceful. She should be fired immediately. That she has not been fired means that someone somewhere high up in the bureaucracy agrees with what she said. Nuclear war is not an option. It is an end of all options.

Reprinted with permission from Unz Review.

One Click Closer to Annihilation

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The nuclear war doomsday clock maintained on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists website has advanced to two minutes before midnight, the closest point to possible atomic apocalypse since the end of the Cold War. In 1995 the clock was at fourteen minutes to midnight, but the opportunity to set it back even further was lost as the United States and its European allies took advantage of a weakened Russia to advance NATO into Eastern Europe, setting the stage for a new cold war, which is now underway.

It is difficult to imagine how the United States might avoid a new war in the Middle East given the recent statements that have come out of Washington, and, given that the Russians are also active in the region, a rapid and massive escalation of something that starts out as a minor incident should not be ruled out.

President Donald Trump set the tone when he harangued the United Nations last Tuesday, warning that the United States would go it alone in defense of its perceived interests, with no regard for international bodies that exist to limit armed conflict and punish those who commit war crimes.

Trump’s 35-minute speech featured an anticipated long section targeting Iran. He commented that:
Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death, and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations. Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond… We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons. We cannot allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America,’ and that threatens Israel with annihilation, to possess the means to deliver a nuclear warhead to any city on Earth.
There are a number of things exaggerated or incorrect in Trump’s description of Iran as well as in the conclusions he draws. The Middle East and other adjacent Muslim countries are in chaos because the United States has destabilized the region starting with the empowering of the Islamist Mujadeddin in the war against Soviet Afghanistan in the 1980s. It then invaded Afghanistan in 2001 followed by Iraq in 2003, enabling the rise of ISIS and giving local al-Qaeda affiliates a new lease on life, before turning on Damascus with the Syria Accountability Act later in the same year and then destroying the Libyan government under Barack Obama. These were, not coincidentally, policies promoted by Israel that received, as a result, bipartisan support in Congress.

The emotional description of disrespecting “neighbors, borders and sovereign rights” fits the  US and Israel to a “T” rather than Iran. The  US has soldiers stationed illegally in Syria while Israel bombs the country on an almost daily basis, so who is doing the disrespecting? Washington and Tel Aviv are also the principal supporters of terrorists in the Middle East, not Iran, – arming them, training them, hospitalizing them when they are injured, and making sure that they continue their work in attacking Syria’s legitimate government.

And as for “most dangerous weapons,” Iran doesn’t have any and is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel and the US have not signed. Nor would Iran have any such weapons in the future but for the fact that Trump has backed out of the agreement to monitor and inspect Iranian nuclear research and development, which will, if anything, motivate Tehran to develop weapons to protect itself.

Trump also elaborated on the following day regarding Iran’s alleged but demonstrably non-existent nuclear program when he indicated to the Security Council that Washington would go after countries that violate the rules on nuclear proliferation. He clearly meant Iran but the comment was ironic in the extreme, as Israel is the world’s leading nuclear rogue nation with an arsenal of two hundred nuclear devices, having stolen the uranium and key elements of the technology from the United States in the 1960s.

Trump’s new appraisal of the state of the Middle East is somewhat a turnaround. Five months ago he said that he wanted to “get out” of Syria and bring the soldiers home. But in early September, the secretary of state’s special representative for Syria engagement, James Jeffrey, indicated that the  US would stay to counter Iranian activities.

And John Bolton has also recently had a lot to say about Iran, Syria and Russia. Last Monday he confirmed that Washington intends to keep a military presence in Syria until Iran withdraws all its forces from the country. “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.” On the following day, speaking at a Sheldon Adelson funded United Against Nuclear Iran Summit, he said the “murderous regime” of “mullahs in Tehran” would face serious consequences if they persist in their willingness to “lie, cheat and deceive. If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens there will indeed be hell to pay. Let my message today be clear: We are watching, and we will come after you.”

John Bolton also warned the Russians about their decision to upgrade the air defenses in Syria in the wake of the recent Israeli bombing raid that led to the shooting down of a Russian intelligence plane. He said absurdly and inaccurately “The Israelis have a legitimate right to self-defense against this Iranian aggressive behavior, and what we’re all trying to do is reduce tensions, reduce the possibility of major new hostilities. That’s why the president has spoken to this issue and why we would regard introducing the S-300 as a major mistake.”

Bolton then elaborated that “We think introducing the S-300s to the Syrian government would be a significant escalation by the Russians and something that we hope, if these press reports are accurate, they would reconsider.” And regarding who was responsible for the deaths of the Russian airmen, Bolton also has a suitable explanation “There shouldn’t be any misunderstanding here… The party responsible for the attacks in Syria and Lebanon and really the party responsible for the shooting down of the Russian plane is Iran.”

Bolton’s desire to exonerate Israel and always blame Iran is inevitably on display. He is curiously objecting to the placement of missiles that are defensive in nature, presumably because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked him to do so. The only way one can be threatened by the S-300 is if you are attacking Syria, but that might be a fine point that Bolton fails to grasp as he was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War and has since that time not placed himself personally at risk in support of any of the wars he has been promoting.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also spoke on Monday, at the Pentagon. His spin on Iran was slightly different but his message was the same. “As part of this overarching problem, we have to address Iran. Everywhere you go in the Middle East where there’s instability you will find Iran. So in terms of getting to the end state of the Geneva [negotiations] process, Iran, too, has a role to play, which is to stop fomenting trouble.”

To complete the onslaught, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the same United Against Nuclear Iran Summit as Bolton, accused European nations seeking to avoid  US sanctions over the purchase of Iranian oil as “solidifying Iran’s ranking as the number-one state sponsor of terrorism. I imagine the corrupt ayatollahs and IGRC [Revolutionary Guards] were laughing this morning.”

Even the US Congress has figured out that something is afoot. A bipartisan group of US senators, who were carefully briefed on what to think by the Israeli government, warned after a trip to the Middle East that war between the United States and Iranian proxies is “imminent.”

Iran is fun to kick around but China has also been on the receiving end of late. Last Wednesday the U.N. Security Council meeting was presided over by Donald Trump, who warned that Beijing is “meddling” in US elections against him personally. It is a bizarre claim, particularly as the only country up until now demonstrated as having actually interfered in American politics in any serious way is Israel. The accusation comes on top of Washington’s latest foray into the world of sanctions, directed against the Chinese government-run Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Central Military Commission and its director Li Shangfu for “engaging in significant transactions” with a Russian weapons manufacturer that is on a list of  US sanctioned companies.

The Chinese sanctions are serious business as they forbid conducting any transactions that go through the US financial system. It is the most powerful weapon Washington has at its disposal. As most international transactions are conducted in dollars and pass through American banks that means that it will be impossible for the Chinese government to make weapons purchases from many foreign sources. If foreign banks attempt to collaborate with China to evade the restrictions, they too will be sanctioned.

So if you’re paying attention to Trump, Bolton, Mattis, Pompeo and Haley you are probably digging a new bomb shelter right now. We have told Iran that it cannot send its soldiers and “proxies” outside its own borders while Syria cannot have advanced missiles to defend its airspace, which Russia is “on notice” for providing. China also cannot buy weapons from Russia while Venezuela is also being threatened because it has what is generally believed to be a terrible government. Meanwhile, America is in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to stay while nearly all agree a war with Iran is coming soon. Everyone is the enemy and everyone hates the United States, mostly for good reasons. If this is Making America Great Again, I think I would settle for just making America “good” so we could possibly have that doomsday clock go back a couple of minutes.

Reprinted with permission from Unz Review.

Washington’s Sanctions Machine

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Perhaps it is Donald Trump’s business background that leads him to believe that if you inflict enough economic pain on someone they will ultimately surrender and agree to do whatever you want. Though that approach might well work in New York real estate, it is not a certain path to success in international relations since countries are not as vulnerable to pressure as are individual investors or developers.

Washington’s latest foray into the world of sanctions, directed against China, is astonishing even when considering the low bar that has been set by previous presidents going back to Bill Clinton. Beijing has already been pushing back over US sanctions imposed last week on its government-run Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Central Military Commission and its director Li Shangfu for “engaging in significant transactions” with a Russian weapons manufacturer that is on a list of US sanctioned companies. The transactions included purchases of Russian Su-35 combat aircraft as well as equipment related to the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The sanctions include a ban on the director entering the United States and blocks all of his property or bank accounts within the US as well as freezing all local assets of the Equipment Development Department.

More important, the sanctions also forbid conducting any transactions that go through the US financial system. It is the most powerful weapon Washington has at its disposal, but it is being challenged as numerous countries are working to find ways around it. Currently however, as most international transactions are conducted in dollars and pass through American banks that means that it will be impossible for the Chinese government to make weapons purchases from many foreign sources. If foreign banks attempt to collaborate with China to evade the restrictions, they too will be sanctioned.

So in summary, Beijing bought weapons from Moscow and is being sanctioned by the United States for doing so because Washington does not approve of the Russian government. The sanctions on China are referred to as secondary sanctions in that they are derivative from the primary sanction on the foreign company or individual that is actually being punished. Secondary sanctions can be extended ad infinitum as transgressors linked sequentially to the initial transaction multiply the number of potential targets.

Not surprisingly, the US Ambassador has been summoned and Beijing has canceled several bilateral meetings with American defense department officials. The Chinese government has expressed “outrage” and has demanded the US cancel the measure.

According to media reports, the Chinese Department purchased the weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s principal arms exporter. This violated a 2017 law passed by Congress named, characteristically, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which sought to punish the Russian government and its various agencies for interfering in in the 2016 US election as well as its alleged involvement in Ukraine, Syria and its development of cyberwar capabilities. Iran and North Korea were also targeted in the legislation.

Explaining the new sanctions, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued a statement elaborating that the initial sanctions on Russia were enacted “to further impose costs on the Russian government in response to its malign activities.” She added that the US will “urge all countries to curtail relationships with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, both of which are linked to malign activities worldwide.”

As engaging in “malign activities” is a charge that should quite plausibly be leveled against Washington and its allies in the Middle East, it is not clear if anyone but the French and British poodles actually believes the rationalizations coming out of Washington to defend the indefensible. An act to “Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions” is, even as the title implies, ridiculous. Washington is on a sanctions spree. Russia has been sanctioned repeatedly since the passage of the fraudulent Magnitsky Act, with no regard for Moscow’s legitimate protests that interfering in other countries’ internal politics is unacceptable. China is currently arguing reasonably enough that arms sales between countries is perfect legal and in line with international law.

Iran has been sanctioned even through it complied with an international agreement on its nuclear program and new sanctions were even piled on top of the old sanctions. And in about five weeks the US will be sanctioning ANYONE who buys oil from Iran, reportedly with no exceptions allowed. Venezuela is under US sanctions to punish its government, NATO member Turkey because it bought weapons from Russia and the Western Hemisphere perennial bad boy Cuba has had various embargoes in place since 1960.

It should be noted that sanctions earn a lot of ill-will and generally accomplish nothing. Cuba would likely be a fairly normal country but for the US restrictions and other pressure that gave its government the excuse to maintain a firm grip on power. The same might even apply to North Korea. And sanctions are even bad for the United States. Someday, when the US begins to lose its grip on the world economy all of those places being sanctioned will line up to get their revenge and it won’t be pretty.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Shutting Down Free Speech in America: Government and Lobbyists Work Together to Destroy the First Amendment

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During the past several years, there has been increased pressure coming from some in the federal government aided and abetted powerful advocacy groups in the private sector to police social and alternative media. It is a multi-pronged attack on the First Amendment which has already limited the types of information that Americans have access to, thereby narrowing policy options to suit those in power

The process has been ostensibly driven by concerns over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, but it is really about who controls and limits the public’s right to know what is going on out of sight in Washington and New York City, where politics and money come together. If one is interested in the free flow of information and viewpoints that comes with the alternative media, it certainly does not look that way. Robert Parry described it as a deliberate process of “demonizing and silencing dissent that questions mainstream narratives.”

Last October top executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter were summoned to Capitol Hill for a discussion of their role in what is alleged to be Russia’s influence on the presidential campaign and went back home contrite and promising to improve. They have indeed improved by punishing members whose views have been found to be unacceptable, blocking them and suspending their access to the sites. Meanwhile, the federal government for its part has attempted to silence independent non-US based voices by declaring Russian media outlets RT America and Sputnik to be “foreign agents,” requiring them to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA). It is an unprecedented action against a news agency and invites quid-pro-quo for US media operating overseas, leaving the American public more ignorant of world affairs than it already is.

Qatar based Al-Jazeera, which has been particularly targeted by Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “a major exporter of hate against the Jewish people,” will also be required to register with FARA to comply with the new National Defense Authorization Act. Al-Jazeera, it should be noted, has employed undercover investigative journalism to expose the corruption of Britain’s government by Israeli supported Jewish groups. It’s similar series on the activity of Zionist lobbyists in America is on hold due to threats from Jewish organizations to severely punish the network if the documentary should ever be aired.

More recently Facebook has been active in removing accounts and advertising, much of it pro-Palestinian or otherwise critical of Israel, but also to include highly respectable Telesur’s “The Empire Files,” which looked at the consequences of US sanctions on Venezuela. Anything that criticizes the corporate worldview is fair game for censorship. American Herald Tribune, which is critical of US foreign policy in many areas, has recently had its Gmail shut down while Google also stopped servicing ads on its website. Its Facebook page was also closed, all done without any warning or explanation.

One of the organizations most interested in limiting conversations about what is going on in the world is the ADL which claims that it is “the world’s leading organization combating anti-Semitism and hate of all kinds,” though it clearly excludes incitement or even physical harm directed against Palestinian Arabs resentful of the Israeli occupation of their country. Its definition of “hatred” is really quite selective and is focused on anyone criticizing Israel or Jewish related issues. Its goal is to have any such speech or writing categorized as anti-Semitism and, eventually, to have “hate crime” legislation that criminalizes such expressions.

It is particularly ironic that Israel, which has now declared that it is in no way subject to international law, has itself proposed across the board censorship of the most prominent social media platforms on a global scale by creating an “international coalition that would make limiting criticism of Israel its primary objective.” It would operate through a “loose coalition…[that] would keep an eye on content and where it is being posted, and members of the coalition would work to demand that the platforms remove the content…in any of their countries at the request of members.”

More recently, Israel has been exposed by Wikileaks as hosting a conference describing how it now has a Command Center that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to scan the internet worldwide looking for “anti-Semitic” content. For Israel, anti-Semitic content means any criticism of its government or its behavior towards the Arabs. It reportedly pulls 200,000 posts a day and then reviews them using AI for content considered to be unacceptable. The roughly 10,000 posts determined to be anti-Semitic are then passed on to “intelligence and law enforcement agencies” in countries that have hate speech legislation for further action. The Israeli government also complains directly to the social media source to have the material taken down and works through Jewish organizations in cities and countries where there is considerable “anti-Semitic” activity to pressure governments to act even if there is no legal basis.

As most genuine independent journalism is currently limited to the alternative media, and that media lives on the internet, the ADL and those who are acting in collusion with the Israeli government are focusing on “cyberhate” as the problem and are working with major internet providers to voluntarily censor their product. On October 10th, 2017 the ADL issued a press release out of its New York City offices to explain just how far the censorship process has gone. The organization boasted of the fact that it was working with Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter “to engineer new solutions to stop cyberhate.” Apple is not identified by name in the press release but one should presume that it is also involved, as well as YouTube, which is owned by Google. When you consider that the associates in this venture with ADL are vast corporations that control huge slices of the communications industry, the consequences of some kind of corporate decision on what constitutes “hate” become clear. Combatting “cyberhate” will inevitably become across-the-board censorship for viewpoints that are considered to be unacceptable, including any criticism of Israel.

ADL will be the “convener” for the group, providing “insight on how hate and extremist content manifests – and constantly evolves-online.” Which means it will define the problem, which it calls the “spew[ing] of hateful ideologies” so the corporate world can take steps to block such material. And “the initiative will be managed by ADL’s Center for Technology and Society in Silicon Valley.”

Facebook already employs thousands of censors and there is literally no limit to how far those who want to restrict material that they consider offensive will go. To be sure, most groups who want to limit the flow of information do not have the clout or resources of ADL with its $64 million annual operating budget so its “cyberhate” campaign will no doubt serve as a model that others will then follow. For ADL, reducing criticism of Israel is a much-sought-after goal. For the rest of us, it is a trip into darkness.

Reprinted with permission from American Herald Tribune.