Archive for the ‘U.S.A.’ Category

The Looming Battle for Mosul

March 2, 2015

ISIS (photo: AP)
ISIS (photo: AP)

By Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch

02 March 15

 

s many as one million people could flee Mosul in northern Iraq if the Iraqi army, backed by US air strikes, seeks to recapture the city later this year, according to aid agencies. And those agencies are preparing by building up stocks of food at sites around Mosul to feed those forced into a mass exodus.

“We would expect hundreds of thousands of people from Mosul to leave, if not more,” says Marwa Awad, speaking on behalf of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Irbil, the Kurdish capital, 50 miles east of Mosul. She added that the numbers fleeing an impending battle for Mosul in the course of the next few months could total a million. The present population of the city, captured by Islamic State (Isis) on 10 June last year, is believed to be about 1.5 million, the great majority of them Sunni Arabs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also issued a statement warning of a mass flight from Mosul, although without giving an estimate of the number likely to be affected. “The broadening of the conflict to populated areas along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers will create more humanitarian needs,” the ICRC warns. “If major cities such as Mosul come under fire again, thousands more people will have to flee.”

Syed Jaffer Hussain, the World Health Organisation’s representative in Iraq, also says that an attempt to recapture Mosul could lead to hundreds of thousands seeking refuge in Kurdistan. The exodus could begin as soon as Isis becomes unable to stop people leaving Mosul, and the US increases the number of its air strikes.

Scepticism has been expressed about the ability of the Iraqi army to recapture the city, but even the beginning of an attempt to do so might lead to a mass flight. The US Central Command said earlier this month that an offensive to retake the city would start in April or May and would involve up to 25,000 Iraqi soldiers, although the exact date would depend on their degree of combat readiness.

The WFP said it would have “to pre-position stocks of food, which we are doing now”. These stockpiles will be held in the three main cities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – Irbil, Duhok and Sulaimaniyah – and also in Kirkuk which is under Kurdish control but outside the KRG.

One problem is that Sunni Arabs from Mosul are currently banned from entering the KRG, which has already given refuge to 1.4 million people displaced by fighting in Iraq and Syria. Aid agencies are hopeful that, in the event of an exodus from Mosul, the KRG authorities will change their mind and let them into its territory. If they do not, those in flight from Mosul would probably head for Kirkuk. Before an expected IS drive towards Kirkuk at the end of January, one road was opened between it and Mosul. The WFP is already feeding 80,000 people in the Kirkuk area.

The Sunni Arab population of Mosul has strong motives for trying to escape any battle for their city. The Shia-dominated Iraqi army held Mosul for 10 years up until 2014, during which time they acted very much as a foreign occupation force widely resented by Sunnis. The Isis victory and the Iraqi army’s disintegration was widely welcomed by them.

They are also fearful that the notoriously sectarian Shia militia forces, which number some 120,000 men, would be involved in any assault on Mosul. Where they have captured Sunni towns and villages around Baghdad in the past, they have treated all those who have not fled as Isis sympathisers, regardless of their actual allegiance, if any. Young Sunni men have been detained, tortured, held for ransom or killed. Sunni residents of Mosul suspect that the same thing could happen to them.

Even if Mosul did not fall to the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga or other anti-Isis forces, an attempt to capture it would involve heavy US air strikes. During the four-month siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, much of the city was destroyed by US bombs aimed at Isis militants. Aside from civilian casualties, an air assault would further reduce Mosul’s already limited supplies of electricity, fuel and clean water. Many people are in hospital suffering from intestinal illnesses brought about by drinking dirty water.

The WFP’s Marwa Awad said any exodus from Mosul would be the latest in a series that has uprooted 2.2 million people from their homes since January 2014. It was in that month that Isis captured the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, and began a long struggle with the Iraqi army for the vast Sunni Arab province of Anbar that sprawls across the western third of Iraq. The jihadis now hold 85 per cent of the province.

It was this war in Anbar, in the first half of 2014, that provoked the first wave of 450,000 refugees seeking safety elsewhere in Iraq. In June, the capture by Isis of Mosul and much of northern Iraq outside Kurdish-held areas created a further 500,000 refugees. An Isis offensive directed against the Kurds in August displaced another 600,000, many of them Yazidis from Sinjar, west of Mosul, who were terrified by the threat of massacre, rape and slavery.

Christians, who had been forced out of Mosul city in June and July, saw their towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain around Mosul seized, forcing them to flee into Kurdistan. Since August, a further 650,000 have been displaced by fighting, mostly in the provinces around Baghdad.

It is extremely unlikely that Isis would give up Mosul without a fight to the death, because it was the city’s unexpected capture by the extreme jihadi movement last year that enabled it to proclaim the caliphate on 29 June. Its loss would constitute a devastating blow to its prestige and sense that its victories are divinely inspired. Even at Kobani, where Isis forces were in a poor tactical positions battling Syrian Kurdish fighters known for their determination and discipline, Isis was able to hold on for three months despite presenting an ideal target for 700 US air strikes.

While all Iraqi communities have been forced to flee at one time or another, the Sunni have nowhere safe to go to. Iraqi government and US policy since last June had been to divide the Sunni community and turn part of it against Isis, as the US succeeded in doing in 2006-07. But Isis mercilessly punishes any Sunni whom it suspects of working with its opponents. As a result there have been very few signs of overt resistance to Isis in Mosul or elsewhere in Isis-occupied territory. One Kurdish observer, who did not want to be named, said: “We don’t see daily assassinations and bombings which used to happen when the Americans and later the Iraqi army were running Mosul. Sunni leaders outside the city exaggerate or even invent their support.”

The savagery of the sectarian and ethnic conflict in Iraq is now such that no community feels safe under the rule of another, preferring to take to the roads in a bid to survive.

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Engelhardt: The Ten Commandments for a Better American World

March 2, 2015
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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

My War on Terror

Letter to an Unknown American PatriotBy Tom Engelhardt

Dear American Patriot,

I wish I knew your name. I’ve been thinking about you, about all of us actually and our country, and meaning to write for a while to explain myself. Let me start this way: you should feel free to call me an American nationalist. It may sound ugly as hell, but it’s one way I do think of myself. True, we Americans usually reserve the more kindly word “patriot” for ourselves and use “nationalist” to diss other people who exhibit special feeling for their country. In the extreme, it’s “superpatriot” for us and “ultranationalist” for them.

In any case, here’s how my particular form of nationalism manifests itself. I feel a responsibility for the acts of this country that I don’t feel for those of other states or groups. When, for instance, a wedding party blows up thanks to a Taliban roadside bomb, or the Islamic State cuts some poor captive’s head off, or Bashar al-Assad’s air force drops barrel bombs on civilians, or the Russians jail a political activist, or some other group or state commits some similar set of crimes, I’m not surprised. Human barbarity, as well as the arbitrary cruelty of state power, are unending facts of history. They should be opposed, but am I shocked? No.

Still — and I accept the irrationality of this — when my country wipes out wedding parties in other lands or organizes torture regimes and offshore prison systems where anything goes, or tries to jail yet another whistleblower, when it acts cruelly, arbitrarily, or barbarically, I feel shock and wonder why more Americans don’t have the same reaction.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t blame myself for the commission of such acts, but as an American, I do feel a special responsibility to do something about them, or at least to speak out against them — as it should be the responsibility of others in their localities to deal with their particular sets of barbarians.

So think of my last 12 years running TomDispatch.com as my own modest war on terror — American terror. We don’t, of course, like to think of ourselves as barbaric, and terror is, almost by definition, a set of un-American acts that others are eager to commit against us. “They” want to take us out in our malls and backyards. We would never commit such acts, not knowingly, not with malice aforethought. It matters little here that, from wedding parties to funerals, women to children, we have, in fact, continued to take “them” out in their backyards quite regularly.

Most Americans would admit that this country makes mistakes. Despite our best efforts, we do sometimes produce what we like to call “collateral damage” as we go after the evildoers, but a terror regime? Not us. Never.

And this is part of the reason I’m writing you. I keep wondering how, in these years, it’s been possible to hold onto such fictions so successfully. I wonder why, at least some of the time, you aren’t jumping out of your skin over what we do, rather than what they’ve done or might prospectively do to us.

Let’s start with an uncomfortable fact of our world that few here care to mention: in one way or another, Washington has been complicit in the creation or strengthening of just about every extreme terror outfit across the Greater Middle East. If we weren’t their parents, in crucial cases we were at least their midwives or foster parents.

Start in the 1980s with the urge of President Ronald Reagan and his fundamentalist Catholic spymaster, CIA Director William Casey, to make allies of fundamentalist Islamic movements at a time when their extreme (and extremist) piety seemed attractively anticommunist. In that decade, in Afghanistan in particular, Reagan and Casey put money, arms, and training where their hearts and mouths were and promoted the most extreme Islamists who were ready to give the Soviet Union a bloody nose, a Vietnam in reverse.

To accomplish this, Washington also allied itself with an extreme religious state, Saudi Arabia, as well as Pakistan’s less than savory intelligence service. The result was major support for men — President Reagan hailed them as “freedom fighters” and said of a visiting group of them in 1985, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers” — some of whom are now fighting us in Afghanistan, and indirectly for what came to be known as al-Qaeda, an organization which emerged from the American-Saudi hothouse of the Afghan War. The rest, as they say, is history.

Similarly, American fingerprints are all over the new Islamic State (IS) or “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. Its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, came into existence in the chaos and civil strife that followed the American invasion and occupation of that country, after Saddam Hussein’s military had been disbanded and hundreds of thousands of trained Sunni personnel tossed out onto the streets of Iraq’s cities. Much of the leadership of the Islamic State met, grew close, and trained potential recruits at Camp Bucca, an American military prison in Iraq. Without the acts of the Bush administration, IS would, in fact, have been inconceivable. In the same fashion, the U.S. (and NATO) intervention in Libya in 2011, including a seven-month bombing campaign, helped create the conditions for the growth of extreme militias in parts of that country, as the U.S. drone assassination campaign in Yemen has visibly strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In other words, each of the terror organizations we categorize as the unimaginably barbaric Other has a curiously intimate, if generally unexplored, relationship with us. In addition, in these years, it’s been clear (at least to those living in the Greater Middle East) that such groups had no monopoly on barbarity. Washington’s extreme acts were legion in the region, ranging from its CIA torture chambers (although we called them “black sites“) to Abu Ghraib, from global kidnappings to images of a U.S. helicoptergunning down civilians in the streets of Baghdad. There were also a range of well-publicized vengeful acts of war, including videos of U.S. troops laughing while urinatingon enemy corpses, trophy photos of body parts taken by American soldiers as souvenirs, photos of a 12-member “kill team” that hunted Afghans “for sport,” and a striking “lone wolf” nighttime terror rampage by an American staff sergeant in Afghanistan who killed 16 villagers, mainly women and children. And that’s just for starters.

Then there’s one matter that TomDispatch has been alone here in focusing on. By my count, American airpower has blown away parts or all of at least eight wedding parties in three countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen), killing at least several hundred revelers over the years, without the slightest shock or upset in the U.S.

That’s one reason I’m writing you: the lack of reaction here. Can you imagine what would happen if the planes and drones from another country had wiped out eight weddings here in perhaps a dozen years?

On a larger scale, Washington’s invasions, occupations, interventions, bombings, and raids since 9/11 have resulted in a rising tide of civilian deaths and exiles in afragmenting region. All of this, including those drone assassination campaigns in the backlands of the planet, adds up to a panorama of barbarism and terror that we seldom acknowledge as such. Of course, the terror outfits we love to hate also love to hate us and have often leapt to embrace the extremity of our acts, including adopting both theorange jumpsuits of Guantánamo and the CIA’s waterboarding for their own symbolic purposes.

Perhaps above all, Americans don’t imagine drones, the sexiest high-tech weapons around, as purveyors of terror. Yet our grimly named Predators and Reapers armed with “Hellfire” missiles, their pilots safe from harm thousands of miles away, buzz daily over the Pakistani tribal backlands and rural Yemen spreading terror below. That this is so should be indisputable, at least based on accounts from the ground.

In fact, Washington’s drone assassins might fit into a category we normally only apply to Them: “lone wolf” terrorists searching for targets to blow away. In our case, it’s people who have what Washington identifies as behavioral “traits” associated with terror suspects. They are eliminated in “signature strikes.” So here’s my question to you: Why is it that Americans generally don’t grasp the impact of such a new form of warfare in the Islamic world, especially when, at the movies (as in the Terminator films), we usually root against the machines and for the humans scurrying underfoot? The word American drone operators use to label their dead victims — “bugsplat” — reveals much. The termgoes back at least to the non-drone shock-and-awe air attacks that began the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and reflects a disturbing sense of God-like, all-seeing power over the “insects” below.

Of course, part of the reason so little of this sinks in here is that all such acts, no matter how extreme, have been folded into a single comforting framework. You know the one I mean: the need for the national security state to keep Americans “safe” from terror. I think you’d agree that, by now, this is a sacrosanct principle of the post-9/11 era that’s helped expand the national security state to a size unimaginable even in the Cold War years when this country had another imperial enemy.

Safety and security are much abused terms in our American world. The attacks of 9/11 created what might be thought of as a national version of PTSD from which we’ve never recovered, and yet the dangers of Islamic terrorism, while perfectly real, are relatively minor. Leave aside the truly threatening things in American life and take instead an obscure example of what I mean. Even the most modest research suggests that toddlerswho find guns may kill or wound more Americans in a typical year than terrorists do. And yet the media deals with death-by-toddler as an oddity story, not a national crisis, whether the result is the death of a mother in a Wal-Mart in Idaho or the wounding of a father and mother in an Albuquerque motel. Nor does the government regularly hype the dangers of “lone wolf” toddlers. And despite such killings, the legality of “carrying” guns(for “safety” — of course! — from unspecified non-toddler bad guys) is barely questioned in this country as the practice spreads rapidly both in numbers and in the kinds of places to which such weapons can be brought.

And don’t even waste your time thinking about the more than 30,000 deaths by vehicle each year. Americans coexist with such spectacular levels of carnage without significant complaint so that car culture can continue in the usual fashion. Yet let some distant terror group issue an absurd threat by video — most recently, al-Shabab in Somaliawarning of an attack on the Mall of America in Minnesota — and the media alarm bells go off; the government issues warnings; the head of the Department of Homeland Security (worrying about his budget tied up in Congress) takes to TV to warn shoppers to be “particularly careful“; and pundits debate just how serious this danger may be. Forget that the only thing al-Shabab can hope for is that a disturbed doofus living somewhere in Minnesota might pick up one of the guns floating so freely around this society and head for that mall to do his damnedest.

And in the constant panic over our safety in situations where very little danger actually exists, our own barbarity, seen as a series of defensive acts to ensure our security, disappears in a sea of alarm.

So how to respond? I doubt you agree with me this far, so my response probably carries little weight with you. Nonetheless, let me offer it, with a caveat of sorts. Despite what you might imagine, I’m neither a pacifist, nor do I believe in a perfect world. And no, I wouldn’t disband the U.S. military. It’s clear enough that a strong, defensive-minded military is a necessity on this planet.

After 13 years, though, it should be obvious that this country’s military-first policies throughout the Greater Middle East and widening areas of Africa have been a disastrous bust. I have no doubt that a far less barbaric, less extreme, less militaristic foreign policy would, in purely pragmatic terms, also be a more effective one on every imaginable score — unless, of course, your value system happens to center on the continued building up of the national security state and the reinforcement of its “security” or of the military-industrial complex and its “security.” In that case, the necessity for our barbarity as well as theirs becomes clearer in a flash.

Otherwise, despite much that we’ve heard in this new century, my suspicion is that what’s right and moral is also what’s practical and realistic. In that light, let me offer, with commentary, my version of the Ten Commandments for a better American world (and a better world generally). Admittedly, in this day and age, it could easily be the Twenty or Thirty Commandments, but being classically minded, let me just stick with 10.

1. Thou shalt not torture: Torture of every horrific sort in these years seems to have been remarkably ineffective in producing useful information for the state. Even if it were proved effective in breaking up al-Qaeda plots, however, it would still have been both a desperately illegal (if unpunished) act and a foreign policy disaster of the first order.

2. Thou shalt not send drones to assassinate anyone, American or not: The ongoing U.S. drone assassination campaigns, while killing individual terrorists, have driven significant numbers of people in the backlands of the planet into the arms of terror outfits and so only increased their size and appeal. Without a doubt, such drone strikes represent a global war of, not on, terror. In the process, they have turned the president into our assassin-in-chief and us into an assassin nation.

3. Thou shalt not invade another country: D’oh!

4. Thou shalt not occupy another country: By the way, how did that work out the last two times the U.S. tried it?

5. Thou shalt not upgrade thy nuclear arsenal: The U.S. has now committed itself to a trillion-dollar, decades-long upgrade of its vast arsenal. If any significant portion of it were ever used, it would end human life as we know it on this planet and so should be considered a singular prospective crime against humanity. After years in which the only American nuclear focus was on a country — Iran — with no nuclear weapons, that this has happened without serious debate or discussion is in itself criminal.

6. Thou shalt not intercept the communications of thy citizens or others all over the world or pursue the elaboration of a global surveillance state based on criminal acts: There seems to be no place the NSA has been unwilling to break into in order to surveil the planet. For unimaginable reams of information that have seemingly been of next to no actual use, the NSA and the national security state have essentially outlawed privacy and cracked open various amendments to the Constitution. No information is worth such a price.

7. Thou shalt not be free of punishment for crimes of state: In these years of genuine criminality, official Washington has become a crime-free zone. No matter the seriousness of the act, none — not one committed in the name of the state in the post-9/11 era, no matter how heinous — has been brought into a courtroom.

8. Thou shalt not use a massive system of secret classification to deprive Americans of all real knowledge of acts of state: In 2011, the U.S. classified 92 million documents and the shroud of secrecy over the business of the “people’s” government has only grown worse in the years since. Increasingly, for our own “safety” we are only supposed to know what the government prefers us to know. This represents, of course, a crime against democracy.

9. Thou shalt not act punitively toward those who want to let Americans in on what the national security state is doing in their name: The fierce and draconiancampaign the Obama administration has launched against leakers and whistleblowers is unprecedented in our history. It is a growing challenge to freedom of the press and to the citizen’s right to know.

10. Thou shalt not infringe on the rights of the citizenry to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: Need I even explain?

If you want to boil these commandments down to a single injunction, it might simply be: Don’t do it! Or in a moment when nothing Washington does isn’t, it seems, done again: Stop and think before acting!

Of course, there’s no way to know what a national security policy based on these 10 commandments might really be like, not when Washington is so thoroughly invested in repeating its failed acts. It’s now deep into Iraq War 3.0, intent on further slowing the “withdrawal” from Afghanistan, and pursuing the usual drone assassination strategies, as from South Asia to Iraq, Yemen, and Libya things only worsen and jihadist organizationsgrow stronger.

Yet campaign 2016 is already shaping up as a contest among candidates who represent more of the same, much more of the same, and even more than that of the same. One of them has tellingly brought back as his advisers much of the cast of characters who planned the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Even if the above commandments weren’t to add up to a more practical, safer, and more secure foreign (and domestic) policy, I would still be convinced that this was a better, saner way to go. As Americans demonstrate regularly when it comes to just about anything but terrorism, life is a danger zone and living with some level of insecurity is the human condition. Making our safety and security ultimate values is a grotesque mistake. It essentially ensures a future state that bears no relation whatsoever to a democratic polity or to the values this country has championed. Much that Americans once professed to cherish, from liberties to privacy, has already been lost along the way.

In your heart, you must know much of this, however you process it. I hope, under the circumstances, you’ll give some thought to what that word “patriot” should really mean in this country right now.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Engelhardt TomDispatch.com

P.S. In my own war on terror, I’ve recently been thinking that a few “thou shalts” are in order. To give you an example: Thou shalt honor the heroes of our American world — and no, I’m not talking about the U.S. military! I mean people like journalist James Risen, who barely avoided jail for doing his job as a reporter and has now dedicated his life to “fighting to undo damage done to press freedom in the United States by Barack Obama and Eric Holder,” or activist Kathy Kelly who is at present in a federal prison in Kentucky for having protested American drone strikes at an Air Force base in Missouri.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book,Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

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Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

 

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more…)

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Terrorists or “Freedom Fighters”? Recruited by the CIA

February 28, 2015
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The barbarous phenomenon we recently witnessed in France has roots that go back to at least 1979 when the mujahedeen made their appearance in Afghanistan. At that time their ire was directed at the leftist Taraki government that had come into power in April of 1978. This government’s ascension to power was a sudden and totally indigenous happening – with equal surprise to both the USA and the USSR.

In April of 1978 the Afghan army deposed the country’s government because of its oppressive measures, and then created a new government, headed by a leftist, Nur Mohammad Taraki, who had been a writer, poet and professor of journalism at the University of Kabul. Following this, for a brief period of time, Afghanistan had a progressive secular government, with broad popular support. As I pointed out in an earlier publication, this government “. . . enacted progressive reforms and gave equal rights to women. It was in the process of dragging the country into the 20th century, and as British political scientist Fred Halliday stated in May 1979 (1), ‘probably more has changed in the countryside over the last year than in two centuries since the state was established.’”

The Taraki government’s first course of action was to declare non-alignment in foreign affairs and to affirm a commitment to Islam within a secular state. Among the much needed reforms, women were given equal rights, and girls were to go to school and be in the same classroom as boys. Child marriages and feudal dowry payments were banned. Labour unions were legalized, and some 10,000 people were released from prisons. Within a short time hundreds of schools and medical clinics were built in the countryside.

The landholding system hadn’t changed much since the feudal period; more than three-quarters of the land was owned by landlords who composed only 3 percent of the rural population. Reforms began on September 1, 1978 by the abolition all debts owed by farmers – landlords and moneylenders had charged up to 45 percent interest. A program was being developed for major land reform, and it was expected that all farm families (including landlords) would be given the equivalent of equal amounts of land. (2)

What happened to this progressive government? In brief, it was undermined by the CIA and the mujahedeen, which triggered a series of events that destroyed the country – and ironically led to the disaster of September 11, 2001 in the USA and to the present chaos and tragedy in Afghanistan.Even before the CIA got involved, as would be expected, the rich landlords and mullahs objected to not only land reform but to all the reforms. Most of the 250,000 mullahs were rich landlords who in their sermons told people that only Allah could give them land, and that Allah would object to giving women equal rights or having girls go to school. But the reforms were popular, so these reactionary elements left for Pakistan, as “refugees.” With assistance from Pakistan, they proceeded to conduct raids on the Afghan countryside where they burned clinics and schools, and if they found teachers teaching girls, they would kill the teachers, often disembowelling them in the presence of the children – to instill fear and panic in the population.Although having no right to interfere in another country’s affairs, the USA viewed the new government as being Marxist and was determined to subvert it. At first unofficially, but officially after July 3, 1979 with President Carter’s authorization, the CIA, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, began to provide military aid and training to the Muslim extremists, who became known as the mujahedeen and “freedom fighters.”

In addition, the CIA recruited Hafizullah Amin, an Afghan Ph.D. student in the USA, and got him to act as a hard-line Marxist. He successfully worked his way up in the Afghan government and in September of 1979 he carried out a coup, and had Taraki killed. With Amin in charge, he jailed thousands of people and undermined the army and discredited the government. To ward off the thousands of well-armed mujahedeen invaders, many being foreign mercenaries, Amin was forced by his government to invite some Soviet troops.(3) Shortly afterwards, Amin was killed and was replaced as president by Babrak Karmal, a former member of the Taraki government who had been in exile in Czechoslovakia. Although still clouded by cold war politics and uncertain history, Karmal “invited” the USSR to send in thousands of troops to deal with the mujahedeen forces. What’s not widely known is that the USA through the CIA had been actively involved in Afghan affairs for at least a year, and it was in response to this that the Soviets arrived on the scene.

As I stated some years ago: “The advent of Soviet troops on Afghan soil tragically set the stage for the eventual destruction of the country. Zbigniew Brzezinski, president Carter’s National Security Advisor, afterwards bragged that he had convinced Carter to authorize the CIA to set a trap for the Russian bear and to give the USSR the taste of a Vietnam war.(4) Brzezinski saw this as a golden opportunity to fire up the zeal of the most reactionary Muslim fanatics — to have them declare a jihad (holy war) on the atheist infidels who defiled Afghan soil — and to not only expel them but to pursue them and “liberate” the Muslim-majority areas of the USSR. And for the next 10 years, with an expenditure of billions of dollars from the USA and Saudi Arabia, and with the recruitment of thousands of non-Afghan Muslims into the jihad (including Osama bin Laden), this army of religious zealots laid waste to the land and people of Afghanistan.”

Sending in troops to Afghanistan was acolossal blunder on the part of the USSR. If the Soviets had simply provided weapons for the Afghan government, they may have survived the “barbarians at the gates” – because ordinary Afghan people were not fanatics and most of them had supported the government’s progressive reforms.

Being unable to entice enough Afghanis for this war, the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan recruited about 35,000 Muslim radicals, from 40 Islamic countries to conduct the war against the Afghan government and the Soviet forces. The CIA covertly trained and sponsored these foreign warriors, hence the fundamentalism that emerged in Afghanistan is a CIA construct. Although the mujahedeen were referred to as “freedom fighters,” they committed horrific atrocities and were terrorists of the first order.

As reported in US media, a “favourite tactic” of the mujahedeen was “to torture victims [often Russians] by first cutting off their noses, ears, and genitals, then removing one slice of skin after another,” leading to “a slow, very painful death.” The article describes Russian prisoners caged like animals and “living lives of indescribable horror.” (5) Another publication cites a journalist from the Far Eastern Economic Review reporting that “one [Soviet] group was killed, skinned and hung up in a butcher’s shop”. (6)

Despite these graphic reports, President Reagan continued to refer to the mujahedeen as “freedom fighters” and in 1985 he invited a group of them to Washington where he entertained them in the Whitehouse. Afterwards, while introducing them to the media, he stated, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.” (7)

Surely Soviet soldiers were every bit as human as American soldiers – just suppose it had been American soldiers who had been skinned alive. Would President Reagan in such an instance still refer to the mujahedeen as “freedom fighters” . . . or might he have referred to them correctly as terrorists, just as the Soviets had done? Indeed, how these actions are portrayed depends on whose ox is gored.

 

President Reagan meets Afghan Mujahedeen Commanders at the White House in 1985 (Reagan Archives )

The Soviets succumbed to their Vietnam and withdrew their troops in February of 1989, but the war raged on, with continuing American military aid, but it took until April of 1992 before the Afghan Marxist government was finally defeated. Then for the next four years the mujahedeen destroyed much of Kabul and killed some 50,000 people as they fought amongst themselves and conducted looting and rape campaigns until the Taliban routed them and captured Kabul in September of 1996. The Taliban, trained as fanatic Muslims in Pakistan, “liberated” the country from the mujahedeen, but then established an atrocious reactionary regime. Once in power the Taliban brought in a reign of Islamist terror, especially on women. They imposed an ultra-sectarian version of Islam, closely related to Wahhabism, the ruling creed in Saudi Arabia.

The US “communist paranoia” and their policy to undermine the USSR was such that they supported and recruited the most reactionary fanatic religious zealots on the earth — and used them as a proxy army to fight communism and the USSR — in the course of which Afghanistan and its people were destroyed. But it didn’t end there. The mujahedeen metastasized and took on a life of their own, spreading to various parts of the Muslim world. They went on to fight the Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo, with the full knowledge and support of the USA. But then, ironically, having defeated what they called Soviet imperialism, these “freedom fighters” turned their sights on what they perceive to be American imperialism, particularly its support for Israel and its attacks on Muslim lands.And so a creation of the USA’s own making turned on them – the progeny of Reagan’s wonderful “freedom fighters” lashed out and America experienced September 11, 2001. But what have the US government and most American people learned from this? From their inflated opinion of themselves as the world’s “exceptional” and “indispensible” nation, as President Obama arrogantly keeps reminding the world, neither the American government nor its people have ever connected the dots. Is there anything in their recent history that could explain 9/11 to them? In a nutshell, it never occurs to them that if the USA had left the progressive Afghan Taraki government alone, there would have been no army of mujahedeen, no Soviet intervention, no war that destroyed Afghanistan, no Osama bin Laden, and hence no September 11 tragedy in the USA.Instead of reflecting on the possible causes of what occurred, and learning from this, the USA immediately resorted to war, to be followed by a series of additional wars, which brings to mind Marx’s sardonic comment in which he corrected Hegel’s observation that history repeats itself, adding that it does so “the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”In response to the USA’s demand for Osama bin Laden, the Afghan Taliban government offered to turn him over to an international tribunal, but they wanted to see evidence linking him to 9/11.(8) The USA had no such evidence and bin Laden denied having anything to do with 9/11.(9) To corroborate bin Laden’s denial, the FBI has in its records that “. . . the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.”(10) Right till the present time, the FBI has never changed its position on this.As became known later, the 9/11 plot was hatched in Hamburg, Germany by an Al-Qaeda cell so the 9/11 attack had nothing to do with Afghanistan. Despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and that the USA had no evidence linking Afghanistan or bin Laden to the 9/11 attack, the US launched a war on Afghanistan, and of course without UN approval, so this was an illegal war.

Even if the USA wanted to depose the Taliban government, there was no need for a war. In rare unanimity, all the anti-Taliban Afghan groups pleaded with the US government not to bomb or invade the country. (11) They pointed out that to remove the Taliban government all that the USA had to do was to force Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to stop funding the Taliban, and shortly after the regime would collapse on its own. So the USA could have had its regime change without destroying the country and killing hundreds of thousands of Afghanis as well as thousands of its own troops, and having the war continue from 2001 into 2015 . . . America’s longest war. If this is not farce, what is it?

And the farce continued. Once in war mode, in 2003 the US launched another illegal war, this time on Iraq, a war based on outright lies and deception – a war crime of the first order. This war was even more tragic. It killed over a million Iraqis, basically destroyed the country, and destroyed a secular society, replacing it with on-going religious fratricide. In the course of this war, the Afghan al-Qaeda moved into Iraq and served as a model for young Iraqis to fight the American invaders. Although the American forces conquered Iraq quickly, they were faced with unrelenting guerrilla warfare, which eventually led to their departure in 2011. During these years the Americans jailed thousands of young Iraqi men, and inadvertently turned most of them into fervent jihadists. Prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Bucca had an incendiary effect on the ongoing insurgency, but now these jihadists weren’t called “freedom fighter” – they lost this endearing appellation in Afghanistan when American soldiers replaced Soviet soldiers.

As if the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq weren’t enough, in the spring of 2011 the US surreptitiously launched the beginnings of a further war, long in planning, and this one was on Syria. Somehow “spontaneously” there was an uprising of “freedom fighters” whose objective was to overthrow Syria’s secular government, which displeased the USA. Right from the beginning it was suspected that the USA was behind the uprising, since as early as 2007 General Wesley Clark stated in an interview that in 2001, a few weeks after 9/11, he was told by an American high ranking general about plans “to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” Also in 2007, Seymour Hersh, in a much cited article, stated that “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad of Syria.”

The so-called “Free Syrian Army” was a creation of the US and NATO, and its objective was to provoke the Syrian police and army and once there was a deployment of tanks and armored vehicles this would supposedly justify outside military intervention under NATO’s mandate of “responsibility to protect” – with the objective of doing to Syria what they had done to Libya. However, with Russia’s veto at the UN this didn’t work out as planned.

To resolve this setback, the CIA, together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, proceeded to do exactly what had been done in Afghanistan – hordes of foreign Salafist Muslim “freedom fighters” were brought into Syria for the express purpose of overthrowing its secular government. With unlimited funds and American weapons, the first mercenaries were Iraqi al-Qaeda who, ironically, came into existence in the course of fighting the American army in Iraq. They were then followed by dozens of al-Qaeda’s other groups, notably al-Nusra, with its plans to change Syria’s multi-racial secular society into a Sunni Islamic state.

Right from the beginning of the uprising in Syria, the US was telling the world that “Assad had to go” and that they were intervening by helping “moderates” in the Free Syrian Army to overthrow the Syrian “regime.” However, to no one’s surprise, the ineffective “moderate” Free Syrian Army was soon inundated with Salafist Muslim groups who proceeded to launch a series of terrorist attacks throughout Syria. The Syrian government correctly identified these attacks as being the work of terrorists, but this was dismissed by the mainstream media as propaganda. The fact that the country was beset by suicide bombings and the beheading of soldiers, civilians, journalists, aid workers, and public officials was simply ignored.

Despite these reports, the USA insisted it was only providing “assistance” to those who identified themselves as being part of the Free Syrian Army. As reported in June 2012 by the New York Times, “CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government… The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.”

In addition, after the Gaddafi Libyan government was deposed in August 2011 by al-Qaeda forces, supported by NATO bombing, the CIA arranged for the transfer of Libyan weapons to Syrian rebels. As reported in the UK Times and by Seymour Hersh, a Libyan ship docked in Turkey with 400 tonnes of armaments, including forty SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, and other munitions. Then in early 2013 a further major arms shipment, known as the Great Croatian Weapons Airlift, consisted of 3,000 tonnes of military weaponry from Croatia, Britain and France, coordinated by the CIA. This was flown out of Zagreb, Croatia, in 75 transport planes to Turkey for distribution to “worthy” Syrian mercenaries. In a further report, the New York Times (March 24, 2013) stated that it was Saudi Arabia that paid for these weapons and that there were actually 160 military cargo flights.

Despite all the efforts of the USA, NATO, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to support the various groups that formed the Free Syrian Army, Syrian government forces continued to rout and defeat them. Moreover, many of these ‘moderate’ forces were defecting and joining militant jihadist groups. Then in early 2014 an apparently unknown military force appeared on the scene, seemingly from “out of nowhere” and began to make spectacular military gains. It had a number of names, one being the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) but then it became simply the Islamic State (IS) or Daesh in Arabic. It got worldwide attention when in a matter of days it took over a quarter of Iraq, including the second largest city, Mosul – caused the Iraqi army to flee and disintegrate, and threatened to attack Baghdad. Shortly after, the beheading of two American journalists baited the US to once again send forces to Iraq and to begin a bombing campaign on ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

Before its attack on Iraq, ISIS already had a strong base in Syria, and then with tanks and artillery captured from the Iraqi army in Mosul, ISIS now controls almost a third of Syria. Hence at present it covers an area almost the size of Britain, with a population of about six million. ISIS does not recognize the borders of Syria and Iraq and considers the area under its control to be the frontiers of a Caliphate state with a militant vision of Islam. This is the direct result of the desert storm of Saudi cash that has been spent on global Wahhabi proselytizing and indoctrination, resulting in a reactionary medieval, toxic “religion” – that has nothing to do with legitimate Islam.

At the beginning, the “Islamic State” was nothing more than an appendage of al-Qaeda – with al-Qaeda itself being directly armed, funded, and backed by stalwart US allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with the full support Turkey. And behind all this was the desire of the USA and NATO to undermine and destroy the secular government of Syria. As Patrick Cockburn stated in a recent perceptive article, ”The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey.” He cites the former head of MI6 saying that ‘Such things do not happen spontaneously.’ Cockburn states further that “It’s unlikely the Sunni community as a whole in Iraq would have lined up behind Isis without the support Saudi Arabia . . . . Turkey’s role has been different but no less significant than Saudi Arabia’s in aiding Isis and other jihadi groups. Its most important action has been to keep open its 510-mile border with Syria. This gave Isis, al-Nusra and other opposition groups a safe rear base from which to bring in men and weapons. . . . Turkish military intelligence may have been heavily involved in aiding Isis when it was reconstituting itself in 2011.”

Following its policy of trying to have full spectrum dominance in the world, the US has not hesitated to support terrorist groups when it was in their interests, e.g., the creation of the mujahedeen and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. While they fought the Soviets they were “freedom fighters,” but then came the blowback of 9/11 . . . and they instantly became terrorists, resulting in America’s “War on Terror.” The illegal war of aggression on and military occupation of Iraq resulted in the creation of a resistance movement – a new variant of al-Qaeda, viewed of course as terrorists. Then came the “attack” on the Assad government in Syria, launched by American, NATO, Saudi, Qatar and Turkish campaigns. At first it was in the guise of indigenous “freedom fighters”, the Free Syrian Army, but when they made little headway, additional “freedom fighters” appeared, in the form of al-Qaeda, in all its varieties, culminating in ISIS. These erstwhile terrorists now became allies in the campaign to depose Syria’s Assad government. Although Syria viewed them correctly as foreign terrorists, their claims were largely ignored . . . until two American journalists were beheaded.

At about the same time that the American journalists were beheaded there was fierce fighting going on in Syria and wherever Syrian soldiers were captured they were summarily executed, with many being beheaded, all this being meticulously filmed. A large number ofwebsites show this but one in particular, entitled “Syrianfight: Documenting War Crimes in Syria” shows dozens of gruesome execution scenes, including the mass execution in August 2014 of 220 Syrian soldiers near the Tabqa airbase. Just imagine if 220 American soldiers had been executed and beheaded what an outcry there would have been. Instead, the mainstream media concentrated solely on the two beheaded journalists, which indeed was an outrage, but where was the outrage for the hundreds of beheaded Syrian soldiers? Basically, nothing was said about what ISIS was doing in Syria.

Although there was outrage in the USA about what ISIS had done to two American citizens, there was practically no soul searching about the cause of this religious extremism and the possibility that this was just another case of blowback from what the USA had done to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Not surprisingly, the USA’s response was to announce a series of air strikes to “degrade” the capability of ISIS, but there were also to be “no boots on the ground” so actually the military defeat of ISIS was left unresolved – perhaps purposefully. In reality, the sudden military power of ISIS left the West and its regional allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – with a quandary: their official policy is to depose Assad, but ISIS is now the only effective military force in Syria so if the Syrian government is deposed, it would be ISIS that would fill the vacuum. So, was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the assault on Syria in 2011 going to result in the creation of a powerful jihadi state spanning northern Iraq and Syria? Under such a fanatic Wahhabi regime, what would happen to the multicultural and multi-religious society of Syria?

In the face of this stark reality, as summed up by Patrick Cockburn: “. . . the US and its allies have responded to the rise of Isis by descending into fantasy. They pretend they are fostering a ‘third force’ of moderate Syrian rebels to fight both Assad and Isis, though in private Western diplomats admit this group doesn’t really exist outside a few beleaguered pockets.” Moreover, as soon as such forces are trained and equipped great numbers of them proceed to join al-Nusra or ISIS, e.g., 3,000 of them this past January. But is there method behind this obvious delusion? Is it really the intent of the US and its allies to bumble along and let ISIS proceed to defeat the Syrian army? And once this fanatic Sunni Wahhabi regime takes over Syria, is the next stage to be an attack on Shiite Iran, the next Muslim country to be destroyed? The boots on the ground in such a venture would be those of ISIS.

To counter this Machiavellian possibility, there has recently been evidence that perhaps at some level there is the realization that the permanent establishment of a fanatic Caliphate state with a militant vision of Islam is perhaps not such a good idea. What until recently has seemed to be a matter beyond the realm of possibility, there now appears evidence the US may be prepared to actually deal with President Assad of Syria. As reported in the New York Times (Jan. 15 and Jan. 19, 2015) the UN envoy for the crisis in Syria is trying to convince the Syrian government and ISIS to “freeze” the fighting on the ground, in area by area, and then somehow try to end the war. President Assad has been receptive to the idea, but there has been no response from ISIS. Also, on Russia’s initiative, a meeting is taking place in Moscow to prepare for a conference that will try to resolve the Syria crisis. The good news is that the US has become supportive of both courses of action.

Another sign of encouragement has been the publication in Foreign Affairs (Jan 27, 2015) of a lengthy wide-ranging interview with President Assad. This is important for both the members of the US government and the American public in general. Assad has stated that he would be prepared to meet with anyone but not with “a puppet of Qatar or Saudi Arabia or any Western country, including the United States, paid from the outside. It should be Syrian.” Also he stated that any resolution that comes from a conference would have to “go back to the people through a referendum” before it would be adopted. What could be more democratic than such a procedure? Through such a course of action Syria could retain its secular status and evolve into a true democratic state.

Hence despite the viciousness of the ongoing war in Syria, these events offer a glimmer of hope that might end this foreign-inspired conflagration that has left over 220,000 dead, a million wounded and millions more displaced. But if it turns out that ISIS will refuse to end its attacks on Syria, the rational thing for the US to do would be to stop its campaign to overthrow the Syrian government and to then cooperate with Syria to defeat the ISIS forces. With coordinated US and Syrian air strikes, the Syrian army would provide the necessary “boots on the ground” to defeat Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi gift to this area. But is this simply beyond the realm of possibility?

A short summary is in order. First, to what extent are the US and its allies responsible for the creation of ISIS and its co-partner al-Qaeda as well as its various spin-off groups? At the very beginning, we must recall that it was the USA that created the mujahedeen and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, and later got the blowback of 9/11. It was the US invasion of Iraq that created al-Qaeda as a resistance movement. It was the USA that fomented the uprising in Syria and when their Free Syrian Army was facing defeat, to the rescue came Iraqi al-Qaeda, with unlimited financial support and direction from the USA’s allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and tactical assistance from Turkey. And it’s this al-Qaeda that metastasized into ISIS. Also, the US has generated additional enemies through its drone campaign, especially in Yemen and Pakistan.

But is this all there is to this story? An offshoot from it is the recent attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo magazine that left 12 people dead, including its editor and prominent cartoonists. It was apparently done by men connected to al-Qaeda who had been outraged by the magazine’s derogatory cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad. The attack sparked a massive outcry, with millions in France and across the world taking to the streets to support freedom of the press behind the rallying cry of “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie.”

It’s instructive to put this matter in historical context. In Nazi Germany, there was an anti-Semitic newspaper called Der Stürmer, noted for its morbid caricatures of Jews. Its editor, Julius Streicher, was put on trial at Nürnberg and hanged because of his stories and cartoons about Jews. In 1999 during its bombing campaign on Serbia, NATO deliberately bombed a Radio/TV station in Belgrade, killing 16 journalists. The US bombed the Al Jazeera headquarters in Kabul in 2001 and in 2003 Al Jazeera was bombed in Baghdad, killing journalists. In its attacks on Gaza, Israel has deliberately killed a large number of journalists.

The issue of “freedom of the press” was hardly raised in the above instances – certainly there were no mass street protests. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, this was not a model of freedom of speech. In reality, Charlie Hebdo’s political pornography of Muslims is hardly any different from the way Jews were portrayed in Der Stürmer.

The US and its various allies have launched wars, death and destruction in many Muslim countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Gaza, Yemen, Syria. To add to this, Saudi Arabia has apparently spent more than $100 billion trying to propagate its fanatical Wahhabism, a relatively small sect that is despised in the Muslim world at large, but which has nevertheless tarnished the Muslim image. And because of this, for some people in the West it’s somehow become acceptable to degrade, demean, humiliate, mock and insult Muslims. It was in this spirit that the cartoonists chose to mock Mohammad, under the guise of freedom of expression. It’s noteworthy that Charlie Hebdo had once fired a journalist because of one line he had written that was criticized by a Zionist lobby, but when it comes to Muslims, it was open season on them. In a judgment issued by US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, freedom of speech does not give one the right to “falsely shout fire in a crowded theater.” Also there is a provision in the US constitution that prohibits publishing “fighting words” which could result in violence. All this was ignored by the editors and publishers of Charlie Hebdo. The penalty should not have been death but they bear considerable responsibility for what happened. Sadly, the West’s uncritical embrace of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures was because the drawings were directed at and ridiculed Muslims. There is no question that the “desperate and despised people” of today are Muslims.

When ISIS beheaded two American journalists, there was outrage and denunciation throughout the West, but when the same ISIS beheaded hundreds of Syrian soldiers, and meticulously filmed these war crime, this was hardly reported anywhere. In addition, almost from the very beginning of the Syrian tragedy, al-Qaeda groups have been killing and torturing not only soldiers but police, government workers and officials, journalists, Christian church people, aid workers, women and children, as well as suicide bombings in market places. All this was covered up in the mainstream media, and when the Syrian government correctly denounced this as terrorism, this was ignored or denounced as “Assad’s propaganda.”

So why weren’t these atrocities reported in the western media? If this was reported it would have run counter to Washington’s proclaimed agenda that “Assad has to go,” so the mainstream media followed the official line. There is nothing new in this. History shows that the media supported every Western-launched war, insurrection and coup – the wars on Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and coups such as those on Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile, and most recently in Ukraine.

And so when terrorist acts are carried out against “our enemies” they are often viewed as the actions of “freedom fighters”, but when the same types of acts are directed at “us” they are denounced as “terrorism.” So it all depends on whose ox is gored.John Ryan, Ph.D., Retired Professor of Geography and Senior Scholar, University of Winnipeg.jryan13@mymts.net

Notes:

  1. Fred Halliday, “Revolution in Afghanistan,” New Left Review, No. 112, pp. 3-44, 1978.
  2. I was in Afghanistan in November 1978 working on an agricultural research project while on sabbatical leave and all these reforms and government measures were explained to me at considerable length by the Dean of Agriculture and some of the professors during a lengthy session at Kabul University. Halliday (cited above) also reported on the land-redistribution program.
  3. Washington Post, December 23, 1979, p.A8. Soviet troops had started arriving in Afghanistan on December 8, to which the article states: “There was no charge [by the State Department] that the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, since the troops apparently were invited.”
  4. “How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen”: Interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76http://www.counterpunch.org/brzezinski.html
  5. Washington Post, January 13, 1985.
  6. John Fullerton, The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, (London), 1984.
  7. Eqbal Ahmad, “Terrorism: Theirs and Ours,” (A Presentation at the University of Colorado, Boulder, October 12, 1993)http://www.sangam.org/ANALYSIS/Ahmad.htm; Cullen Murphy, “The
  8. Gold Standard: The quest for the Holy Grail of equivalence,” Atlantic Monthly, January 2002 http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200201/murphy
  9. “Taliban repeats call for negotiations,” CNN.com, October 2, 2001, includes comment: “Afghanistan’s ruling Taiban repeated its demand for evidence before it would hand over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Ladin.”http://archives.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/central/10/02/ret.afghan.taliban/; Noam Chomsky, “The War on Afghanistan,” Znet, December 30, 2001http://www.globalpolicy.org/wtc/targets/1230chomsky.htm
  10. “Bin Laden says he wasn’t behind attacks,” CNN.com, September 17, 2001.http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/16/inv.binladen.denial/
  11. Ed Haas, “FBI says, it has ‘No hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11’,” Muckraker Report, June 6, 2006. http://www.teamliberty.net/id267.html
  12. Noam Chomsky, “The War on Afghanistan,” Znet, December 30, 2001http://www.globalpolicy.org/wtc/targets/1230chomsky.htm; Barry Bearak, “Leaders of the Old Afghanistan Prepare for the New,” NYT, October 25, 2001; John Thornhill and Farhan Bokhari, “Traditional leaders call for peace jihad,” FT, October 25, 2001; “Afghan peace assembly call,” FT, October 26, 2001; John Burns, “Afghan Gathering in Pakistan Backs Future Role for King,” NYT, October 26, 2001; Indira Laskhmanan, “1,000 Afghan leaders discuss a new regime, BG, October 25, 26, 2001.

Alfred W. McCoy: The Unwritten American Rules of the Road

February 25, 2015
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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

My drone is yours, compadre! Or so Washington has now decided. The latest promise of good times in the arms trade comes from an administration that has pioneered a robotic assassination regimeorganized out of the White House (though credit for groundbreaking drone assassination work should go to Israel as well). Run largely by the CIA, the U.S. drone campaigns across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa have weekly taken out suspected enemies or even “targets” that exhibit (in the judgment of people thousands of miles away and from another culture) enemy-like behavior. In the process, the Bush and Obama administrations also pioneered the crossing of sovereign borders without permission for an ongoing killing process not defined as war and which, despite much bragging about “precision,” has regularly taken out ordinary civilians, including significant numbers of children. In the process, it has brought a sense of daily terror to peasant populations in the backlands of the planet. Now, Washington is ready to spread the wealth. The State Department has just announced that armed Predator and Reaper drones will be available for sale to carefully vetted and selected allies around the world. This is, of course, splendid news for U.S. arms makers in a market that, over the next decade, is expected to more than double in size from $5.2 billion to $11.6 billion. However, as the Washington Post reports, this new program will build “on the Obama administration’s update last year to rules on conventional weapons transfers, which emphasize human rights protections in decisions about arms sales.”

For such sales, Washington, as the planetary “human rights” leader, is planning to set up “proper use” or “end use” rules when it comes to assassination by drone. Here’s a typical Washington rule of the road: if you buy an armed drone from the U.S., you must agreenot to use “unlawful force against… domestic populations” — that is, you must not kill your own citizens in your own country. (Translation: Turkey could theoretically not use such drones against its Kurdish population.) Implied exception: You can target and assassinate your own citizens by drone as long as they are not within your own boundaries. This is a rule of the road that Washington has already definitively pioneered, so far killing four of its own citizens by drone in Yemen and Pakistan, which means assumedly that Turkey could indeed kill a Turkish Kurd as soon as he or she stepped across any border.

Among the things Washington has established with its presidential drone assassination forces is that you can indeed kill both the leaders and the followers of terror outfits, or simply of any organization you consider to be your enemy (while causing considerable “collateral damage“). In the process, Washington has proved one thing: that drones will drive large groups of terrorized and vengeful peasants into the arms of those same terror outfits, increasing their strength and fragmenting societies.

Now, the U.S. is preparing to “export” the drone paradigm it has spent so much time building in this young century. China and Israel have already entered the armed drone market as well. Other countries will follow. Drones will be bought in quantity. Borders will be crossed, according to the latest Washington-pioneered rules, by ever more dronified states organizing their own assassination campaigns. If the Washington model proves true, this will further fragment whole societies, create yet more religiously based extremism, and make our world an even less appetizing place. Think of this as the twenty-first-century version (now forming) of the Washington Consensus and keep it in mind as you read the latest piece from TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author ofTorture & Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation, on all the rules of the road Washington has so enthusiastically been writing in these years and just where they are likely to take us. Tom

The Real American Exceptionalism
From Torture to Drone Assassination, How Washington Gave Itself a Global Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card
By Alfred W. McCoy

“The sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” said conservative thinker Carl Schmitt in 1922, meaning that a nation’s leader can defy the law to serve the greater good. Though Schmitt’s service as Nazi Germany’s chief jurist and his unwavering support for Hitler from the night of the long knives to Kristallnacht and beyond damaged his reputation for decades, today his ideas have achieved unimagined influence. They have, in fact, shaped the neo-conservative view of presidential power that has become broadly bipartisan since 9/11. Indeed, Schmitt has influenced American politics directly through his intellectual protege Leo Strauss who, as an emigre professor at the University of Chicago, trained Bush administration architects of the Iraq war Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky.

All that should be impressive enough for a discredited, long dead authoritarian thinker. But Schmitt’s dictum also became a philosophical foundation for the exercise of American global power in the quarter century that followed the end of the Cold War. Washington, more than any other power, created the modern international community of laws and treaties, yet it now reserves the right to defy those same laws with impunity. A sovereign ruler should, said Schmitt, discard laws in times of national emergency. So the United States, as the planet’s last superpower or, in Schmitt’s terms, its global sovereign, has in these years repeatedly ignored international law, following instead its own unwritten rules of the road for the exercise of world power.

Just as Schmitt’s sovereign preferred to rule in a state of endless exception without a constitution for his Reich, so Washington is now well into the second decade of an endless War on Terror that seems the sum of its exceptions to international law: endless incarceration, extrajudicial killing, pervasive surveillance, drone strikes in defiance of national boundaries, torture on demand, and immunity for all of the above on the grounds of state secrecy. Yet these many American exceptions are just surface manifestations of the ever-expanding clandestine dimension of the American state. Created at the cost of more than a trillion dollars since 9/11, the purpose of this vast apparatus is to control a covert domain that is fast becoming the main arena for geopolitical contestation in the twenty-first century.

This should be (but seldom is considered) a jarring, disconcerting path for a country that, more than any other, nurtured the idea of, and wrote the rules for, an international community of nations governed by the rule of law. At the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899, the U.S. delegate, Andrew Dickson White, the founder of Cornell University, pushed for the creation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration and persuaded Andrew Carnegie to build the monumental Peace Palace at The Hague as its home. At the Second Hague Conference in 1907, Secretary of State Elihu Root urged that future international conflicts be resolved by a court of professional jurists, an idea realized when the Permanent Court of International Justice was established in 1920.

After World War II, the U.S. used its triumph to help create the United Nations, push for the adoption of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ratify the Geneva Conventions for humanitarian treatment in war. If you throw in other American-backed initiatives like the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank, you pretty much have the entire infrastructure of what we now casually call “the international community.”

Breaking the Rules

Not only did the U.S. play a crucial role in writing the new rules for that community, but it almost immediately began breaking them. After all, despite the rise of the other superpower, the Soviet Union, Washington was by then the world sovereign and so could decide which should be the exceptions to its own rules, particularly to the foundational principle for all this global governance: sovereignty. As it struggled to dominate the hundred new nations that started appearing right after the war, each one invested with an inviolable sovereignty, Washington needed a new means of projecting power beyond conventional diplomacy or military force. As a result, CIA covert operations became its way of intervening within a new world order where you couldn’t or at least shouldn’t intervene openly.

All of the exceptions that really matter spring from America’s decision to join what former spy John Le Carre called that “squalid procession of vain fools, traitors… sadists, and drunkards,” and embrace espionage in a big way after World War II. Until the creation of the CIA in 1947, the United States had been an innocent abroad in the world of intelligence. When General John J. Pershing led two million American troops to Europe during World War I, the U.S. had the only army on either side of the battle lines without an intelligence service. Even though Washington built a substantial security apparatus during that war, it was quickly scaled back by Republican conservatives during the 1920s. For decades, the impulse to cut or constrain such secret agencies remained robustly bipartisan, as when President Harry Truman abolished the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), right after World War II or when President Jimmy Carter fired 800 CIA covert operatives after the Vietnam War.

Yet by fits and starts, the covert domain inside the U.S. government has grown stealthily from the early twentieth century to this moment. It began with the formation of the FBI in 1908 and Military Intelligence in 1917. The Central Intelligence Agency followed after World War II along with most of the alphabet agencies that make up the present U.S. Intelligence Community, including the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and last but hardly least, in 2004, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Make no mistake: there is a clear correlation between state secrecy and the rule of law — as one grows, the other surely shrinks.

World Sovereign

America’s irrevocable entry into this covert netherworld came when President Truman deployed his new CIA to contain Soviet subversion in Europe. This was a continent then thick with spies of every stripe: failed fascists, aspirant communists, and everything in between. Introduced to spycraft by its British “cousins,” the CIA soon mastered it in part by establishing sub rosa ties to networks of ex-Nazi spies, Italian fascist operatives, and dozens of continental secret services.

As the world’s new sovereign, Washington used the CIA to enforce its chosen exceptions to the international rule of law, particularly to the core principle of sovereignty. During his two terms, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized 104 covert operations on four continents, focused largely on controlling the many new nations then emerging from centuries of colonialism. Eisenhower’s exceptions included blatant transgressions of national sovereignty such as turning northern Burma into an unwilling springboard for abortive invasions of China, arming regional revolts to partition Indonesia, and overthrowing elected governments in Guatemala and Iran. By the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, covert ops had acquired such a powerful mystique in Washington that President John F. Kennedy would authorize 163 of them in the three years that preceded his assassination.

As a senior CIA official posted to the Near East in the early 1950s put it, the Agency then saw every Muslim leader who was not pro-American as “a target legally authorized by statute for CIA political action.” Applied on a global scale and not just to Muslims, this policy helped produce a distinct “reverse wave” in the global trend towards democracy from 1958 to 1975, as coups — most of them U.S.-sanctioned — allowed military men to seize power in more than three-dozen nations, representing a quarter of the world’s sovereign states.

The White House’s “exceptions” also produced a deeply contradictory U.S. attitude toward torture from the early years of the Cold War onward. Publicly, Washington’s opposition to torture was manifest in its advocacy of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Geneva Conventions in 1949. Simultaneously and secretly, however, the CIA began developing ingenious new torture techniques in contravention of those same international conventions. After a decade of mind-control research, the CIA actually codified its new method of psychological torture in a secret instructional handbook, the “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual, which it then disseminated within the U.S. Intelligence Community and to allied security services worldwide.

Much of the torture that became synonymous with the era of authoritarian rule in Asia and Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s seems to have originated in U.S. training programs that provided sophisticated techniques, up-to-date equipment, and moral legitimacy for the practice. From 1962 to 1974, the CIA worked through the Office of Public Safety (OPS), a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development that sent American police advisers to developing nations. Established by President Kennedy in 1962, in just six years OPS grew into a global anti-communist operation with over 400 U.S. police advisers. By 1971, it had trained more than a million policemen in 47 nations, including 85,000 in South Vietnam and 100,000 in Brazil.

Concealed within this larger OPS effort, CIA interrogation training became synonymous with serious human rights abuses, particularly in Iran, the Philippines, South Vietnam, Brazil, and Uruguay. Amnesty International documented widespread torture, usually by local police, in 24 of the 49 nations that had hosted OPS police-training teams. In tracking torturers across the globe, Amnesty seemed to be following the trail of CIA training programs. Significantly, torture began to recede when America again turned resolutely against the practice at the end of the Cold War.

The War on Terror

Although the CIA’s authority for assassination, covert intervention, surveillance, and torture was curtailed at the close of the Cold War, the terror attacks of September 2001 sparked an unprecedented expansion in the scale of the intelligence community and a corresponding resurgence in executive exceptions. The War on Terror’s voracious appetite for information produced, in its first decade, what the Washington Post brandeda veritable “fourth branch” of the U.S. federal government with 854,000 vetted security officials, 263 security organizations, over 3,000 private and public intelligence agencies, and 33 new security complexes — all pumping out a total of 50,000 classified intelligence reports annually by 2010.

By that time, one of the newest members of the Intelligence Community, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, already had 16,000 employees, a $5 billion budget, and a massive nearly $2 billion headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Maryland — all aimed at coordinating the flood of surveillance data pouring in from drones, U-2 spy planes, Google Earth, and orbiting satellites.

According to documents whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked to the Washington Post, the U.S. spent $500 billion on its intelligence agencies in the dozen years after the 9/11 attacks, including annual appropriations in 2012 of $11 billion for the National Security Agency (NSA) and $15 billion for the CIA. If we add the $790 billion expended on the Department of Homeland Security to that $500 billion for overseas intelligence, then Washington had spent nearly $1.3 trillion to build a secret state-within-the-state of absolutely unprecedented size and power.

As this secret state swelled, the world’s sovereign decided that some extraordinary exceptions to civil liberties at home and sovereignty abroad were in order. The most glaring came with the CIA’s now-notorious renewed use of torture on suspected terrorists and its setting up of its own global network of private prisons, or “black sites,” beyond the reach of any court or legal authority. Along with piracy and slavery, the abolition of torture had long been a signature issue when it came to the international rule of law. So strong was this principle that the U.N. General Assembly voted unanimously in 1984 to adopt the Convention Against Torture. When it came to ratifying it, however, Washington dithered on the subject until the end of the Cold War when it finally resumed its advocacy of international justice, participating in the World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna in 1993 and, a year later, ratifying the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Even then, the sovereign decided to reserve some exceptions for his country alone. Only a year after President Bill Clinton signed the U.N. Convention, CIA agents started snatching terror suspects in the Balkans, some of them Egyptian nationals, and sending them to Cairo, where a torture-friendly autocracy could do whatever it wanted to them in its prisons. Former CIA director George Tenet later testified that, in the years before 9/11, the CIA shipped some 70 individuals to foreign countries without formal extradition — a process dubbed “extraordinary rendition” that had been explicitly banned under Article 3 of the U.N. Convention.

Right after his public address to a shaken nation on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush gave his staff wide-ranging secret orders to use torture, adding (in a vernacular version of Schmitt’s dictum),”I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” In this spirit, the White House authorized the CIA to develop that global matrix of secret prisons, as well as an armada of planes for spiriting kidnapped terror suspects to them, and a network of allies who could help seize those suspects from sovereign states and levitate them into a supranational gulag of eight agency black sites from Thailand to Poland or into the crown jewel of the system, Guantánamo, thus eluding laws and treaties that remained grounded in territorially based concepts of sovereignty.

Once the CIA closed the black sites in 2008-2009, its collaborators in this global gulag began to feel the force of law for their crimes against humanity. Under pressure from the Council of Europe, Poland started an ongoing criminal investigation in 2008 into its security officers who had facilitated the CIA’s secret prison in the country’s northeast. In September 2012, Italy’s supreme court confirmed the convictions of 22 CIA agents for the illegal rendition of Egyptian exile Abu Omar from Milan to Cairo, and ordered a trial for Italy’s military intelligence chief on charges that sentenced him to 10 years in prison. In 2012, Scotland Yard opened a criminal investigation into MI6 agents who rendered Libyan dissidents to Colonel Gaddafi’s prisons for torture, and two years later the Court of Appeal allowed some of those Libyans to file a civil suit against MI6 for kidnapping and torture.

But not the CIA. Even after the Senate’s 2014 Torture Report documented the Agency’sabusive tortures in painstaking detail, there was no move for either criminal or civil sanctions against those who had ordered torture or those who had carried it out. In astrong editorial on December 21, 2014, the New York Times asked “whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity.” The answer, of course, was yes. Immunity for hirelings is one of the sovereign’s most important exceptions.

As President Bush finished his second term in 2008, an inquiry by the International Commission of Jurists found that the CIA’s mobilization of allied security agencies worldwide had done serious damage to the international rule of law. “The executive” should under no circumstance invoke a situation of crisis to deprive victims of human rights violations” of their” access to justice,” the Commission recommended after documenting the degradation of civil liberties in some 40 countries. “State secrecy and similar restrictions must not impede the right to an effective remedy for human rights violations.”

The Bush years also brought Washington’s most blatant repudiation of the rule of law. Once the newly established International Criminal Court (ICC) convened at The Hague in 2002, the Bush White House “un-signed” or “de-signed” the U.N. agreement creating the court and then mounted a sustained diplomatic effort to immunize U.S. military operations from its writ. This was an extraordinary abdication for the nation that had breathed the concept of an international tribunal into being.

The Sovereign’s Unbounded Domains

While Presidents Eisenhower and Bush decided on exceptions that violated national boundaries and international treaties, President Obama is exercising his exceptional prerogatives in the unbounded domains of aerospace and cyberspace.

Both are new, unregulated realms of military conflict beyond the rubric of international law and Washington believes it can use them as Archimedean levers for global dominion. Just as Britain once ruled from the seas and postwar America exercised its global reach via airpower, so Washington now sees aerospace and cyberspace as special realms for domination in the twenty-first century.

Under Obama, drones have grown from a tactical Band-Aid in Afghanistan into a strategic weapon for the exercise of global power. From 2009 to 2015, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force deployed a drone armada of over 200 Predators and Reapers, launching 413 strikes in Pakistan alone, killing as many as 3,800 people. Every Tuesday inside the White House Situation Room, as the New York Times reported in 2012, President Obamareviews a CIA drone “kill list” and stares at the faces of those who are targeted forpossible assassination from the air. He then decides, without any legal procedure, who will live and who will die, even in the case of American citizens. Unlike other world leaders, this sovereign applies the ultimate exception across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and elsewhere if he chooses.

This lethal success is the cutting edge of a top-secret Pentagon project that will, by 2020, deploy a triple-canopy space “shield” from stratosphere to exosphere, patrolled by Global Hawk and X-37B drones armed with agile missiles.

As Washington seeks to police a restless globe from sky and space, the world might well ask: How high is any nation’s sovereignty? After the successive failures of the Paris flight conference of 1910, the Hague Rules of Aerial Warfare of 1923, and Geneva’s Protocol Iof 1977 to establish the extent of sovereign airspace or restrain aerial warfare, some puckish Pentagon lawyer might reply: only as high as you can enforce it.

President Obama has also adopted the NSA’s vast surveillance system as a permanent weapon for the exercise of global power. At the broadest level, such surveillance complements Obama’s overall defense strategy, announced in 2012, of cutting conventional forces while preserving U.S. global power through a capacity for “a combined arms campaign across all domains: land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace.” In addition, it should be no surprise that, having pioneered the war-making possibilities of cyberspace, the president did not hesitate to launch the first cyberwar in history against Iran.

By the end of Obama’s first term, the NSA could sweep up billions of messages worldwide through its agile surveillance architecture. This included hundreds of access points for penetration of the Worldwide Web’s fiber optic cables; ancillary intercepts through special protocols and “backdoor” software flaws; supercomputers to crack the encryption of this digital torrent; and a massive data farm in Bluffdale, Utah, built at a cost of $2 billion to store yottabytes of purloined data.

Even after angry Silicon Valley executives protested that the NSA’s “backdoor” software surveillance threatened their multi-trillion-dollar industry, Obama called the combination of Internet information and supercomputers “a powerful tool.” He insisted that, as “the world’s only superpower,” the United States “cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies.” In other words, the sovereign cannot sanction any exceptions to his panoply of exceptions.

Revelations from Edward Snowden’s cache of leaked documents in late 2013 indicate that the NSA has conducted surveillance of leaders in some 122 nations worldwide, 35 of them closely, including Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff, former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After her forceful protest, Obama agreed to exempt Merkel’s phone from future NSA surveillance, but reserved the right, as he put it, to continue to “gather information about the intentions of governments” around the world.” The sovereign declined to say which world leaders might be exempted from his omniscient gaze.

Can there be any question that, in the decades to come, Washington will continue to violate national sovereignty through old-style covert as well as open interventions, even as it insists on rejecting any international conventions that restrain its use of aerospace or cyberspace for unchecked force projection, anywhere, anytime? Extant laws or conventions that in any way check this power will be violated when the sovereign so decides. These are now the unwritten rules of the road for our planet. They represent the real American exceptionalism.

Alfred W. McCoy is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. ATomDispatch regular, he is the author of Torture & Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation, among other works.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book,Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Alfred W. McCoy

 

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

ISIS, Israel and Climate Change

February 17, 2015

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)

By Noam Chomsky, Jacobin Magazine

16 February 15

 

acobin is proud to feature an interview with journalist David Barsamian and Professor Noam Chomsky. In it, Chomsky explains the roots of ISIS and why the United States and its allies are responsible for the group’s emergence. In particular, he argues that the 2003 invasion of Iraq provoked the sectarian divisions that have resulted in the destabilization of Iraqi society. The result was a climate where Saudi-funded radicals could thrive.

The interview also touches on Israel’s most recent massacre in the Gaza Strip, putting it in the context of the vital role Israel has always played for the United States. Chomsky then turns to today’s racist scapegoating of Guatemalan immigrants, tracing the conditions that lead them to leave their homes to the Reagan administration’s brutal destruction of the country.

Finally, Chomsky shares his thoughts on the growing movement for climate justice and why he thinks it is the most urgent of our time. The full exchange will be broadcast by Alternative Radio.

There are few voices more vital to the Left than Professor Chomsky’s. We hope you read and share the interview widely.


The Middle East is engulfed in flames, from Libya to Iraq. There are new jihadi groups. The current focus is on ISIS. What about ISIS and its origins?

There’s an interesting interview that just appeared a couple of days ago with Graham Fuller, a former CIA officer, one of the leading intelligence and mainstream analysts of the Middle East. The title is “The United States Created ISIS.” This is one of the conspiracy theories, the thousands of them that go around the Middle East.

But this is another source: this is right at the heart of the US establishment. He hastens to point out that he doesn’t mean the US decided to put ISIS into existence and then funded it. His point is — and I think it’s accurate — that the US created the background out of which ISIS grew and developed. Part of it was just the standard sledgehammer approach: smash up what you don’t like.

In 2003, the US and Britain invaded Iraq, a major crime. Just this afternoon the British parliament granted the government the authority to bomb Iraq again. The invasion was devastating to Iraq. Iraq had already been virtually destroyed, first of all by the decade-long war with Iran in which, incidentally, Iraq was backed by the US, and then the decade of sanctions.

They were described as “genocidal” by the respected international diplomats who administered them, and both resigned in protest for that reason. They devastated the civilian society, they strengthened the dictator, compelled the population to rely on him for survival. That’s probably the reason he wasn’t sent on the path of a whole stream of other dictators who were overthrown.

Finally, the US just decided to attack the country in 2003. The attack is compared by many Iraqis to the Mongol invasion of a thousand years earlier. Very destructive. Hundreds of thousands of people killed, millions of refugees, millions of other displaced persons, destruction of the archeological richness and wealth of the country back to Sumeria.

One of the effects of the invasion was immediately to institute sectarian divisions. Part of the brilliance of the invasion force and its civilian director, Paul Bremer, was to separate the sects, Sunni, Shi’a, Kurd, from one another, set them at each other’s throats. Within a couple of years, there was a major, brutal sectarian conflict incited by the invasion.

You can see it if you look at Baghdad. If you take a map of Baghdad in, say, 2002, it’s a mixed city: Sunni and Shi’a are living in the same neighborhoods, they’re intermarried. In fact, sometimes they didn’t even know who was Sunni and who was Shi’a. It’s like knowing whether your friends are in one Protestant group or another Protestant group. There were differences but it was not hostile.

In fact, for a couple of years both sides were saying: there will never be Sunni-Shi’a conflicts. We’re too intermingled in the nature of our lives, where we live, and so on. By 2006 there was a raging war. That conflict spread to the whole region. By now, the whole region is being torn apart by Sunni-Shi’a conflicts.

The natural dynamics of a conflict like that is that the most extreme elements begin to take over. They had roots. Their roots are in the major US ally, Saudi Arabia. That’s been the major US ally in the region as long as the US has been seriously involved there, in fact, since the foundation of the Saudi state. It’s kind of a family dictatorship. The reason is it has a huge amount oil.

Britain, before the US, had typically preferred radical Islamism to secular nationalism. And when the US took over, it essentially took the same stand. Radical Islam is centered in Saudi Arabia. It’s the most extremist, radical Islamic state in the world. It makes Iran look like a tolerant, modern country by comparison, and, of course, the secular parts of the Arab Middle East even more so.

It’s not only directed by an extremist version of Islam, the Wahhabi Salafi version, but it’s also a missionary state. So it uses its huge oil resources to promulgate these doctrines throughout the region. It establishes schools, mosques, clerics, all over the place, from Pakistan to North Africa.

An extremist version of Saudi extremism is the doctrine that was picked up by ISIS. So it grew ideologically out of the most extremist form of Islam, the Saudi version, and the conflicts that were engendered by the US sledgehammer that smashed up Iraq and has now spread everywhere. That’s what Fuller means.

Saudi Arabia not only provides the ideological core that led to the ISIS radical extremism, but it also funds them. Not the Saudi government, but wealthy Saudis, wealthy Kuwaitis, and others provide the funding and the ideological support for these jihadi groups that are springing up all over the place. This attack on the region by the US and Britain is the source, where this thing originates. That’s what Fuller meant by saying the United States created ISIS.

You can be pretty confident that as conflicts develop, they will become more extremist. The most brutal, harshest groups will take over. That’s what happens when violence becomes the means of interaction. It’s almost automatic. That’s true in neighborhoods, it’s true in international affairs. The dynamics are perfectly evident. That’s what’s happening. That’s where ISIS comes from. If they manage to destroy ISIS, they will have something more extreme on their hands.

And the media are obedient. In Obama’s September 10 speech, he cited two countries as success stories of the US counterinsurgency strategy. What were the two countries? Somalia and Yemen. Jaws should have been dropping all over the place, but there was virtual silence in the commentary the next day.

The Somalia case is particularly horrendous. Yemen is bad enough. Somalia is an extremely poor country. I won’t run through the whole history. But one of the great achievements, one of the great boasts of the Bush administration counterterror policy was that they had succeeded in shutting down a charity, the Barakat charity, which was fueling terrorism in Somalia. Big excitement in the press. That’s a real achievement.

A couple of months later the facts started leaking out. The charity had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism in Somalia. What it had to do with was banking, commerce, relief, hospitals. It was sort of keeping the deeply impoverished and battered Somali economy alive. By shutting it down, the Bush administration had ended this. That was the contribution to counterinsurgency. That got a few lines. You can read it in books on international finance. That’s what’s being done to Somalia.

There was a moment when the so-called Islamic courts, they were called, an Islamic organization, had achieved a kind of a measure of peace in Somalia. Not a pretty regime, but at least it was peaceful and people were more or less accepting it. The US wouldn’t tolerate it, and it supported an Ethiopian invasion to destroy it and turn the place back into horrible turmoil. That’s the great achievement.

Yemen is a horror story of its own.

Going back to National Public Radio and Morning Edition, the host, David Greene, was doing an interview with a reporter based in Gaza, and he prefaced his interview with this comment: “Both sides have suffered tremendous damage.” So I thought to myself, does this mean Haifa and Tel Aviv were reduced to rubble, as Gaza was? Do you remember the Jimmy Carter comment about Vietnam?

Not only do I remember it, I think I was the first person to comment on it, and am probably to date practically the only person to comment on it. Carter, the human rights advocate, he was asked in a press conference in 1977 a kind of mild question: do you think we have some responsibility for helping the Vietnamese after the war? And he said we owe them no debt — “the destruction was mutual.”

That passed without comment. And it was better than his successor. When a couple years later George Bush I, the statesman, was commenting on the responsibilities after the Vietnam War, he said: there is one moral problem that remains after the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese have not devoted sufficient resources to turning over to us the bones of American pilots. These innocent pilots who were shot down over central Iowa by the murderous Vietnamese when they were spraying crops or something, they have not turned over the bones. But, he said: we are a merciful people, so we will forgive them this and we will allow them to enter the civilized world.

Meaning we’ll allow them to enter trade relations and so on, which, of course, we bar, if they will stop what they’re doing and devote sufficient resources to overcoming this one lingering crime after the Vietnam War. No comment.

One of the things that Israeli officials keep bringing up, and it’s repeated here in the corporate media, ad nauseam, is the Hamas charter. They don’t accept the existence of the state of the Israel, they want to wipe it off the map. You have some information about the charter and its background.

The charter was produced by, apparently, a handful of people, maybe two or three, back in 1988, at a time when Gaza was under severe Israeli attack. You remember Rabin’s orders. This was a primarily nonviolent uprising which Israel reacted to very violently, killing leaders, torture, breaking bones in accordance with Rabin’s orders, and so on. And right in the middle of that, a very small number of people came out with what they called a Hamas charter.

Nobody has paid attention to it since. It was an awful document, if you look at it. Since then the only people who have paid attention to it are Israeli intelligence and the US media. They love it. Nobody else cares about it. Khaled Mashal, the political leader of Gaza years ago, said: look, it’s past, it’s gone. It has no significance. But that doesn’t matter. It’s valuable propaganda.

There is also — they don’t call it a charter, but there are founding principles of the governing coalition in Israel, not some small group of people who are under attack but the governing coalition, Likud. The ideological core of Likud is Menachem Begin’s Herut. They have founding documents. Their founding documents say that today’s Jordan is part of the land of Israel; Israel will never renounce its claim to the land of Jordan. What’s now called Jordan they call the historical lands of Israel. They’ve never renounced that.

Likud, the same governing party, has an electoral program — it was for 1999 but it’s never been rescinded, it’s the same today — that says explicitly there will never be a Palestinian state west of the Jordan. In other words, we are dedicated in principle to the destruction of Palestine, period.

This is not just words. We proceed day by day to implement it. Nobody ever mentions the founding doctrines of Likud, Herut. I don’t either, because nobody takes them seriously. Actually, that was also the doctrine of the majority of the kibbutz movement. Achdut Ha-Avodah, which was the largest part of the kibbutz movement, held the same principles, that both sides of the Jordan River are ours.

There was a slogan, “This side of the Jordan, that side also.” In other words, both western Palestine and eastern Palestine are ours. Does anybody say: okay, we can’t negotiate with Israel? More significant are the actual electoral programs. And even more significant than that are the actual actions, which are implementing the destruction of Palestine, not just talking about it. But we have to talk about the Hamas charter.

There is an interesting history about the so-called PLO charter. Around 1970 the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi, published an article in a major Israeli journal in which he brought to light something called the PLO charter or something similar to that. Nobody had ever heard of it, nobody was paying any attention to it.

And the charter said: here’s our aim. Our aim is it’s our land, we’re going to take it over. In fact, it was not unlike the Herut claims except backwards. This instantly became a huge media issue all over. The PLO covenant it was called. The PLO covenant plans to destroy Israel. They didn’t know anything about it, nobody knew anything about it, but this became a major issue.

I met Harkabi a couple years later. He was kind of a dove, incidentally. He became pretty critical of Israeli policy. He was an interesting guy. We had an interview here at MIT, in fact. Incidentally, at that time there was material in the Arab press that I was reading saying that the Palestinians were thinking about officially throwing out the charter because it was kind of an embarrassment.

So I asked him, “Why did you bring this out for the first time just at the time when they were thinking of rescinding it?” He looked at me with the blank stare that you learn to recognize when you are talking to spooks. They are trained to pretend not to understand what you’re talking about when they understand it perfectly.

He said, “Oh, I never heard that.” That is beyond inconceivable. It’s impossible that the head of Israeli military intelligence doesn’t know what I know from reading bits and pieces of the Arab press in Beirut. Of course he knew.

There’s every reason to believe that he decided to bring this out precisely because he recognized, meaning Israeli intelligence recognized, that it would be a useful piece of propaganda and it’s best to try to ensure that the Palestinians keep it. Of course, if we attack it, then they’re going to back off and say: we’re not going to rescind it under pressure, which is what’s happening with the Hamas charter.

If they stopped talking about it, everyone would forget about it, because it’s meaningless. Incidentally, let me just add one more thing. It is now impossible to document this, for a simple reason. The documents were all in the PLO offices in Beirut. And when Israel invaded Beirut, they stole all the archives. I assume they must have them somewhere, but nobody is going to get access to them.

What accounts for the almost near unanimity of the Congress in backing Israel? Even Elizabeth Warren, the highly touted Democratic senator from Massachusetts, voted for this resolution about self-defense.

She probably knows nothing about the Middle East. I think it’s pretty obvious. Take the US prepositioning arms in Israel for US use for military action in the region. That’s one small piece of a very close military and intelligence alliance that goes back very far. It really took off after 1967, although bits and pieces of it existed before.

The US military and intelligence regard Israel as a major base. In fact, one of the more interesting WikiLeaks exposures listed the Pentagon ranking of strategic centers around the world which were of such significance that we have to protect them no matter what, a small number. One of them was a couple of miles outside Haifa, Rafael military industries, a major military installation.

That’s where a lot of the drone technology was developed and much else. That’s a strategic US interest of such significance that it ranks among the highest in the world. Rafael understands that, to the extent that they actually moved their management headquarters to Washington, where the money is. That’s indicative of the kind of relationship there is.

And it goes way beyond that. US investors are in love with Israel. Warren Buffet just bought some Israeli enterprise for, I think, a couple billion dollars and announced that outside the US, Israel is the best place for US investment. And major firms, like Intel and others, are investing heavily in Israel, and continue to. It’s a valuable client: it’s strategically located, compliant, does what the US wants, it’s available for repression and violence. The US has used it over and over as a way of circumventing congressional and popular restrictions on violence.

There’s a huge fuss now about children fleeing Central America, say, from Guatemala. Why are they fleeing from Guatemala? You can see a photo of one of them here in my office. They’re fleeing from Guatemala because of the wreckage of Guatemala, of which a large part was the attack on the Mayan Indians, which was really genocidal, in the early 1980s. That’s a Mayan woman in the photo, in fact. They’ve never escaped this, and many of them are fleeing.

Reagan, who was extremely brutal and violent and a terrible racist as well, wanted to provide direct support for the Guatemalan army’s attack, which was literally genocidal on the Mayan Indians. There was a congressional resolution that blocked him, so he turned to his terrorist clients.

The major one was Israel. Also Taiwan, a couple of others. Israel provided the arms for the Guatemalan army — to this day they use Israeli arms — provided the trainers for the terrorist forces, essentially ran the genocidal attack. That’s one of their services. They did the same in South Africa. Actually, this led to an interesting incident with the great hero Elie Wiesel.

In the mid-1980s, Salvador Luria, a friend of mine who is a Nobel laureate in biology and politically active, knew about this. It wasn’t a big secret. He asked me to collect articles from the Hebrew press which described Israel’s participation in genocidal attacks in Guatemala — not just participation, it’s a leadership role — because he wanted to send it to Elie Wiesel with a polite letter saying: as a fellow Nobel laureate, I would like to bring this to your attention. Could you use your influence — he didn’t ask him to say anything, that’s too much, but privately could you communicate to the people you know well at a high level in Israel and say it’s not nice to take part in genocide. He never got a response.

A couple of months later, I read an interview in the Hebrew press, where they really dislike Wiesel. They regard him as a charlatan and a fraud. One of the questions in the interview was, “What do you think about Israel’s participation in the genocidal assault in Guatemala?”

The report says Wiesel sighed and then said: I received a letter from a fellow Nobel laureate bringing to my attention these actions and asking me if I could say something privately to try to restrict them somehow, but, he said: I can’t criticize Israel even privately. I can’t say anything even privately that might impede Israel’s participation in genocide. That’s Elie Wiesel, the great moral hero.

Even this story is astonishing. Now children and many other refugees are fleeing from three countries: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Not from Nicaragua, about as poor as Honduras. Is there a difference? Yes. Nicaragua is the one country in the 1980s that had a way of defending itself against US terrorist forces — an army. In the other countries the army were the terrorist forces, supported and armed by the US, and its Israeli client in the worst cases. So that’s what you had.

There is a lot of upbeat reporting now saying the flow of children has reduced. Why? Because we’ve turned the screws on Mexico and told them to use force to prevent the victims of our violence from fleeing to the US for survival. So now they’re doing it for us, so there are fewer coming to the border. It’s a great humanitarian achievement of Obama’s.

Incidentally, Honduras is in the lead. Why Honduras? Because in 2009 there was a military coup in Honduras which overthrew the president, Zelaya, who was beginning to make some moves towards badly needed reform measures, and kicked him out of the country.

I won’t go through the details, but it ended up with the US, under Obama, being one of the very few countries that recognized the coup regime and the election that took place under its aegis, which has turned Honduras into an even worse horror story than it was before, way in the lead in homicides, violence. So, yes, people are fleeing. And therefore we have to drive them back and ensure that they go back into the horror chamber.

In the current situation, it seems that this is an opportunity for the Kurdish population of Iraq to realize some kind of statehood, some kind of independence, something that they’ve wanted for a long time, and which intersects, actually, with Israeli interests in Iraq. They have been supporting the Kurds, rather clandestinely, but it’s well known that Israel has been pushing for fragmentation of Iraq.

They are. And that’s one of the points on which Israeli and US policy conflict. The Kurdish areas are landlocked. The government of Iraq has blocked their export of oil, their only resource, and of course opposes their statehood bid. The US so far has been backing that.

Clandestinely, there evidently is a flow of oil at some level from the Kurdish area into Turkey. That’s also a very complex relationship. Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leader, visited Turkey about a year ago, I guess, and made some pretty striking comments. He was quite critical of the leadership of the Turkish Kurds and was plainly trying to establish better relations with Turkey, which has been violently repressing the Turkish Kurds.

Most of the Kurds in the world are in Turkey. You can understand why, from his point of view. That’s the one outlet to the outside world. But Turkey has a mixed attitude about this. An independent Kurdistan in, say, northern Iraq, which is right next to the Kurdish areas of Turkey, or in the Syrian Kurdish areas, which are right by them, potentially, from the Turkish point of view, might encourage separatists or even efforts for autonomy in the southeastern part of Turkey, which is heavily Kurdish. They’ve been fighting against that ever since modern Turkey arose in the 1920, very brutally, in fact. So they have a mixed kind of attitude on this.

Kurdistan has succeeded somehow in getting tankers to take Kurdish oil. Those tankers are wandering around the Mediterranean. No country will accept it, except probably Israel. We can’t be certain, but it looks as though they’re taking some of it. The Kurdish tankers are seeking some way to unload their oil in mostly the eastern Mediterranean. It’s not happening at a level which permits Kurdistan to function, even to pay its officials.

On the other hand, if you go to the Kurdish so-called capital, Erbil, apparently there are high rises going up, plenty of wealth. But it’s a very fragile kind of system. It cannot survive. It’s completely surrounded by mostly hostile regions. Turkey is sort of unclear because of the reasons that I mentioned. So, yes, they do have that in mind. That’s why they took Kirkuk as soon as they could.

There are a couple of questions I want to close with, actually from our latest book, Power Systems. I ask you, “You’ve got grandchildren. What kind of world do you see them inheriting?”

The world that we’re creating for our grandchildren is grim. The major concern ought to be the one that was brought up in New York at the September 21 march. A couple hundred thousand people marched in New York calling for some serious action on global warming.

This is no joke. This is the first time in the history of the human species that we have to make decisions which will determine whether there will be decent survival for our grandchildren. That’s never happened before. Already we have made decisions which are wiping out species around the world at a phenomenal level.

The level of species destruction in the world today is about at the level of sixty-five million years ago, when a huge asteroid hit the earth and had horrifying ecological effects. It ended the age of the dinosaurs; they were wiped out. It kind of left a little opening for small mammals, who began to develop, and ultimately us. The same thing is happening now, except that we’re the asteroid. What we’re doing to the environment is already creating conditions like those of sixty-five million years ago. Human civilization is tottering at the edge of this. The picture doesn’t look pretty.

So September 21, the day of the march, which was a very positive development, an indication that you can do things, it’s not a foregone conclusion that we’re going to wipe everything out, that same day one of the major international monitoring scientific agencies presented the data on greenhouse emissions for the latest year on record, 2013. They reached record levels: they went up over 2 percent beyond the preceding year. For the US they went up even higher, almost 3 percent.

The Journal of the American Medical Association came out with a study the same day looking at the number of super hot days that are predicted for New York over the next couple of decades, super hot meaning over ninety. They predicted it will triple for New York, and much worse effects farther south. This is all going along with predicted sea-level rise, which is going to put a lot of Boston under water. Let alone the Bangladesh coastal plan, where hundreds of millions of people live, will be wiped out.

All of this is imminent. And at this very moment the logic of our institutions is driving it forward. So Exxon Mobil, which is the biggest energy producer, has announced — and you can’t really criticize them for it; this is the nature of the state capitalist system, its logic — that they are going to direct all of their efforts to lifting fossil fuels, because that’s profitable. In effect, that’s exactly what they should be doing, given the institutional framework. They’re supposed to make profits. And if that wipes out the possibility of a decent life for the grandchildren, it’s not their problem.

Chevron, another big energy corporation, had a small sustainable program, mostly for PR reasons, but it was doing reasonably well, it was actually profitable. They just closed it down because fossil fuels are so much more profitable.

In the US by now there’s drilling all over the place. But there’s one place where it has been somewhat limited, federal lands. Energy lobbies are complaining bitterly that Obama has cut back access to federal lands. The Department of Interior just came out with the statistics. It’s the opposite. The oil drilling on federal lands has steadily increased under Obama. What has decreased is offshore drilling.

But that’s a reaction to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Right after that disaster, the immediate reaction was to back off. Even the energy companies backed off from deep-sea drilling. The lobbies are just pulling these things together. If you look at the onshore drilling, it’s just going up. There are very few brakes on this. These tendencies are pretty dangerous, and you can predict what kind of world there will be for your grandchildren.

 

America’s out-of-control war machine: Why the new authorization is so problematic

February 17, 2015

TUESDAY, FEB 17, 2015 07:29 AM CST

Neocons and the administration may claim the new AUMF is modest. But its scope and vagueness should scare us all
MARCY WHEELER
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TOPICS: WAR, IRAQ, AUMF, BARACK OBAMA, ISIL, CONGRESS, LIBYA, NEOCONS, HAWKS, EXECUTIVE AUTHORITY, JOHN BOEHNER, GOP, POLITICS NEWS

America’s out-of-control war machine: Why the new authorization is so problematic
(Credit: Reuters/Jim Young/Yuri Gripas/AP/photo montage by Salon)
Imagine if President Obama had just asked Congress to declare war on Libya (again).

He hasn’t. Instead, he has asked Congress to pass a new Authorization to Use Military Force targeting the Islamic State in the Levant.

He is finally getting around to submitting his preferred language for an AUMF almost 6 months after escalating operations against ISIL, and 3 months after his post-election speech promising to work with Congress to pass an AUMF.

In the interim period, the Administration has pointed to a collection of unconvincing explanations for the legal basis for his actions: the 2001 AUMF against those who committed 9/11, the 2002 AUMF against Iraq, and Executive Authority under Article II. Along the way, Obama has been sending Congress periodic notices under the War Powers Act, as if he is waging war as an epistolary novel.

Nevertheless, for some reason, Obama has decided it is now time for Congress to authorize the war the U.S. has been fighting for half a year. As part of the AUMF, the Executive would have to report back in another 6 months to tell them how things are going. Though that reporting requirement does not include the explicit requirement — included in an earlier Democratic draft — that the Executive tell Congress who we’re fighting and where, or how we envision that fighting will lead to some unstated goal.

Therein lies one problem with the AUMF. It imposes no geographic limits. And, given increasingly urgent reports that ISIL has expanded its presence in Libya, Congress should assume it might include Libya in its scope (like Iraq, an area where our earlier involvement has contributed to the current chaos). Perhaps the thinking is we can consolidate our wars, re-fight all the wars we’ve botched under one AUMF?

At least as problematic, like the 2001 AUMF, it includes only vague language defining the enemy — permitting the AUMF’s use against ISIL and “associated forces,” defined as “individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity.” Indeed, that phrase “associated forces,” is precisely the phrase the Obama Administration has used to expand the use of the 2001 AUMF to include groups that didn’t even exist when it was written, although the definition in this AUMF at least makes explicit that it may be used to justify war against groups that don’t even exist yet.

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And does “associated force,” absent any geographic limits, authorize military actions here in the US? Such a claim was used for years to authorize President Bush’s warrantless wiretap program. Would this AUMF similarly authorize spying on Americans in the US to ferret out anyone who might “fight” for ISIL, individually?

Ultimately, the biggest problem with the AUMF lies in what doesn’t appear. Granted, the White House has ruled out “enduring ground forces” (which likely means “enduring” will one day appear in Orwell’s dictionary right next to “relevant to” and “imminent,” other words that have lost all meaning during the war on terror). It would, with this AUMF, finally repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF. And it promises to sunset this ISIL AUMF after 3 years if it doesn’t get reauthorized by Obama’s successor.

But it remains silent about the 2001 AUMF.

Admittedly, in his letter transmitting this AUMF to Congress, Obama did commit to repeal that earlier AUMF, when he got around to it. “Although my proposed AUMF does not address the 2001 AUMF,” Obama acknowledged, “I remain committed to working with the Congress and the American people to refine, and ultimately repeal, the 2001 AUMF.” He then dangled this AUMF process as some sort of practice run for “tailoring” the 2001 AUMF. “Enacting an AUMF that is specific to the threat posed by ISIL could serve as a model for how we can work together to tailor the authorities granted by the 2001 AUMF.”

That dangle came in a letter that reiterated Obama’s claim that he doesn’t really need them to pass this ISIL AUMF, because he has all the authority he already needs. “Although existing statutes provide me with the authority I need to take these actions,” Obama’s letter asserted. “I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to working with the Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIL.”

In other words, Obama is asking Congress to rubber stamp another open-ended AUMF — in terms of geography and target, if not time — even while asserting he won’t be limited by it. So long as that earlier AUMF is still on the books, Obama can point to it if he wants to expand the scope of this one.

Those who seek to limit Executive authority would be nuts to pass such an authorization.

Indeed, there are already signs of dissent from Democrats. “[W]e must [pass an authorization] in a way that avoids repeating the missteps of the past, and that does not result in an open-ended authorization that becomes legal justification for future actions against unknown enemies, in unknown places, at unknown times,” Senator Pat Leahy reacted, recalling how the 2001 AUMF had been used to authorized indefinite detention and drone strikes far from the battlefield.

That may be part of the point. Republicans have already objected to the one biggest limit in the AUMF, its promise not to use “enduring” ground troops, which hardliners think are needed. “If we’re going to authorize use of military force, the president should have all the tools necessary to win the fight that we’re in,” John Boehner told the National Journal and other reporters.

Which may mean such a bill will not pass Congress. Even as Republicans are squealing about what they claim is a presidential power grab on immigration, they appear content with this particular power grab — particularly if the President will bear responsibility for any big reverses in this war.

If this AUMF doesn’t pass, President Obama will continue to rely on fairly audacious claims about other sources of war authorization, all the while claiming Congress is responsible for not authorizing what he’s doing. If this AUMF does pass, President Obama may continue relying on a hodgepodge of AUMFs, thereby claiming fairly unlimited boundaries to his war powers.

Heads or tails, we’re likely to still end up with claims to fairly unlimited Presidential authority to wage war.

Marcy Wheeler writes at EmptyWheel.net and is the author of “Anatomy of Deceit.”

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Noam Chomsky: “The world that we’re creating for our grandchildren is grim”

February 13, 2015

FRIDAY, FEB 13, 2015 01:25 PM CST

The intellectual sat down with Jacobin to discuss ISIS, Israel and climate change
SARAH GRAY
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TOPICS: NOAM CHOMSKY, SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN, ISRAEL, ISIS, IRAQ, SAUDI ARABIA, THE MIDDLE EAST, INNOVATION NEWS, POLITICS NEWS

Noam Chomsky: “The world that we’re creating for our grandchildren is grim”

Noam Chomsky: "The world that we’re creating for our grandchildren is grim"
Noam Chomsky (Credit: fotostory via Shutterstock)
Renowned linguist and well-respected political commentator, Noam Chomsky, was interviewed by journalist David Barsamian for Jacobin. In the fascinating and thought-provoking conversation the two touch on the origins of ISIS, America’s relationship with Israel, among other foreign policy topics. Below are a few choice selections from the interview, which can (and should) be read in full at Jacobin.

When asked about the origins of ISIS Chomsky explained how sectarian conflict derived from the Iraq war:

“There’s an interesting interview that just appeared a couple of days ago with Graham Fuller, a former CIA officer, one of the leading intelligence and mainstream analysts of the Middle East. The title is “The United States Created ISIS.” This is one of the conspiracy theories, the thousands of them that go around the Middle East.

But this is another source: this is right at the heart of the US establishment. He hastens to point out that he doesn’t mean the US decided to put ISIS into existence and then funded it. His point is — and I think it’s accurate — that the US created the background out of which ISIS grew and developed. Part of it was just the standard sledgehammer approach: smash up what you don’t like.”

Late in the answer Chomsky continues:

“Finally, the US just decided to attack the country in 2003. The attack is compared by many Iraqis to the Mongol invasion of a thousand years earlier. Very destructive. Hundreds of thousands of people killed, millions of refugees, millions of other displaced persons, destruction of the archeological richness and wealth of the country back to Sumeria.

One of the effects of the invasion was immediately to institute sectarian divisions. Part of the brilliance of the invasion force and its civilian director, Paul Bremer, was to separate the sects, Sunni, Shi’a, Kurd, from one another, set them at each other’s throats. Within a couple of years, there was a major, brutal sectarian conflict incited by the invasion.

You can see it if you look at Baghdad. If you take a map of Baghdad in, say, 2002, it’s a mixed city: Sunni and Shi’a are living in the same neighborhoods, they’re intermarried. In fact, sometimes they didn’t even know who was Sunni and who was Shi’a. It’s like knowing whether your friends are in one Protestant group or another Protestant group. There were differences but it was not hostile.

In fact, for a couple of years both sides were saying: there will never be Sunni-Shi’a conflicts. We’re too intermingled in the nature of our lives, where we live, and so on. By 2006 there was a raging war. That conflict spread to the whole region. By now, the whole region is being torn apart by Sunni-Shi’a conflicts.

The natural dynamics of a conflict like that is that the most extreme elements begin to take over. They had roots. Their roots are in the major US ally, Saudi Arabia. That’s been the major US ally in the region as long as the US has been seriously involved there, in fact, since the foundation of the Saudi state. It’s kind of a family dictatorship. The reason is it has a huge amount oil.”

Asked about Congress’ unfailing support for Israel — even beloved progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren — Chomsky responds thusly:

“She probably knows nothing about the Middle East. I think it’s pretty obvious. Take the US prepositioning arms in Israel for US use for military action in the region. That’s one small piece of a very close military and intelligence alliance that goes back very far. It really took off after 1967, although bits and pieces of it existed before.

The US military and intelligence regard Israel as a major base. In fact, one of the more interesting WikiLeaks exposures listed the Pentagon ranking of strategic centers around the world which were of such significance that we have to protect them no matter what, a small number. One of them was a couple of miles outside Haifa, Rafael military industries, a major military installation.

That’s where a lot of the drone technology was developed and much else. That’s a strategic US interest of such significance that it ranks among the highest in the world. Rafael understands that, to the extent that they actually moved their management headquarters to Washington, where the money is. That’s indicative of the kind of relationship there is.

And it goes way beyond that. US investors are in love with Israel. Warren Buffet just bought some Israeli enterprise for, I think, a couple billion dollars and announced that outside the US, Israel is the best place for US investment. And major firms, like Intel and others, are investing heavily in Israel, and continue to. It’s a valuable client: it’s strategically located, compliant, does what the US wants, it’s available for repression and violence. The US has used it over and over as a way of circumventing congressional and popular restrictions on violence.”

And he says this about climate change:

“The world that we’re creating for our grandchildren is grim. The major concern ought to be the one that was brought up in New York at the September 21 march. A couple hundred thousand people marched in New York calling for some serious action on global warming.

This is no joke. This is the first time in the history of the human species that we have to make decisions which will determine whether there will be decent survival for our grandchildren. That’s never happened before. Already we have made decisions which are wiping out species around the world at a phenomenal level.

The level of species destruction in the world today is about at the level of sixty-five million years ago, when a huge asteroid hit the earth and had horrifying ecological effects. It ended the age of the dinosaurs; they were wiped out. It kind of left a little opening for small mammals, who began to develop, and ultimately us. The same thing is happening now, except that we’re the asteroid. What we’re doing to the environment is already creating conditions like those of sixty-five million years ago. Human civilization is tottering at the edge of this. The picture doesn’t look pretty.”

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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U.S. Droughts Will Be the Worst in 1,000 Years

February 13, 2015

The Southwest and central Great Plains will dry out even more than previously thought
February 12, 2015 |By Mark Fischetti

The dryness of soil, basically measured as a balance between precipitation and evaporation, is predicted to drop steadily in the U.S. central Great Plains and Southwest, during the second half of this century.
Credit: Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains. Benjamin Cook et. al in Science Advances, Feb. 12, 2014.

SAN FRANCISCO—Several independent studies in recent years have predicted that the American Southwest and central Great Plains will experience extensive droughts in the second half of this century, and that advancing climate change will exacerbate those droughts. But a new analysis released today says the drying will be even more extreme than previously predicted—the worst in nearly 1,000 years. Some time between 2050 and 2100, extended drought conditions in both regions will become more severe than the megadroughts of the 12th and 13th centuries. Tree rings and other evidence indicate that those medieval dry periods exceeded anything seen since, across the land we know today as the continental U.S.

The analysis “shows how exceptional future droughts will be,” says Benjamin Cook, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and lead author of the study. The work was published online today in the inaugural edition of Science Advances and was released simultaneously at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting here.

Cook and his colleagues reached their conclusion by comparing 17 different computer projections of 21st century climate with drought records of the past millennium, notably data in the North American Drought Atlas. (The atlas is based on extensive tree-ring studies conducted by Cook’s father, Edward, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.) The models consistently demonstrated drought worse than at any time during that epoch, and worse than the current drought out West, which has prevailed for 11 of the previous 14 years, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In 2014 the drought cost California more than $2 billion in agricultural loses alone, according to the University of California, Davis.

The models also revealed that the drying in the Southwest would result from a combination of less rain and greater soil evaporation due to higher temperatures. They were not as conclusive about less rain in the central Great Plains but all showed more evaporation there. “Even where rain may not change much, greater evaporation will dry out the soils,” Cook says.

Drought, of course, means more stress on crops and possibly greater water shortages in urban areas. “We have strategies today to deal with drought—develop more drought-resistant crops, use more groundwater,” Cook says. “But if future droughts will be much more severe, the question is whether we can extend those strategies or if we need new ones.” Municipal planners and legislators may have a tough challenge, and groundwater is a finite resource. “Our water laws and sharing agreements are very convoluted,” Cook notes. Untangling them in order to make conservation measures practical and equitable “could become a wicked problem.”

The next step for Cook’s group will be to try to determine when the transition to severe drought will begin: in the next 20 years, the next 50 years? We’re still uncertain about that,” he says.

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Review – The Rise of Islamic State – Patrick Cockburn

February 10, 2015
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The Rise of the Islamic State – ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution. Patrick Cockburn. Verso, London/New York, 2014/2015.
When observed from the mainstream media perspective, the rise of ISIS was an apparent ‘out of nowhere’ phenomenon. It only found prominence when they approached Irbil, the Kurdish ‘oil’ city where western companies manoevered for resource control. It was then that it became mainstream newsworthy, and then that the U.S. ordered its bombing campaign and the ouster of Maliki, who was blamed for the ills of Iraq and its ghost army.

In clear concise language and format, Patrick Cockburn presents a more realistic story of the rise of ISIS in his latest work, The Rise of the Islamic State. Rather than being a sudden event, it is seen to be a logical progression of events backgrounded by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

As the wars in the Middle East have progressed they have become more and more violent. It started with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, aided and abetted by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan’s ISI. After successfully getting rid of Soviet forces, those “freedom fighters” morphed into the Taliban, where the ideology of al-Qaeda grew its protected roots.

When Iraq was illegally attacked unilaterally by the U.S. in 2003, al-Qaeda found a new place to spread its influence where it had not been before. At first it found support with the disenfranchised Sunni tribes, later minimized by the “Awakening” – the U.S. big dollar effort to buy out the Sunni leaders.

After the war in Iraq, a highly unstable state was left behind, essentially divided into three parts: Kurds in the northeast, Sunnis in the west, and the Shia in the south. The continuing internecine fighting waged since the U.S. departure has mostly been under the radar of the western news networks. Add to that the new and increasingly fierce fighting by the civil war in Syria, pitting the Assad government, back stopped by Russia, against a web of opposition groups backed by the U.S. and its allies.

The combination of disaffected Sunnis – many former military personnel, many affected by the Sunni-Shia fighting – and well supplied and trained fundamentalist Islamic groups – again with U.S. and Saudi direction – in Syria coalesced into ISIS, a new bigger, badder, meaner, and much more efficient fighting organization.

Because of historical precedents, Cockburn indicates that it is unlikely the “Sunnis will rise up in opposition to ISIS and its caliphate. A new and terrifying state has been born that will not easily disappear.”

The U.S. is acknowledged as being highly to blame for this sequence of events, much more so than Iraq and Syria as stand alone countries, or Turkey as an anti-Kurd, quasi-ISIS supporter.

“There was always something fantastical about the U.S. and its Western allies teaming up with the theocratic Sunni absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to spread democracy and enhance human rights in Syria, Iraq, and Libya”. ISIS is the child of war”. It was the U.S., Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and [UAE] that created conditions for the rise of ISIS.”

In other words, if ISIS is the child of war, then the U.S. is one of its parents. The Sunni resurgence in Iraq was not an overnight sensation, but had a gestation period of several years.

“A blind spot for the U.S”.has been their failure to see that by supporting the armed uprising in Syria, they would inevitably destabilize Iraq and provoke a new round of sectarian civil war”. ISIS has been able to exploit the growing sense of alienation and persecution among the Sunni in Iraq.”

Cockburn brings events right up to October 2014, noting that the then imminent pushback of ISIS from Kobani had not prevented ISIS from progressing elsewhere in Anbar province. His presentation is reasonably short and provides a clear summary exposition of whom is involved within the ISIS nexus. It should serve as an honest primer on the overall situation with current events in the Middle East.

The only point I could argue on is the repetition that the war on terror has “failed so catastrophically,” “failed miserably”, and “has demonstrably failed.” I can see both sides to the position.

When looking at the narrow definition of the war on terror as an actual war on terror, yes it has failed by creating many more terrorists in response to its many violent actions that tend to target much more than just terrorists. But no, it has not failed if the goal is to maintain U.S. control over regions through failed states, corrupt states, or otherwise.

After reading PNAC’s “Project for a New American Century”, having digested Paul Wolfowitz’ “Defence Policy Plan” under G.W.H. Bush that called for full spectrum dominance and unilateral pre-emptive nuclear war, after reading sections of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”, and while watching Israel continue annexing more and more territory while staying out of the U.S. wars in the region, perhaps the war on terror could at best be considered a draw.

It is not accomplishing its publicly stated purpose, but it is maintaining U.S. dominance for its geopolitical agenda of controlling resources and politicians. And it is useful for maintaining the ‘fear factor’ for domestic political usage for most western governments.

Regardless, The Rise of Islamic State is a worthy read, clearly defining the major roles and events of this long developing story.

 

 

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. Jim Miles’ work is distributed globally in print and on alternative news websites.    Published articles and book reviews may be viewed on the Palestine Chronicle website:                         http://www.palestinechronicle.com

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Nuclear War and Clashing Ukraine Narratives

February 7, 2015
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Reprinted from Consortium News


Jaanika Merilo, an Estonian brought into the Ukrainian government to oversee foreign investments.
(image by (A photo by Merilo via DanceswithBears))

The U.S. government and mainstream media are swaggering toward a possible nuclear confrontation with Russia over Ukraine without any of the seriousness that has informed this sort of decision-making throughout the nuclear age. Instead, Official Washington seems possessed by a self-righteous goofiness that could be the prelude to the end of life on this planet.

Nearly across the U.S. political spectrum, there is a pugnacious “group think” which has transformed what should have been a manageable political dispute in Ukraine into some morality play where U.S. politicians and pundits blather on about how the nearly year-old coup regime in Kiev “shares our values” and how America must be prepared to defend this regime militarily.

Though I’m told that President Barack Obama personally recognizes how foolhardy this attitude is, he has made no significant move to head off the craziness and, indeed, has tolerated provocative actions by his underlings, such as neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s scheming with coup plotters to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych last February.

Obama also has withheld from the American people intelligence information that undercuts some of the more extreme claims that his administration has made. For instance, I’m told that he has detailed intelligence reporting on both the mysterioussniper attack that preceded the putsch nearly a year ago and the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines Flights 17 that deepened the crisis last summer. But he won’t release the findings.

More broadly over the last year, Obama’s behavior — ranging from his initial neglect of the Ukraine issue, as Nuland’s coup plotting unfolded, to his own participation in the tough talk, such as boasting during his State of the Union address that he had helped put the Russian economy “in tatters” — ranks as one of the most irresponsible performances by a U.S. president.

Given the potential stakes of nuclear war, none of the post-World War II presidents behaved as recklessly as Obama has, which now includes allowing his administration officials to talk loosely about sending military support to an unstable regime in Kiev that includes neo-Nazis who have undertaken death-squad operations against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is commander of NATO, declared last November that — regarding supplying military support for the Kiev government — “nothing at this time is off the table.” Breedlove is now pushing actively to send lethal U.S. military equipment to fend off an offensive by ethnic Russian rebels in the east.

I’m told that the Russians fear that U.S. officials are contemplating placing Cruise missiles in Ukraine or otherwise introducing advanced weaponry that Moscow regards as a direct threat to its national security. Whether or not the Russians are being alarmist, these fears are affecting their own decision-making.

None of the nuclear-age presidents — not Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or even George W. Bush — would have engaged in such provocative actions on Russia’s borders, though some surely behaved aggressively in overthrowing governments and starting wars farther away.

Even Ronald Reagan, an aggressive Cold Warrior, kept his challenges to the Soviet Union in areas that were far less sensitive to its national security than Ukraine. He may have supported the slaughter of leftists in Central America and Africa or armed Islamic fundamentalists fighting a Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan, but he recognized the insanity of a military showdown with Moscow in Eastern Europe.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, U.S. presidents became more assertive, pushing NATO into the former Warsaw Pact nations and, under President Clinton, bombing a Russian ally in Serbia, but that came at a time when Russia was essentially flat on its back geopolitically.

Perhaps the triumphalism of that period is still alive especially among neocons who reject President Vladimir Putin’s reassertion of Russia’s national pride. These Washington hardliners still feel that they can treat Moscow with disdain, ignoring the fact that Russia maintains a formidable nuclear arsenal and is not willing to return to the supine position of the 1990s.

In 2008, President George W. Bush — arguably one of the most reckless presidents of the era — backed away from a confrontation with Russia when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a neocon favorite, drew the Russians into a border conflict over South Ossetia. Despite some war talk from the likes of Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, President Bush showed relative restraint.

Imbalanced Narrative

But Obama has failed to rein in his administration’s war hawks and has done nothing to correct the biased narrative that his State Department has fed to the equally irresponsible mainstream U.S. news media. Since the Ukraine crisis began in fall of 2013, the New York Times and other major U.S. news outlets have provided only one side of the story, openly supporting the interests of the pro-European western Ukrainians over the ethnic Russian eastern Ukrainians.

The bias is so strong that the mainstream media has largely ignored the remarkable story of the Kiev regime willfully dispatching Nazi storm troopers to kill ethnic Russians in the east, something that hasn’t happened in Europe since World War II.

For Western news organizations that are quick to note the slightest uptick in neo-Nazism in Europe, there has been a willful blindness to Kiev’s premeditated use of what amounts to Nazi death squads undertaking house-to-house killings in eastern Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.“]

The Russian government has repeatedly protested these death-squad operations and other crimes committed by the Kiev regime, but the U.S. mainstream media is so in the tank for the western Ukrainians that it has suppressed this aspect of the crisis, typically burying references to the neo-Nazi militias at the end of stories or dismissing these accounts as “Russian propaganda.”

With this ugly reality hidden from the U.S. public, Obama’s State Department has been able to present a white-hat-vs.-black hat narrative to the crisis. So, while Russians saw a constitutionally elected government on their border overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup last February — and then human rights atrocities inflicted on ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine — the American people heard only about wonderful pro-American “reformers” in Kiev and the evil pro-Russian “minions” trying to destroy “democracy” at Putin’s bidding.

This distorted American narrative has represented one of the most unprofessional and dangerous performances in the history of modern U.S. journalism, rivaling the false conventional wisdom about Iraq’s WMD except in this case the media propaganda is aimed at a country in Russia that really does have weapons of mass destruction.

The Russians also have noted the arrival of financially self-interested Americans, including Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and Ukraine’s new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, reminding the Russians of the American financial experts who descended on Moscow with their “shock therapy” in the 1990s, “reforms” that enriched a few well-connected oligarchs but impoverished millions of average Russians.


Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko.
(image by Consortium News)

 

Jaresko, a former U.S. diplomat who took Ukrainian citizenship in December 2014 to become Finance Minister, had been in charge of a U.S.-taxpayer-financed $150 million Ukrainian investment fund which involved substantial insider dealings, including paying a management fund that Jaresko created more than $1 million a year in fees, even as the $150 million apparently dwindled to less than $100 million.

Jaresko also has been involved in a two-year-long legal battle with her ex-husband to gag him from releasing information about apparent irregularities in the handling of the U.S. money. Jaresko went into Chancery Court in Delaware to enforce a non-disclosure clause against her ex-husband, Ihor Figlus, and got a court order to silence him.

This week, when I contacted George Pazuniak, Figlus’s lawyer about Jaresko’s aggressive enforcement of the non-disclosure agreement, he told me that “at this point, it’s very difficult for me to say very much without having a detrimental effect on my client.”

With Jaresko now being hailed as a Ukrainian “reformer” who — in the words of New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman — “shares our values,” one has to wonder why she has fought so hard to shut up her ex-husband regarding possible revelations about improper handling of U.S. taxpayer money. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Made-in-USA Finance Minister.”]

More Interested Parties

The Russians also looked askance at the appointment of Estonian Jaanika Merilo as the latest foreigner to be brought inside the Ukrainian government as a “reformer.” Merilo, a Jaresko associate, is being put in charge of attracting foreign investments but her photo spreads look more like someone interested in some rather kinky partying.


Jaanika Merilo, the Estonian being put in charge of arranging foreign investments in Ukraine.
(image by (A photo by Merilo via DanceswithBears))

 

The Russians are aware, too, of prominent Americans circling around the potential plunder of Ukraine. For instance, Hunter Biden was named to the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, which is a shadowy Cyprus-based company linked to Privat Bank.

Privat Bank is controlled by the thuggish billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who was appointed by the Kiev regime to be governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a south-central province of Ukraine. Kolomoysky has helped finance the paramilitary forces killing ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

 

And, Burisma has been lining up well-connected lobbyists, some with ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, including Kerry’s former Senate chief of staff David Leiter, according to lobbying disclosures. As Time magazine reported, “Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis.“]

So, the Russians have a decidedly different view of the Ukrainian “reforms” than much of the U.S. media does. But I’m told that the Russians would be willing to tolerate these well-connected Americans enriching themselves in Ukraine and even having Ukraine expand its economic relations with the European Union.

But the Russians have drawn a red line at the prospect for the expansion of NATO forces into Ukraine and the continued killing of ethnic Russians at the hands of neo-Nazi death squads. Putin is demanding that those paramilitary forces be disarmed.

Besides unleashing these right-wing militias on the ethnic Russians, the Kiev government has moved to punish the people living in the eastern sectors by cutting off access to banks and other financial services. It also has become harder and more dangerous for ethnic Russians to cross into territory controlled by the Kiev authorities. Many are turned back and those who do get through face the risk of being taken and killed by the neo-Nazi militias.

These conditions have left the people in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas — the so-called Donbass region on Russia’s border — dependent on relief supplies from Russia. Meanwhile, the Kiev regime — pumped up by prospects of weapons from Washington as well as more money — has toughened its tone with vows to crush the eastern rebellion once and for all.

Russia’s Hardening Line

The worsening situation in the east and the fear of U.S. military weapons arriving in the west have prompted a shift in Moscow’s view of the Ukraine crisis, including a readiness to resupply the ethnic Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and even provide military advisers.

These developments have alarmed European leaders who find themselves caught in the middle of a possible conflict between the United States and Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande rushed to Kiev and then Moscow this week to discuss possible ways to defuse the crisis.

The hardening Russian position now seeks, in effect, a division of Ukraine into two autonomous zones, the east and the west with a central government that maintains the currency and handles other national concerns. But I’m told that Moscow might still accept the earlier idea of a federated Ukraine with greater self-governance by the different regions.

Putin also does not object to Ukraine building closer economic ties to Europe and he offered a new referendum in Crimea on whether the voters still want to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, said a source familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking. But Putin’s red lines include no NATO expansion into Ukraine and protection for ethnic Russians by disarming the neo-Nazi militias, the source said.

If such an arrangement or something similar isn’t acceptable and if the killing of ethnic Russians continues, the Kremlin would support a large-scale military offensive from the east that would involve “taking Kiev,” according to the source.

A Russian escalation of that magnitude would likely invite a vigorous U.S. response, with leading American politicians and pundits sure to ratchet up demands for a military counterstrike against Russia. If Obama were to acquiesce to such bellicosity — to avoid being called “weak” — the world could be pushed to the brink of nuclear war.

Who’s to Blame?

Though the State Department and the mainstream U.S. media continues to put all the blame on Russia, the fact that the Ukraine crisis has reach such a dangerous crossroads reveals how reckless the behavior of Official Washington has been over the past year.

Nuland and other U.S. officials took an internal Ukrainian disagreement over how quickly it should expand ties to Europe — while seeking to retain its historic relations with Russia — and turned that fairly pedestrian political dispute into a possible flashpoint for a nuclear war.

At no time, as this crisis has evolved over the past year, did anyone of significance in Official Washington, whether in government or media, stop and contemplate whether this issue was worth risking the end of life on the planet. Instead, all the American people have been given is a steady diet of anti-Yanukovych and anti-Putin propaganda.

Though constitutionally elected, Yanukovych was depicted as a corrupt tyrant who had a pricy sauna in his official mansion. Though Putin had just staged the Winter Olympics in Sochi, signaling his desire for Russia to integrate more with the West, he was portrayed as either a new-age imperial czar or the second coming of Hitler — if not worse because he occasionally would ride on a horse while not wearing a shirt.

Further, the U.S. news media refused to conduct a serious investigation into the evidence that Nuland and other U.S. officials had helped destabilize Yanukovych’s government with the goal of achieving another neocon “regime change.”

Nuland, who personally urged on anti-Yanukovych protests in Kiev, discussed with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt who should lead the new government — “Yats is the guy,” she said, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk — and how to “glue this thing.”

After weeks of mounting tensions and worsening violence, the coup occurred on Feb. 22, 2014, when well-organized neo-Nazi and other right-wing militias from western Ukraine overran presidential buildings forcing officials to flee for their lives. With Yanukovych ousted, Yatsenyuk soon became Prime Minister.[See Consortiumnews.com’s “When Is a Putsch a Putsch.” ]

Many ethnic Russians in southern and eastern Ukraine, who had strongly supported Yanukovych, refused to accept the new U.S.-backed order in Kiev. Crimean officials and voters moved to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a move that Putin accepted because of Crimea’s historic ties to Russia and his fear that the Russian naval base at Sevastopol might be handed to NATO.

The resistance spread to eastern Ukraine where other ethnic Russians took up arms against the coup regime in Kiev, which responded with that it called an “anti-terrorist operation” against the east. To bolster the shaky Ukrainian army, Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov dispatched neo-Nazi and other “volunteer” militias to spearhead the attacks.

After the deaths of more than 5,000 people, a shaky cease-fire was announced in September, but — amid complaints about neo-Nazi death squads operating in government-controlled areas and with life deteriorating in rebel-controlled towns and cities — the ethnic Russians launched an offensive in January, using Russian-supplied weapons to expand their control of territory.

In reaction, U.S. pundits, including columnists and editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post, called for dispatching U.S. aid to the Kiev forces, including proposals for lethal weaponry to deter Putin’s “aggression.” Members of Congress and members of the Obama administration have joined the chorus.

On Feb. 2, the New York Times reported “With Russian-backed separatists pressing their attacks in Ukraine, NATO’s military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, now supports providing defensive weapons and equipment to Kiev’s beleaguered forces, and an array of administration and military officials appear to be edging toward that position, American officials said. … President Obama has made no decisions on providing such lethal assistance.”

That same day, the lead Times editorial was entitled “Mr. Putin Resumes His War” and continued with the theme about “Russian aggression” and the need “to increase the cost” if Russia demands “a permanent rebel-held enclave.”

On Feb. 3, the Washington Post ran an editorial entitled “Help for Ukraine. Defensive weapons could deter Russia in a way sanctions won’t.” The editorial concluded that Putin “will stop only if the cost to his regime is sharply raised — and quickly.”

A new war fever gripped Washington and no one wanted to be viewed as “soft” or to be denounced as a “Putin apologist.” Amid this combination of propaganda, confusion and tough-guy-ism — and lacking the tempering wisdom about war and nuclear weapons that restrained earlier U.S. presidents — a momentum lurched toward a nuclear showdown over Ukraine that could put all life on earth in jeopardy.

http://www.consortiumnews.com

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq,can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It’s also available at more…)

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