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Why Obama Rejected Peace With Iran October 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: This is one critic’s analysis of the geopolitical realities that maintain the Bush/Obama doctrine of permanent war, Middle East division.  Whether or not all the players (Shia, Sunni, Isis, Isil, Kurds, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey etc.) are correctly ordered and the power relationships perfectly defined, what is true is that it is all about markets and oil. That is, the business and profit making elements of capitalist economy, backed by governments’ foreign policies and military might, are what determine the course of action.  The needs, desires, dreams, rights, etc. of living human beings are trumped by the capitalist Behemoth.  I for one cheered when Obama was forced not to attack Syria earlier in the year (remember sarin gas?) and opened for the fist time in decades a dialogue with Iran with the possibility of resolving the nuclear issue and thereby ratcheting down the tensions between the U.S. and a major middle east power.  But as it turns out, it was too good to be true.  The drive to protect economic interests (read: corporate and military) wins out again.  

I want to repeat something I posted yesterday from an article by Murray Dobbin about the Ottawa shootings, a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski :

We are supposed to learn as children that actions have consequences so I suppose we are left to conclude that current leaders of the Anglo-industrialized countries (in particular) were badly neglected by their parents. A monstrous and catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of the West has led us to this point. The first failure belonged to Zbigniew Brzezinski one of the key architects of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Before the US armed, financed and trained the then-handful of religious zealots opposed to the godless Soviets, they were a threat to no one.

In an interview that appeared in CounterPunch in 1998   Brzezinski revealed his limited imagination when asked if he regretted creating Islamic terrorists: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

The answer is in.

 

WEEKEND EDITION OCTOBER 24-26, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org

by SHAMUS COOKE

How did Obama manage to botch U.S. foreign policy so stunningly? The promising speeches he gave in 2008 earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his inspiring words have since been buried in the rubble of Libya, Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. The region that once viewed Obama as a peace messiah now rejects him as a warmonger. And with every new foreign policy zigzag Obama only finds fresh “threats” while never managing to find the path to peace.

Obama would like peace in theory, but doing so requires he shake up his Middle East alliances. The U.S. stands pigeonholed in tightly-wound alliances with the most hated regimes in the world, sandwiched between the global pariah Israel and the brutal totalitarian dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. The other important U.S. ally is war-hungry expansionist Turkey, while the smaller U.S. allies are the remaining Gulf state monarchy dictatorships.

Allies like these make peace impossible. Obama recognizes that these friends restrict the ability of the U.S. to retain regional credibility. Consequently, there has been much speculation about a massive shift in U.S. alliances that hinges on peace with Iran, possibly supplemented by strengthening the alliance with Iraqi Kurds.

Americans and Iranians would celebrate a peace between nations, but this scenario now seems off the table. After “talking” peace with Iran for the first time in decades, Obama chose the warpath yet again.

This decision was finalized recently when the “ISIS deal” was struck between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, again cementing this ugly alliance. In exchange for Saudi Arabia attacking ISIS, the U.S. would commit to war against the Syrian government, which the Saudis want toppled to undermine their rival Iran. The Syrian rebels that Saudi Arabia agreed to train — with $500 million from U.S. taxpayers — will be used against the Syrian government, not to fight ISIS. The U.S. allies in the region understand the war against the Syrian government as a first step to war against Iran.  Even if a nuclear deal is struck between the U.S. and Iran the path to war will have been set.

Economics is a key reason that U.S. allies want Iran destroyed. Iran stands as a competitor for markets and investment throughout the region, and the destruction of Syria and Iran would open up new markets for the vulture-like U.S. allies. The economic oil war between Saudi Arabia and Iran has recently heated up, with Saudi Arabia selling oil at extra low prices to put political pressure on Iran. This, coupled with the ongoing “economic war” that Obama is waging, has the potential to weaken Iran via internal chaos, softening it up to possible invasion if the Syrian government falls.

Iran’s military is another reason the U.S. wants regime change. There are U.S. military bases scattered around the Middle East, though none in Iran, which has a powerful regional military force that patrols the strategic Strait of Hormuz, jointly controlled by Iran and Oman. It’s intolerable for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that one fifth of the world’s oil production must pass through this Iranian controlled area.

Iran’s regional power is bolstered by its political and religious connections throughout the Middle East. Not only does Shia Muslim Iran exert automatic authority over Shia majority Iraq, but also over Shia Hezbollah and Shia-led Syria. This region-wide dynamic is often referred to as the “Shia Crescent.” There also exist sizable oppressed Shia populations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Turkey that act as intrinsic political thorns in the sides of these Sunni sectarian governments, giving Iran a powerful political base in each case.

For example, when Saudi Arabia recently announced a death sentence for a popular Shia cleric, Iran responded that there would be “consequences” if the sentence were carried out, thus re-enforcing Iran’s self-portrayed position as “defender of the Shia.”

In Yemen there already exists a strong Shia insurgency against the pro-U.S. Sunni government that is using al-Qaeda-linked fighters against the Shia; the results of the conflict will either empower Iran or weaken it.

These regional religious tensions have been exponentially deepened by the U.S.-led coalition against the Syrian government, which has relied on systematic Sunni Islamic sectarianism to attract jihadist fighters and a flood of Sunni Gulf state donations.

The Sunni fundamentalism in Syria — loosely based on the Saudi fundamentalist version of Islam — views Shia Muslims as heretics worthy of death. The executions of Shia in Syria have reverberated throughout the Middle East, acting as an implicit threat to Shia Iran while increasing tensions in the Shia populations of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and beyond. The regional Shia backlash against the Sunni fundamentalists have strengthened Iran’s regional influence, one likely reason why Obama made the peace-killing deal with Saudi Arabia against ISIS and the Syrian government.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are adamant that the U.S. make no peace with Iran. Both sent strong messages after Obama’s 2013 last minute decision not to bomb the Syrian government, and his brief flirtation with Iran.  Saudi Arabia went as far as refusing a seat on the UN Security Council.  Israel protested the decision too, after it had lobbied heavily in the U.S. Congress through AIPAC to ensure the bombing took place.

The Kurdish Question

Turkey has long assisted the U.S. in attempting to topple the Syrian government, and has recently been insisting on a U.S. enforced “no-fly zone” in northern Syria, which would be directed against the Syrian government, since ISIS has no air force. Turkey has no good intentions in Syria, and has long wanted to grab easy oil-rich land for itself; which happens to be where the Kurdish population in Syria resides.

The call to enforce a no-fly zone to “protect the Kurds” on Turkey’s border, if achieved, will be similar to the no-fly zone in Libya — to create a “humanitarian corridor” — that was used instead to create a massive U.S.-led bombing campaign for regime change.

The Kurdish people face the same situation they’ve faced for hundreds of years: other nations have used the Kurds for their own self-interest. The Kurdish people want and deserve their own independent nation state, but they’ve been betrayed countless times in the past and the situation now seems no different. Promises are made and arms given to the “good” pro-U.S. Iraqi Kurds, while across the border in Turkey another faction of Kurds are labeled terrorists and repressed by the government.

Recently, the Kurdish Syrian town on the border of Turkey was invaded by ISIS and militarily defended by the “bad Kurds” of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who are based in Turkey. The Turkish military watched across the border as ISIS relentlessly attacked Kobani, while the Turks used military force to prevent Turkish Kurds from crossing the border into Syria to help defend the Kurdish city.

This reinforced perceptions that ISIS was, in part, a Turkish creation, since Turkey’s border has long been an uncontested point of entry for foreign jihadists to enter Syria. Turkey defended its actions by essentially equating the Kurdish PYD and PKK with ISIS, dismissing all of them as “terrorists.” In Turkey, Kurdish protests erupted against the government’s actions and inactions in Kobani, leaving 40 dead. Protests also occurred in other Kurdish regions including Iran.

Turkey ultimately proved that it fears the Kurds more than ISIS, and further proved that negotiations with its domestic Kurdish population will never result in an independent Kurdistan on any inch of Turkish territory.  Turkey will likewise be violently opposed to any creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq or Syria, since it would empower the Turkish Kurds while preventing Turkey from grabbing the oil-rich regions for itself.

This dynamic acts as an impossible barrier for the Obama administration to “re-balance” its Middle East alliances by using the Kurds. No nation with a sizable Kurdish population — Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria — will buy in to a possible U.S. policy of Kurdish statehood, since they would lose the oil-rich territory that the Kurds live on.

Not only would the U.S. lose regional allies by advocating Kurdish independence, but if such a state were to emerge, it would be a weak nation, since the Kurds are already divided into various factions, and thus not strong enough for the U.S. to rely on to achieve regional objectives.

Consequently, Obama feels compelled to continue down the same war-torn path as his predecessors. But Obama’s perspective is colored by his assumption that the United States must remain the regional power in an area thousands of miles from its border, and that U.S. corporations should dominate the oil, banking, weapons selling, and other markets in the region.

The U.S. is long past the point where it can claim that its Middle East goals are “peace, stability, and democracy,” especially after invading and destroying Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now the dirty war against Syria.  The oil, minerals, and other wealth that attracts the U.S. corporations that steer U.S. foreign policy prevent any real lasting peace to be achieved. The logic of corporate America is to crush the competitor by any means necessary.

Peace with Iran and Syria could be achieved if Obama told the world the truth about the above dynamics in the region, and treated Iran and Syria with the respect that an independent nation deserves, while working to curb the power of Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both depend on U.S. financial, military, and political support.

But instead Obama has dug in his heels and re-enforced alliances that demand the continuation of the Syrian war, and after that Iran. A war-shredded region remains on the bloody path to a potentially even wider war, while the billions of U.S. tax dollars funding this genocide will remain unusable for domestic projects like job creation and climate change reduction and preparedness. During this election season both Democrats and Republicans agree on continuing Middle East war.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

Bolivians Demand Justice for 2003 Gas War Massacre October 21, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I never cease to be outraged when I think of U.S. foreign policy and actions towards Latin America, of which I have been a life-long student and aficionado.  The U.S. government has never met a pro-American dictator or repressive president it didn’t like, from Tierra del Fuego to Havana, Cuba (which is not to exclude the rest of the world).  It is particularly offensive that, once the people have overthrown these traitors, the United States becomes an asylum for them.  Almost without exception, its geopolitical objectives trump human rights, values and decency.  God Bless America.

 

by BENJAMIN DANGL

Thousands of people marched in El Alto, Bolivia on Friday, October 17th to demand justice for the 2003 massacre of over 60 people during the country’s Gas War under the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) administration. Sanchez de Lozada is currently living freely in the US, and marchers demanded he and others in his government be brought to Bolivia to be tried for ordering the violence. October marks the anniversary of that assault on the city, and people mobilized on Friday to remember and to demand justice.

“Today we’re marching to remember on the 11th anniversary of the Gas War, which was aimed at getting rid of the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada,” El Alto neighborhood council member Daniel Cama said while marching down the streets of the city. “We demand justice, and we demand the extradition of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and [former Defense Minister] Carlos Sanchez de Berzain, because they were the ones that led the massacre against the people of El Alto. This violence left many widows, orphans and injured people that are still demanding justice. Today we are marching to celebrate and remember the dead who fought for our natural resources.”

Bolivia’s Gas War is largely credited for ushering in a period of progressive change marked by policies led by President Evo Morales, who was re-elected on October 12th for a third term in office. The “Martyrs of the Gas War” are often recalled as the protagonists that led to the nationalization of sectors of Bolivia’s gas industry, a move which has generated funding for many popular social programs the Morales’ administration has developed to alleviate poverty. (For more information, see this article on the ten year anniversary of the Gas War and this article on the case against Goni.)

On Friday, thousands of El Alto residents marched from different points in the city, converging for a rally in the city center, where social movement leaders and victims of the Gas War spoke to a large crowd. Cheers regularly broke out, including the angry cry, “We Want Goni’s Head!” Many activists in the Gas War itself were present, such as the prominent participation by the city’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations. In a march meant to remember those days of repression and struggle, many veterans of the conflict marched down the same streets, and under the same bridges, where the army led their attack.

There was a notable absence of politicians at the day’s events, something many speakers at the rally commented on. Various marchers explained that the Morales government was moving forward with nationalization plans and progressive policies fought for in the streets of the Gas War. However, activists also complained that the Morales administration has not supported the working class city of El Alto with sufficient public projects and infrastructure.

“We’re marching for those brothers and sisters who died or were injured in the Gas War,” explained El Alto resident Genoveve Rodriguez. “As time has passed not even the government remembers this conflict, and they haven’t created enough public projects to help out the city of El Alto.”

The following photos are of the October 17th march, including the vast participation of the neighborhood councils and family members of Gas War victims, as well as the rally which ended the day’s mobilization with speeches and music.

El Alto’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations, key participants in the Gas War, led the march.

Family members of Gas War victims rallied for justice in El Alto.

A cross in downtown El Alto reads “11 Years of Impunity.”

A Bolivian hip-hop group was among many bands performing at the rally following the march.

A commemorative mural in El Alto depicting the Gas War.

All photos by Benjamin Dangl

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl 

WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: I read the New York Times (it is the most right wing site I go to online; and, when asked how I keep up with the “other side,” I reply that one absorbs it by osmosis), there is often good reporting and feature articles; but on U.S. foreign policy, the Times is as Neanderthal as Bush/Obama/Clintons.

 

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BY GLENN GREENWALD

One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”

If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”

The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):

This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on developmentmilitary cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.

You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”

It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.

But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.

Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.

To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”

Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

“There Is No Military Solution” – But Obama Launches a New U.S. War in Syria September 26, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS/ISIL, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: I recently had a discussion with my granddaughter, who is taking a university course on the history of public relations.  Unfortunately, it seems that Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” is not on the reading list.  I told her about Edward Bernays, who is referred to as the father of public relations, and the campaign, using mass media and prominent individuals on speaking tours, to change the opinion Americans about participation in World War I.  This involved the demonization of “The Kaiser,” and was based on entirely on fear (kaiser rolls were re-named Vienna rolls!).  Through lies and manipulation the American public came to believe that the Kaiser and his hordes of savage Huns were a direct threat to their safety.  

In my life time I have seen this kind of fear mongering applied first to Communism and more recently to terrorism as a means of “manufacturing consent” for aggression and warmongering.  And, lo and behold, we see this again today at work on behalf of the military industrial complex and its thirst for perpetual war.  The majority of Americans, who six months ago had never even heard of ISIS/ISIL, today see them as the devil incarnate, thanks to moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the president and the congress and the lap dog corporate media.

War is Peace.

 

In response to the initiation of U.S. bombing in Syria, Phyllis Bennis author of Before & After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terror, offered the following advice:

23 September 2014

President Obama’s decision to bomb Syria stands in stark violation of international law, the UN Charter, and the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. It contradicts his own commitment, stated a year ago in the UN General Assembly, to reverse Washington’s “perpetual war footing.”

And it portends disaster for the people of Syria, the region, and much of the world.

The White House stated goal is to destroy the headquarters of the violent and extremist ISIS militia. But you can’t bomb extremism out of existence. The U.S. bombs do not fall on “extremism,” they are falling on Raqqah, a 2,000 year-old Syrian city with a population of more than a quarter of a million people – men, women and children who had no say in the take-over of their city by ISIS. The Pentagon is bombing targets like the post office and the governor’s compound, and the likelihood of large number of civilian casualties as well as devastation of the ancient city, is almost certain.

President Obama was right when he said there is no military solution to the ISIS crisis. Bombing Syria, without Congressional authorization, without United Nations approval, in direct opposition to the stated position of Syria’s government, will only make that crisis worse. It will give ISIS and its allies a new basis for recruitment, it will strengthen the repressive Syrian government, it will undermine Syria’s struggling non-violent opposition movement, and it will further tighten the links between ISIS supporters in Syria and in Iraq.

The bombing should stop immediately, and be replaced with a U.S. policy based on

  • Supporting an intensive new UN-based diplomatic initiative involving all parties in the region
  • Opening direct talks with Iran and Russia based on shared opposition to ISIS – with Iran to jointly push for ending anti-Sunni sectarianism in the Iraqi government, and with Russia to work towards ending the multi-party civil war in Syria
  • Pressuring U.S. allies in the region to stop their governments and people from arming and facilitating the movement of ISIS fighters
  • Shifting the war funds to a massive increase in humanitarian assistance

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Washington, DC and Director of the IPS New Internationalism Project.

Also from Phyllis Bennis: 

Is There a Diplomatic Solution to ISIS Crisis? U.S. Could Turn to Aid, Arms Embargo & Engaging Foes

The Obama Speech We Didn’t Hear at the UN

Then and Now: US Policy Towards Central American Fuels Child Refugee Crisis August 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Immigration, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: This article speaks of the US support for Guatemalan genocide.  We should not forget that the US government in Central America trained death squads in El Salvador (in support of a repressive ultra right government) and Nicaragua (in support of the fascist Contras) and enabled the 2009 coup in Honduras that replaced a democratically elected mildly progressive government with one that has turned the country into one of the most violent and corrupt nations on the face of the earth.  Your American tax dollar at work.

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Decades of failed US policies in Central America have a direct link to the dire conditions that cause young children to abandon their homes and flee north. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

For once the Republicans got it right. But not in the way they think. Indeed, President Obama carries the representative blame for the debacle (including reports of sadistic abuseby U.S. Border Patrol) of largely Central American migrant children long overwhelming shelters at the border. But the guilt is much broader, ranging from successive administrations all the way down to us, as American taxpayers.

Decades of U.S. policy in Guatemala alone have turned the country into a land of wreck and ruin. This is the ultimate reason migrants have been crossing into the United States in increasing numbers in recent months. Harsh immigration enforcement policies, such as the ones the Obama administration has been championing, add insult to injury as the U.S. punishes migrants when they arrive when it should be paying people like those of Guatemala massive reparations.

“They owe it to us.”

It is indisputable that the U.S. shares significant responsibility for the genocide of tens of thousands of Guatemalans—mainly indigenous Mayans who comprised a majority of the (at least) 150,000 killed in the 1980s alone. A 1999 UN Truth Commission blamed Guatemalan state forces for 93 percent of the atrocities. That same year, former President Bill Clinton admitted the wrongness of U.S. support support for Guatemalan state violence.

U.S. culpability for Guatemala’s plight endures to this day. The problem is—then and now—the United States is in denial as a nation over what to do about its complicity.

Just ask Clinton. The day of his apology in Guatemala City, he looked genocide survivors in the face, voiced regret for the U.S. enabling their suffering, and then rejected their impassioned pleas for U.S. immigration reform because, he said, “we must enforce our laws.” Today, many continue to call on the U.S. for reform measures like temporary protected status. And still, U.S. officials meet them with silence or dismissal.

Some Guatemalans, particularly the young generation living unauthorized in the U.S., know who’s responsible for the origins of their current troubles and aren’t confused by what to do about it. Erika Perez, an indigenous Mayan student in New England, told me: “My role in the U.S. is to tell [fellow Guatemalans], ‘Take advantage of all the opportunities around us.'” After all, “They owe it to us.”

Perez says the Guatemalan economy for most of the population hasn’t recovered from the genocidal wreckage of the 1980s and continues to be subjugated by U.S.-led neoliberal economic reforms like NAFTA and CAFTA. The desperate situation keeps sending Guatemalans like her migrating as a necessary means of decent survival.

Erika crossed the Arizona/Mexico desert, the deadliest area for migrants along the border, when she was eighteen in 2002. An indigenous Mayan who then spoke Spanish but no English, she faced sexual violence and dehydration along the way—but survived. So many other Guatemalans, a majority of them from the Mayan highland areas hit hardest by the genocide, remain missing while trying to cross the same part of border, according to data acquired from the Pima County medical examiner’s Missing Migrants Project (now theColibrí Center for Human Rights).

Escaping a “Silent Holocaust”

“Opportunity,” the young Antonio Albizures-Lopez recalls, was the purpose of his family’s unauthorized migration to the United States, as well as “to escape the violence that was influenced directly by U.S. intervention”—including the murders of four of Antonio’s aunts. Albizures-Lopez grew up in Providence, RI since he was 1 year old in 1992, shortly after his mother crossed the Rio Grande River with Antonio strapped to her back.

International legal experts describe the social climate in the U.S. at the time of the genocide as a “Silent Holocaust”. In Antonio’s case, the term couldn’t be more appropriate. He was born in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where one of the military bases set up with U.S. support “maintained its own crematorium and ‘processed’ abductees by chopping off limbs, singeing flesh and administering electric shocks,” according to veteran journalist Allan Nairn who interviewed a former agent of the G-2 secret intelligence service—the notorious Guatemalan agency long on the payroll of the U.S. State Department.

Meaningful forms of justice and accountability would have a long reach. They would provide restitution following the stories of Guatemalan youth like Antonio and Erika, two of many who are carrying the burden of genocide from their parents’ generation. True accountability would also address, among other cases, the 16,472 DREAM-ers who have listed Guatemala as their country of origin when they registered for President Obama’s 2012 deferred action program (DACA). Justice and accountability would lead to fundamental changes in U.S. policies toward the Guatemalan state.

Instead, Washington offers programs such as the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), a $496 million endeavor since 2008 to train and assist local security forces to counter, among other perceived threats, “border security deficiencies.” Along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the US Southern and Northern Commands, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have all expanded activities in the regionunder the auspices of the war on drugs, gangs, and other criminal activity.

The U.S. formally cut off military aid to Guatemala in 1977, though U.S. funding flowed atnormal levels through the early 1980s and Guatemala enjoyed enormous military support, by proxy, through U.S. client states such as Israel, Taiwan, and South Africa.

All in all, U.S. militarization in Guatemala has altered only in wording, shifting predominantly from anti-communist to currently anti-drug and counter-terror rhetoric. The policy trend continues through the present day, spanning across the Guatemalan boundary with Mexico as the “new southern border” of the United States, in the words of Chief Diplomatic Officer for DHS Alan Bersin.

The official U.S. position on supporting Guatemalan military activities is that it “was wrong” in the past, and is no longer permissible to support Guatemalan militarization except in relation to “homeland security.” In other words, Washington exercises the “doublethink” practice of “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them,” to quote George Orwell.

Some Guatemalans won’t wait for U.S. immigration reform

Meanwhile, as we’ve seen here lately in Arizona, Guatemalans are still fleeing a constant renewal of U.S.-caused duress. Reviewing the most visible case, the plight of migrant children at the border has relentlessly gripped the nation. “Many of the parents of these children are in the United States,” explained Guatemalan ambassador to the U.S., Julio Ligorria, “and the children go to find them.” The children also are reportedly suffering the same sorts of Border Patrol abuses long familiar to their parents’ generation, whose mistreatment often goes unnoticed.

So what next? Recognizing guilt is a crucial first step. Even more important is what comes after that recognition. Relevant here, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the function of a “guilt complex” in the American conscience regarding past and ongoing abuses. In a 1957 interview with NBC, King remarked: “Psychologists would say that a guilt complex can lead to two reactions. One is acceptance and the desire to change. The other reaction is to indulge in more of the very thing that you have the sense of guilt about.”

Recognition of U.S. guilt over the Guatemalan genocide should translate into concrete forms of remedial action which, to the degree possible, corresponds with the scope of the crime.

But Guatemalans like Erika aren’t waiting. She’s teaching Guatemalans in her community crucial skills like English, advocating to cancel deportation orders against fellow migrants, putting herself through college. She says her philosophy of “empowering people in my community is: ‘Don’t be afraid anymore.'”

 

USAID Hired Young Latin Americans to Incite Cuban Civil Society Revolt August 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: As I have said before, the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.  The current US interventions is Cuba, Venezuela and Honduras along with its role in Mexico’s presidential elections and its huge military to Colombia’s repressive governments (and a huge etcetera with respect to the rest of the Caribbean and South American continent), testify to this fact.  Please let me know if you can find an iota of difference between Obama’s foreign policy and that of the unabashedly imperial foreign policy of the Republican Party.

 

Published on

Participants were given little training and payed less than minimum wage, despite known danger, AP investigtion finds.

usaid2

(Credit: USAID)

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A program established under the Obama Administration by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) endangered about a dozen young Latin Americans by employing them to incite political revolt in Cuba by using civil society and humanitarian aid programs as fronts for the real aim of political destabilization on the Communist island,reveals an extensive new AP investigation published Monday.

The secret program “was launched during a time when newly inaugurated President Barack Obama spoke about a ‘new beginning’ with Cuba after decades of mistrust, raising questions about whether the White House had a coherent policy toward the island nation,” according to the AP.

To help it implement the plan, USAID hired the firm Creative Associates International, the same Washington-based company that played a central role in the creation of the secret “Cuban Twitter” that the AP reported on in April.

Characterizing the program as “an operation that often teetered on disaster,” the investigation’s most shocking discovery was perhaps that of an attempt to recruit dissidents using “a ruse that could undermine USAID’s credibility in critical health work around the world.” This “ruse” was an HIV-prevention workshop put together by one of the key hires made by Creative Associates, Fernando Murillo, the 29-year-old head of a Costa Rica-based human rights group. Murillo reported back to his employer that such a workshop was the “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.”

As DSWright points out at Firedoglake, what’s so disturbing about this is that “USAID was recently involved in setting up fake hepatitis clinics for the CIA in Pakistan,” causing Pakistanis to refuse being vaccinated, and prompting the White House to promise to never again use health clinics as a front for intelligence operations.

The travelers’ program was implemented at a time when the danger of being a U.S. operative on the island “was apparent to USAID, if not to the young operatives,” the investigation found, since Alan Gross, an American USAID contractor, “had just been hauled away to a Cuban jail.” After Gross’ arrest, USAID told contractors that they should consider suspending programs to Cuba and that—in the words of one official—the warning applied “to ALL travelers to the island, not just American citizens.”

And yet, just four months after Gross’ arrest, Murillo was sent to the island by the USAID, marking the beginning of yet another failed covert operation to overthrow the Cuban government.

Whereas Gross was paid over half a million dollars by the U.S. government, despite the fact that he had never been to Cuba and his Spanish was quite poor, the young Latin Americans were paid as little as $5.41 an hour. Other aspects of how they were used appear to have been dangerous and poorly thought out—in one example, a friend of Murillo’s who was used as a “mule” to bring money to a student group in Cuba said that his security training had amounted to about a half hour and was done via Skype.

While USAID did not deny the contents of the story, in a statement put out Monday the agency highlighted the fact that Congress funds “democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society,” and that “this work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover.” The statement failed to address the program in question, which is not a part of any such funding from Congress, and was secret until Monday. The same defense was used of the fake social network built by USAID, despite every aspect of it having been entirely covert.

The project was paid for out of the same fund used for the fake Cuban Twitter. USAID declined to comment on how much was spent on the travelers’ program, and has not fulfilled the AP‘s Freedom of Information Act request for a complete copy of the Cuban contracts that was filed more than three months ago.

The AP found “no evidence the political objectives were ever realized” and Cuban students belonging to what had been identified as a “target group” due to its supposed organizational abilities and political stance were “astonished to discover that the foreigners were acting on behalf of the U.S. government.” One student  said that he thought the operatives mistook typical Cuban griping on things like basic infrastructure issues for full-on political dissent.

Obama’s Hot War July 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine, War.
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Roger’s note: Glen Ford tells it like it is with no apologies.  A refreshing contrast to the mealy mouthed mainstream corporate media and much of the progressive Blogosphere.

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

The deeper the U.S. slips into economic decline, the higher it ratchets up the pace and stakes of armed conflict. Washington appears to have crossed some kind of Rubicon, to embark “on a mad, scorched earth policy to terrorize the planet into submission through relentless escalation into a global state of war.”

Washington’s policy is the constant fomenting of war for the subjugation of the planet – or the world’s destruction, if the U.S. cannot remain Number One.”

The United States has set the world on fire. It is nonsense to talk of a “new” Cold War, when what the world is witnessing is multiple conflagrations as intense and horrifically destructive as at any period since World War Two. Virtually every one of these armed conflicts has been methodically set in motion by the only power capable of perpetrating such massive, simultaneous mayhem: the United States, along with its underlings in London, Paris and Tel Aviv – the true Axis of Evil.

Washington is embarked on a mad, scorched earth policy to terrorize the planet into submission through relentless escalation into a global state of war. Unable to maintain its dominance through trade and competition, the U.S. goes beyond the brink to plunge the whole planet into a cauldron of death. As Russia is learning, it is extremely difficult to avoid war when a great power insists on imposing it. That was a lesson inflicted on the world 75 years ago, by Nazi Germany.

Whoever coined the phrase “No Drama Obama” should be sentenced to a lifetime of silence. The First Black U.S. President systematically brought swastika-wearing fascists to power in Ukraine to start a war on Russia’s borders. The passengers of the Malaysian airliner are victims of Obama’s carefully crafted apocalypse, a pre-fabricated conflict that could consume us all. Obama methodically and without provocation laid waste to Libya and Syria, and now the jihadists unleashed by the United States and its allies are destroying Iraq all over again and threatening to erase Lebanon and Jordan and even the oil kingdoms of the Gulf. Obama has signed yet another blank check for Israel’s ghastly war of ethnic annihilation in Gaza – a crime against humanity for which the U.S. is fully as culpable as the apartheid Jewish State, which could not exist if it were not part of the U.S. superpower’s global war machine.

Wars “R” Us

Those who say the United States is adrift or has no coherent foreign policy are colossally wrong. Washington’s policy is the constant fomenting of war for the subjugation of the planet – or the world’s destruction, if the U.S. cannot remain Number One.

The Americans have made Africa into a killing field. Somalia and its people have been smashed and dispersed, setting the whole Horn of Africa ablaze. Ethiopia commits multiple genocides under U.S. sponsorship, while Washington’s mercenaries in Rwanda and Uganda grow fat on the bones of six million Congolese. South Sudan thrashes in agony, the result of dismemberment by American, European and Israeli ghouls. The sounds of chaos and mass murder reverberate from the Magreb in the North, through the vast Sahel region, and now deep into West Africa, a direct result of criminal U.S. aggressive war and regime change in Libya.

Obama “pivots” to East Asia with the goal of turning Japan into a militaristic state with an invitation to rejoin, after all these years, the game of global conquest. Poor Afghanistan and Pakistan have no future at all, unless the U.S. leaves their region and allows them to develop an organic partnership with China. But a world based on mutually beneficial relations among peoples has no room for empire – which is why the empire wages war against the world.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com and sign up for email notification each Wednesday, when a new issue of BAR appears.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

U.S.-Egyptian “Historic Partnership” Reeks With Hypocrisy June 27, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Foreign Policy.
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Roger’s note: just yesterday I posted on Egypt’s iron-fisted repression of the media via its harsh and politically motivated sentences of Al Jazeera journalists.  But the US alliance with respect to Egypt is so blatantly hypocritical, that it bears reinforcement.  Of course this is really nothing new.  The US has never met a military dictatorship it didn’t like, unless it happened to be Communist or otherwise independent of the US sphere of influence.  This article also reflects libertarian blind schizophrenia (the author is associated with various “freedom” enterprises), acutely critical of US foreign policy in a way that puts ninety percent of Democrats and Republicans to shame, but Neanderthal on domestic issues where in the name of individual freedom they in effect support the objectives of the very corporate military industrial complex that is the driving force behind the imperial foreign policy.  And put the blame on Obama as if he isn’t following the same path as every administration since the beginning of the American Empire.

1---jpg_83957_20140626-468(image by Media With Conscience)

Sheldon Richman, June 26, 2014

opednews.com, cross-posted from Future of Freedom Foundation

Largely overshadowed by events in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration is dropping its pretense at displeasure with the military junta in Egypt and restoring full support for the regime that so recently quashed the country’s faltering attempt at democracy.

Secretary of State John Kerry, en route to troubled Baghdad, stopped in Cairo, where he announced that Washington would soon release a briefly withheld portion of the more than a billion dollars in aid that the Egyptian military receives each year from American taxpayers.

Kerry affirmed the “historic partnership” between the U.S. and Egyptian governments, while expressing confidence “that the [10] Apaches [helicopter gunships] will come, and that they will come very, very soon.” The New York Times noted that “the Egyptian military has been especially eager” to receive the gunships.

Considering how the military government treats the Egyptian people, one can fully believe it.

Let’s remember that in 2011, when Egyptians took to the streets to demand an end to the decades-long dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, the Obama administration — in particular then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton — stood by Mubarak until the bitter end. Two years earlier, when asked about Mubarak’s despicable human-rights record, which was documented in State Department reports, Clinton said, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.” That statement led some to wonder if she was the right person to be handling the Egyptian crisis for the U.S. government.

Moreover, the New York Times reported, State Department cables given to WikiLeaks revealed that “relations with Mr. Mubarak warmed up because President Obama played down the public ‘name and shame’ approach of the Bush administration.” (Behind the scenes, the Times reported, diplomats repeatedly “raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers, and kept tabs on reports of torture by the police.”) Military aid to the government continued to flow.

When Mubarak’s ouster was inevitable, the administration backed an abortive “compromise” that would have put Mubarak’s chief enforcer in charge. Thus the U.S. government’s claim that it supported the popular Arab Spring was exposed as a sham.

The Egyptian people’s uprising led to their first elections and a victory for candidates associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which, despite its reputation among American hawks, had forsworn violence decades before. The administration of President Mohammed Morsi (June 2012 – July 2013) was marred by repression, exclusion, incompetence, an uncooperative opposition, and public discontent, but that did not justify what followed: a military coup, the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition, violence against peaceful demonstrators, silencing of opposition media, jailing of journalists on the thinnest of pretexts, and death sentences for hundreds of Egyptians, including the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. All this was topped off this past spring by the election of former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president, with a suspicious 95 percent of the vote.

This is the regime that Kerry and Obama wish to work with in pursuit of their “historic partnership.” Do they think the world is blind and deaf?

The U.S. ruling elite has long seen Egypt’s military as a bulwark against the sort of popular political change that would conflict with the regional hegemonic program of American administrations and their ally Israel. For example, in 1978 Israel and Egypt signed an accord at Camp David under prodding by then-president Jimmy Carter in return for billions of dollars in annual military aid from America’s taxpayers. With the two countries putting aside their historic differences, Egypt was removed as an ally of the Palestinians in their struggle for an independent state on the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, and in the Gaza Strip, whose borders are controlled by Israel. Mubarak helped enforce the brutal Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed in 2007. For that reason, Palestinians welcomed the dictator’s ouster and the election of Morsi, and received the news of the coup against Morsi with apprehension.

But the coup — which the Obama administration was reluctant to identify as such — served U.S. government interests. Its alliance with Egypt’s military dictatorship shows the hypocrisy of Barack Obama’s paeans to freedom and self-government. Americans should be embarrassed.

Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF’s monthly journal,  Future of Freedom . For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman , published by the Foundation for Economic Education in (more…)

 

“We Are Not Beginning a New Cold War, We are Well into It”: Stephen Cohen on Russia-Ukraine Crisis April 18, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: First of all, you can watch this on video by going to this link: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/17/we_are_not_beginning_a_new.  If you have a half hour to spare, it will be well worth it.  After listening to Stephen Cohen’s analysis, it appears to me that what is happening in the Ukraine is somewhat of a Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse.  NATO/Obama playing the role of Khrushchev getting too close for comfort to Russia’s border via its coup in the Ukraine, playing Cuba in this scenario.  Putin in the unlikely role of Kennedy having to face down the bold and unacceptable move of his major adversary and thereby risking a dangerous escalation that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.  Also, if you believe Cohen, you see how inept and ignorant is President Obama.  One thinks of the Peter Principle, getting promoted beyond one’s capacity.  Obama rose to the presidency on his silver tongue and ability to raise millions in campaign contributions.  These are not qualities that makes on adept at foreign policy (among other things).

 

Democracy Now! April 17, 2014

As negotiations over the crisis in Ukraine begin in Geneva, tension is rising in the Ukrainian east after security forces killed three pro-Russian protesters, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said the pro-Russian separatists had attempted to storm a military base. The killings came just after the unraveling of a Ukrainian operation to retake government buildings from pro-Russian separatists. Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an “abyss” and refused to rule out sending forces into Ukraine. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has announced a series of steps to reinforce its presence in eastern Europe. “We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land,” Rasmussen said. We are joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. “We are not at the beginning of a new Cold War, we are well into it,” Cohen says, “which alerts us to the fact ‘hot war’ is imaginable now. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable — and if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As negotiations over the crisis in Ukraine begin in Geneva, tension is rising in eastern Ukraine after security forces killed three pro-Russian separatists, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in the city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials said the pro-Russians had attempted to storm a military base. The fighting comes just after the collapse of a Ukrainian operation to retake government buildings in several eastern towns. On Wednesday, pro-Russian separatists took control of some of their armored vehicles, and crowds surrounded another column, forcing the troops to hand over the pins from their rifles and retreat. Earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the authorities in Kiev of plunging the country into an “abyss.”

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] People in eastern Ukraine have started to arm themselves. And instead of realizing that something bad is going on in the Ukrainian state and making any attempts to start a dialogue, the authorities have started to threaten with force even more and unleash tanks and aviation on civilian populations. This is another grave crime of the current Kiev authorities. I hope it will be possible to realize which hole and which abyss the current authorities are moving towards and dragging the whole country with them. And in this regard, I think the start of today’s talks in Geneva is very important. I think it is very important today to think about how to get out of this situation, to offer people a real—not ostentatious, but real—dialogue.

AMY GOODMAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking on Russian television earlier today. On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a series of steps to reinforce its forces in eastern Europe because of the Ukraine crisis.

SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land. For example, air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region. Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean, and elsewhere as required.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Ukraine, Stephen Cohen is with us, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; his most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, out now in paperback. He recently wrote a piece for The Nation headlined “Cold War Again: Who is Responsible?”

Are we seeing the beginning of a new Cold War, Professor Cohen? And what exactly is happening right now in Ukraine?

STEPHEN COHEN: Those are big questions. We are not at the beginning of the Cold War, a new one; we are well into it—which alerts us to the fact, just watching what you showed up there, that hot war is imaginable now, for the first time in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, since the Cuban missile crisis, hot war with Russia. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable. And if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.

You did two things on your introduction which were very important. Almost alone among American media, you actually allowed Putin to speak for himself. He’s being filtered through the interpretation of the mass media here, allegedly, what he said, and it’s not representative. The second thing is, let us look just what’s happening at this moment, or at least yesterday. The political head of NATO just announced a major escalation of NATO forces in Europe. He did a Churchillian riff: “We will increase our power in the air, in the sea, on the land.” Meanwhile, as negotiations today begin in Geneva, we’re demanding that Russians de-escalate. And yet, we, NATO, are escalating as these negotiations begin.

So, if you were to say what is going on in Ukraine today—and, unfortunately, the focus is entirely on eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western media—in eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western—any Western media in western Ukraine, the other half of the country. We’re not clear what’s going on there. But clearly, things are getting worse and worse. Each side has a story that totally conflicts with the other side’s story. There seems to be no middle ground. And if there’s no middle ground in the public discourse, in the Russian media or the American media, it’s not clear what middle ground they can find in these negotiations, though personally, I think—and people will say, “Oh, Cohen’s a Putin apologist”—but it seemed to me that the proposals the Russians made a month ago for resolving the conflict are at least a good starting point. But it’s not clear the United States is going to accept them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Stephen Cohen, it was just a few weeks ago when we had you on, as the crisis was beginning to unfold in Ukraine, and a lot of what you said then turned out to be true, which was that you feared that there would be a split in Ukraine itself between the east and west. And obviously Crimea was just developing then. But it seems that all of the emphasis in the coverage here is as if the crisis started with Russian aggression, not with the earlier period of what was NATO and Europe’s involvement in Ukraine before the deposing of the elected president.

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I think you’ve emphasized the absolute flaw in at least the American—because I don’t follow the European press that closely—the American media and political narrative. As a historian, I would say that this conflict began 300 years ago, but we can’t do that. As a contemporary observer, it certainly began in November 2013 when the European Union issued an ultimatum, really, to the then-president, elected president, of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, that “Sign an agreement with us, but you can’t have one with Russia, too.” In my mind, that precipitated this crisis, because why give a country that has been profoundly divided for centuries, and certainly in recent decades, an ultimatum—an elected president: “Choose, and divide your country further”? So when we say today Putin initiated this chaos, this danger of war, this confrontation, the answer is, no, that narrative is wrong from the beginning. It was triggered by the European Union’s unwise ultimatum.

Now flash forward to just one month ago, about the time I was with you before. Remember that the European foreign ministers—three of them, I think—went to Kiev and negotiated with Yanukovych, who was still the president, an agreement. Now, the Russians were present at the negotiation, but they didn’t sign it. But they signed off on it. They said, “OK.” What did that agreement call for? Yanukovych would remain president until December—not May, when elections are now scheduled, but December of this year. Then there would be a presidential election. He could run in them, or not. Meanwhile, there would be a kind of government of national accord trying to pull the government together. And, importantly, Russia would chip in, in trying to save the Ukrainian economy. But there would also be parliamentary elections. That made a lot of sense. And it lasted six hours.

The next day, the street, which was now a mob—let’s—it was no longer peaceful protesters as it had been in November. It now becomes something else, controlled by very ultra-nationalist forces; overthrew Yanukovych, who fled to Russia; burned up the agreement. So who initiated the next stage of the crisis? It wasn’t Russia. They wanted that agreement of February, a month ago, to hold. And they’re still saying, “Why don’t we go back to it?” You can’t go back to it, though there is a report this morning that Yanukovych, who is in exile in Russia, may fly to eastern Ukraine today or tomorrow, which will be a whole new dimension.

But the point of it is, is that Putin didn’t want—and this is reality, this is not pro-Putin or pro-Washington, this is just a fact—Putin did not want this crisis. He didn’t initiate it. But with Putin, once you get something like that, you get Mr. Pushback. And that’s what you’re now seeing. And the reality is, as even the Americans admit, he holds all the good options. We have none. That’s not good policymaking, is it?

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to President Obama. Thursday, he was interviewed by CBS News by Major Garrett.

MAJOR GARRETT: Is Vladimir Putin provoking a civil war there? And will you and Western leaders let him to get away with that?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think that what is absolutely clear is not only have Russians gone into Crimea and annexed it, in illegal fashion, violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but what they’ve also done is supported, at minimum, nonstate militias in southern and eastern Ukraine. And we’ve seen some of the activity that’s been taking place there.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cohen?

STEPHEN COHEN: You left out one thing that he said which I consider to be unwise and possibly reckless. He went on to say that Russia wouldn’t go to war with us because our conventional weapons are superior. That is an exceedingly provocative thing to say. And he seems to be unaware, President Obama, that Russian military doctrine says that when confronted by overwhelming conventional forces, we can use nuclear weapons. They mean tactical nuclear weapons. I don’t think any informed president, his handlers, would have permitted him to make such a statement. In fact, depending on how far you want to take this conversation about the Obama administration, I don’t recall in my lifetime, in confrontations with Russia, an administration—I speak now of the president and his secretary of state—who seem in their public statements to be so misinformed, even uninformed, both about Ukraine and Russia. For example, when Kerry testified last week to Congress that all the unrest in Ukraine was due to Putin’s meddling and his provocations, he denied the underlying problem which has divided Ukraine. I mean, everybody knows that history, God, whoever’s responsible for our destiny, created a Ukraine that may have had one state, but wasn’t one country. It may be two, it may be three countries. But for John Kerry to say that all this conflict in Ukraine is due to Putin simply makes a resolution of the problem by denying the problem. Or let me ask you a question: What in the world was the director of the American CIA doing last Sunday—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I was going to ask you about that.

STEPHEN COHEN: —in Kiev? It is mind-boggling that it was called a secret mission, when my grandson knows that the Ukrainian intelligence services are full of pro-Russian officers. And yet they send the head of the CIA, at this crucial, inflamed moment, thereby—to Kiev, thereby reinforcing the Russian narrative that everything that’s happening in Ukraine is an American provocation. What are they thinking?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, aside from having a very educated grandson, I just want to turn to NATO for a moment.

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I told him that [inaudible]. But he got it. He got it.

AMY GOODMAN: NATO announced a series of steps to reinforce its forces—this is NATO in eastern Europe—because of the Ukraine crisis. NATO’s top military commander, Philip Breedlove, described the moves as defensive measures.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: All the actions that we have proposed and have been accepted today are clearly defensive in nature. And I think it’s going to be very straightforward to see them as defensive in nature. They are designed to assure our allies. And so, I think that, in any case, it’s always a chance that you run that something might be misinterpreted. But we specifically designed these measures to assure our allies only and to be clearly seen as defensive in nature.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Professor Cohen?

STEPHEN COHEN: I’ve never known what “purely defensive weapons” have meant—I mean, presuming they are guns that shoot in only one direction. I mean, it’s going to have no effect. I mean, they’re talking about giving the Ukrainians maybe some small arms, some night vision stuff, some superior intelligence. They can’t give them intelligence information, because the Ukrainian intelligence services, as we know from the tapes we’ve had, the leaked tapes, and from the CIA secret mission which was exposed to Ukraine, revealed.

The real debate going on in NATO—the real debate, because this is a distraction—is what Rasmussen said in your earlier clip—he’s the political head of NATO—that we’re building up, as we talk, our forces in eastern Europe. Now, understand what’s going on here. When we took in—”we” meaning the United States and NATO—all these countries in eastern Europe into NATO, we did not—we agreed with the Russians we would not put forward military installations there. We built some infrastructure—air strips, there’s some barracks, stuff like that. But we didn’t station troops that could march toward Russia there. Now what NATO is saying, it is time to do that. Now, Russia already felt encircled by NATO member states on its borders. The Baltics are on its borders. If we move the forces, NATO forces, including American troops, to—toward Russia’s borders, where will we be then? I mean, it’s obviously going to militarize the situation, and therefore raise the danger of war.

And I think it’s important to emphasize, though I regret saying this, Russia will not back off. This is existential. Too much has happened. Putin—and it’s not just Putin. We seem to think Putin runs the whole of the universe. He has a political class. That political class has opinions. Public support is running overwhelmingly in favor of Russian policy. Putin will compromise at these negotiations, but he will not back off if confronted militarily. He will not.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the situation in Russia, especially the growing—some reports are that Putin’s popularity has now surged to about 80 percent of the population, at a time when there was actually a dissident movement that was beginning to gather strength within Russia against the more authoritarian aspects of Russian society.

STEPHEN COHEN: Since this is Democracy Now!, let me assert my age and my credential. Beginning in the 1970s, I lived in Russia among the then-Soviet dissidents. They were brave people. They were pro-democracy. They struggled. They paid the price. With the coming of Gorbachev, who embraced many of their democratizing ideas, they were marginalized, or they moved into the establishment as official democratizers. This struggle has continued, even under Putin. But the result of this confrontation, East-West confrontation—and I can’t emphasize how fundamental and important it is—is going to set back whatever prospects remained in Russia for further democratization or re-democratization, possibly a whole generation. It is simply going to take all the traction these people have gotten out from under them. And still worse, the most authoritarian forces in Russia and Russia’s authoritarian traditions will now be reinvigorated politically in kind of a—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And it’s all ultra-nationalist, as well, right?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s ultra-nationalists, but it’s certainly nationalist.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.

STEPHEN COHEN: And, I mean, by the way, we’re a nationalist country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.

STEPHEN COHEN: We use a different word: We call it “patriotism.” Do you remember an American president who ever ran and said, “I’m not an American patriot”? I say I’m an American patriot. We don’t call ourselves “nationalists.” Also, we don’t have a state in the United States; we have a government. The Europeans have states. We have a government. But you take away the language—this is not unusual, but there—when it surges like this, as it does in run-ups to war—and we’re in the run-up at least to a possible war—this is what you get. That’s why I think the policy, the American policy, has been unwise from the beginning.

AMY GOODMAN: The front page of The New York Times: “Russia Economy Worsens Even Before Sanctions Hit.” And they’re attributing it partly to Russia’s action in Crimea.

STEPHEN COHEN: Yeah. Well, I mean, the asymmetry of all of this, right? We say Putin’s got 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. And there may or may not be; nobody’s exactly clear how long they’ve been there and what they’re doing, but obviously they’re not helping the situation. But what we have are sanctions that we may put in place against Putin’s cronies. This is—this is the threat. This is what the White House says: “We are going to sanction his oligarchical cronies.” And presumably, on this theory, they will go to him and say, “Look, Volodya, you’ve got to stop this, because my bank accounts …” This is utter nonsense. First of all, he’ll just appoint new oligarchs. Secondly, there’s a law in the Russian Duma, the Parliament, being debated that the state will compensate anybody whose assets are frozen in the West. Now, I don’t know if they’ll pass the law, but you could see that this doesn’t bother the Kremlin leadership.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have one minute. The significance of the meeting in Geneva with Ukraine, Russia, United States, European Union, and what’s going to happen in eastern Ukraine?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but things are getting worse and worse. People are being killed. So, obviously, that’s bad, and we’re moving closer toward a military confrontation. The Russians are asking at negotiations the following. They want NATO expansion ended to its all former Soviet republics. That means Ukraine and Georgia, period. I think we should give them that. This has been a reckless, endangering policy. It’s time for it to end. They want a federal Ukrainian state. That’s a debate. But Ukraine is several countries; you can only hold it together with a federal constitution. And they want, in the end, a stable Ukraine, and they will contribute financially to making that possible. I don’t see any reason there, other than the White House saving political face, why that’s not a good negotiating position to begin with.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Stephen Cohen, we want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of Russian studies at New York University, before that, Princeton University, author of numerous books on Russia and the Soviet Union. His most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, just out in paperback. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Stay with us.

The Red Line and the Rat Line April 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Libya, Syria, War.
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Roger’s note: Commentary Magazine referred to this article as “Seymour Hersh’s latest conspiracy theory.”  I am reminded of the saying: “paranoids can have real enemies.”  There are conspiracies.  The CIA, for example, has been “conspiring,” both at home and abroad since the end of WWII.  Hersch has based most of this report on a DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) document that the DIA says never existed.  Someone is lying.  You will have to decide for yourself.

None of this surprises me.  What I really find interesting is that the real hawk when it came to the near all-out attack on Syria was none other than President Obama himself (with help from Secretary of State John Kerry, the country’s number one “diplomat”).  It was the generals and the Pentagon that didn’t want to go to war.  How’s that for irony?  And, while on the subject of irony, it took the neo-Stalinist Putin to bail Obama out from what likely would have been a Middle East holocaust.

 

Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels

In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons. Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)

Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’

In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’

The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’

Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.

The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.

Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)

*

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’

There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.

An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.

The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoglu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)

But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.

The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.

Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.

*

The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’

Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of Erdoğan and his associates, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander [Erdoğan], if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.

Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’

4 April

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