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“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

American State of the Union: A Festival of Lies February 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Trade Agreements, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Roger’s note: here are two articles from the same source, the black agenda report web site, analyses you are not likely to find in the mainstream media.

Wed, 01/29/2014 – 14:37

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Before the nation and the world, President Obama pledges to take “action” against “economic inequality,” while simultaneously holding secret negotiations on a Trans Pacific Partnership trade scheme that will quicken the pace of the global Race to the Bottom, deepening economic inequalities. “Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide.”

 

When you say ‘jobs,’ he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares.”

“Believe it,” said the current Prevaricator-in-Chief, in the conclusion to his annual litany lies. President Obama’s specialty, honed to theatrical near-perfection over five disastrous years, is in crafting the sympathetic lie, designed to suspend disbelief among those targeted for oblivion, through displays of empathy for the victims. In contrast to the aggressive insults and bluster employed by Republican political actors, whose goal is to incite racist passions against the Other, the sympathetic Democratic liar disarms those who are about to be sacrificed by pretending to feel their pain.

Barack Obama, who has presided over the sharpest increases in economic inequality in U.S. history, adopts the persona of public advocate, reciting wrongs inflicted by unseen and unknown forces that have “deepened” the gap between the rich and the rest of us and “stalled” upward mobility. Having spent half a decade stuffing tens of trillions of dollars into the accounts of an ever shrinking gaggle of financial capitalists, Obama declares this to be “a year of action” in the opposite direction. “Believe it.” And if you do believe it, then crown him the Most Effective Liar of the young century.

Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide. The potentially most devastating Obama contribution to economic inequality is being crafted in secret by hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers and their revolving-door counterparts in government. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as “NAFTA on steroids,” would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom that has made a wasteland of American manufacturing, plunging the working class into levels of poverty and insecurity without parallel in most people’s lifetimes, and totally eviscerating the meager gains of three generations of African Americans. Yet, the closest Obama came to even an oblique allusion to his great crime-in-the-making, was to announce that “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help [small businesses] create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” Like NAFTA twenty years ago – only far bigger and more diabolically destructive – TPP will have the opposite effect, destroying millions more jobs and further deepening worker insecurity. The Trans Pacific Partnership expands the legal basis for global economic inequalities – which is why the negotiations are secret, and why the treaty’s name could not be spoken in the State of the Union address. It is a lie of omission of global proportions. Give Obama his crown.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as ‘NAFTA on steroids,’ would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom.”

The president who promised in his 2008 campaign to support a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and then did nothing at all to make it happen, says this is the “year of action” when he’ll move heaven and earth to get a $10.10 minimum. He will start, Obama told the Congress and the nation, by issuing “an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.” Obama neglected to mention that only new hires – a small fraction, beginning with zero, of the two million federal contract workers – will get the wage boost; a huge and conscious lie of omission. The fact that the president does not even propose a gradual, mandated increase for the rest of the two million shows he has no intention of using his full powers to ameliorate taxpayer-financed poverty. We can also expect Obama to issue waivers to every firm that claims a hardship, as is always his practice.

What is Obama’s jobs program? It is the same as laid out at last year’s State of the Union, and elaborated on last summer: lower business taxes and higher business subsidies. When you say “jobs,” he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares. “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” Actually, Obama wants to lower tax rates for all corporations to 28 percent, from 35 percent, as part of his ongoing quest for a Grand Bargain with Republicans. For Obama, the way to bring jobs back to the U.S. is to make American taxes and wages more “competitive” in the “global marketplace” – the Race to the Bottom.

In the final analysis, the sympathetic corporate Democrat and the arrogant corporate Republican offer only small variations on the same menu: ever increasing austerity. Obama bragged about reducing the deficit, never acknowledging that this has been accomplished on the backs of the poor, contributing mightily to economic inequality and social insecurity.

Obama offers nothing of substance, because he is not authorized by his corporate masters to do so. He takes his general orders from the same people as do the Republicans. That’s why Obama only speaks of minimum wage hikes while Republicans are in power, rather than when his own party controlled both houses of Congress. Grand Bargains are preferred, because they are the result of consensus between the two corporate parties. In effect, the Grand Bargain is the distilled political will of Wall Street, which feeds the donkey and the elephant. Wall Street – the 1 percent – believes the world is theirs for the taking, and they want all of it. Given this overarching truth, Obama has no choice but to stage a festival of lies.

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

 

Barack Obama, the State of the Union and the Prison State

Wed, 01/29/2014 – 14:18 — Bruce A. Dixon

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

For a generation now, predatory policing, the war on drugs and the prison state have been government’s most frequent intersection with young black Americans. The gossip before this year’s State of the Union was that the president would now do by executive order all those good things Republicans have blocked him on the last 3 years. Does that include reining in or rolling back the prison state? Should we hold our collective breath?

“…Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage…”

In the days before this year’s State of the Union address, we heard a lot about how Barack Obama was finally about to unleash the mighty executive powers of his office to accomplish some of the many great things he’s always wanted to accomplish, those mostly unspecified things which evil and immoral Republicans have prevented him from doing. From long experience dating back at least to the Clinton era, the White House and Democratic party know this is an attractive picture to many, one that conveniently excuses Democrats in office from even trying to accomplish the real demands of the millions who vote them into office.

Barack Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage and making it easier to organize unions so people could stand up for their own rights in the workplace. The president apparently lied. Once in office with a thumping majority in both houses of Congress the president promptly froze the wages of federal workers, and made no move to protect union organizing or to raise the minimum wage. Four and five years later, with the House of Representatives safely under Republican control, the president has begun to make noises about how “America deserves a raise” and has finally declared that federal contract workers will soon have to be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour.

Although Barack Obama’s career, and those of the entire black political class are founded on the notion that they and the Democratic party somehow “represent” the aspirations and political power of African Americans, the policy concerns of black America were nowhere to be found in last night’s state of the union. The speech contained no mention of the persistent gap between black and white unemployment, or the widening gaps between black and white wealth, and reaffirmed his commitment to “Race To The Top” an initiative to privatize public education in poorer communities across the country.

” Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison…”

And of course, no cluster of issues impact black America more savagely and disproportionately than police practices, the drug war and the prison state. African Americans are one eighth the US population, but more than 40% of its prisons and jails. Together with Latinos, who are another eighth and make up nearly 30% of US prisoners, people of color are a quarter of the US population and more than 70% of the locked down. No cluster of issues would benefit more from a few presidential initiatives and well placed strokes of the pen than police practices, the drug war and the prison state.

Here are just a handful of things President Obama and his party could and would do, things that Republicans are powerless to prevent, which would make a large and lasting impact upon the communities they purportedly represent.

With the stroke of a presidential pen, Barack Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison at ADX Thomson in Illinois, also called “Gitmo North.” Citizen activists in the president’s home state last year managed to close down the state’s brutal supermax prison at Tammsbecause they know that supermax prisons do not rehabilitate, they are instruments of torture pure and simple. Ordinary citizens know that torture should not be a career, or a business governments engage in. Even Obama’s own Bureau of Prisons is on record as wanting to examine whether the regimes in supermax prisons across the country constitute torture. It’s time to look for that presidential pen.

The president could take public notice of the alarming militarization of police forces across the country and the wave of police shootings of civilians. Far more persons die in the US of police gunfire than of terrorist incidents and school shootings. The feds play an enormous role in the funding, training and arming of thousands of local police departments across the country, through its grants to the state-level training and certification agencies, and its authorization of the sale of military equipment to police departments. The result is that every county and town in the US now has a SWAT team, employing shoot-first-question-later tactics, and although African Americans are far from the only victims of unchecked police violence, a black person is killed by police, security officers or vigilantes once every 28 hours. Again, this is a case for a presidential statement, a few orders to underlings and that mighty executive pen.

The president could order his Justice Department to reconsider its objections to the retroactive reduction of unfair and disproportionate sentences to crack cocaine defendants. When the president signed the so-called Fair Sentencing Act reducing the crack to powder cocaine penalty ratio from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 thousands of defendants should have been eligible for immediate release. But Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Justice Departments have gone to court repeatedly to keep them behind bars. Our civil rights establishment from the Mark Morials and Al Sharptons down, seem more invested in the prestige of the president than doing justice to prisoners, and so have politely refused to call Obama and Holder on this glaring disconnect between their public pronouncements and their actual policies. The mighty presidential pen in the hands of Barack Obama could have made a big difference here any time in the last several years, and still can, if only he will.

The president could use his mighty executive powers to release some long-time political prisoners. There’s Iman Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown who distinguished himself laying the foundations for what passes for black political empowerment, risking his life registering voters and conducting Freedom Schools in rural Alabama with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid and early 1960s. After repeated attempts by Georgia officials in the 1990s to frame Al-Amin for shootings, one of these stuck long enough to get a shaky conviction in 1999. As pressure for a retrial from local community activists built up and even in the face of protests from establishment figures like former Atlanta mayor, congressman and ambassador Andy Young, Georgia officials transferred Al-Amin into federal custody in the dead of night, and the feds spirited him away to the hellhole at ADX Florence in Colorado where he has been for more than a decade. With a stroke of that might executive pen, President Obama could send Al-Amin back to Georgiawhere his family and attorneys could visit him, and pressure would mount on Georgia authorities to give him a new trial, in which he might well prove his innocence.

The president could pardon or grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader who has served a decade longer in prison than Nelson Mandela did for an offense that nobody at his trial even alleged he actually committed. Peltier is recognized around the world as a political prisoner. His continued imprisonment shows that many wounds from the 60s and 70s were never healed, and his release would demonstrate that this president acknowledges the need for this healing. After almost 40 years, Leonard Peltier surely deserves to come home.

President Obama could acknowledge the wave of hunger strikes and protests in prisons across the country, and name a commission to investigate how we can reverse the expansion of prisons, guarantee the re-absorption of former prisoners into society, and reverse the culture and law which discriminate against and punish former prisoners and their families for the rest of their lives. Right now a number of prisoners at Menard Penitentiary in the president’s home state of Illinois are waging a hunger strike, with demands that differ little from those raised by prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay last year, and those in Virginia, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere.

We must not imagine that rolling back the carceral state is something no government on earth has ever done. Right now in Venezuela, that nation is confronting a crisis of crime, the practical limits of prison expansion, and of what kind of society they want to build. They’re taking a different path than so-called “progressives” here, who seem upset only about prisoners who are factually “innocent” and only about prisons if they’re privatized. Venezuela is frankly committed to shrinking its prison population and exploring models of restorative rather than punitive justice. There really are other ways to go, if we have the will and the vision our Democrats and Republicans lack.

Obama’s Attorney General has learned how to let the words “mass incarceration” roll off his lips fluently, after his recent discovery that such a thing actually exists. The president opined that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son, minus the status, the privilege, the neighborhood and a few other things. But that mighty presidential pen that can call commissions, impose directives, re-set priorities and make all manner of changes by executive order, changes that no evil and immoral Republicans can block or reverse, at least until they re-take the oval office, is still in that desk drawer, or wherever Barack Obama keeps it. He hasn’t found it the last five years in office. Maybe he will discover it in these last three.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be contacted via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.e pointed out repeatedly the last five years, there are boatloads of things a president anxious to serve the will of the people could do with the stroke of a pen

Leaked TPP ‘Environment Chapter’ Shows ‘Corporate Agenda Wins’ January 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Trade Agreements.
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Roger’s note: I have always found international trade issues and documents to be dull and boring.  Time to wake up, Roger.  The TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is NAFTA on steroids.  Consider this: when governments turn over authority to private corporations, the distinction between private and pubic disappears.  Government and corporations become indistinguishable.  This is rightly called National Socialism.  Another word for it is Nazi-ism.  You don’t need Brown Shirts, goose-stepping and a dictator with an absurd looking moustache to have genuine fascism.  A president and Congress, backed by a compliant Supreme Court, wholly sold out and owned by the private corporate world (backed by the military and Homeland Security supplied local police forces) will do.

Published on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by Common Dreams

US called main ‘outlier’ when it comes to strong protections; Leak comes as Obama tries to ram trade deal through Congress

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Confirming the suspicions and fears of environmental campaigners and concerned individuals across the globe, Wikileaks on Wednesday released a draft version of the ‘Environment Chapter’from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), exposing most of the so-called “environmental protections” as toothless policies that serve to protect corporate profit not Mother Earth.

In its review of the chapter—which covers environmental issues related to trade, including climate change, biodiversity and fishing stocks; and trade and investment in ‘environmental’ goods and services—Wikileaks described the chapter as functioning like “a public relations exercise” and saying the text is most notable “for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures.”

“Today’s WikiLeaks release shows that the public sweetner in the TPP is just media sugar water,” said Wikileaks’ publisher Julian Assange in a statement. “The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism.”

The draft chapter, which was presented at the Salt Lake City, Utah round of negotiations that took places in November, contains language from the participating nations describing their positions on environmental protections that would be included in the final deal.

According to Jane Kelsey, a professor of environmental law at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, the leaked text of the agreement shows no balance between commercial interests and those of the environment.

“Instead of a 21st century standard of protection, the leaked text shows that the obligations are weak and compliance with them is unenforceable… The corporate agenda wins both ways.” –Jane Kelsey, Univ. of Auckland

“Instead of a 21st century standard of protection, the leaked text shows that the obligations are weak and compliance with them is unenforceable,” she writes in apublic statement (pdf) Wednesday. “Contrast that to other chapters that subordinate the environment, natural resources and indigenous rights to commercial objectives and business interests. The corporate agenda wins both ways.”

Kelsey’s review of the draft also points out that the main outlier on environmental protections is the United States. She also notes that because the protections included in the draft fall short even of those contained in previous trade agreements backed by the US, passage of the deal will create a “particular political dilemma” for President Obama and other backers. She writes:

The text falls far below the standards it has insisted are included in all US free trade agreements since May 2007, which resulted from a deal reached between the Democrat-­‐controlled Congress and President George W Bush.

The most fundamental problem for the US is the refusal of all the other countries to agree that the chapter should be subject to the same dispute settlement mechanism as the rest of the agreement. It provides for consultation at officials and ministerial levels, leading to arbitration and agreement to a plan of action, but there are no penalties if the state does not implement the plan.

Obama is going to find this a very hard sell to domestic constituencies. The timing of the leak could hardly be worse. On 9 January 2014 a Bill seeking fast track authority was presented to the Congress. The controversial fast track process requires the Congress to accept or reject the deal as a whole and imposes a strict time limit on debate. The numbers were already stacking up against the Bill, with Democrats especially critical of the erosion of their powers and the secrecy of the negotiations, as well as the reported content. This leaked environment chapter will further erode support among Democratic members of the House of Representatives who are up for re-election later this year.

Obama is going to have to rely heavily on unfriendly Republicans.

Read Wikileaks’ full press statement here and view the complete draft version here (pdf).

The secretive TPP trade deal between the United States and 11 other Pacific rim nations that has been negotiated with the backing of corporate interests but kept secret from the general public and even most lawmakers from the participating countries.

Ilana Solomon, the director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, responded to the leaked draft by telling the New York Times on Wednesday that the language in the deal omits crucial protections against increased environmental destruction caused by globalized trade practices.

“It rolls back key standards set by Congress to ensure that the environment chapters are legally enforceable, in the same way the commercial parts of free-trade agreements are,” Ms. Solomon said.

Long sought by journalists, green activists, and environmental advocacy organizations the trade deal’s chapter on the environment will be hotly reviewed throughout the day. Follow reactions and updates on Twitter:

In Oval Office Meeting, Malala Yousafzai Tells Obama to End Drone Strikes in Pakistan October 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Peace, War, War on Terror, Women.
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ROGER’S NOTE: I TURN OVER MY “ROGER’S NOTE” SPACE TODAY TO “TUTTLE,” WHO COMMENTED ON THIS ARTICLE IN COMMONDREAMS.ORG:

President Obama in conversation with Malala in the Oval Office

“Well Malala, it goes like this. I am the Ruling Elite and you are not. Your life is yet just another mere commodity to be used as fodder to heat the machine that devours the planet and the rest of your class. Posing with you here today is like posing with the Turkey I pardon every year when the American people celebrate the genocide carried out on the original peoples that inhabited this country. These people are now just an embarrassment and a nuisance. Which brings me back to you and your people. You see Malala your life is worthless to me and my investors. These photo-ops are just to keep the illusion going that we care. And you are now a willing participant in that fairytale. If you threaten me or my class or their ability to make a profit… I have a list… Where is that list?…Malia, darling could hand your father that piece of paper… thank you. See Malala, I have the right to Kill anyone in the ENTIRE world. ANYONE. yes, even U.S. citizens… see here, I killed a young man no more than a couple years older than you. And that was because of who his father was! hahaha! Imagine! Now Imagine, if you, Malala truly stood up and spoke out against me and my friends. So just to let you know, I will drone anyone anywhere I feel like because that’s just apart of my job as Ruler of the free world. Now smile for the camera.
Say Freedom!”

 

 

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

 

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughter Malia meet with Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban a year ago, in the Oval Office, Oct. 11, 2013. PETE SOUZA — Official White House photo

Malala Yousafzai, the sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl who survived a gunshot to the head by members of the Taliban for speaking out on women’s right to education, told President Barack Obama in an Oval Office meeting on Friday that he should stop drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan.

In a statement released after the meeting, Yousafzai said that she told Obama that she is concerned about the effect of U.S. drone strikes in her country—a portion of the conversation that was omitted from White House statements so far.

 

“I [expressed] my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism,” Yousafzai said in a statement released by the Associated Press. “Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”

 

Yousafzai—the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize—was invited to the White House “for her inspiring and passionate work on behalf of girls education in Pakistan,” according to a White House statement.

 

Yousafzai also recently called on the U.S. and U.K. governments to end military attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in an interview with BBC.

 

“The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue,” she told BBC. “That’s not an issue for me, that’s the job of the government… and that’s also the job of America.”

 

Yousafzai was awarded a prestigious international human rights award—the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought—on Thursday, but did not win the Nobel Peace Prize, as was announced on Friday.

 

 

A Solution for Syria September 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, War.
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Dear friends,

http://www.avaaz.org/en/solution_for_syria_loc/?bVyDaab&v=28859O

Just weeks ago the kids in this image were gassed to death in their sleep. There is one peaceful way to stop these massacres – if Iran and the US sit down to talks and bring the warring parties to the table to get a ceasefire. For the first time the two Presidents are showing dialogue is possible. Let’s tell them the world wants talks to start saving lives now! Sign up:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/solution_for_syria_loc/?bVyDaab&v=28859

Just weeks ago the kids in this image were gassed to death in their sleep, but it feels the world has forgotten them and got stuck in a debate between US strikes or doing nothing. Now there is a glimmer of hope for a peaceful way to stop these massacres.

Syria’s bloody war has been fuelled by rivalry between Iran, Assad’s main backer, and the US and their allies. But this vile chemical attack has changed their discourse: Iran’s new moderate president condemned the gassing and Obama signalled he’d work with “anybody” to resolve the conflict. Let’s urgently call on both leaders to sit down to talks and bring the warring parties together before any more lives are lost.

Right now, the global drums of war are beating over Syria, but if enough of us make sure Rouhani and Obama know the world wants bold diplomacy, we could end the nightmare for thousands of terrified Syrian children under threat of new gas attacks. We have no time to lose. Click now to join this urgent call — when we reach one million signers we will deliver the petition directly to the two presidents:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/solution_for_syria_loc/?bVyDaab&v=28859

Syria’s the most brutal war of our generation, and this chemical attack on innocent civilians is the worst our world has seen in 30 years. The world has a responsibility to protect Syrians from extermination, but for two years the international community has been shamefully gridlocked and has failed the innocent victims. Now, despite overwhelming evidence that Assad’s forces launched the attack, Syria’s backers have sown doubt and, wary of war, the world is unsure about a humanitarian intervention. These talks are a new chance to stop the bloodshed.

It’s always been believed that the US would never talk to Iran and that Iran would never help the US solve the Syrian crisis, but current evidence points to change and hope. President Obama may launch strikes, but he has no public support for a longer war, and he is looking for a way out of a sustained conflict. And 130 members of the US Congress are calling on President Obama to talk with Iran. A massive global public push for diplomacy right now could push Obama towards talks.

Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad spent billions supplying cash and weapons to the Assad regime. But the new President Rouhani was elected on a ticket to build bridges with the West and favours a political settlement with the Syrian opposition. The chemical attack is eroding Iranian public support for Assad, rekindling painful memories of Iraq’s gas attacks on Iran, and insiders say pressure is building to reconsider Iran’s support for Assad. This could be a tipping point to bring Rouhani to the table.

Talks won’t stop the horror overnight, but there is no quick and easy solution. We urgently need to get started on a path that can stop the killing of innocent children and bring the world closer together rather than tear us further apart. Let’s get the US and Iran to start talks now:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/solution_for_syria_loc/?bVyDaab&v=28859

A roadmap has already been put in motion for a Syrian peace process in Geneva, but this is the first time there could be the political will to overlook all the differences and sit down. Iran is the only country in the world with sufficient influence in Syria to push the regime to the table. And the US, with its Middle East allies, can push the opposition to sit down.

It took the horror of the Second World War to get the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights. Maybe the horror of Syria might finally push the US and Iran, and their moderate presidents, to address longstanding differences and build the basis for a more lasting peace for Syria and the region, with consequences for a host of global issues from nuclear proliferation to peace in Israel and Palestine. Our community has stood by the Syrian people from the very beginning. Now they need us more than ever. Let’s give it our best shot.

With hope,

Alice, Luis, Ian, Emily, Bissan, Antonia, Ricken, Lisa, Mais and the whole Avaaz team

PS – Many Avaaz campaigns are started by members of our community! Start yours now and win on any issue – local, national or global: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?bgMYedb&v=23917

More information:

Syria Offers Opportunity For US-Iran Talks (Al Monitor)
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/syria-opportunity-iran-us-talks.html

Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Keeps Eye on Iran Policy (New York Times)
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/03/world/middleeast/drawing-a-line-on-syria-us-eyes-iran-talks.html?ref=world&_r=1&

No, Iran Doesn’t Need Assad (The Atlantic)
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/no-iran-doesn-t-need-assad/279340/

For Syria’s sake, end Iran’s isolation (Guardian)
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/03/for-syria-sake-end-iran-isolation

Iran ex-president says Syria government launched gas attacks: news agency (Reuters)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/01/us-syria-crisis-iran-rafsanjani-idUSBRE98007R20130901

Over 130 Reps. Sign Bipartisan Dent-Price Letter to President Urging Diplomacy on Iran
http://price.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3439:over-130-reps-sign-bipartisan-dent-price-letter-to-president-urging-diplomacy-on-iran&catid=100:press-releases

Iran’s Rouhani acknowledges chemical weapons killed people in Syria (Reuters)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/24/us-syria-crisis-iran-idUSBRE97N06P20130824

Can Syrian Chemical Weapons Issue Lead to US-Iran Opening? (Al Monitor)
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/week-in-review-chemical-weapons-possible-us-strike-on-syria.html#ixzz2drRWTAPx

Support the Avaaz Community!
We’re entirely funded by donations and receive no money from governments or corporations. Our dedicated team ensures even the smallest contributions go a long way. https://secure.avaaz.org/en/donate_to_avaaz_gc/?cl=3241555772&v=28859

The bombing war of Syria is not inevitable September 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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By Brian Becker, National Coordinator, ANSWER Coalition

The bombing war of Syria is not inevitable.

Obama, Kerry and the mass media are working overtime to conjure up the image of “inevitability” in order to demoralize and paralyze the anti-war opposition that clearly represents the sentiment of the vast majority of the people in the United States.

We reject the concept of the inevitability of this attack.

All power does not rest in the hands of the war makers. The people oppose this next war. We must organize and organize and organize.

Right now there are deep divisions within the summits of the political and economic establishment about the reckless act of aggression being planned against a country in the heart of the Middle East. Such opposition is not based on principle but rather fear that once the war starts it is impossible to know what regional and possibly global chaos could follow.

Under such political circumstances, a mass opposition can have a decisive impact even inside the centers of world imperialism.

John Kerry has adopted all the rhetoric of Bush and the neo-conservatives. “America is the indispensable nation” he tells the world. This is the language of the neo-con criminals who took the lives of a million Iraqis and thousands of U.S. service members. The hubris of Kerry is indistinguishable from that of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz — the grouping that put Syria on their “hit list” back in 2001.

In 2008, tens of millions of people campaigned for Barack Obama and against John McCain. They did so with enormous passion and the belief that the era of endless war in the Middle East would finally come to an end. Today, Obama and McCain are like brothers as they try to dragoon the country into the next war. McCain is always for imperial war. He has never met a war that he didn’t like. He has made a political career as cheerleader-in-chief for the death and destruction of people in weaker and more vulnerable countries. Today, he is Obama’s most important ally in Congress.

The Middle East contains two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves. The U.S. policy has been to destroy all independent, nationalist regimes whose origin was in the anti-colonial revolutions of the post-World War II era. The U.S. government wants only puppets and proxies in this resource-rich region.

The people of this country can rise and take their place as a major factor in the calculations of the war makers who speak in their name. This is not the time for hand wringing or passivity. The die has NOT been cast. We must all do everything in our power everyday in the coming days to mobilize opposition and spread the word to say “No War Against Syria!”

This Saturday, September 7 (initiated by the ANSWER Coalition) and Monday, September 9 (initiated by the Syrian American Forum) there will be major marches from the White House to the Capitol Building to tell Congress “Vote NO on war against Syria!” On Saturday, September 7, assemble at the White House at 12 Noon and on Monday, September 9, assemble at the White House at 10:00 a.m., both followed by a march to Congress. Click here for details about the D.C. demonstrations and here for a list of demonstrations taking place nationwide.

HANDS OFF SYRIA ACTIONS MOMENTUM GROWS September 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note: This is a concise and precise statement of the folly of the government/media plan to attack Syria.  From the current Senate hearing it is becoming more obvious that this is all about regime change and has nothing to do with chemical warfare.  The burning question is: how to stop the continual blatant violations of international law with impunity for purely imperial objectives, putting in governments in the Middle East that will support U.S. objectives of monopolizing oil reserves.

For more information on actions:

http://www.iacenter.org/actions/hands_off_syria_actions_momentum_grows_090413/

iacbanner800

Call for Hands Off Syria! Actions

List of Actions (updated frequently)

President Obama has called for a vote in Congress to authorize an attack on Syria. Congress is scheduled to return on Monday, Sept 9. President Obama is using the same tactics as President Bush did before the Iraq War. When the UN Security Council would not support the U.S. war, Bush turned to the U.S. Congress for a war vote giving him “all necessary means”. Ten years later Iraq lay in ruins. A million Iraqis died, millions became refugees. More than 1.5 million US soldiers were deployed to Iraq. Today thousands of U.S. and NATO soldiers are disabled, traumatized and 1/3 will suffer from PTSD. Just as in Iraq, Afghanistan and earlier in Vietnam this is again a U.S. war based on lies. Bombing Syria is NOT a ‘humanitarian intervention’. It is another war for Wall Street Profit! This time there is a risk of global confrontation or even world war. This war will only serve the billionaires and militarists who profit from war and conquest. The workers and poor will pay, in Syria and here in the U.S.

syria090113-2

 

STATEMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL ACTION CENTER

The people have made it crystal clear: We don’t want another war!

Last week there were demonstrations and rallies against bombing Syria in at least 48 U.S. cities. This Saturday, the 1:00 PM Times Square demonstration will be one of dozens across the country. On Monday, September 9, as Congress goes back into session, the Syrian American Forum and others will protest in front of the White House, then march to the U.S. Congress.

The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds $4 trillion dollars.

The cruise missiles the US is planning to fire at Syria cost $1.5 million apiece. The profits of the missile’s maker, Raytheon, is soaring — but our cities are crumbling. People are hurting from joblessness, foreclosures, sequester cuts and furloughs. Hospitals and schools are closing.

We need funds for job programs, healthcare and education, NOT billions wasted on war and destruction.

War propaganda always accompanies war. In 2003 before the massive attack on Iraq, it was the lie of “weapons of mass destruction.”

 

In 1991 in the first US war on Iraq it was wild claim that Iraqi soldiers were killing “incubator babies.”

 

In the Vietnam War it was the testimony that U.S. ships were being fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin.

It is ludicrous to think that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on the same day that UN weapons inspectors arrived in Syria. The inspectors were less than ten miles away from the attack and had been invited by the Syrian government.

The U.S. is the last country on earth that should start a war on the basis of combating war crimes.

The Pentagon’s 2004 assault on the city of Fallujah, Iraq alone left the residents there with staggering rates of cancer, birth defects and infant mortality due to the U.S. military’s use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.

Just last month the recipient of $1.5 billion in annual military aid, the Egyptian government, brutally cleared the streets, killing many hundreds at protest encampments that included men, women and children.

By far, the world’s largest stockpile of chemical, nuclear and every other kind of weapon belongs to the United States — the only country to have used nuclear weapons on civilians.

No, President Barack Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry don’t care about the people of Syria one bit. What they care about is removing a government that gives aid to the Palestinian resistance, Hezbollah and other victims of the Israeli brutality. The repressive regimes in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf kingdoms beat down the people of the region so that U.S. oil companies can have unfettered access to oil profits.

We don’t want another war for the 1%. The rich will win and the people in the U.S., Syria and the entire Middle East region will lose.

Hands off Syria!

Some of the organizations, coalitions and community groups endorsing Sat. Sept 7 demonstrations: (Full list in formation.)

Syrian American Forum

United National Antiwar Coalition-UNAC

ANSWER Coalition

Code Pink

May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights

International Action Center

Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY

Harlem Tenants Council

 

La Peña del Bronx

U.S. Peace Council

Veterans For Peace / Chapter 021, NJ

People’s Power Movement

World Can’t Wait

International League for People’s Struggles/US

People’s Organization for Progress

BAYAN USA

Jersey City Peace Movement

Occupy Harlem

Red Youth

Fight Imperialism Stand Together – FIST

Pakistan USA Freedom Forum

Honduras USA Resistencia

Frente Libre-Honduras

Antiwar Committee

Al Quds Committee

Islamic Leadership Council/Majlis Ash-Shura of Metro NY

Grannies for Peace

Black Waxx, NY

Interoccupy.net, NYC

Guyanese American Workers United, New York, NY

Wisconsin Bail Out The People Movement

Advocates For Peace And Social Justice, West New York, NJ

SI Solidarity Iran

People’s Video Network

Click HERE to view more endorsers. Click HERE to endorse, support or list a local action. Click HERE to find an action near you. Or see unacpeace.org

International Action Center
c/o Solidarity Center
147 W. 24th St., FL 2 • New York, NY 10011
212-633-6646
http://www.iacenter.org
iacenter@iacenter.org

 

Obama Gives Bush “Absolute Immunity” For Everything August 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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by Abby Zimet

Days before Bradley – now Chelsea – Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq, the Obama Department of Justice filed a petition in federal court arguing that the perpetrators of those crimes - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al – enjoy “absolute immunity” against criminal charges or civil liability. The filing came in a suit brought by Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother and refugee now living in Jordan, who alleges that the planning and waging of the Iraq war under false pretenses constituted a “crime of aggression” under a law used in the Nuremberg trials. With neither Congress nor Obama willing to hold Bush & Co. accountable for the Iraq catastrophe, supporters see the suit as a last-chance tactic to force the issue back into the public eye – an effort the Obama adminstration clearly opposes. More, all dispiriting, on the increasingly flawed Bush-Obama-lesser-of-two-evils thesis, and the current culture of impunity.

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U.S. will pay a price for its hypocrisy on Egypt: Siddiqui August 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger’s note: Haroon Siddiqui is that rare journalist who continues to speak truth to power in the corporate mass media.  Canadian readers will appreciate his scathing references to Stephen Harper.

The U.S. and its allies have been enablers of the grave crimes committed by the Egyptian military.

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Mohsen Nabil / AP Photo

Supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi capture an Egyptian security forces vehicle in Cairo on Aug. 14, 2013, after Egyptian police in riot gear swept in to clear their protest camp.

 

 

 

There has always been a hierarchy to the value of life. Kings mattered more than peasants. Killing continental European colonialists in Africa or the British in India brought the wrath of the empire down on the natives, who were strapped to the cannons and blown to bits by the hundreds. The contemporary era, with its spread of democracy, globalization and greater egalitarianism, raised hopes that all human beings would have equal value.

But the murder of 2,977 innocents on Sept. 11, 2001, led to the killing of at least 100,000 Muslim civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan. An Israeli life is deemed infinitely more valuable than that of a Palestinian. Our own government in Ottawa makes no bones about caring more about Christians in Egypt and Pakistan than Muslim victims of similar religious persecution there or in Myanmar. When the West does care about Muslims, it does so for the secular “good Muslim,” not the Islamist “bad Muslim.”

When Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s thrice-elected “Islamist” prime minister, ordered tear gas and water cannons on peaceful protesters in Istanbul, he was duly reviled. But the Egyptian army that has been firing live ammunition into peaceful “Islamist” protesters and killing them by the hundreds in the last month has only been told, politely, of our “concern.”

On July 11, Ottawa raised just such a pipsqueak “concern.” Stephen Harper’s government was more emphatic as it condemned the shooting death of a Coptic Christian priest near El Arish. “The targeting of religious leaders is unacceptable.” Following the second massacre, July 27, in which about 80 protesters were gunned down, Ottawa was “deeply concerned and appalled” — and fixated on its clarion call for respecting “religious minorities,” namely Coptic Christians.

Barack Obama was also mostly silent about the two massacres. So was David Cameron. So was much of Europe. They had refused to call the July 3 military coup a coup. In fact, John Kerry passed the perverse judgment that in toppling the elected president Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian army was “restoring democracy.” American annual aid of $1.3 billion was to continue.

It’s only now after Wednesday’s bloody massacre of pro-Morsi protesters that Obama stirred himself to shed crocodile tears. The U.S. and its allies have been enablers of the grave crimes committed by the Egyptian military as well of the Goebbelsian lies it has been peddling.

After each official atrocity, the army has under-reported the deaths and blamed the victims, accusing them of “inciting violence,” “hoarding weapons,” “torturing people in public squares,” “fomenting terrorism” and being “a threat to national security.” It has hurled a slew of charges against Morsi — murder, treason, espionage, conspiring with Hamas, attacking and insulting state institutions, etc. It has held him incommunicado, along with several top Brotherhood leaders. It has shut down a dozen pro-Morsi TV stations, with a nary a peep from free speech advocates in the West.

The U.S., the E.U and others have also been doing the Egyptian army’s bidding by calling on “all sides” to refrain from violence when, in fact, the violence has been almost always one-sided. Western governments and media have also accused Morsi of having been unduly partisan when, in fact, he was far less so than most ruling political parties in democracies. Proportionately, he appointed far fewer dummies than, say, Harper to the Senate, or the Republicans or Democrats named friends and funders to key posts.

Morsi was inept in the extreme. But he did reach out to his opponents who simply refused to accept their repeated defeats at the polls.

It has now been credibly reported that the secular anti-Morsi forces formed an unholy alliance with Egypt’s Deep State (the army, the intelligence, the security forces, the police, the interior ministry and its paid thugs, the judiciary and the bureaucracy), along with the beneficiaries of the Hosni Mubarak era (crony capitalists and corrupt politicians) to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood government. They collaborated in mounting mass protests, in a blaze of hateful anti-Brotherhood propaganda by both the state and privately-owned media, which heralded the unproven and unprovable claims that 20 million people had taken to the streets and 22 million had signed anti-Morsi petitions. Post-coup, acute shortages of gas and electricity miraculously disappeared overnight. Law-and-order situations improved in selective neighbourhoods.

Reportedly in on the plot were the intelligence agencies of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other oil-rich Gulf states except Qatar. They hate the Brotherhood, not so much for its Islamic ideology but the democratic threat it poses to their monarchies. They rewarded the coup with $12 billion in aid.

The army conveniently claimed that the coup was only a response to the people’s will. In turn, it has been forgiven all its sins — including the virginity tests on women protesters, and the shooting of Coptic demonstrators and running them over with armoured vehicles.

What we’ve witnessed is “fascism under the false pretence of democracy and liberalism,” said Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian political activist and former MP.

All this will not be lost on the Muslim masses in Egypt and elsewhere. There will be a price to pay — we don’t quite know when and where and how. But as American pollster Dalia Mogahed, who has surveyed Muslim societies worldwide, says, it is useful to remind ourselves that “Al Qaeda was conceived in the prisons of Egypt and, contrary to conventional wisdom, not the caves of Afghanistan.”

Haroon Siddiqui’s column appears on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

 

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