Former FBI agent says tech companies must “silence” sources of “rebellion”

US Congressional hearing:

By Andre Damon
1 November 2017

Top legal and security officials for Facebook, Twitter and Google appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, in a hearing targeting “Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online.”

Over the course of four hours, senators argued that “foreign infiltration” is the root of social opposition within the United States, in order to justify the censorship of oppositional viewpoints.

Russia “sought to sow discord and amplify racial and social divisions among American voters,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. It “exploited hot button topics…to target both conservative and progressive audiences.”

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Russia helped promote protests against police violence in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland. Russia, he said, “spread stories about abuse of black Americans by law enforcement. These ads are clearly intended to worsen racial tensions and possibly violence in those cities.”

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii demanded, for her part, that the companies adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment “to prevent the fomenting of discord.”

The most substantial portion of the testimony took place in the second part of the hearing, during which most of the Senators had left and two representatives of the US intelligence agencies testified before a room of mostly empty chairs.

Clint Watts addresses a nearly-empty hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee

Clint Watts, a former U.S. Army officer, former FBI agent, and member of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, made the following apocalyptic proclamation: “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

He added, “Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

As this “civil war” rages on, he said, “our country remains stalled in observation, halted by deliberation and with each day more divided by manipulative forces coming from afar.”

The implications of these statements are staggering. The United States is in the midst of a civil war, and the necessary response of the government is censorship, together with the abolition of all other fundamental democratic rights. The “rebellion” must be put down by silencing the news outlets that advocate it.

That such a statement could be made in a congressional hearing, entirely without objection, is an expression of the terminal decay of American democracy. There is no faction of the ruling class that maintains any commitment to basic democratic rights.

None of the Democrats in the committee raised any of the constitutional issues involved in asking massive technology companies to censor political speech on the Internet. Only one Republican raised concerns over censorship, but only to allege that Google had a liberal bias.

The Democrats focused their remarks on demands that the Internet companies take even more aggressive steps to censor content. In one particularly noxious exchange, Feinstein pressed Google’s legal counsel on why it took so long for YouTube (which is owned by Google) to revoke the status of Russia Today as a “preferred” broadcaster. She demanded, “Why did Google give preferred status to Russia Today, a Russian propaganda arm, on YouTube? … It took you until September of 2017 to do it.”

Despite the fact that Feinstein and other Democrats were clearly pressuring the company to take that step, the senators allowed Richard Salgado, Google’s Law Enforcement and Information Security Director, to present what was by all appearances a bald-faced lie before Congress. “The removal of RT from the program was actually a result of…is a result of some of the drop in viewership, not as a result of any action otherwise. So there was … there was nothing about RT or its content that meant that it stayed in or stayed out,” Salgado stammered, in the only time he appeared to lose his composure during the hearing.

Salgado’s apparently false statement is of a piece with Google’s other actions to censor the Internet. These include changes to its search algorithm, which, behind the backs of the public, have slashed search traffic to left-wing websites by some 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site losing some 74 percent of its search traffic.

Stressing the transformation of the major US technology companies into massive censorship operations, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked the representatives of the firms, “I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform, and whatever goes across it is not your affair,” to which all answered in the affirmative.

When pressed by lawmakers to state how many people were employed by Facebook to moderate content, Colin Stretch, the company’s general counsel, said that Facebook employed “thousands” of such moderators, and was in the process of adding “thousands more.”

While the senators and technology companies largely presented a show of unity, just how far the companies were willing to go in censoring users’ content and helping the government create blacklists of dissidents was no doubt a subject of contentious debate in the background.

On Friday, Feinstein sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO demanding that the company hand over profile information—possibly including full names, email addresses, and phone numbers—related to “divisive” “organic content” promoted by “Russia-linked” accounts.

Although the senators largely steered away from the issue of “organic content” in their questions, a remark by Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, made clear that the “organic content” Feinstein’s letter was referring to included the social media posts of US-based organizations and individuals. Edgett said “organic tweets,” include “those that you or I or anyone here today can tweet from their phone or computer.”

The New York Times reported over the weekend, however, that Facebook has already begun turning lists of such “organic content” over to congressional investigators. Given that Facebook has said that just one “Russia-linked” company had posted some 80,000 pieces of “divisive” content, including reposts from other users, it is reasonable to assume Facebook and Twitter are being pressured to turn over information on a substantial portion of political dissidents within the United States.

WSWS

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Slain US special forces troops on apparent assassination mission in Niger

By Bill Van Auken
25 October 2017

Three weeks after four US special forces soldiers were killed in a firefight in the landlocked West African nation of Niger, information has surfaced indicating that the American troops and their Nigerien counterparts were involved in a “capture-kill” mission aimed at the leader of a local Islamist militia operating on the Niger-Mali border.

The White House and the Pentagon has provided only a trickle of information about the abortive October 4 operation. The incident came to the public eye largely because of President Donald Trump’s initial failure to say anything about the largest loss of US military personnel since he took office, along with his subsequent lies about contacting families of slain troops and his shameful public confrontation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four Green Berets killed in Niger, over a callous condolence call.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that the Green Berets had been engaged in a “simple reconnaissance mission,” and described the overall purpose of deploying some 1,000 US special operations troops in Niger as a “train, advise and assist mission” to support the Nigerien security forces.

It appears that Dunford’s comments were deliberately misleading on both counts.

NBC News Tuesday cited “multiple US officials” as recounting that the US detachment of 12 US special forces troops and 30 Nigerien soldiers had been on what was effectively an assassination mission, aimed at killing a senior leader of a local Islamist militia.

NBC reported: “One theory, said an official with direct knowledge of the military’s investigation, is that the soldiers were gathering information about the target, and, after learning his whereabouts, decided to pursue him. A big question would then be whether the unit got authorization, and whether the risks were assessed.”

It added that the ill-fated Niger mission was conducted under the mantle of Operation Juniper Shield, a program begun under the Obama administration and continued under Trump, which is directed at using US military force to “disrupt or neutralize” organizations deemed connected to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State across the Sahel region of central west Africa.

This military intervention is being conducted in coordination with the French military, which is waging an even more intense neocolonial operation in neighboring Mali. Both countries have mounted a campaign against an insurgent group known as Al-Mourabitoun, which has been active throughout the region. Last January, Al-Mourabitoun took responsibility for a suicide bombing against a military base in the city of Gao in Mali, killing 77. Previous attacks have targeted foreigners in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, while in 2013 the group seized a gas facility in Algeria, leading to a confrontation in which all 39 of its hostages were killed.

According to the sources cited by NBC, the Green Beret team involved in the October 4 firefight, officially known as Operational Detachment Alpha or ODA, was involved in an “intelligence-directed operation,” which included a meeting with an individual purported to have information on the whereabouts of an Islamist militant known as Abnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, who is believed to be the leader of at least one section of Al-Mourabitoun.

While the precise way in which the ambush that led to the deaths of the four US special forces troops remains shrouded in mystery, military sources have suggested that the unit was set up by hostile elements of the local population, who either led them into a trap or gave away their location to the Islamist insurgents.

Leading members of the US Senate and House—including Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senators John McCain (chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) and Lindsey Graham—have claimed to have been kept in the dark by the Pentagon on the escalating US intervention in the region and expressed surprise that up to 1,000 US special forces troops are deployed in Niger and on its borders.

A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for Thursday in which two senior Pentagon officials will deliver a classified briefing to the Senate Armed Services panel. The session was scheduled after McCain threatened to subpoena the administration for more information on the Niger operation.

In reality, the steadily escalating US military intervention in Africa has been a fairly open secret, provoking disquiet only after the October 4 debacle.

In February 2013, the Obama White House announced that the first 100 US troops were being sent into Niger, with hundreds more to follow. At the time, it was revealed that Washington had signed an agreement with the Niger government allowing the US military to set up a drone base on the country’s territory, creating the conditions for spreading the Obama administration’s remote-control assassination spree throughout the region.

That base is now under construction in the city of Agadez, where the US is preparing major facilities to house and launch MQ-9 hunter-killer drones.

Last Friday, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is instituting a “status-based targeting” system in Niger allowing its troops to hunt down and employ lethal force against suspected members of Islamist insurgent groups “even if that person does not pose an immediate threat.” This appears to be what was involved in the abortive mission that claimed four US soldiers’ lives on October 4.

The employment of such assassination squads, along with drone killings and similar methods, will serve only to intensify civil war conditions throughout the region, providing the pretext for even greater US intervention.

Indeed, the principal source of the present conflict lies in the 2011 US-NATO war to topple Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, which shattered the tenuous equilibrium that Gaddafi had maintained among the Tuareg and other tribal groups in Niger and elsewhere in the Sahel. The rise of Islamist groups was directly tied to the utilization of Al Qaeda elements by Washington and its allies as proxy ground forces in the war for regime change that ended with Gaddafi’s lynching and the decimation of Libyan society. In the aftermath of the Libyan government’s fall, its arms stockpiles found their way into the hands of Islamist groups throughout the region.

In the midst of the roiling controversy over the troop deaths in Niger and Trump’s response, there has been a steadily escalating drumbeat from Democratic politicians and the media for Congress to debate the ongoing US military interventions and pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

This found fresh expression Tuesday in a piece in the Washington Post by the ostensibly liberal columnist Eugene Robinson, who wrote: “Congress needs to do more than investigate the deaths. It needs to authorize this conflict—or shut it down.”

Robinson went on to describe the cabal of generals—Kelly, Mattis and McMaster—that largely controls the White House and the Trump administration’s foreign policy as “the last line of defense between our great nation and the abyss.”

At the same time, however, he suggested that this military domination of the administration made it all the more important for Congress to “reclaim its war-making powers” by passing a new AUMF.

Such columns reflect the increasing nervousness within ruling circles that the ugly controversy over Niger has lifted the lid on both the ever-expanding global military operations of the Pentagon and the increasingly open turn toward military control of the government at home. Any new AUMF passed by Congress, which long ago gave up even the pretense of defending its constitutional powers, will only provide a legislative fig leaf to facilitate this process.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/25/nige-o25.html

An Epic Film on the Vietnam War Stops Short

Fog drifts up from the valleys below the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam as U.S. Marines untangle air-dropped supplies in 1968. (AP)

As the dust settles on the release of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick opus “The Vietnam War,” and as the cacophony of criticism quiets, a major issue remains largely unaddressed—U.S. culpability for war crimes in Vietnam.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Hanoi in 2016 seemed a turning point as he offered his hand in friendship to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, but there were no apologies forthcoming, and no acknowledgement of culpability for a U.S. war of aggression. Nor was there an outcry in the press that something was missing.

There is no statute of limitations on war crimes, as trials of aging German war criminals and of Bosnians and Rwandans attest. But the trying of Americans, especially powerful Americans, is another story entirely. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who still enjoys high status as an adviser to the powerful (his crimes long ago normalized), comes to mind as a potential target of inquiry.

But perhaps more important than the actual indictment of American war criminals is the corrosive effect of old war crimes on the American conscience. Avoidance of the conversation muddles our ability to judge what military ventures are appropriate, and how to prosecute them. The fog of war has become a constant state.

Unfortunately, Burns and Novick’s epic recap of the war stops short of the treatment that might help us internalize the lessons we need. Because their film promises to define the conversation about Vietnam for decades to come, it is vital that critical analysis and debate continue.

By virtue of their power of presentation and the wide exposure their film will receive, Burns and Novick have established themselves as the framers of our collective memory on Vietnam. Power infers responsibility—theirs was to get the history clear and right.

They have gotten a lot right—the sense of Vietnamese and Americans’ shared humanity, of the tragedy and depraved brutality of the war and the persistent lying on the part of our leadership. And, while they have started a robust and vital dialogue about Vietnam that we wouldn’t be engaged in otherwise, crucial elements are either missing or misstated. These elements keep the Vietnam opus from being the masterpiece it could have been and confound our ability to draw the most useful lessons from the conflict.

A fundamental confusion undermines “The Vietnam War.” Was it a civil war or a U.S. war of aggression? Though everything they depict adds up to the latter, the filmmakers avoid that inevitable and damning conclusion. They present the Geneva Accords, which called for an election in 1956 to reunify the country under one government after its temporary division at the 17th parallel. But they fail to drive home that U.S. subversion of that international accord was just a beat in a long line of premeditated aggression. For the record, subversion of an international accord is itself deemed a war crime.

In fact, the U.S. undermined the 1956 election (which never occurred), supported Ngo Dinh Diem as leader of its first puppet regime, dispensed with Diem (and his assassination) when his usefulness ran out, and then installed and propped up a series of puppet “governments.” South Vietnam was a client state—not a legitimate and representative government. But the filmmakers persist in treating South Vietnam as a legitimate representative of the South Vietnamese. In their insistence on not taking sides, the filmmakers instead perpetuate the old—and fully debunked—“civil war” narrative that led us to war.

Their voice-over narration cites the enemy as “the North,” contributing to the “civil war” confusion. But Pentagon-sponsored research had established as early as December 1964 that the “enemy” had Southern origins.

Viewers might recall that in Episode 4, the film reveals the little known Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Study, a Rand Corp. investigation inspired by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s research question: What makes the Viet Cong tick? The first study group reported its results in December 1964 to Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Gen. William Westmoreland and to the Department of Defense in January 1965. The striking substance of that report, not covered in the film, underscores a central contradiction in the framing of the Vietnam War.

The Rand analysts explained that the enemy in the South was not the jungle insurgency they had expected, but rather a popular government that carried out normal governmental tasks in wide swaths of the countryside. Most pertinent to this discussion, the Provisional Revolutionary Government and its army, the National Liberation Front (as the Viet Cong called themselves), was a movement “by and for southerners,” the analysts said.

Their description of the enemy’s resolute determination to fight to the finish for reunification of Vietnam and what they termed “peace with freedom,” prompted a Pentagon deputy to declare, “If what you say is true, we’re fighting on the wrong side—the side that’s going to lose this war.” That memorable quote appears in the film, but without the context that would clarify its meaning.

The Rand analysts’ emphasis on Southern origins of the resistance is well supported by subsequent research. New York University history professor Marilyn Young documented how Southern-bred resistance to Diem’s reign of terror in the countryside—suspected Communists were rounded up and executed en masse—precipitated the North’s entry into the war. Even Le Duan, secretary general of the Communist Party of Vietnam, had opposed armed insurrection in the South, arguing that “consolidation of the North was the pre-eminent revolutionary task” and sanctioning only political struggle.

Flaunting Le Duan’s directive, remnants of the Viet Minh formed self-defense units that eventually forced the Northern-based party to sanction official formation and arming of the National Liberation Front and to come to their direct aid.

Well known, as documented in the Pentagon Papers, was the expected outcome of the thwarted 1956 elections. Vietnam would have been reunited as one country under the Communist leadership of Ho Chi Minh.

The argument of North Vietnamese aggression evaporates once we’ve debunked the Tonkin Gulf Incident (see the Pentagon Papers), and dispensed with the myth of two Vietnams and the ensuing illusion of the U.S. as protector of a democratic South Vietnamese government. With those props gone, our war effort is thrown into stark relief. We were the aggressors.

The distinction of who was the aggressor in Vietnam couldn’t be more important. Under international law, a response to aggression is the only legitimate reason to wage war. The Nuremburg trials, which were led by U.S. efforts, established that aggression is the gravest war crime of all, because it is aggression that undermines the peace and serves as a precursor to other war crimes. That is why the U.S. was so intent on painting North Vietnam as the aggressor—only then would Congress and international opinion sanction the war.

The filmmakers’ failure to identify the aggressor and their clouding of the issue with the old “civil war” construct deprives the public of a framework for analysis.

Of course, U.S. aggression did, in fact, serve as a precursor to other crimes.

The filmmakers rightfully acknowledge My Lai as an atrocity. And the film depicts other atrocities, including Zippo raids on villages and the use of Agent Orange and napalm. It touches on pacification. But it doesn’t connect the dots for viewers who don’t know the history. We don’t learn that destruction of the very fabric of Vietnamese life was fully intentional, that full-out assault on civilians was central to U.S. war strategy. Most distressingly, for anyone interested in our nation’s compliance with international law, all of this adds up to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Take the strategy with the most benign name—pacification. What this meant in practice was the purposeful displacement of half the population of South Vietnam. Because it was recognized that the guerrillas were fish in the sea of the people, U.S. strategists aimed to drain the sea to deprive the guerillas of their support base. Zippo raids destroyed the villages while Agent Orange destroyed the crops, and villagers were forced into resettlement camps surrounded by barbed wire. The purposeful generation of refugees is a war crime, which the documentary fails to name.

The film’s treatment of the Phoenix Program bears particular mention. The voice-over describing the program states that former CIA Director William Colby testified to Congress that it couldn’t be determined how many of the more than 20,000 identified Communists killed under Phoenix had been innocent. Let’s unpack the implications of that statement. Under Phoenix, suspected Communists were detained, tortured and then killed. The suspects included civilians—men, women and children.

Guilty or innocent, Communist or not, we are proscribed by the rules of war from summarily executing those we capture, not to mention the proscription against torture. I learned that much as a kid watching World War II movies. But the implication, as it is presented, is that “innocents” might have been caught in too big a net, not that torture and murder of any and all captives is illegal.

Then there is the bombing. The most strident voice calling out the air war in the film is that of Jane Fonda. Fonda’s regrettable decision to condemn the air war while perched on an anti-aircraft gun undermined her message. But she spoke an essential truth. The carpet bombing with B-52s was a war crime.

The filmmakers’ decision to frame the “Hanoi Jane” episode with a clip from “Barbarella” and former Marine John Musgrave’s sexual fantasies neutralized the single voice calling out for the war crimes inquiry of the bombing. This is a glaring lapse of editorial judgment on the filmmakers’ part—the titillating “Barbarella” clip belongs on the cutting-room floor.

Lest it be misconstrued, discussion of war crimes was not confined to the left. Fonda’s call for a war crimes inquiry was echoed during the late 1960s and ’70s, especially after My Lai. To cite just a few examples, Nuremberg prosecutor and U.S. Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor took a leading role, alongside members of Congress and American scholars and jurists and GIs who launched their own investigation, in the discussion of potential war crimes charges that might be leveled at U.S. leaders.

Taylor wrote a treatise on the applicability of Nuremberg to Vietnam, titled “Nuremburg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy” (1970). And a small book titled “War Crimes and the American Conscience” chronicles the Congressional Conference on War and National Responsibility held in 1970, in response to My Lai. These were only two of a score of war-crimes offerings from the period, as Neil Sheehan of The New York Times documented. While a documentary can’t cover everything, the broad-based outcry against U.S. aggression and war crimes demands full treatment.

The subject was debated at the time. Witnesses at the Congressional Conference spoke to the fact that the war was being waged against the “entire Vietnamese people” with no regard for a “distinction between civilians and combatants.” Falk cited the most egregious examples of that practice: “the B-52 pattern raids against undefended villages and populated areas, free-fire zones, harassment and interdiction fire, Operation Phoenix, search and destroy missions, massive crop destruction and defoliation, and the forcible transfer of the civilian population.”

Conference participants did not reach consensus on the issue of genocide, with some arguing that the war was genocidal and others opining that U.S. crimes did not meet the criteria for genocide designation. That war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed was not debated.

My Lai was put into terrible relief when author Jonathan Schell described a two-week journalism stint flying over Quang Nai, the province where My Lai is located. From the air, he charted B-52 destruction of the province, shading the destroyed areas on military maps, and documented that 70 percent of the villages there had been destroyed from the air. He corroborated his findings with interviews of ground commanders. The My Lai massacre occurred three months later.

It was not isolated. An estimated 2 million civilians died in the war and half the population—approximately 8 million people—were driven from their homes. That is a holocaust.

But Burns and Novick don’t acknowledge the full implications of aggressive war and its progeny—the host of war crimes we inflicted on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Rather, the filmmakers couch their exposure of war crimes with misplaced journalistic “impartiality.” In Episode 9, John Kerry, representing the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, offers riveting congressional testimony that identifies specific war crimes and contextualizes them. But what could have been an opening to an analysis of systemic war crimes is checked by the insertion of an interview that denies systemic abuse.

There are other strong moments, such as when Vietnam veteran and author Tim O’Brien questions how the My Lai perpetrators could escape unpunished and when a Vietnamese survivor recalls the devastation on the ground after a bombing. But even as they portray atrocities inflicted by U.S. forces, the atrocities are particularized. We see the devastation of napalm on Kim Phuc, but we don’t appreciate how many civilians that criminal enterprise killed or maimed as our armed forces targeted civilian centers.

Coverage of the Winter Soldier Investigation would have dispensed with the notion that war crimes were anything but systemic—but the GIs’ devastating 1971 inquiry isn’t covered.

Most importantly, the atrocities covered by the film might have had restorative impact if they had been framed with an analysis of aggressive war—in other words, an analysis that imparts lasting lessons.

As profound and simultaneously flawed as it is, “The Vietnam War” offers Americans a vital opportunity to re-examine Vietnam. Arguably, a film that addressed the war as a war of aggression with full disclosure of those terrible implications most likely never would have been made. Viewed from that perspective, Burns and Novick’s series is a considerable achievement. But it is one that requires us to continue its unfinished work.

To grapple with such damning conclusions as those proposed here, the public needs an 11th episode—our own multifaceted inquiry into what occurred in Vietnam.

One element that needs further exploration is the role of the anti-war movement: who fought, what we said and how we said it. And how GIs, resistors, deserters, conscientious objectors, concerned clergy, students, workers and academics, blacks and whites, Asians and Latinos—in short, the full spectrum of society—joined forces to stop U.S aggression. That chapter has not been fleshed out and bears telling.

A haunting song of the period that could serve as soundtrack to the 11th episode is Holly Near’s “No More Genocide in My Name.” I remember that being called as a chant at demonstrations against the war. I lived and demonstrated in Los Angeles, where Ron Kovic, the subject of the movie “Born on the Fourth of July,” and Daniel Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers co-defendants, regularly marched with us. To my recollection, Russo first raised the “no more genocide” chant (the most likely inspiration for the song). Those words were intensely personal to Russo, who was listed as an author of Rand Corp. reports that advocated the air war and other crimes against humanity.

A half-century later, it is time we face up to the true nature of the horror of Vietnam. Until we acknowledge the criminality of U.S. aggression in all its forms, until we call out loudly and clearly that there will be no more war crimes in our names, we will fail to safeguard our essential morality and be doomed to fateful repetition. Our calls for democracy will remain hollow, stripped of their core by our crimes against humanity. And our fatal flaw will not go unnoticed.

Barbara Myers is an independent journalist, with historically based film and print stories set in Vietnam, China and Rwanda, and the author of The Other Conspirator, The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It. 

Barbara Myers

The conspiracy to censor the Internet

18 October 2017

The political representatives of the American ruling class are engaged in a conspiracy to suppress free speech. Under the guise of combating “trolls” and “fake news” supposedly controlled by Russia, the most basic constitutional rights enumerated in the First Amendment are under direct attack.

The leading political force in this campaign is the Democratic Party, working in collaboration with sections of the Republican Party, the mass media and the military-intelligence establishment.

The Trump administration is threatening nuclear war against North Korea, escalating the assault on health care, demanding new tax cuts for the rich, waging war on immigrant workers, and eviscerating corporate and environmental regulations. This reactionary agenda is not, however, the focus of the Democratic Party. It is concentrating instead on increasingly hysterical claims that Russia is “sowing divisions” within the United States.

In the media, one report follows another, each more ludicrous than the last. The claim that Russia shifted the US election by means of $100,000 in advertisements on Facebook and Twitter has been followed by breathless reports of the Putin government’s manipulation of other forms of communication.

An “exclusive” report from CNN last week proclaimed that one organization, “Don’t Shoot Us,” which it alleges without substantiation is connected to Russia, sought to “exploit racial tensions and sow discord” on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokémon Go, a reality game played on cell phones.

Another report from CNN on Monday asserted that a Russian “troll factory” was involved in posting comments critical of Hillary Clinton as “part of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 election.” All of the negative commentary in news media and other publications directed at Clinton, it implied, were the product of Russian agents or people duped by Russian agents.

As during the period of Cold War McCarthyism, the absurdity of the charges goes unchallenged. They are picked up and repeated by other media outlets and by politicians to demonstrate just how far-reaching the actions of the nefarious “foreign enemy” really are.

While one aim has been to continue and escalate an anti-Russia foreign policy, the more basic purpose is emerging ever more clearly: to criminalize political dissent within the United States.

The most direct expression to date of this conspiracy against free speech was given by the anticommunist ideologue Anne Applebaum in a column published Monday in the Washington Post, “If Russia can create fake ‘Black Lives Matter’ accounts, who will next?”

Her answer: the American people. “I can imagine multiple groups, many of them proudly American, who might well want to manipulate a range of fake accounts during a riot or disaster to increase anxiety or fear,” she writes. She warns that “political groups—on the left, the right, you name it—will quickly figure out” how to use social media to spread “disinformation” and “demoralization.”

Applebaum rails against all those who seek to hide their identity online. “There is a better case than ever against anonymity, at least against anonymity in the public forums of social media and comment sections,” she writes. She continues: “The right to free speech is something that is granted to humans, not bits of computer code.” Her target, however, is not “bots” operating “fake accounts,” but anyone who seeks, fearing state repression or unjust punishment by his or her employer, to make an anonymous statement online. And that is only the opening shot in a drive to silence political dissent.

Applebaum is closely connected to the highest echelons of the capitalist state. She is a member of key foreign policy think tanks and sits on the board of directors of the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy. Married to the former foreign minister of Poland, she is a ferocious war hawk. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, she authored a column in the Washington Postin which she called for “total war” against nuclear-armed Russia. She embodies the connection between militarism and political repression.

The implications of Applebaum’s arguments are made clear in an extraordinary article published on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, “As US Confronts Internet’s Disruptions, China Feels Vindicated,” which takes a favorable view of China’s aggressive censorship of the Internet and implies that the United States is moving toward just such a regime.

“For years, the United States and others saw” China’s “heavy-handed censorship as a sign of political vulnerability and a barrier to China’s economic development,” the Times writes. “But as countries in the West discuss potential Internet restrictions and wring their hands over fake news, hacking and foreign meddling, some in China see a powerful affirmation of the country’s vision for the internet.”

The article goes on to assert that while “few would argue that China’s Internet control serves as a model for democratic societies… At the same time, China anticipated many of the questions now flummoxing governments from the United States to Germany to Indonesia.”

Glaringly absent from the Times article, Applebaum’s commentary and all of the endless demands for a crackdown on social media is any reference to democratic rights, free speech or the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, which asserts that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,” is the broadest amendment in the US Constitution. Contrary to Applebaum, there is no caveat exempting anonymous speech from Constitutional protection. It is a historical fact that leaders of the American Revolution and drafters of the Constitution wrote articles under pseudonyms to avoid repression by the British authorities.

The Constitution does not give the government or powerful corporations the right to proclaim what is “fake” and what is not, what is a “conspiracy theory” and what is “authoritative.” The same arguments now being employed to crack down on social media could just as well have been used to suppress books and mass circulation newspapers that emerged with the development of the printing press.

The drive toward Internet censorship in the United States is already far advanced. Since Google announced plans to bury “alternative viewpoints” in search results earlier this year, leading left-wing sites have seen their search traffic plunge by more than 50 percent. The World Socialist Web Site’s search traffic from Google has fallen by 75 percent.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have introduced similar measures. The campaign being whipped up over Russian online activity will be used to justify even more far-reaching measures.

This is taking place as universities implement policies to give police the authority to vet campus events. There are ongoing efforts to abolish “net neutrality” so as to give giant corporations the ability to regulate Internet traffic. The intelligence agencies have demanded the ability to circumvent encryption after having been exposed for illegally monitoring the phone communications and Internet activity of the entire population.

In one “democratic” country after another governments are turning to police-state forms of rule, from France, with its permanent state of emergency, to Germany, which last month shut down a subsidiary of the left-wing political site Indymedia, to Spain, with its violent crackdown on the separatist referendum in Catalonia and arrest of separatist leaders.

The destruction of democratic rights is the political response of the corporate and financial aristocracy to the growth of working class discontent bound up with record levels of social inequality. It is intimately linked to preparations for a major escalation of imperialist violence around the world. The greatest concern of the ruling elite is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class, and the state is taking actions to prevent it.

Andre Damon and Joseph Kishore

WSWS

Why is the US at war in West Africa?

By Eddie Haywood
14 October 2017

The October 4 killings of four US Green Berets in Niger has provided a rare glimpse into the far-reaching American military operations throughout the African continent which have been conducted almost entirely in secret.

Pentagon officials on Friday told reporters that the ambush was carried out by a self-radicalized group supposedly affiliated with ISIS. The Pentagon additionally admitted that at least 29 patrols similar to the one that was fatally ambushed have been carried out by American soldiers in Niger.

According to AFRICOM, the US military command based in Stuttgart, Germany, the US special forces deployed to Niger are tasked with providing training, logistics, and intelligence to assist the Nigerien military in fighting militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Mali and Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. AFRICOM has officially stated that its forces interact with the Nigerien army in a “non-combat advisory” capacity.

The circumstances surrounding the ambush which resulted in the deaths of the four Green Berets expose AFRICOM’s claim of non-engagement as a lie. The killings occurred during a joint patrol of elite American soldiers and Nigerien forces in a remote hostile region on the border with Mali known for frequent raids conducted by Islamist militants. Some 800 US commandos are deployed to bases in Niamey and Agadez making quite clear the offensive role that the American military is playing in Niger.

Underlining the incident is Niger’s configuration in Washington’s imperialist offensive across Africa. The expanding levels of US military forces arrayed across the continent have increasingly taken on the character of an occupying army. According to the Pentagon, there are a total of 1,000 American troops in the vicinity of the Chad River Basin which includes northern Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic. An additional 300 troops are stationed to the south in Cameroon.

After its establishment in 2008 as an independent command, AFRICOM has significantly expanded American military influence and troop deployments on the African continent. Measuring the breadth of US military expansion is the construction of a $100 million base in Agadez in central Niger, from which the US Air Force conducts regular surveillance drone flights across the Sahel region.

Augmenting the special forces contingent in the region are military personnel stationed at several dozen bases and outposts including a US base in Garoua, Cameroon.

The special operations units in Africa have their genesis in 1980, after the Pentagon created Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to conduct a raid on the US embassy in Tehran, Iran to rescue American hostages. Over the years, SOCOM has vastly broadened its scope, and currently has forces stationed on every continent around the globe.

Made up of various units of the US military, including Green Berets, Delta Force, and Navy Seals, SOCOM carry out a broad spectrum of offensive operations including assassinations, counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, psychological operations, and foreign troop training. Under AFRICOM, these forces form a subgroup of SOCOM designated as Special Operations Command in Africa (SOCAFRICA).

Between 2006 and 2010 the deployment of US special forces troops in Africa increased 300 per cent. However, from 2010 to 2017 the numbers of deployed troops exploded by nearly 2000 per cent, occupying more than 60 outposts tasked with carrying out over 100 missions at any given moment across the continent.

The scale of the military expansion which began in earnest under the Obama administration is part of a renewed “scramble for Africa”, comprised of a reckless drive for economic dominance over Africa’s vast economic resources which threatens to transform the entire continent into a battlefield.

The immediate roots of the Niger ambush can be traced to the 2011 US/NATO war in Libya which resulted in the removal and assassination of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Under the Obama administration, Washington cultivated and armed various Islamist militant groups with ties to Al-Qaeda as a proxy force to carry out its aim of regime change. The resulting US/NATO bombardment left Libyan society in shambles, and the Islamist fighters spilled forth and out across North Africa and south to the Sahel.

In 2012, as a consequence of a US and French backed coup against the government in Bamako, Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali took advantage of the chaos resulting from the coup to stage a rebellion. After the Tuareg militants began taking control over cities and territory as it cut deeper into southern Mali, France with the Obama administrations backing deployed 4,000 troops to the country to neutralize the Tuareg rebels, eventually stabilizing the government it placed in Bamako.

While the Tuareg rebellion may have been halted by the US-backed French offensive, Islamist fighters from Libya were pouring into Mali, with many taking up arms against the Western backed puppet government. The Islamist fighters largely united into one large group, declaring allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The military forces of Niger and Chad which participated in the US/French intervention in Mali have become frequent targets by the Islamist militants who began conducting cross-border raids and launched attacks on patrols and garrisons.

The rise of these warring Islamist militias which have transformed West Africa into a battlefield is the end result of Washington’s decades-long strategy in cultivating these forces as a proxy army in its wars for regime change, at first, in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and subsequently in Africa.

Underscoring France’s military deployment are the French economic interests it seeks to protect not only Mali, but throughout West Africa, the region which was once part of its colonial empire. In Niger, the French energy giant Arven has established mining operations extracting the country’s rich uranium resources.

For its part, Washington has enlisted the participation of the military forces of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Mali in its drive for dominance of the Sahel and West Africa, with all of these countries featuring US outposts or bases.

A key element of Washington’s military expansion in the region are the significant economic resources that it aims to secure for American corporate interests. On behalf of these interests, and complimentary to its military operation, Washington has constructed a $300 million embassy in Niamey.

Washington’s military interventions in Africa must also be seen as an effort to offset China’s growing economic influence on the continent. Beijing in recent years has secured investment deals with African governments in nearly every sector of Africa’s economy.

China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) purchased the permit for oil drilling in Niger’s Agadem Basin, and CNPC also constructed and operates the Soraz refinery near Zinder, Niger’s second largest city. Deals by Beijing for the construction of pipelines traversing through Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon are currently in the development stage, causing no small amount of consternation in Washington.

WSWS

Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

Chomsky: Trump’s #1 Goal as President

Donald Trump’s policies will devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans.

Noam Chomsky discusses the recent climate agreement between the US and China, the rise of the Islamic State and the movement in Ferguson against racism and police violence. 
Photo Credit: screen grab via GRITtv

[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.] 

David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office? 

Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.

At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.

These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency — though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.

That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.

Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the U.S. as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.

The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base — voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.

Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.

The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else — and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.

Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.

DB: Do you see any encouraging activity on the Democrats’ side? Or is it time to begin thinking about a third party? 

NC: There is a lot to think about. The most remarkable feature of the 2016 election was the Bernie Sanders campaign, which broke the pattern set by over a century of U.S. political history. A substantial body of political science research convincingly establishes that elections are pretty much bought; campaign funding alone is a remarkably good predictor of electability, for Congress as well as for the presidency. It also predicts the decisions of elected officials. Correspondingly, a considerable majority of the electorate — those lower on the income scale — are effectively disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences. In this light, there is little surprise in the victory of a billionaire TV star with substantial media backing: direct backing from the leading cable channel, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, and from highly influential right-wing talk radio; indirect but lavish backing from the rest of the major media, which was entranced by Trump’s antics and the advertising revenue that poured in.

The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, broke sharply from the prevailing model. Sanders was barely known. He had virtually no support from the main funding sources, was ignored or derided by the media, and labeled himself with the scare word “socialist.” Yet he is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

At the very least, the success of the Sanders campaign shows that many options can be pursued even within the stultifying two-party framework, with all of the institutional barriers to breaking free of it. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party disintegrated at the local and state levels. The party had largely abandoned the working class years earlier, even more so with Clinton trade and fiscal policies that undermined U.S. manufacturing and the fairly stable employment it provided.

There is no dearth of progressive policy proposals. The program developed by Robert Pollin in his book Greening the Global Economy is one very promising approach. Gar Alperovitz’s work on building an authentic democracy based on worker self-management is another. Practical implementations of these approaches and related ideas are taking shape in many different ways. Popular organizations, some of them outgrowths of the Sanders campaign, are actively engaged in taking advantage of the many opportunities that are available.

At the same time, the established two-party framework, though venerable, is by no means graven in stone. It’s no secret that in recent years, traditional political institutions have been declining in the industrial democracies, under the impact of what is called “populism.” That term is used rather loosely to refer to the wave of discontent, anger, and contempt for institutions that has accompanied the neoliberal assault of the past generation, which led to stagnation for the majority alongside a spectacular concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies — the corporations that dominate the economy — in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.

These policies are dedicated to making sure that society no longer exists, Margaret Thatcher’s famous description of the world she perceived — or, more accurately, hoped to create: one where there is no society, only individuals. This was Thatcher’s unwitting paraphrase of Marx’s bitter condemnation of repression in France, which left society as a “sack of potatoes,” an amorphous mass that cannot function. In the contemporary case, the tyrant is not an autocratic ruler — in the West, at least — but concentrations of private power.

The collapse of centrist governing institutions has been evident in elections: in France in mid-2017 and in the United States a few months earlier, where the two candidates who mobilized popular forces were Sanders and Trump — though Trump wasted no time in demonstrating the fraudulence of his “populism” by quickly ensuring that the harshest elements of the old establishment would be firmly ensconced in power in the luxuriating “swamp.”

These processes might lead to a breakdown of the rigid American system of one-party business rule with two competing factions, with varying voting blocs over time. They might provide an opportunity for a genuine “people’s party” to emerge, a party where the voting bloc is the actual constituency, and the guiding values merit respect.

DB: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. What significance do you see in that, and what does it mean for broader Middle East policies? And what do you make of Trump’s animus toward Iran?

NC: Saudi Arabia is the kind of place where Trump feels right at home: a brutal dictatorship, miserably repressive (notoriously so for women’s rights, but in many other areas as well), the leading producer of oil (now being overtaken by the United States), and with plenty of money. The trip produced promises of massive weapons sales — greatly cheering the Constituency — and vague intimations of other Saudi gifts. One of the consequences was that Trump’s Saudi friends were given a green light to escalate their disgraceful atrocities in Yemen and to discipline Qatar, which has been a shade too independent of the Saudi masters. Iran is a factor there. Qatar shares a natural gas field with Iran and has commercial and cultural relations with it, frowned upon by the Saudis and their deeply reactionary associates.

Iran has long been regarded by U.S. leaders, and by U.S. media commentary, as extraordinarily dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous country on the planet. This goes back to well before Trump. In the doctrinal system, Iran is a dual menace: it is the leading supporter of terrorism, and its nuclear programs pose an existential threat to Israel, if not the whole world. It is so dangerous that Obama had to install an advanced air defense system near the Russian border to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons — which don’t exist, and which, in any case, Iranian leaders would use only if possessed by a desire to be instantly incinerated in return.

That’s the doctrinal system. In the real world, Iranian support for terrorism translates to support for Hezbollah, whose major crime is that it is the sole deterrent to yet another destructive Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and for Hamas, which won a free election in the Gaza Strip — a crime that instantly elicited harsh sanctions and led the U.S. government to prepare a military coup. Both organizations, it is true, can be charged with terrorist acts, though not anywhere near the amount of terrorism that stems from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the formation and actions of jihadi networks.

As for Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, U.S. intelligence has confirmed what anyone can easily figure out for themselves: if they exist, they are part of Iran’s deterrent strategy. There is also the unmentionable fact that any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could be alleviated by the simple means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Such a zone is strongly supported by the Arab states and most of the rest of the world and is blocked primarily by the United States, which wishes to protect Israel’s WMD capabilities.

Since the doctrinal system falls apart on inspection, we are left with the task of finding the true reasons for U.S. animus toward Iran. Possibilities readily come to mind. The United States and Israel cannot tolerate an independent force in a region that they take to be theirs by right. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent is unacceptable to rogue states that want to rampage however they wish throughout the Middle East. But there is more to it than that. Iran cannot be forgiven for overthrowing the dictator installed by Washington in a military coup in 1953, a coup that destroyed Iran’s parliamentary regime and its unconscionable belief that Iran might have some claim on its own natural resources. The world is too complex for any simple description, but this seems to me the core of the tale.

It also wouldn’t hurt to recall that in the past six decades, scarcely a day has passed when Washington was not tormenting Iranians. After the 1953 military coup came U.S. support for a dictator described by Amnesty International as a leading violator of fundamental human rights. Immediately after his overthrow came the U.S.-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein, no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed, many by chemical weapons. Reagan’s support for his friend Saddam was so extreme that when Iraq attacked a U.S. ship, the USS Stark, killing 37 American sailors, it received only a light tap on the wrist in response. Reagan also sought to blame Iran for Saddam’s horrendous chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi Kurds.

Eventually, the United States intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War, leading to Iran’s bitter capitulation. Afterward, George H. W. Bush invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear weapons production — an extraordinary threat to Iran, quite apart from its other implications. And, of course, Washington has been the driving force behind harsh sanctions against Iran that continue to the present day.

Trump, for his part, has joined the harshest and most repressive dictators in shouting imprecations at Iran. As it happens, Iran held an election during his Middle East travel extravaganza — an election which, however flawed, would be unthinkable in the land of his Saudi hosts, who also happen to be the source of the radical Islamism that is poisoning the region. But U.S. animus against Iran goes far beyond Trump himself. It includes those regarded as the “adults” in the Trump administration, like James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the secretary of defense. And it stretches a long way into the past.

DB: What are the strategic issues where Korea is concerned? Can anything be done to defuse the growing conflict? 

NC: Korea has been a festering problem since the end of World War II, when the hopes of Koreans for unification of the peninsula were blocked by the intervention of the great powers, the United States bearing primary responsibility.

The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression, but it is seeking and to some extent carrying out economic development, despite the overwhelming burden of a huge military system. That system includes, of course, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond — but its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.

Today, we are instructed that the great challenge faced by the world is how to compel North Korea to freeze these nuclear and missile programs. Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation; to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China regards as a serious threat to its own interests; perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea — which, it is understood, would elicit retaliation by massed artillery, devastating Seoul and much of South Korea even without the use of nuclear weapons.

But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: we could simply accept North Korea’s offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: it calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea’s borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.

The Chinese-North Korean proposal is hardly unreasonable. North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by U.S. bombing, and many may recall how U.S. forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which “the Asian” depends for survival. They are very much worth reading, a useful part of historical memory.

The offer to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea’s border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed. Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by U.S. commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.

The 2017 South Korean elections may offer a ray of hope. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in seems intent on reversing the harsh confrontationist policies of his predecessor. He has called for exploring diplomatic options and taking steps toward reconciliation, which is surely an improvement over the angry fist-waving that might lead to real disaster.

DB: You have in the past expressed concern about the European Union. What do you think will happen as Europe becomes less tied to the U.S. and the U.K.? 

NC: The E.U. has fundamental problems, notably the single currency with no political union. It also has many positive features. There are some sensible ideas aimed at saving what is good and improving what is harmful. Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 initiative for a democratic Europe is a promising approach.

The U.K. has often been a U.S. surrogate in European politics. Brexit might encourage Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, a course that might be accelerated by Trump policies that increasingly isolate us from the world. While he is shouting loudly and waving an enormous stick, China could take the lead on global energy policies while extending its influence to the west and, ultimately, to Europe, based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the New Silk Road.

That Europe might become an independent “third force” has been a matter of concern to U.S. planners since World War II. There have long been discussions of something like a Gaullist conception of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals or, in more recent years, Gorbachev’s vision of a common Europe from Brussels to Vladivostok.

Whatever happens, Germany is sure to retain a dominant role in European affairs. It is rather startling to hear a conservative German chancellor, Angela Merkel, lecturing her U.S. counterpart on human rights, and taking the lead, at least for a time, in confronting the refugee issue, Europe’s deep moral crisis. On the other hand, Germany’s insistence on austerity and paranoia about inflation and its policy of promoting exports by limiting domestic consumption have no slight responsibility for Europe’s economic distress, particularly the dire situation of the peripheral economies. In the best case, however, which is not beyond imagination, Germany could influence Europe to become a generally positive force in world affairs.

DB: What do you make of the conflict between the Trump administration and the U.S. intelligence communities? Do you believe in the “deep state”?

NC: There is a national security bureaucracy that has persisted since World War II. And national security analysts, in and out of government, have been appalled by many of Trump’s wild forays. Their concerns are shared by the highly credible experts who set the Doomsday Clock, advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight as soon as Trump took office — the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the U.S. and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. But I see little sign that it goes beyond that, that there is any secret “deep state” conspiracy. 

DB: To conclude, as we look forward to your 89th birthday, I wonder: Do you have a theory of longevity? 

NC: Yes, it’s simple, really. If you’re riding a bicycle and you don’t want to fall off, you have to keep going — fast.

 

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.

David Barsamian, the director of the award-winning and widely syndicated Alternative Radio, is the winner of the Lannan Foundation’s 2006 Cultural Freedom Fellowship and the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

https://www.alternet.org/chomsky-trumps-1-goal-president?akid=16203.265072.OpnD8g&rd=1&src=newsletter1083746&t=4