What Happened to Russiagate?

Posted on Apr 18, 2017

By Robert Parry / Consortiumnews

Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russiagate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November—until April 4, that is.

On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack.

Since Trump took those actions—in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia—Russiagate has almost vanished from the news.

I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived.

“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is—and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russiagate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line.

If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russiagate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus.

McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol.

How Washington Works

But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket.

Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.”

Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.”

But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain in a way that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term.

In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia—even amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years—required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.

Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russiagate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign.

Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism.

For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russiagate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked.

However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russiagate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russiagate: Mission accomplished!

Russiagate’s Achievements

Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russiagate could claim some other notable achievements. For instance, it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.

Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!”

Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.

Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russiagate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance!

It didn’t matter that the “scandal”—the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election—amounted to a bunch of informational dots that didn’t connect.

Russiagate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian—and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.”

Another Russiagate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage—and loads of new subscription money—by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; the accused had no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing.

The Post and the Times also conflated news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department with some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money.

To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russiagate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe.

While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russiagate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson.

If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan.

Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be—not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want—but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia.

For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russiagate.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, “America’s Stolen Narrative,” either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

Why Trump Won and Why Clinton Lost

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Hillary Clinton’s stunning defeat reflected a gross misjudgment by the Democratic Party about the depth of populist anger against self-serving elites who have treated much of the country with disdain

A sign supporting Donald Trump at a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016 (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

In the end, Hillary Clinton became the face of a corrupt, arrogant and out-of-touch Establishment, while Donald Trump emerged as an almost perfectly imperfect vessel for a populist fury that had bubbled beneath the surface of America.

There is clearly much to fear from a Trump presidency, especially coupled with continued Republican control of  Congress. Trump and many Republicans have denied the reality of climate change; they favor more tax cuts for the rich; they want to deregulate Wall Street and other powerful industries – all policies that helped create the current mess that the United States and much of the world are now in.

Further, Trump’s personality is problematic to say the least. He lacks the knowledge and the temperament that one would like to see in a President – or even in a much less powerful public official. He appealed to racism, misogyny, white supremacy, bigotry toward immigrants and prejudice toward Muslims. He favors torture and wants a giant wall built across America’s southern border.

But American voters chose him in part because they felt they needed a blunt instrument to smash the Establishment that has ruled and mis-ruled America for at least the past several decades. It is an Establishment that not only has grabbed for itself almost all the new wealth that the country has produced but has casually sent the U.S. military into wars of choice, as if the lives of working-class soldiers are of little value.

For this dangerous and uncertain moment, the Democratic Party establishment deserves a large share of the blame. Despite signs that 2016 would be a year for an anti-Establishment candidate – possibly someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders – the Democratic leadership decided that it was “Hillary’s turn.”

On foreign policy, the Establishment had turned decision-making over to the neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks, a collection of haughty elitists who often subordinated American interests to those of Israel and Saudi Arabia, for political or financial advantage.

The war choices of the neocon/liberal-hawk coalition have been disastrous – from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya to Syria to Ukraine – yet this collection of know-it-alls never experiences accountability. The same people, including the media’s armchair warriors and the think-tank “scholars,” bounce from one catastrophe to the next with no consequences for their fallacious “group thinks.” Most recently, they have ginned up a new costly and dangerous Cold War with Russia.

For all his faults, Trump was one of the few major public figures who dared challenge the “group thinks” on the current hot spots of Syria and Russia. In response, Clinton and many Democrats chose to engage in a crude McCarthyism with Clinton even baiting Trump as Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” during the final presidential debate.

It is somewhat remarkable that those tactics failed; that Trump talked about cooperation with Russia, rather than confrontation, and won. Trump’s victory could mean that rather than escalating the New Cold War with Russia, there is the possibility of a ratcheting down of tensions.

Repudiating the Neocons

Thus, Trump’s victory marks a repudiation of the neocon/liberal-hawk orthodoxy because the New Cold War was largely incubated in neocon/liberal-hawk think tanks, brought to life by likeminded officials in the U.S. State Department, and nourished by propaganda across the mainstream Western media.

It was the West, not Russia, that provoked the confrontation over Ukraine by helping to install a fiercely anti-Russian regime on Russia’s borders. I know the mainstream Western media framed the story as “Russian aggression” but that was always a gross distortion.

There were peaceful ways for settling the internal differences inside Ukraine without violating the democratic process, but U.S. neocons, such as Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, and wealthy neoliberals, such as financial speculator George Soros, pushed for a putsch that overthrew the elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

Putin’s response, including his acceptance of Crimea’s overwhelming referendum to return to Russia and his support for ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine opposing the coup regime in Kiev, was a reaction to the West’s destabilizing and violent actions. Putin was not the instigator of the troubles.

Similarly, in Syria, the West’s “regime change” strategy, which dates back to neocon planning in the mid-1990s, involved collaboration with Al Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists to remove the secular government of Bashar al-Assad. Again, Official Washington and the mainstream media portrayed the conflict as all Assad’s fault, but that wasn’t the full picture.

From the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, U.S. “allies,” including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel, have been aiding the rebellion, with Turkey and the Gulf states funneling money and weapons to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and even to the Al Qaeda spinoff, Islamic State.

Though President Barack Obama dragged his heels on the direct intervention advocated by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama eventually went in halfway, bending to political pressure by agreeing to train and arm so-called “moderates” who ended up fighting next to Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and other jihadists in Ahrar al-Sham.

Trump has been inarticulate and imprecise in describing what policies he would follow in Syria, besides suggesting that he would cooperate with the Russians in destroying Islamic State. But Trump didn’t seem to understand the role of Al Qaeda in controlling east Aleppo and other Syrian territory.

Uncharted Territory

So, the American voters have plunged the United States and the world into uncharted territory behind a President-elect who lacks a depth of knowledge on a wide variety of issues. Who will guide a President Trump becomes the most pressing issue today.

Will he rely on traditional Republicans who have done so much to mess up the country and the world or will he find some fresh-thinking realists who will realign policy with core American interests and values.

For this dangerous and uncertain moment, the Democratic Party establishment deserves a large share of the blame. Despite signs that 2016 would be a year for an anti-Establishment candidate – possibly someone like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders – the Democratic leadership decided that it was “Hillary’s turn.”

Alternatives like Warren were discouraged from running so there could be a Clinton “coronation.” That left the 74-year-old socialist from Vermont as the only obstacle to Clinton’s nomination and it turned out that Sanders was a formidable challenger. But his candidacy was ultimately blocked by Democratic insiders, including the unelected “super-delegates” who gave Clinton an early and seemingly insurmountable lead.

With blinders firmly in place, the Democrats yoked themselves to Clinton’s gilded carriage and tried to pull it all the way to the White House. But they ignored the fact that many Americans came to see Clinton as the personification of all that is wrong about the insular and corrupt world of Official Washington. And that has given us President-elect Trump.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

The Day After Election Day

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In an effort to demonstrate united establishment support for Hillary Clinton Democrats are trotting out the reanimated corpse of serial war criminal Henry Kissinger, neocon debacle-monger Robert Kagan and a veritable who’s who of everything wrong with America over the last half-century. Were Donald Trump other than the uncensored id of the residual Republican pissed-ocracy pretending to be an economic populist the choice for or against the status quo would be clear. In neither case will a political direction be found to resolve the material circumstances driving current political disaffection. Perhaps Milton Friedman’s corpse could join Hill and Hank on the Democrats’ ‘fresh ideas’ team.

The thread linking Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Trump is economic struggle being carried out under the cover of politics. The American ruling class and its water-carriers in the bourgeois near-precariat have concluded that times are great to passable in descending order of place in the economic order. These are the people for whom stock prices and house values suggest that all is right with the world. The other 80% or so of the population, the recently dispossessed now struggling to get by alongside those who never had a dream that comported with bourgeois fantasy, seems to have concluded that it is Hillary Clinton’s establishment that put them where they are. Mr. Kissinger’s presence will no-doubt move the pro-genocide crowd toward the Democrats’ camp.

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Graph: Following sequential Republican failures to pass NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, liberal Democrats Bill and Hillary Clinton used identity politics and the temporary boom created by deregulation of Wall Street to convince gullible Progressives that their antique capitalist blather hadn’t already been disproved by the Great Depression. The predictable result was unmitigated calamity for manufacturing workers. But hey, stock prices are up. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve

Those frightened at the prospect of Donald Trump being elected need to explain precisely where they were when Democrats launched their three-decade-long class war against the great majority of the American people. The Clintons passed NAFTA in 1994 after Republicans had been unable to get it passed because of (righteous) opposition from organized labor. They ‘freed’ Wall Street from social accountability while making it more dependent than ever on government bailouts. They cut social spending while increasing the economic vulnerability of the poor. Both the dotcom stock bubble and the housing bubble began under the Clintons and were caused by their finance-friendly policies. The Clintons are singularly responsible for the Democrats’ turn toward finance capitalism that has dispossessed the middle class, immiserated the working class and left the poor to fight over the crumbs that fall to them.

In the abstract, but never-the-less relevant, terms of economic theory the Clintons separated claims on economic production from that-which-was-produced. The claims went to one group— connected financiers, as the task of economic production remained with a freshly diminished working class. This politicized money system can be seen most clearly in the distance between those who received ‘free’ money in the Wall Street bailouts and those who didn’t. Bankers, hedge funds and private equity received billions in low interest ‘non-recourse’ loans while the American political establishment urged austerity as the moral antidote appropriate for the rest of us. The spectacle of bankers, with the support of leading figures in the Obama administration, claiming that their clearly defrauded borrowers presented a ‘moral hazard’ to them would be as implausible in fiction as it was true in fact.

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Graph: the liberal economists who support Clinton-Obama-Clinton-omics have long claimed that job losses in ‘low value-added’ occupations like manufacturing would be made up for in the high value-added industries. In fact, employment for the prime-age workers who must work to live has plummeted since NAFTA was passed as low-wage and increasingly contingent service sector jobs have replaced manufacturing employment. This has required the robots-stole-their-jobs fallacy as productivity (the ‘benefit’ of automation) has fallen to five-decade lows. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The political establishment now circling the wagons around Hillary Clinton feeds at the trough of money creation and depends on the misdirection that in ‘normal’ circumstances nature ties its distribution to economic product produced. Upon his election in 1992 Bill Clinton claimed to have inherited an ‘unexpectedly’ large budget deficit that tied his hands with respect to social spending. The result was that Mr. Clinton abandoned his political program except inasmuch as the ‘private’ economy that included Wall Street, arms manufacturers, pharmaceutical and telecommunications companies and the insurance industry were ‘freed’ from social accountability as government funds and privileges continued to be directed to them. The money was somewhere ‘found’ to bomb Iraq for eight years but that needed to keep the poor living indoors and eating regular meals had to be cut because the Federal budget deficit required it.

Upon election Barack Obama did essentially the same thing claiming a fiscal emergency in 2010 that required cutting Social Security and Medicare as he spent $6 trillion – $14 trillion to save Wall Street. That unlimited funds were found for Wall Street but none could be found to restore the fortunes of the victims of Democratic ‘trade’ agreements and the predatory finance of Wall Street renders evident the class-war being perpetrated by the Democrats. Liberal economists— court jesters dressed in the garb of storied academics, prattled on about the ‘zero-lower bound’ (cartoon monetary economics) as the Clintons and Barack Obama forewent the power of the public purse that FDR used to create the Federal jobs programs that brought tens of thousands of desperate citizens out of the misery of the Great Depression.

When Hillary Clinton outlined her ‘economic’ program she claimed that upon election she would direct Congress to create ten million jobs rebuilding infrastructure without explaining how this jibed with her public career as a deficit hawk, how rebuilding infrastructure would create ten million jobs when Mr. Obama’s program created at best a few thousand and why this wouldn’t be just one more Clinton scam to shove public resources to their cronies? As the Wall Street bailouts demonstrated, the public purse is virtually bottomless when social emergencies require rectification. The problem is that Hillary Clinton has spent her career poisoning the well for public expenditures in the public interest through both the misdirection that taxes are a binding constraint on public expenditures and by corrupting the public realm to the point where nothing works as advertised.

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Graph: The Clinton’s state-capitalism works for their Wall Street patrons by transferring a larger piece of an economy in decline to it while using identity politics to divide working class interests. Liberal economists understood that resurgent capitalism would redistribute income and wealth upward but argued that ‘we all benefit’ from the rich being made richer. This was derided as ‘trickle-down’ economics when Ronald Reagan re-introduced the concept. As history has it, the actual result is broad economic decline where the already wealthy use state power to immiserate the ‘bottom’ 80% – 90% of the population. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

Bill Clinton and / or Barack Obama could have created government jobs programs to employ dispossessed workers at living wages just like FDR did. They could have even claimed the economic emergencies they helped create as reasons for doing so. Mainstream economic theory has ‘free-trade’ beneficiaries compensating those displaced by it. However, the Clintons and Mr. Obama chose instead to promote the right-wing lie of a binding budget constraint to limit and / or preclude increased social spending more effectively than the old-line Republican misery squad could have ever imagined possible. So the question for Hillary Clinton is: will she prove her husband and Barack Obama to be ruling class tools for lying about Federal budget constraints on social spending or will she maintain the lie to renege on her promise of creating ten million jobs?

Jay Gould once speculated that he “could hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.” Rising liberal vitriol directed against working class supporters of Donald Trump pits the near-precariat with ‘private’ health insurance, pensions and recovered home equity against those without them with little apparent understanding of the broadly declining circumstances for all but the very rich (graph above). Democrats sold trade agreements, deregulation, privatization and balanced budgets as ways to ‘grow the economic pie.’ With history having demonstrated otherwise, the Party leadership now wants to change the subject. Barack Obama is selling the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) ‘trade’ agreement as a geopolitical endeavor. Hillary Clinton now claims she will recover the ghost of FDR that national Democrats spent the last forty-years exorcising. In the parlance: whatever.

The day after Election Day will be like any other in the sense that the problems of looming environmental catastrophe, gratuitous wars and long-term economic decline will remain profit-generating ‘opportunities’ in the realm of official concern. The American political establishment is calcified and out of ideas. The problem is that the residual rationales and institutional tendencies lean toward catastrophe generation. Democrats saved Wall Street in particular, and finance capitalism more generally, to kill again. The most destructive militarists in modern history have attached themselves to Hillary Clinton and the American war machine. Unless functional politics are recovered and asserted outside the electoral system more of the same is the outcome that Western political economy is designed to produce.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

COUNTERPUNCH

As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons

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One might think that at least Bernie’s supporters would applaud Trump’s left-wing transformation of the old conservative, pro-corporate neocon Cheney-Bush core of the Republican Party. But nobody had a single good word to say about Trump’s assertions that he would wind down confrontation with Russia, reduce military spending on the grounds that NATO is obsolete, and oppose the TPP and TTIP as well as rewrite NAFTA’s terms.

The Democrats are misrepresenting this election’s rivalry with the Republicans by attacking Trump’s anti-neocon positions. This leaves Hillary as the neocon choice.

She also has become the choice of the Koch Brothers and the Chamber of Commerce, who are shocked by Trump’s critique of the corporatist TPP and other trade agreements.

So where on earth should reasonable people stand? Writing in “The Nation” (August 1/8) Francis Fox Piven wrote that: “left movements gain influence when the regime in power depends on them for support. Clinton is unlikely to win without significant support from Sanders’s core voters.”

I think that’s crap. Choosing the right-wing Kaine as VP candidate (Hillary finally found someone even to the right of her own neoliberal stance) shows that the Democrats don’t care about Sanders’ people at all. I think that the left would LOSE influence if they fall for the “lesser evil” choice, always voting Democrat in a knee-jerk reaction even when the Republican nominee opposes Cold War escalation and opposes anti-labor trade agreements. — Michael Hudson

SHARMINI PERIES: On Friday, just after the Republican National Congress wrapped up with its presidential candidate, Donald Trump, Paul Krugman of the New York Times penned an article titled “Donald Trump: The Siberian Candidate.” He said in it, if elected, would Donald Trump be Vladimir Putin’s man in the White House? Krugman himself is worried as ludicrous and outrageous as the question sounds, the Trump campaign’s recent behavior has quite a few foreign policy experts wondering, he says, just what kind of hold Mr. Putin has over the Republican nominee, and whether that influence will continue if he wins.

Well, let’s unravel that statement with Michael Hudson. He’s joining us from New York. Michael is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri Kansas City. His latest book is Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroyed the Global Economy. So let’s take a look at this article by Paul Krugman. Where is he going with this analysis about the Siberian candidate?

HUDSON: Well, Krugman has joined the ranks of the neocons, as well as the neoliberals, and they’re terrified that they’re losing control of the Republican Party. For the last half-century the Republican Party has been pro-Cold War, corporatist. And Trump has actually, is reversing that. Reversing the whole traditional platform. And that really worries the neocons.

Until his speech, the whole Republican Convention, every speaker had avoided dealing with economic policy issues. No one referred to the party platform, which isn’t very good. And it was mostly an attack on Hillary. Chants of “lock her up.” And Trump children, aimed to try to humanize him and make him look like a loving man.

But finally came Trump’s speech, and this was for the first time, policy was there. And he’s making a left run around Hillary. He appealed twice to Bernie Sanders supporters, and the two major policies that he outlined in the speech broke radically from the Republican traditional right-wing stance. And that is called destroying the party by the right wing, and Trump said he’s not destroying the party, he’s building it up and appealing to labor, and appealing to the rational interest that otherwise had been backing Bernie Sanders.

So in terms of national security, he wanted to roll back NATO spending. And he made it clear, roll back military spending. We can spend it on infrastructure, we can spend it on employing American labor. And in the speech, he said, look, we don’t need foreign military bases and foreign spending to defend our allies. We can defend them from the United States, because in today’s world, the only kind of war we’re going to have is atomic war. Nobody’s going to invade another country. We’re not going to send American troops to invade Russia, if it were to attack. So nobody’s even talking about that. So let’s be realistic.

Well, being realistic has driven other people crazy. Not only did Krugman say that Trump would, quote, actually follow a pro-Putin foreign policy at the expense of America’s allies, and he’s referring to the Ukraine, basically, and it’s at–he’s become a lobbyist for the military-industrial complex. But also, at the Washington Post you had Anne Applebaum call him explicitly the Manchurian candidate, referring to the 1962 movie, and rejecting the neocon craziness. This has just driven them nutty because they’re worried of losing the Republican Party under Trump.

In economic policy, Trump also opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the TTIP trade and corporate power grab [inaud.] with Europe to block public regulation. And this was also a major plank of Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Hillary, which Trump knows. The corporatist wings of both the Republican and the Democratic Parties fear that Trump’s opposition to NAFTA and TPP will lead the Republicans not to push through in the lame duck session after November. The whole plan has been that once the election’s over, Obama will then get all the Republicans together and will pass the Republican platform that he’s been pushing for the last eight years. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Europe, and the other neoliberal policies.

And now that Trump is trying to rebuild the Republican Party, all of that is threatened. And so on the Republican side of the New York Times page you had David Brooks writing “The death of the Republican Party.” So what Trump calls the rebirth of the Republican Party, it means the death of the reactionary, conservative, corporatist, anti-labor Republican Party.

And when he wrote this, quote, Trump is decimating the things Republicans stood for: NATO, entitlement reform, in other words winding back Social Security, and support of the corporatist Trans-Pacific Partnership. So it’s almost hilarious to see what happens. And Trump also has reversed the traditional Republican fiscal responsibility austerity policy, that not a word about balanced budgets anymore. And he said he was going to run at policy to employ American labor and put it back to work on infrastructure. Again, he’s made a left runaround Hillary. He says he wants to reinstate Glass-Steagall, whereas the Clintons were the people that got rid of it.

And this may be for show, simply to brand Hillary as Wall Street’s candidate. But it also seems to actually be an attack on Wall Street. And Trump’s genius was to turn around all the attacks on him as being a shady businessman. He said, look, nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. Now, what that means, basically, as a businessman, he knows the fine print by which they’ve been screwing the people. So only someone like him knows how to fight against Wall Street. After all, he’s been screwing the Wall Street banks for years [inaud.]. And he can now fight for the population fighting against Wall Street, just as he’s been able to stiff the banks.

So it’s sort of hilarious. On the one hand, leading up to him you had Republicans saying throw Hillary in jail. And Hillary saying throw Trump in the [inaud.]. And so you have the whole election coming up with—.

PERIES: Maybe we should take the lead and lock them all up. Michael, what is becoming very clear is that there’s a great deal of inconsistencies on the part of the Republican Party. Various people are talking different things, like if you hear Mike Pence, the vice presidential candidate, speak, and then you heard Donald Trump, and then you heard Ivanka Trump speak yesterday, they’re all saying different things. It’s like different strokes for different folks. And I guess in marketing and marketeering, which Trump is the master of, that makes perfect sense. Just tap on everybody’s shoulder so they feel like they’re the ones being represented as spoken about, and they’re going to have their issues addressed in some way.

When it comes–he also in that sense appealed to, as you said, the Bernie Sanders people when he talked about the trade deals. You know, he’s been talking about NAFTA, TTIP, TTP, and these are areas that really is traditionally been the left of the left issues. And now there’s this, that he’s anti-these trade deals, and he’s going to bring jobs home. What does that mean?

HUDSON: Well, you’re right when you say there’s a policy confusion within the Republican Party. And I guess if this were marketing, it’s the idea that everybody hears what they want to hear. And if they can hear right-wing gay bashing from the Indiana governor, and they can hear Trump talking about hte LGBTQ, everybody will sort of be on the side.

But I listened to what Governor Pence said about defending Trump’s views on NATO. And he’s so smooth. So slick, that he translated what Trump said in a way that no Republican conservative could really disagree with it. I think he was a very good pick for vice president, because he can, obviously he’s agreed to follow what Trump’s saying, and he’s so smooth, being a lawyer, that he can make it all appear much more reasonable than it would.

I think that the most, the biggest contradiction, was you can look at how the convention began with Governor Christie. Accusing Hillary of being pro-Russian when she’s actually threatening war, and criticizing her for not helping the Ukrainians when it was she who brought Victorian Nuland in to push the coup d’etat with the neo-nazis, and gave them $5 billion. And Trump reversed the whole thing and said no, no, no. I’m not anti-Russian, I’m pro-Russian. I’m not going to defend Ukrainians. Just the opposite.

And it’s obvious that the Republicans have fallen into line behind them. And no wonder the Democrats want them to lose. All of that–you’ve had the Koch brothers say we’re not going to give money to Trump, the Republicans, now. We’re backing Hillary. You’ve got the Chamber of Commerce saying because Trump isn’t for the corporate takeover of foreign trade, we’re now supporting the Democrats, not the Reepublicans.

So this is really the class war. And it’s the class war of Wall Street and the corporate sector of the Democratic side against Trump on the populist side. And who knows whether he really means what he says when he says he’s for the workers and he wants to rebuild the cities, put labor back to work. And when he says he’s for the blacks and Hispanics have to get jobs just like white people, maybe he’s telling the truth, because that certainly is the way that the country can be rebuilt in a positive way.

And the interesting thing is that all he gets from the Democrats is denunciations. So I can’t wait to see how Bernie Sanders is going to handle all this at the Democratic Convention next week.

 

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002). His new book is: Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy (a CounterPunch digital edition). Sharmini Peries is executive producer of The Real News Network. This is a transcript of Michael Hudson’s interview with Sharmini Peries on the Real News Network.

COUNTERPUNCH

Democrats Are Now the Aggressive War Party

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For nearly a half century – since late in the Vietnam War – the Democrats have been the less warlike of the two parties, but that has flipped with the choice of war hawk Hillary Clinton

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honor the four victims of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, at the Transfer of Remains Ceremony held at Andrews Air Force Base, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Sept. 14, 2012. (Photo: State Department)

The Democratic Party has moved from being what you might call a reluctant war party to an aggressive war party with its selection of Hillary Clinton as its presumptive presidential nominee. With minimal debate, this historic change brings full circle the arc of the party’s anti-war attitudes that began in 1968 and have now ended in 2016.

Since the Vietnam War, the Democrats have been viewed as the more peaceful of the two major parties, with the Republicans often attacking Democratic candidates as “soft” regarding use of military force.

But former Secretary of State Clinton has made it clear that she is eager to use military force to achieve “regime change” in countries that get in the way of U.S. desires. She abides by neoconservative strategies of violent interventions especially in the Middle East and she strikes a belligerent posture as well toward nuclear-armed Russia and, to a lesser extent, China.

Amid the celebrations about picking the first woman as a major party’s presumptive nominee, Democrats appear to have given little thought to the fact that they have abandoned a near half-century standing as the party more skeptical about the use of military force. Clinton is an unabashed war hawk who has shown no inclination to rethink her pro-war attitudes.

As a U.S. senator from New York, Clinton voted for and avidly supported the Iraq War, only cooling her enthusiasm in 2006 when it became clear that the Democratic base had turned decisively against the war and her hawkish position endangered her chances for the 2008 presidential nomination, which she lost to Barack Obama, an Iraq War opponent.

However, to ease tensions with the Clinton wing of the party, Obama selected Clinton to be his Secretary of State, one of the first and most fateful decisions of his presidency. He also kept on George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates and neocon members of the military high command, such as Gen. David Petraeus.

This “Team of Rivals” – named after Abraham Lincoln’s initial Civil War cabinet – ensured a powerful bloc of pro-war sentiment, which pushed Obama toward more militaristic solutions than he otherwise favored, notably the wasteful counterinsurgency “surge” in Afghanistan in 2009 which did little beyond get another 1,000 U.S. soldiers killed and many more Afghans.

Clinton was a strong supporter of that “surge” – and Gates reported in his memoir that she acknowledged only opposing the Iraq War “surge” in 2007 for political reasons. Inside Obama’s foreign policy councils, Clinton routinely took the most neoconservative positions, such as defending a 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted a progressive president.

Clinton also sabotaged early efforts to work out an agreement in which Iran surrendered much of its low-enriched uranium, including an initiative in 2010 organized at Obama’s request by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey. Clinton sank that deal and escalated tensions with Iran along the lines favored by Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Clinton favorite.

Pumping for War in Libya

In 2011, Clinton successfully lobbied Obama to go to war against Libya to achieve another “regime change,” albeit cloaked in the more modest goal of establishing only a “no-fly zone” to “protect civilians.”

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had claimed he was battling jihadists and terrorists who were building strongholds around Benghazi, but Clinton and her State Department underlings accused him of slaughtering civilians and (in one of the more colorful lies used to justify the war) distributing Viagra to his troops so they could rape more women.

Despite resistance from Russia and China, the United Nations Security Council fell for the deception about protecting civilians. Russia and China agreed to abstain from the vote, giving Clinton her “no-fly zone.” Once that was secured, however, the Obama administration and several European allies unveiled their real plan, to destroy the Libyan army and pave the way for the violent overthrow of Gaddafi.

Privately, Clinton’s senior aides viewed the Libyan “regime change” as a chance to establish what they called the “Clinton Doctrine” on using “smart power” with plans for Clinton to rush to the fore and claim credit once Gaddafi was ousted. But that scheme failed when President Obama grabbed the limelight after Gaddafi’s government collapsed.

But Clinton would not be denied her second opportunity to claim the glory when jihadist rebels captured Gaddafi on Oct. 20, 2011, sodomized him with a knife and then murdered him. Hearing of Gaddafi’s demise, Clinton went into a network interview and declared, “we came, we saw, he died” and clapped her hands in glee.

Clinton’s glee was short-lived, however. Libya soon descended into chaos with Islamic extremists gaining control of large swaths of the country. On Sept. 11, 2012, jihadists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel. It turned out Gaddafi had been right about the nature of his enemies.

Undaunted by the mess in Libya, Clinton made similar plans for Syria where again she marched in lock-step with the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks in support of another violent “regime change,” ousting the Assad dynasty, a top neocon/Israeli goal since the 1990s.

Clinton pressed Obama to escalate weapons shipments and training for anti-government rebels who were deemed “moderate” but in reality collaborated closely with radical Islamic forces, including Al Nusra Front (Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise) and some even more extreme jihadists (who coalesced into the Islamic State).

Again, Clinton’s war plans were cloaked in humanitarian language, such as the need to create a “safe zone” inside Syria to save civilians. But her plans would have required a major U.S. invasion of a sovereign country, the destruction of its air force and much of its military, and the creation of conditions for another “regime change.”

In the case of Syria, however, Obama resisted the pressure from Clinton and other hawks inside his own administration. The President did approve some covert assistance to the rebels and allowed Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf states to do much more, but he did not agree to an outright U.S.-led invasion to Clinton’s disappointment.

Parting Ways

Clinton finally left the Obama administration at the start of his second term in 2013, some say voluntarily and others say in line with Obama’s desire to finally move ahead with serious negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and to apply more pressure on Israel to reach a long-delayed peace settlement with the Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry was willing to do some of the politically risky work that Clinton was not.

Many on the Left deride Obama as “Obomber” and mock his hypocritical acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. And there is no doubt that Obama has waged war his entire presidency, bombing at least seven countries by his own count. But the truth is that he has generally been among the most dovish members of his administration, advocating a “realistic” (or restrained) application of American power. By contrast, Clinton was among the most hawkish senior officials.

A major testing moment for Obama came in August 2013 after a sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, that killed hundreds of Syrians and that the State Department and the mainstream U.S. media immediately blamed on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

There was almost universal pressure inside Official Washington to militarily enforce Obama’s “red line” against Assad using chemical weapons. Amid this intense momentum toward war, it was widely assumed that Obama would order a harsh retaliatory strike against the Syrian military. But U.S. intelligence and key figures in the U.S. military smelled a rat, a provocation carried out by Islamic extremists to draw the United States into the Syrian war on their side.

At the last minute and at great political cost to himself, Obama listened to the doubts of his intelligence advisers and called off the attack, referring the issue to the U.S. Congress and then accepting a Russian-brokered deal in which Assad surrendered all his chemical weapons though continuing to deny a role in the sarin attack.

Eventually, the sarin case against Assad would collapse. Only one rocket was found to have carried sarin and it had a very limited range placing its firing position likely within rebel-controlled territory. But Official Washington’s conventional wisdom never budged. To this day, politicians and pundits denounce Obama for not enforcing his “red line.”

There’s little doubt, however, what Hillary Clinton would have done. She has been eager for a much more aggressive U.S. military role in Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Much as she used propaganda and deception to achieve “regime change” in Libya, she surely would have done the same in Syria, embracing the pretext of the sarin attack – “killing innocent children” – to destroy the Syrian military even if the rebels were the guilty parties.

Still Lusting for War

Indeed, during the 2016 campaign – in those few moments that have touched on foreign policy – Clinton declared that as President she would order the U.S. military to invade Syria. “Yes, I do still support a no-fly zone,” she said during the April 14 debate. She also wants a “safe zone” that would require seizing territory inside Syria.

But no one should be gullible enough to believe that Clinton’s invasion of Syria would stop at a “safe zone.” As with Libya, once the camel’s nose was into the tent, pretty soon the animal would be filling up the whole tent.

Perhaps even scarier is what a President Clinton would do regarding Iran and Ukraine, two countries where belligerent U.S. behavior could start much bigger wars.

For instance, would President Hillary Clinton push the Iranians so hard – in line with what Netanyahu favors – that they would renounce the nuclear deal and give Clinton an excuse to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran?

In Ukraine, would Clinton escalate U.S. military support for the post-coup anti-Russian Ukrainian government, encouraging its forces to annihilate the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and to “liberate” the people of Crimea from “Russian aggression” (though they voted by 96 percent to leave the failed Ukrainian state and rejoin Russia)?

Would President Clinton expect the Russians to stand down and accept these massacres? Would she take matters to the next level to demonstrate how tough she can be against Russian President Vladimir Putin whom she has compared to Hitler? Might she buy into the latest neocon dream of achieving “regime change” in Moscow? Would she be wise enough to recognize how dangerous such instability could be.

Of course, one would expect that all of Clinton’s actions would be clothed in the crocodile tears of “humanitarian” warfare, starting wars to “save the children” or to stop the evil enemy from “raping defenseless girls.” The truth of such emotional allegations would be left for the post-war historians to try to sort out. In the meantime, President Clinton would have her wars.

Having covered Washington for nearly four decades, I always marvel at how selective concerns for human rights can be. When “friendly” civilians are dying, we are told that we have a “responsibility to protect,” but when pro-U.S. forces are slaughtering civilians of an adversary country or movement, reports of those atrocities are dismissed as “enemy propaganda” or ignored altogether. Clinton is among the most cynical in this regard.

Trading Places

But the larger picture for the Democrats is that they have just adopted an extraordinary historical reversal whether they understand it or not. They have replaced the Republicans as the party of aggressive war, though clearly many Republicans still dance to the neocon drummer just as Clinton and “liberal interventionists” do. Still, Donald Trump, for all his faults, has adopted a relatively peaceful point of view, especially in the Mideast and with Russia.

While today many Democrats are congratulating themselves for becoming the first major party to make a woman the presumptive nominee, they may soon have to decide whether that distinction justifies putting an aggressive war hawk in the White House. In a way, the issue is an old one for Democrats, whether “identity politics” or anti-war policies are more important.

At least since 1968 and the chaotic Democratic convention in Chicago, the party has advanced, sometimes haltingly, those two agendas, pushing for broader rights for all and seeking to restrain the nation’s militaristic impulses.

In the 1970s, Democrats largely repudiated the Vietnam War while the Republicans waved the flag and equated anti-war positions with treason. By the 1980s and early 1990s, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were making war fun again – Grenada, Afghanistan, Panama and the Persian Gulf, all relatively low-cost conflicts with victorious conclusions.

By the 1990s, Bill Clinton (along with Hillary Clinton) saw militarism as just another issue to be triangulated. With the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Clinton-42 administration saw the opportunity for more low-cost tough-guy/gal-ism – continuing a harsh embargo and periodic air strikes against Iraq (causing the deaths of a U.N.-estimated half million children); blasting Serbia into submission over Kosovo; and expanding NATO to the east toward Russia’s borders.

But Bill Clinton did balk at the more extreme neocon ideas, such as the one from the Project for the New American Century for a militarily enforced “regime change” in Iraq. That had to wait for George W. Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As a New York senator, Hillary Clinton made sure she was onboard for war on Iraq just as she sided with Israel’s pummeling of Lebanon and the Palestinians in Gaza.

Hillary Clinton was taking triangulation to an even more acute angle as she sided with virtually every position of the Netanyahu government in Israel and moved in tandem with the neocons as they cemented their control of Washington’s foreign policy establishment. Her only brief flirtation with an anti-war position came in 2006 when her political advisers informed her that her continued support for Bush’s Iraq War would doom her in the Democratic presidential race.

But she let her hawkish plumage show again as Obama’s Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 – and once she felt she had the 2016 Democratic race in hand (after her success in the southern primaries) she pivoted back to her hard-line positions in full support of Israel and in a full-throated defense of her war on Libya, which she still won’t view as a failure.

The smarter neocons are already lining up to endorse Clinton, especially given Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party and his disdain for neocon strategies that he views as simply spreading chaos around the globe. As The New York Times has reported, Clinton is “the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes.”

Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the neocon Project for the new American Century, has endorsed Clinton, saying “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy. If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/06/09/democrats-are-now-aggressive-war-party

Why Does America Keep Losing Wars?

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April 8, 2015

by Tom Streithorst

It’s time to admit it: America sucks at war. The last time we decisively defeated our enemies was 1945. Korea was a draw, Vietnam a defeat, the first Gulf War only a qualified success—Saddam Hussein stayed in power considerably longer than George H. W. Bush—Afghanistan and Iraq epic disasters for American foreign policy. The United States has more firepower at its fingertips than any empire in history but seems unable to translate all that might into anything that could be called victory.

Considering the United States spends more than $500 billion a year on war, almost as much as the rest of the world put together, we don’t seem to be getting much bang for our military buck. If any other government program cost as much as the Pentagon with as little to show for it, Americans across the political spectrum would be up in arms. Instead, they mouth “Thank you for your service” and shrug at the size of the military budget.

This is not to say we don’t win battles. In Afghanistan right after 9/11 I watched the US crush the Taliban in record time as a news cameraman. When I arrived in the country, the Taliban controlled all the cities and most of the countryside; the Northern Alliance, outnumbered and outgunned, ruled mere slivers of land. All us journos figured the war would be a long hard slog, at least four to six months, even with American help.

And then, we began to hear the pounding of B-52 strikes. A handful of Special Forces soldiers had secretly infiltrated across the Uzbek border. Dressed like mujahideen, riding Arabian stallions toward Taliban front lines, these trained spotters called in precise air strikes on enemies tanks and trenches. Northern Alliance commanders would point out the targets, the spotters would aim their lasers, the B-52s would aim, and, like magic, the Taliban’s ancient Russian tanks would be transformed into heaps of blazing metal. Taliban soldiers soon abandoned their trenches and melted away. Barely a month after bombing began, the Northern Alliance marched into Kabul. Victory came so much faster than any of us expected.

Or did it? Fourteen years later, the American war in Afghanistan looks like a disaster. The country’s government and people despise us, the Taliban once again control much of the country, and more heroin is exported than ever before. Afghanistan has become America’s longest war, that early “victory” a mirage.

Iraq is no better. Back in 2003, the neocons crowed their invasion would transform the Middle East. They assured a dubious public that new Iraq would be democratic, pro-American, perhaps even pro-Israeli. The war and occupation would pay for itself, funded by expanding oil revenues. Democracy would spread throughout the Middle East, and our problems in that region would be over.

Charles Tripp, an Iraq expert at SOAS, University of London, says the neocons accomplished “exactly the reverse of what some of them thought they would achieve.The largest winner out of all of this has been Iran. America no longer shapes the politics. Iran is on the ground directing Iraqi forces.” No streets in Iraq have been named after George W. Bush. Iraqis are not grateful we liberated them from a brutal dictator.Instead, more than 200,000 Iraqis have been killed, and 1.4 million have lost their homes. Christians and other minority groups have emigrated or been slaughtered. The country, once reasonably well integrated, has been transformed into sectarian ghettos. Had he a crystal ball back in 2003, even Dick Cheney might not have advocated invading.

America’s losing streak began almost exactly 50 years ago. On March 8, 1965 , the first US combat troops waded ashore in Da Nang. Confident and proud, greeted by Vietnamese girls who garlanded them with flowers, they (and the rest of the world) assumed we would easily defeat our poorly armed rag-tag guerrilla enemies. Twenty years earlier, these young Marines’ fathers had simultaneously crushed the mighty German Wehrmacht and the Imperial Japanese Navy. Now the world’s largest, most modern military was facing off against rice farmers armed with AK-47s. It should have been a cakewalk.

Ten years later, after the deaths of more than 50,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, the North marched into Saigon, our allies hanging on to the skids of helicopters, desperate to escape. Though the US has had some easy wins since then—remember Grenada?—when it comes to major conflicts our well-trained, well-armed, and well-fed military has had a pathetic record since World War Two. What are we doing wrong?

Soldiers may well resent that question. Vietnam vets can argue vociferously that they didn’t lose. In firefight after firefight, Americans crushed the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. Even the Tet Offensive, which turned the American public decisively against the war, was actually a battlefield victory of American arms. The Viet Cong were slaughtered in the tens of thousands, their ranks so depleted they played little part in the rest of the war, replaced on the battlefield by the North Vietnamese Army.

But as Andrew Bacevich, a history professor, US Army Colonel, Vietnam vet, and longtime critic of American interventionism, explains, “It takes more than killing lots of the enemy to achieve success in wartime.” The Viet Cong may have lost the battle, but Tet is when they won the war. Americans at home watching the Viet Cong capture the US embassy in the center of Saigon stopped believing the optimistic statements coming out of the Pentagon. More than 18,000 American soldiers were killed in 1968, and Americans realized the war was not winnable, at least not at a price they were willing to pay. Without civilian support, a drawdown of American troops was inevitable, as was the fall of the South Vietnamese government.

In a democracy with a free media, a long, pointless war in a faraway land is a tough sell—as it should be.

Let’s imagine a counterfactual. Let’s say the Vietnam War had not been televised, and America had not turned against Johnson’s Indochina adventure. If the public encouraged the Pentagon to send more troops in order to capitalize on our battlefield victories, perhaps America could have eventually worn down the North Vietnamese Army and kept the Saigon regime in power. This, in a nutshell, is the argument made by grumpy right-wingers. The soldiers won the war, but the candy-ass civilians at home lost it. “Marines win battles, politicians lose wars,” leathernecks will tell you.

Yes, but what if a war isn’t worth winning? That sort of victory in Vietnam would have likely cost thousands of American lives and untold amounts of defense spending. But when Saigon fell in 1975, it made absolutely no difference to ordinary US citizens. We did not run out of rice; communism did not spread out of Indochina. On any genuine strategic level, holding on to South Vietnam did not really matter to US interests. By the same token, in ten years will anyone in Kansas care which armed band rules Helmand or Diyala?

In a democracy with a free media, a long, pointless war in a faraway land is a tough sell—as it should be. The control of some territory halfway around the world does not strike the average American as being vital to the security or prosperity of the United States.

The American foreign policy establishment rarely admits it, but the US is by far the safest country on the planet. Unlike China or Russia or Israel or Iran or Congo or Ukraine we have no enemies on our doorstep: Canada’s to the north, Mexico’s to the south, oceans are to our east and west. England survived Hitler because it is an island. Russia crushed Hitler because it is on a continent. America is both. Foreign policy wonks pretend distant lands are crucial to US security but, thankfully, the American people aren’t generally convinced.

So why do we go to war at all? In the 2000s, many among the antiwar left believed America invaded Iraq because of oil. This is a rather naive view: Today China benefits more from Iraqi oil production than does the United States, and had Bush’s agenda been to get Iraq’s oil, he needn’t have invaded. Every Iraqi I have asked agrees that if Hussein had been offered a deal in which he leased his oil fields to American oil companies in return for remaining in power, he would have jumped on it.

“In 2002, the US was the third-largest client of Iraqi oil exports,” Tripp, the Iraq expert, says. “Saddam would have been very happy to normalize relations and increase oil production.”

If it wasn’t oil and it wasn’t WMD, then why did we go to war in Iraq? You can talk about Bush needing a war to win the 2004 election or Cheney’s desire to pump up Halliburton profits if you want, but mostly, the invasion came about because a significant strand of the American foreign policy establishment wanted to shock and awe the rest of the world with the might of the American military.

Back in 2002, the right-wing columnist Jonah Goldberg called this sort of thinking the Ledeen Doctrine, after the neocon Michael Ledeen, who Goldberg quoted as saying, “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” To the proponents of war, Iraq itself was incidental, a means to an end, more symbol than a real place. No wonder they didn’t sweat the details.

A “Mission Accomplished” banner is a moment you can sell on television. The tedious work of building a bureaucracy is not.

Vietnam was the first televised war; since then our conflicts have become made for TV. American policymakers’ careers rise and fall on the strength of their spin, so naturally the reality on the ground matters less than how it is seen back home. That’s how you get situations where US administrators in Iraq are unfamiliar with the region and don’t speak Arabic; that’s how you wind up with the corrupt, incompetent Hamid Karzai as the American-picked leader of Afghanistan. A “Mission Accomplished” banner is a moment you can sell on television. The tedious work of building a bureaucracy is not.

I first went to war when I was 14. I lived in Saigon at the time with my father, a television news reporter covering the Vietnam War. One day, he took me out into the Mekong Delta to see the fighting. Along with his cameraman and sound man, we clambered onto a jeep and headed out of the city. If war is a heady mix of tedium, testosterone, and terror, that day was mostly tedium. We hung out with some ARVN soldiers for a while, then drove around searching for battle. To my father’s disappointment we found no “bang bang” worth filming that day, but we did see something I will never forget. It was almost like a hallucination: in the middle of the jungle, connected to crumbling tarmac and then dirt roads, a pristine highway cloverleaf interchange that would have looked more at home on I-10 in Texas than in a Third World country.

Presumably some American corporation had gotten a contract to build roads for the US military. They knew how to build cloverleaf junctions to First World health and safety standards so that is what they did, out there in the middle of nowhere. It was unnecessary and inappropriate, but it fit in with their skill set and they got paid. A few days after we visited those ARVN outposts, they were overrun by the NVA. I wonder what the North Vietnamese thought of our immaculate highway interchange. I wonder if Vietnamese kids today use it as a skateboard ramp.

That interchange didn’t help win the war, obviously, but it created some jobs and threw some paychecks at some contractors, which at times seems like the only real reason to send out our troops. Just about every Congressional district is home to a military base or an arms-manufacturing facility or some other place where our defense dollars go, making military budget cuts extremely unpopular. Lots of Americans (including me) made a good living in one way or another from the War on Terror. Average Iraqis and Afghans, not so much. If they were the ones getting paid, things might be different today. As Tripp says, “If people could see direct benefits, the Americans might have been able to create a larger constituency for the occupation, but money was spent on American contractors and scarcely any on Iraqis.”

War is good for less and less these days. Developed nations obtain resources through trade rather than conquest, and as our economic interests become increasingly intertwined, a war between the great powers would be unthinkable, disastrous even for the winner.

None of America’s wars of the past half-century really involved crucial national interests.

Were the United States to face a genuine threat to its national security, were Mexico try to reconquer Arizona or Canada invade North Dakota, I am confident America would find the wherewithal to defeat its enemies. But those scenarios are complete fantasies. None of America’s wars of the past half-century really involved crucial national interests.

Bacevich cuts to the heart of the problem: “The biggest mistakes have been those made by the civilian policymakers who have committed the military to unnecessary and unwinnable wars.” It is precisely because the wars were unnecessary that they are unwinnable.

If victory in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan had really been vital to American security or prosperity, the electorate would have been willing to risk their children’s lives and perhaps even pay more taxes. If Iraq had been more than just a symbol to George W. Bush, he and his administration would have thought about the costs and consequences of the invasion. War focused on impressing the electorate at home is doomed to failure. The fundamental reason America can’t win wars is because we don’t really have to. Maybe we should stop fighting them.

 

http://www.vice.com/read/why-america-keeps-losing-wars?utm_source=vicefbus

 

BLOGGER COMMENT: Our leadership in concert with the military/industrial complex engages our military, with our consent, in military actions that cannot be “won.” We are engaged in perpetual conflict designed to feed the needs of our corporate masters. 

Neocons and the Ukraine Coup

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Exclusive: American neocons helped destabilize Ukraine and engineer the overthrow of its elected government, a “regime change” on Russia’s western border. But the coup – and the neo-Nazi militias at the forefront – also reveal divisions within the Obama administration, reports Robert Parry.

 

By Robert Parry

 

More than five years into his presidency, Barack Obama has failed to take full control over his foreign policy, allowing a bureaucracy shaped by long years of Republican control and spurred on by a neocon-dominated U.S. news media to frustrate many of his efforts to redirect America’s approach to the world in a more peaceful direction.

 

But Obama deserves a big dose of the blame for this predicament because he did little to neutralize the government holdovers and indeed played into their hands with his initial appointments to head the State and Defense departments, Hillary Clinton, a neocon-leaning Democrat, and Robert Gates, a Republican cold warrior, respectively.

 

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.

 

Even now, key U.S. diplomats are more attuned to hard-line positions than to promoting peace. The latest example is Ukraine where U.S. diplomats, including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, are celebrating the overthrow of an elected pro-Russian government.

 

Occurring during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the coup in Ukraine dealt an embarrassing black eye to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had offended neocon sensibilities by quietly cooperating with Obama to reduce tensions over Iran and Syria, where the neocons favored military options.

 

Over the past several weeks, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was undercut by a destabilization campaign encouraged by Nuland and Pyatt and then deposed in a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias. Even after Yanukovych and the political opposition agreed to an orderly transition toward early elections, right-wing armed patrols shattered the agreement and took strategic positions around Kiev.

 

Despite these ominous signs, Ambassador Pyatt hailed the coup as “a day for the history books.” Most of the mainstream U.S. news media also sided with the coup, with commentators praising the overthrow of an elected government as “reform.” But a few dissonant reports have pierced the happy talk by noting that the armed militias are part of the Pravy Sektor, a right-wing nationalist group which is often compared to the Nazis.

 

Thus, the Ukrainian coup could become the latest neocon-initiated “regime change” that ousted a target government but failed to take into account who would fill the void.

 

Some of these same American neocons pushed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, not realizing that removing Saddam Hussein would touch off a sectarian conflict and lead to a pro-Iranian Shiite regime. Similarly, U.S. military intervention in Libya in 2011 eliminated Muammar Gaddafi but also empowered Islamic extremists who later murdered the U.S. ambassador and spread unrest beyond Libya’s borders to nearby Mali.

 

One might trace this neocons’ blindness to consequences back to Afghanistan in the 1980s when the Reagan administration supported Islamic militants, including Osama bin Laden, in a war against Soviet troops, only to have Muslim extremists take control of Afghanistan and provide a base for al-Qaeda to plot the 9/11 attacks against the United States.

 

Regarding Ukraine, today’s State Department bureaucracy seems to be continuing the same anti-Moscow geopolitical strategy set during those Reagan-Bush years.

 

Robert Gates described the approach in his new memoir, Duty, explaining the view of President George H.W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Dick Cheney: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”

 

Vice President Cheney and the neocons pursued a similar strategy during George W. Bush’s presidency, expanding NATO aggressively to the east and backing anti-Russian regimes in the region including the hard-line Georgian government, which provoked a military confrontation with Moscow in 2008, ironically, during the Summer Olympics in China.

 

Obama’s Strategy

 

As President, Obama has sought a more cooperative relationship with Russia’s Putin and, generally, a less belligerent approach toward adversarial countries. Obama has been supported by an inner circle at the White House with analytical assistance from some elements of the U.S. intelligence community.

 

But the neocon momentum at the State Department and from other parts of the U.S. government has continued in the direction set by George W. Bush’s neocon administration and by neocon-lite Democrats who surrounded Secretary of State Clinton during Obama’s first term.

 

The two competing currents of geopolitical thinking – a less combative one from the White House and a more aggressive one from the foreign policy bureaucracy – have often worked at cross-purposes. But Obama, with only a few exceptions, has been unwilling to confront the hardliners or even fully articulate his foreign policy vision publicly.

 

For instance, Obama succumbed to the insistence of Gates, Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009, though the President reportedly felt trapped into the decision which he soon regretted. In 2010, Obama backed away from a Brazilian-Turkish-brokered deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear program after Clinton denounced the arrangement and pushed for economic sanctions and confrontation as favored by the neocons and Israel.

 

Just last summer, Obama – only at the last second – reversed a course charted by the State Department favoring a military intervention in Syria over disputed U.S. claims that the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians. Putin helped arrange a way out for Obama by getting the Syrian government to agree to surrender its chemical weapons. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Showdown for War or Peace.”]

Stirring Up Trouble

 

Now, you have Assistant Secretary of State Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, acting as a leading instigator in the Ukrainian unrest, explicitly seeking to pry the country out of the Russian orbit. Last December, she reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves.”

 

The Kagan family includes other important neocons, such as Frederick Kagan, who was a principal architect of the Iraq and Afghan “surge” strategies. In Duty, Gates writes that “an important way station in my ‘pilgrim’s progress’ from skepticism to support of more troops [in Afghanistan] was an essay by the historian Fred Kagan, who sent me a prepublication draft.

 

“I knew and respected Kagan. He had been a prominent proponent of the surge in Iraq, and we had talked from time to time about both wars, including one long evening conversation on the veranda of one of Saddam’s palaces in Baghdad.”

 

Now, another member of the Kagan family, albeit an in-law, has been orchestrating the escalation of tensions in Ukraine with an eye toward one more “regime change.”

 

As for Nuland’s sidekick, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Pyatt previously served as a U.S. diplomat in Vienna involved in bringing the International Atomic Energy Agency into a line with U.S. and Israeli hostility toward Iran. A July 9, 2009, cable from Pyatt, which was released by Pvt. Bradley Manning, revealed Pyatt to be the middleman who coordinated strategy with the U.S.-installed IAEA director-general  Yukiya Amano.

 

Pyatt reported that Amano offered to cooperate with the U.S. and Israel on Iran, including having private meetings with Israeli officials, supporting U.S. sanctions, and agreeing to IAEA personnel changes favored by the United States. According to the cable, Pyatt promised strong U.S. backing for Amano and Amano asked for more U.S. money. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Debt to Bradley Manning.”]

It was Ambassador Pyatt who was on the other end of Nuland’s infamous Jan. 28 phone call in which she discussed how to manipulate Ukraine’s tensions and who to elevate into the country’s leadership. According to the conversation, which was intercepted and made public, Nuland ruled out one opposition figure, Vitali Klitschko, a popular former boxer, because he lacked experience.

 

Nuland also favored the UN as mediator over the European Union, at which point in the conversation she exclaimed, “Fuck the E.U.” to which Pyatt responded, “Oh, exactly …”

 

Ultimately, the Ukrainian unrest – over a policy debate whether Ukraine should move toward entering the European Union – led to a violent showdown in which neo-fascist storm troopers battled police, leaving scores dead. To ease the crisis, President Yanukovych agreed to a power-sharing government and to accelerated elections. But no sooner was that agreement signed then the hard-right faction threw it out and pressed for power in an apparent coup.

 

Again, the American neocons had performed the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, unleashing forces and creating chaos that soon was spinning out of control. But this latest “regime change,” which humiliated President Putin, could also do long-term damage to U.S.-Russian cooperation vital to resolving other crises, with Iran and Syria, two more countries where the neocons are also eager for confrontation.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).