Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty

Robert Reich:

Trump’s actions violate every ideal this nation has ever cherished — and we have a moral responsibility to stop it

Robert Reich: Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty
(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

The theme that unites all of President Donald Trump’s initiatives so far is their unnecessary cruelty.

1. His new budget comes down especially hard on the poor by imposing unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, job training, food assistance, legal services, help to distressed rural communities, nutrition for new mothers and their infants, funds to keep poor families warm and even Meals on Wheels.

These cuts come at a time when more American families are in poverty than ever before, including one in five children.

Why is Trump doing this? To pay for the biggest hike in military spending since the 1980s. Yet the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven biggest military budgets combined.

2. His plan to repeal and “replace” the Affordable Care Act will cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance next year, and 24 million to lose it by 2026.

Why is Trump doing this? To bestow $600 billion in tax breaks over the decade to wealthy Americans. This windfall comes at a time when the rich have accumulated more wealth than at any time in the nation’s history.

The plan reduces the federal budget deficit by only $337 billion over the next ten years — a small fraction of the national debt, in exchange for an enormous amount of human hardship.

3. His ban on Syrian refugees and reduction by half in the total number of refugees admitted to the United States comes just when the world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Why is Trump doing this? The ban does little or nothing to protect Americans from terrorism. No terrorist act in the United States has been perpetrated by a Syrian or by anyone from the six nations whose citizens are now banned from traveling to the United States. You have higher odds of being struck by lightening than dying from an immigrant terrorist attack.

4. His dragnet roundup of undocumented immigrants is helter skelter and includes people who have been productive members of our society for decades, as well as young people who have been here since they were toddlers.

Why is Trump doing this? He has no compelling justification. Unemployment is down, crime is down, and we have fewer undocumented workers in the United States today than we did five years ago.

Trump is embarking on an orgy of cruelty for absolutely no reason. This is morally repugnant. It violates every ideal this nation has ever cherished. We have a moral responsibility to stop it.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

The Deep State and the Dark Arts

There’s a superb scene in the movie Syriana where CIA bureaucrats distance themselves from one of their agents, Bob, played by George Clooney, who has become a troublesome asset for the agency. Terry, the pack leader, begins to extemporize a narrative to his subordinates. With cool detachment, he tells them: “Put some space between us and Bob. Bob has a long history of entrepreneurial operations. We haven’t really had a handle on Bob for years. After 9/11, some people got a lot of leeway, let their emotions get the best of them. These are complex times. There’s already an active investigation into Bob’s activities in…help me out here.”

At this point, the group flesh out the details of how they’re going to burn the agency’s connection to Bob, painting him as an agent gone rogue, slipping the net of agency supervision, defying protocol, and ultimately selling himself to unsavory elements that want a U.S. asset killed. In this way, the leviathan spits out a loyal servant, rendering him obsolete with a fable and a slander, sanctified by the imprimatur of the officialdom.

We should note the importance of the media in all this storyline, albeit fictional. The dark arts of propaganda aren’t overtly mentioned, but they are the pivotal tools that will animate the destruction of Bob’s career. All sound strangely familiar? It should. It’s pretty much the script the intelligence community uses as its modus operandi when it needs to deal with an inconvenient public servant.

Theater of the Absurd

With rumors of detente crackling through the ether, the imperialist machinery of anti-Russian foreign policy has cranked into high gear, leveraging leaks and the press to mute Trump’s overtures of peace. Leaks to the The Washington Post were leveraged in last month’s excommunication of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn was rather easily vanquished by a leak from within the American intelligence community outing him as a confabulator and, in pundit spin, a man vulnerable to blackmail by the Kremlin.

After Flynn’s unceremonious ouster, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the next target, pilloried by Democrats for his contacts with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, something he declined to mention in his confirmation hearings. A third interaction has now been surmised, with tantalizing rumors Sessions was in the same room as Kislyak during a cocktail party. Did they conspire over canapes? Smuggle thumb drives wrapped in prosciutto? Exchange piquillo peppers stuffed with nuclear codes? The possibilities blossom like a mushroom cloud. Can you feel the frisson of treason?

Of course, the FBI has been investigating more mundane contacts between the Trump team and Moscow, a project that will either result in Trump’s impeachment for some manner of treason or his complete and utter subjection to the foreign policy whims of the foreign policy establishment. A Times article reported that the Obama administration furiously laid the foundation for this investigation by disseminating innuendo that Trump was under Russian influence during the peace laureate’s last days in office. Typically, the unofficial commentariat in the comments thread praised Obama’s patriotism, as though this wanton Wall Street servant was doing anything other than performing last-minute janitorial services for his venal party.

A few weeks ago, a Congressman (Rep. Darrell Issa) obscurely called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. But now Lindsey Graham has embraced the call, suggesting one be named if contact between Trump aides and Moscow were found, regardless of the content of that contact. It reminds one of the proverb that Caesar’s wife must be above even unfounded suspicion, let alone actual wrongdoing. In any event, Graham and his monomaniacal bedmate, John McCain, continue their lurid press junket, now looking to subpoena intelligence agencies for wiretaps of Trump phone calls, though former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper refuted the wiretap rumor, as did FBI Director James Comey, albeit by the oblique means of asking the Justice Department to do so. In any event, the banishment of Flynn, the tarring of Sessions, and the net of suspicion cast over the Trump administration are fierce warnings from a rattled foreign policy community, a modern equivalent of the severed heads of Roman soldiers set on pikes as a message from Visigoth hordes.

The enveloping of the president in a cacophony of innuendo is likely a collaborative effort between the Justice Department, the National Intelligence Agency, the CIA, and crucially, the mainstream press. Beyond the corridors of the Capitol Hill, civil-society organizations like the George Soros-funded MoveOn.org and Barack Obama’s robust Organizing for Action (OFA) are turning up the heat on the streets, creating the visible signs of unrest, sometimes violent, that have capsized governments from Venezuela to Ukraine at the behest of Western oligarchs.

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump’s appointment of delusional hawk H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, a call for an unnecessary $54 billion dollar expansion of the military budget, his sudden demand for the return of Crimea to Ukraine, his fulminant echoes of Bush administration hysteria over Iran, among other hawkish developments, can be read as an unsettled president’s efforts to appease a foreign policy establishment that is ruthlessly using the media to undermine, and reign in, a wayward steward of empire.

Full-Spectrum Dominance vs. Clear-Headed Detente 

But why is Russia such a perennial target of Washington’s? Why are peaceful overtures toward Moscow so scorned? As the Trump administration found out, de-escalation is a no-no in Washington. Russia, along with China, are the leading targets of American long-term foreign policy. They represent the only two nations that might seriously rival the U.S. in Eurasia, which is considered the fulcrum of the 21st century global economy. Preventing the rise of new rivals is long-standing U.S. policy, most explicitly articulated by Paul Wolfowitz on behalf of the Clinton administration in early 1990s.

None of this should come as a surprise. Consider what was at stake. At the macro level, the entire program for global hegemony is under threat. Outlined over decades by foreign policy luminaries such as George Kennan, Allen Dulles, Wolfowitz, and Zbigniew Brzezinksi, the general plan is for full-spectrum dominance, meaning control of land, sea, air, and space, on a planetary basis, with a special emphasis on “Eurasian landmass,” as the ghoulish McMaster called it in a recent anti-Russian speech.

If history is any guide, it is unacceptable for a U.S. president to thaw relations with Russia unless that thaw consists of Russia capitulating to American demands. Mikhail Gorbachev’s trusting dismantling of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact led to a decade of Western looting of Gorbachev’s country. Vladimir Putin has since restored a measure of Russia’s economic and military strength. Where Gorbachev was exploited, Putin is proving resistant to such entreaties, except on the economic front, where he appears to have bought into some of Western neoliberal policy.

Instead, Putin is posing a threat to the forward progress of Washington’s neoconservative foreign policy. He has actively promoted a variety of pipeline projects that would speed Russian oil and gas to Western Europe, undercutting profits of Western multinationals and addicting NATO nations to the energy teat of the Russian Federation. And he has conducted a few military maneuvers that have enraged the Washington elite, which are used to being conciliated by effete comprador elite in developing nations. This is different. A nuclear nation that can’t be overrun or bombed into submission. And it shows.

After successfully dismembering Yugoslavia, Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, the West-led spread of chaos across the Middle East stalled in Syria. After happily expanding NATO throughout Eastern Europe with little opposition, expansion hit a wall in Ukraine. In both instances, it is Moscow behind the holding action preventing the American project of global dominion from advancing. That’s why Putin has replaced Hugo Chavez as the West’s most demonized public figure.

Worryingly for covetous D.C. schemers, there’s a lot of new economic activity afoot in Eurasia, little of it involving the U.S. This activity includes plans for a Eurasian Union headed by Russia, a metastasizing Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the rapidly advancing One Belt, One Road vision of the Chinese. The latter would effectively be a New Silk Road stretching from Vladivostok to Lisbon, animating Chinese and Russian economic influence across the Asian and European continents, and lifting countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. This is Washington’s nightmare scenario, since no serious geo-strategist believes global hegemony is feasible short of dominion in Central Asia. This understanding fuels the underlying animus toward Moscow and Beijing. It has nothing to do with ceaseless repeated lies about Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. And it has nothing to do with lies about Moscow rigging the election for Donald Trump or Michael Flynn lifting sanctions in a nefarious quid pro quo.

The Deep State vs. the Nation State

Long-time Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to the murky agencies at work to ensure this planetary plan stays on track as the “deep state,” in his book of the same name. He writes that it includes key elements of the national security state, which ensure continuity of policy despite the superficial about-faces from one administration to the next. The deep state is effectively a warlike oligarchy, hell-bent on full spectrum dominance, driven by a lust for wealth and power, and anxious to inscribe its name in history. Specifically, Lofgren says, the deep state includes the Department of Defense, the State Department, the National Intelligence Agencies, Wall Street, the defense industry, and the energy consortium, among other major private players. They share common agendas, operate a revolving door of employees, and have a collective distaste for democracy, transparency, and regulation. The deep state is the link between military interventions and trans-pacific trade deals, between sanctions and IMF loans. All of these tools, be they arms or loans or legal structures, serve a single purpose: the overarching control of world resources by a global community of corporate elites. One can also see how these three instruments of policy and power all do tremendous damage to a particular entity, the nation-state. It is the nation-state that is considered by elites to be the sole remaining barricade between populations in nominal democracies and their unfettered exploitation by multinationals, although one might reasonably argue that the state more often abets exploitation rather than deters it.

The Dystopia to Come

So where is this all headed? Aside from the theatrics of the Trump presidency and its sequestration or removal. What would full-spectrum dominance look like? Probably something like a one-world market, populated by enfeebled states, ruled by a worldwide raft of interlocking investor rights agreements that allowed private capital to plunder natural resources free of state restraints, such as labor safeguards, environmental protections, reasonable tax regimes, capital controls or border tariffs. Faceless multinationals would pillage the planet, their anonymous appointees manning the joysticks of power behind the reflective glass of their cloud-draped spindles, unreachable and unelected by the armies of the destitute that prowled the wastelands below. The amalgamated forces of corporate elitism would coolly play labor arbitrage across continents, threaten and destroy defiant economies through currency flight and commodity manipulation, and continue to consume an outsized percentage of the world’s resources. This would fulfill the hegemonic dreams of former State Department Director of Policy Planning Kennan, who once argued that we must dispense with humanitarian concerns and “deal in straight power concepts,” the better to control and consume an outsized portion of the world’s resources, presumably a privilege reserved for elite whites, and a selection of mandarins from other ethnicities with special clearances.

A criminal corporate commonwealth, supported by a fiat dollar as global reserve currency enforced by threat of war and economic collapse, will be deaf to protest from below, its weaponized satellites aimed at populations like sunlit magnifiers at a column of ants. Currency itself would be wholly digitized. This move would be sold as a positive advance as it would provide better tax accountability and therefore fund future programs of social uplift. Rather it will be employed as a means of totalitarian financial control over populations. Their wealth will be institutionalized. The concept of withdrawal will fade along with the fiction of ownership.

Terrorism will become the chosen tool of this elite power (insofar as it isn’t already). Surgical strikes, be they military, economic, or news-driven, will “keep the rabble in line” as all societies become subservient to the portents of war, the fear of inaccessible funds, and the black smears of an amoral media. The ‘deep state’ will become an obsolete term, as the nation-state will recede in memory as a relic of a strife-ridden dark age.

After all, the laissez faire cult of the beltway actually believes the planet would prosper sans nation-states. As another scene from Syriana reminds us, elite capital has a very different worldview from the majority of labor, who continue to believe the state has a role to play defending their interests. At one point in the film, Texas oil man Danny Dalton lectures lawyer Bennett Holiday on the true definition of corruption, “Corruption!? Corruption is government interference in market efficiencies in the form of government regulation. That’s Milton Friedman! He got a goddamn Nobel Prize!” The U.S. already practices free-market militarism, refusing to recognize borders, legal constraints, or geostrategic jurisdiction. Why not free-market finance and trade?

The good news is that, if you can clamber into the top one percent of the U.S. population, for instance, serving as a parasite on the grizzled hide of the corporate beast, you might yet partake of unimaginable luxuries, high in the clouds, sipping Mimosas as you transit between the ring-fenced metropoles of the world, where stateless elites intermingle.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire: Unmasking American Imperialism. He lives in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/10/the-deep-state-and-the-dark-arts/

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war?

It could happen sooner than we think

Our president wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil”; his key adviser longs for World War III

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war? It could happen sooner than we think
(Credit: Getty/ Chip Somodevilla/everlite/Salon)

On Wednesday NBC News released a poll reporting that 66 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that the United States will become involved in another war. One might think that’s surprising since President Donald Trump has famously been portrayed as an old-school isolationist, an image mostly based upon his lies about not supporting the Iraq War and his adoption of the pre-World War II isolationist slogan “America First.”

As I laid out for Salon a few weeks ago, that assumption is wrong. Trump is anything but an isolationist. He’s not much on alliances, preferring to strong-arm other nations into supporting the U.S. “for their own good.” But if they are willing to cough up some protection money, he might agree to fulfill our treaty obligations. His adoption of the phrase “America First” reflects his belief that the U.S. must be No. 1, not that it should withdraw from the world.

In other words, while Trump has no interest in perpetuating the global security system under which the world has lived since the dawn of the nuclear age, that’s not because he believes it hasn’t worked. He doesn’t know what it does, how it came to be or why it exists. He simply believes other countries are failing to pay proper respect and he is aiming to make sure they understand that America isn’t just great again; it’s the greatest.

This has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. Trump is happy to admit that American pretenses to moral leadership are hypocritical, and he’s openly contemptuous of anyone who believes that the U.S. should try harder to live up to its ideals. If you want to understand what Trump believes, “to the victor goes the spoils” pretty much covers it. He means it in terms of his family, which continues to merge the presidency into its company brand all over the world, and he means it in terms of the United States, believing that this is the richest and most powerful nation on Earth and we can take whatever we want.

One of his goals is to “defeat ISIS.” And when he says defeat, he means to do whatever it takes to ensure it does not exist anymore. That does seem like a nice idea. After all, ISIS is an antediluvian, authoritarian death cult and the world would be better off without it. The question, of course, has always been how to accomplish such a thing.

Thoughtful people rationally understand that “defeating” radical extremism of any kind isn’t a matter of killing all the people. Indeed, the more extremists you kill, the more extremists you tend to create. But while Trump simply sees the world by playground rules, his consigliere Steve Bannon sees the threat of ISIS as a preordained apocalyptic confrontation between Western countries and the Muslim world. In a notorious speech he gave at the Vatican in 2014, Bannon put it this way:

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict . . . to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

He has called Trump his “blunt instrument” to bring about this global conflagration. Bannon is now a member of the National Security Council and is said to be running a parallel national security agency called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which he has stacked with kooks who share his views. He is a powerful influence.

Trump has promised to take the gloves off, and I think we all know exactly what he meant by that. He said it many times during the campaign: He favors torture. And he reiterated it just last month in his interview with ABC’s David Muir saying, “When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

And Trump went on to grudgingly promise that he would listen to the secretary of defense and hold back on torture if that was his recommendation. But Trump also claimed that he’s talked to people at the highest levels of the intelligence community who told him that torture works like a charm. So we will have to see if the president is really able to restrain himself. (His CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has been all for it in the past. Maybe they’ll simply decide to leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of the loop.)

But what about Trump’s promises to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil?” What about Bannon’s desire to bring on WorldWar III? Will that really happen? It might, and sooner than we think.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

More American troops may be needed in Syria to speed the campaign against the Islamic State, the top United States commander for the Middle East said on Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region.

“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” he added. “That’s an option.”

Despite his unfounded reputation for isolationism, it’s obvious that Trump is itching for a war. Responding to a debate question about whether he would follow a military commander’s advice to put troops on the ground, Trump said, “We really have no choice; we have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.” When asked how many troops he thought might be needed, he replied that the number he had heard was 20,000 to 30,000.

Nobody thought much of Trump’s bluster at the time. But now he’s in the White House with an apocalyptic crackpot whispering in his ear and generals on the ground talking about taking on “a larger burden.” Whether his administration’s military advisers, Defense Secretary Mattis and his newly installed national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, are as eager for this battle remains to be seen. But it appears that the two-thirds of Americans who are worried that we’ll be dragged into another war are anxious for good reason.

 

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Trump blurts out the truth about US killings and the media goes wild

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7 February 2017

The furor unleashed by the remarks of President Donald Trump in response to Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly’s calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “a killer” during an interview broadcast Sunday has continued to reverberate, drawing hypocritical condemnations from leading figures in both the Republican and Democratic parities.

In response to O’Reilly’s denunciation of Putin, Trump stated: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

Trump went on to cite Iraq in support of his statement. O’Reilly’s face went slack. He clearly did not know what to say. The new leader of the “Free World” had wandered seriously off message.

As far as the capitalist politicians of both parties and the media are concerned, Trump committed an unpardonable offense: he—in this one instance, and for purely pragmatic reasons related to his immediate political needs—had said something true about US imperialism’s role in the world.

The official posture of outrage over Trump’s off-hand comment will have little effect on the broader public. Do the politicians and media really believe that the public is so naïve and its memory so short? The United States is a country where The Bourne Identity­ and its innumerable sequels–whose basic premise is that the US government is run by murderers–are among the most popular movies of the last twenty years. This premise is well grounded in fact. Over the past 70 years, presidents and other high government officials have been implicated in the authorization and implementation of countless atrocities. Many of these crimes have been substantiated in official government reports and congressional hearings.

In a review of Joshua Kurlantzick’s A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of the Military CIA, reviewer Scott Shane wrote in the February 3 edition of The New York Times :

“Speaking last September in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, Barack Obama mentioned a staggering fact: that the United States had between 1963 and 1974 dropped two million tons of bombs on the country, more than the total loosed on Germany and Japan together during World War II. That made Laos, which is slightly smaller than Michigan, the most heavily bombed nation in history, the president said. More than four decades after the end of the war, unexploded ordnance is still killing and maiming Laotians, and Obama announced that he was doubling American funding to remove it.”

Calling attention to information in Kurlantzick’s book, Shane noted: “In his first presidential term, Richard M. Nixon escalated the bombing from about 15 sorties per day to 300 per day. ‘How many did we kill in Laos?’ Nixon asked Henry Kissinger one day in a conversation caught on tape. Kissinger replied: ‘In the Laotian thing, we killed about 10, 15’–10,000 or 15,000 people, he meant. The eventual death toll would be 200,000.”

When it comes to killing, the US Government is without equal. In multiple wars of aggression, from Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the proxy war for regime-change in Syria, US imperialism has killed and maimed tens of millions.

The chief accusation being leveled against Trump–by both supposed liberals in the Democratic Party and right-wing Republicans–is that he implied a “moral equivalence” between Russia and the US. This was a phrase used during the Cold War to justify every crime committed by the US and its allies, from Latin America’s bloody dictatorships to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, on the grounds that there could be no “moral equivalence” between the leader of the “Free World” and the Soviet “Evil Empire.”

There is, in fact, no equivalence. When it comes to killing and global thuggery, Putin is a small fry compared to the leaders of the United States.

That the Democratic Party jumps on this reactionary bandwagon only proves that there is nothing progressive whatsoever in its purported opposition to Trump. This was exemplified Monday by the remarks of California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a supposed “left” Democrat and leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who suggested that Trump should be impeached for “wrapping his arms around Putin while Putin is continuing to advance into Korea [sic].”

Underlying the furor over Trump’s remarks are fierce divisions over US imperialist strategy and Washington’s preparations for war that have been brought into the open with the change of administrations.

These differences have been exacerbated by recent events in Syria. The Syrian government’s retaking in December of eastern Aleppo, the last urban stronghold of the US-backed “rebels,” represented a colossal setback for US policy in the Middle East.

There are bitter recriminations within the foreign policy establishment over the Obama administration’s backing off of its “red line” in 2013, when it nearly went to war over false charges of Syrian government use of chemical weapons. Within these circles, there are many who feel that a military intervention would have been better for US interests, no matter what new catastrophe it unleashed.

An article published in the Washington Post Monday, warning that the US faces “a far stronger Iran” after “years of turmoil in the Arab world,” spelled out the situation that Washington now confronts in stark terms:

“Iran and Russia together have fought to ensure the survival of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and they are now pursuing a peace settlement in alliance with Turkey that excludes a role for the United States. America has been left with few friends and little leverage, apart from the Kurds in the northeast of the country.

“Russia controls the skies over Syria, and Turkey wields influence over the rebels, but Iran holds sway on the ground …”

Talk of “respecting” Putin, possible collaboration with Russia against ISIS in Syria, and an easing of sanctions is not, as the Democrats have suggested, evidence of some secret control exercised by the Kremlin over Trump. It is, rather, part of a definite strategy of peeling Russia off from Iran in order to pave the way for a new war in the Middle East, while sharply escalating provocations against China.

Citing unnamed administration officials, the Wall Street Journal spelled this policy out on Monday: “The administration is exploring ways to break Russia’s military and diplomatic alliance with Iran… The emerging strategy seeks to reconcile President Donald Trump’s seemingly contradictory vows to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to aggressively challenge the military presence of Iran.”

Trump’s chief White House strategist and adviser, Stephen Bannon, a student and admirer of Adolf Hitler, no doubt views the administration’s pivot toward Moscow through the historical prism of the Stalin-Hitler pact, which set the stage for the Second World War, a war that ultimately claimed 20 million Soviet lives.

Putin’s government is susceptible to such maneuvers. It shares all of the stupidity, backwardness and shortsightedness of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy headed by Stalin. Putin sits atop a regime that represents a rapacious clique of oligarchs who enriched themselves through theft of state property and the extraction and sale of the resources of the former Soviet Union. They are anxious to see US sanctions lifted so that they can accelerate their accumulation of wealth at the expense of the Russian working class.

Within the US political establishment and Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus, there exists sharp opposition to Trump’s turn in foreign policy. Immense political, military and financial resources have been invested in the buildup against Russia, from the coup in Ukraine to the deployment of thousands of US and NATO troops on Russia’s western border. There are concerns within ruling circles that a shift in imperialist strategy is reckless and poses serious dangers.

While popular attention and outrage have been focused on Trump’s anti-democratic executive orders imposing a ban on Muslims and refugees, ordering a wall built on the southern border, and laying the groundwork for a mass dragnet against undocumented immigrant workers, within the ruling class a serious fight is being waged over global imperialist strategy.

This fight over policy is between two bands of cutthroats, each of which is committed to an escalation of US militarism to further the profit interests of the US-based banks and transnational corporations. Whichever one wins out, the threat of world war, rooted in the crisis of global capitalism, will only grow.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/07/pers-f07.html

Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could Be Wrong

WORLD
Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism.

Emergency responders following a reported barrel bomb attack by government forces in the Al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 6, 2014

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.

Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different.

In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage.

One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance.

Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

It is inevitable that an opposition movement fighting for its life in wartime will only produce, or allow to be produced by others, information that is essentially propaganda for its own side. The fault lies not with them but a media that allows itself to be spoon-fed with dubious or one-sided stories.

For instance, the film coming out of east Aleppo in recent weeks focuses almost exclusively on heartrending scenes of human tragedy such as the death or maiming of civilians. One seldom sees shots of the 10,000 fighters, whether they are wounded or alive and well.

None of this is new. The present wars in the Middle East started with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was justified by the supposed threat from Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Western journalists largely went along with this thesis, happily citing evidence from the Iraqi opposition who predictably confirmed the existence of WMD.

Some of those who produced these stories later had the gall to criticise the Iraqi opposition for misleading them, as if they had any right to expect unbiased information from people who had dedicated their lives to overthrowing Saddam Hussein or, in this particular case, getting the Americans to do so for them.

Much the same self-serving media credulity was evident in Libya during the 2011 Nato-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

Atrocity stories emanating from the Libyan opposition, many of which were subsequently proved to be baseless by human rights organisations, were rapidly promoted to lead the news, however partial the source.

The Syrian war is especially difficult to report because Isis and various al-Qaeda clones made it too dangerous to report from within opposition-held areas. There is a tremendous hunger for news from just such places, so the temptation is for the media give credence to information they get second hand from people who could in practice only operate if they belong to or are in sympathy with the dominant jihadi opposition groups.

It is always a weakness of journalists that they pretend to excavate the truth when in fact they are the conduit rather than the originator of information produced by others in their own interests. Reporters learn early that people tell them things because they are promoting some cause which might be their own career or related to bureaucratic infighting or, just possibly, hatred of lies and injustice.

A word here in defense of the humble reporter in the field: usually, it is not he or she, but the home office or media herd instinct, that decides the story of the day. Those closest to the action may be dubious about some juicy tale which is heading the news, but there is not much they can do about it.

Thus, in 2002 and 2003, several New York Times journalists wrote stories casting doubt on WMD only to find them buried deep inside the newspaper which was led by articles proving that Saddam had WMD and was a threat to the world.

Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism. They should keep in mind the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria. Speaking after he had resigned in frustration in 2014, he said that “everybody had their agenda and the interests of the Syrian people came second, third or not at all”.

The quote comes from The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Phillips, which is one of the best informed and non-partisan accounts of the Syrian tragedy yet published. He judiciously weighs the evidence for rival explanations for what happened and why. He understands the degree to which the agenda and pace events in Syria were determined externally by the intervention of foreign powers pursuing their own interests.

Overall, government experts did better than journalists, who bought into simple-minded explanations of developments, convinced that Assad was always on the verge of being overthrown.

Phillips records that at a high point of the popular uprising in July 2011, when the media was assuming that Assad was finished, that the long-serving British ambassador in Damascus, Simon Collis, wrote that “Assad can still probably count on the support of 30-40 per cent of the population.”

The French ambassador Eric Chevallier was similarly cautious, only to receive a classic rebuke from his masters in Paris who said: “Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”

Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East Correspondent for the Independent. He has written four books on Iraq’s recent history—The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the Sunni Revolution, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, The Occupation, and Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession (with Andrew Cockburn)—as well as a memoir, The Broken Boy and, with his son, a book on schizophrenia, Henry’s Demons, which was shortlisted for a Costa Award. 

http://www.alternet.org/world/why-everything-youve-read-about-syria-and-iraq-could-be-wrong?akid=14961.265072.IftxtM&rd=1&src=newsletter1068352&t=16

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’.

Democrats focus on sex scandal as conflict with Russia escalates

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The great diversion:

15 October 2016

With media coverage in America dominated by allegations of sexual assault against the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, one would never know that the United States is on the verge of a massive escalation of operations against Syria and is preparing for a military conflict with Russia.

Friday’s wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s alleged sexual transgressions featured a speech full of moralistic outrage by First Lady Michelle Obama, a veteran of the cutthroat Chicago political machine. She melodramatically declared that a leaked tape of Trump making lewd remarks had “shaken me to my core.”

The entire media spectacle serves as a smoke screen for far-reaching plans by the present administration, with the full support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, to implement deeply unpopular policies without public scrutiny. It serves as well to bury any discussion of substantive issues in the election campaign.

Behind a nearly total media blackout, the White House National Security Council held a closed-door meeting Friday to review the US military’s campaign in Iraq and Syria. The only major media advance report on the meeting, carried by Reuters on Thursday and then quickly dropped, noted that US officials were weighing “air strikes on Syrian military bases, munitions depots or radar and anti-aircraft bases.” Asked about the meeting at a press conference Friday afternoon, deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz refused to even acknowledge that it was taking place.

The meeting was held just one day after the US military dramatically escalated its role in the conflict in Yemen, launching cruise missile strikes against sites controlled by the Houthi militia. This followed less than a week after the US-backed Saudi military bombed a Houthi funeral in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, killing at least 140 civilians and wounding more than 500 others.

Within hours of the meeting of Obama’s war council, NBC Nightly News led its Friday broadcast with an exclusive report, citing unnamed intelligence officials, that the White House is “contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election.”

This vague report sets a bellicose tone for scheduled discussions between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Saturday.

Britain, France and Germany, meanwhile, are agitating for military escalation in the five-year proxy war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Tuesday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson declared Russia a “pariah” state and called for anti-Assad and anti-Russian demonstrations at the Russian Embassy in London.

Johnson is hosting a meeting with Kerry and European foreign ministers on Sunday to consider “more kinetic options, the military options” in the war in Syria.

Russian officials, for their part, threatened retaliation against any US strikes against Syrian government targets. “Any missile or air strikes on the territory controlled by the Syrian government will create a clear threat to Russian servicemen,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson General Igor Konashenkov said last week.

He added, “Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality.” Konashenkov’s reference to ‘invisible’’ jets was a warning that the advanced Russian S-400 air defense systems are capable of downing fifth-generation fighters with stealth capabilities, such as the American F-22 and F-35.

Should US air strikes against Syrian targets lead to the downing of American fighters by Russian forces, the White House will come under immense pressure to retaliate, potentially setting off a chain reaction that could result in the first use of nuclear weapons since World War II.

In evident preparation for such an eventuality, Moscow sent nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to the Russian Baltic city of Kaliningrad on October 8. From Kaliningrad, the missiles can strike targets, including NATO bases, across Poland and the Baltic republics.

Pointing to the dangers posed by these developments, Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy prime minister of Turkey, warned this week that if the war in Syria continues, “America and Russia will come to a point of war.” He added that the “proxy war” in Syria has led the world to the “brink of the beginning of a large regional or global war.”

The war in Syria is just one flashpoint in what military strategists are increasingly warning will be an “inevitable” conflict with major military powers. Last month, the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, published a report titled The Future of the Army, which made clear that the US military’s primary concern is preparing to fight “major and deadly” wars between “great powers,” entailing “heavy casualties” and “high levels of death and destruction.”

At an October 4 meeting of the Association of the US Army in Washington, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said war between the US and global powers such as Russia and China was “almost guaranteed.” At the same conference, Gen. William Hix, a top Army strategist, declared that a conflict “in the near future” with a country like Russia or China would entail a level of violence “that our armies have not seen on a scale probably since Korea, if not in World War II.”

These developments make it clear that the threat to humanity of a war between nuclear-armed powers is greater now than at any time since the height of the Cold War. The sharp escalation of military tensions recalls the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which nearly led to full-scale war between the US and the Soviet Union.

At that time, the press was eagerly following every detail of the showdown between the US and the USSR, while the Kennedy administration was intently seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Now, the White House, driven by an unstable domestic situation and growing threats to its global dominance, is taking increasingly reckless measures, while the press virtually ignores the danger of a clash between the United States and Russia.

The media silence on the war threat is coupled with a drive, led by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic Party and the New York Times, to paint the fascistic Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as an agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. By framing the November 8 election as a struggle against Russian subversion and the “dictator” Putin, Hillary Clinton is seeking to create the conditions for claiming a popular mandate for military escalation and a confrontation with Russia should she capture the White House.

Both big-business parties, despite their tactical differences, fully support the US war drive, while the Libertarian and Green candidates are largely ignoring the war danger. The Socialist Equality Party alone has put opposition to war at the very heart of its campaign in the 2016 elections.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/10/15/pers-o15.html