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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Anti-Empire Report #127: Indoctrinating a new generation

William Blum

The Anti-Empire Report #127


By William Blum – Published April 7th, 2014

Indoctrinating a new generation

Is there anyone out there who still believes that Barack Obama, when he’s speaking about American foreign policy, is capable of being anything like an honest man? In a March 26 talk in Belgium to “European youth”, the president fed his audience one falsehood, half-truth, blatant omission, or hypocrisy after another. If George W. Bush had made some of these statements, Obama supporters would not hesitate to shake their head, roll their eyes, or smirk. Here’s a sample:

“In defending its actions, Russian leaders have further claimed Kosovo as a precedent – an example they say of the West interfering in the affairs of a smaller country, just as they’re doing now. But NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years.”

Most people who follow such things are convinced that the 1999 US/NATO bombing of the Serbian province of Kosovo took place only after the Serbian-forced deportation of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo was well underway; which is to say that the bombing was launched to stop this “ethnic cleansing”. In actuality, the systematic deportations of large numbers of people did not begin until a few days after the bombing began, and was clearly a reaction to it, born of Serbia’s extreme anger and powerlessness over the bombing. This is easily verified by looking at a daily newspaper for the few days before the bombing began the night of March 23/24, 1999, and the few days following. Or simply look at the New York Times of March 26, page 1, which reads:
… with the NATO bombing already begun, a deepening sense of fear took hold in Pristina [the main city of Kosovo] that the Serbs would now vent their rage against ethnic Albanian civilians in retaliation. [emphasis added]
On March 27, we find the first reference to a “forced march” or anything of that nature.

But the propaganda version is already set in marble.

“And Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized, not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.”

None of that even came close to happening in Kosovo either. The story is false. The referendum the president speaks of never happened. Did the mainstream media pick up on this or on the previous example? If any reader comes across such I’d appreciate being informed.

Crimea, by the way, did have a referendum. A real one.

“Workers and engineers gave life to the Marshall Plan … As the Iron Curtain fell here in Europe, the iron fist of apartheid was unclenched, and Nelson Mandela emerged upright, proud, from prison to lead a multiracial democracy. Latin American nations rejected dictatorship and built new democracies … “
The president might have mentioned that the main beneficiary of the Marshall Plan was US corporations , that the United States played an indispensable role in Mandela being caught and imprisoned, and that virtually all the Latin American dictatorships owed their very existence to Washington. Instead, the European youth were fed the same party line that their parents were fed, as were all Americans.

“Yes, we believe in democracy – with elections that are free and fair.”
In this talk, the main purpose of which was to lambaste the Russians for their actions concerning Ukraine, there was no mention that the government overthrown in that country with the clear support of the United States had been democratically elected.

“Moreover, Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. … But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state that could make decisions about its own future.”

The US did not get UN Security Council approval for its invasion, the only approval that could legitimize the action. It occupied Iraq from one end of the country to the other for 8 years, forcing the government to privatize the oil industry and accept multinational – largely U.S.-based, oil companies’ – ownership. This endeavor was less than successful because of the violence unleashed by the invasion. The US military finally was forced to leave because the Iraqi government refused to give immunity to American soldiers for their many crimes.

Here is a brief summary of what Barack Obama is attempting to present as America’s moral superiority to the Russians:

The modern, educated, advanced nation of Iraq was reduced to a quasi failed state … the Americans, beginning in 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one dubious excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, tortured without inhibition, killed wantonly … the people of that unhappy land lost everything – their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women’s rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives … More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile … The air, soil, water, blood, and genes drenched with depleted uranium … the most awful birth defects … unexploded cluster bombs lying in wait for children to pick them up … a river of blood running alongside the Euphrates and Tigris … through a country that may never be put back together again. … “It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003,” reported the Washington Post. (May 5, 2007)

How can all these mistakes, such arrogance, hypocrisy and absurdity find their way into a single international speech by the president of the United States? Is the White House budget not sufficient to hire a decent fact checker? Someone with an intellect and a social conscience? Or does the desire to score propaganda points trump everything else? Is this another symptom of the Banana-Republicization of America?

Long live the Cold War

In 1933 US President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the Soviet Union after some 15 years of severed relations following the Bolshevik Revolution. On a day in December of that year, a train was passing through Poland carrying the first American diplomats dispatched to Moscow. Amongst their number was a 29 year-old Foreign Service Officer, later to become famous as a diplomat and scholar, George Kennan. Though he was already deemed a government expert on Russia, the train provided Kennan’s first actual exposure to the Soviet Union. As he listened to his group’s escort, Russian Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, reminisce about growing up in a village the train was passing close by, and his dreams of becoming a librarian, the Princeton-educated Kennan was astonished: “We suddenly realized, or at least I did, that these people we were dealing with were human beings like ourselves, that they had been born somewhere, that they had their childhood ambitions as we had. It seemed for a brief moment we could break through and embrace these people.”

It hasn’t happened yet.

One would think that the absence in Russia of communism, of socialism, of the basic threat or challenge to the capitalist system, would be sufficient to write finis to the 70-year Cold War mentality. But the United States is virtually as hostile to 21st-century Russia as it was to 20th-century Soviet Union, surrounding Moscow with military bases, missile sites, and NATO members. Why should that be? Ideology is no longer a factor. But power remains one, specifically America’s perpetual lust for world hegemony. Russia is the only nation that (a) is a military powerhouse, and (b) doesn’t believe that the United States has a god-given-American-exceptionalism right to rule the world, and says so. By these criteria, China might qualify as a poor second. But there are no others.

Washington pretends that it doesn’t understand why Moscow should be upset by Western military encroachment, but it has no such problem when roles are reversed. Secretary of State John Kerry recently stated that Russian troops poised near eastern Ukraine are “creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine” and raising questions about Russia’s next moves and its commitment to diplomacy.

NATO – ever in need of finding a raison d’être – has now issued a declaration of [cold] war, which reads in part:
“NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday [April 1, 2014] reaffirmed their commitment to enhance the Alliance’s collective defence, agreed to further support Ukraine and to suspend NATO’s practical cooperation with Russia. ‘NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our territory and our people. And make no mistake, this is what we will do,’ NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. … Ministers directed Allied military authorities to develop additional measures to strengthen collective defence and deterrence against any threat of aggression against the Alliance, Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said. ‘We will make sure we have updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments,’ he said. NATO has already reinforced its presence on the eastern border of the Alliance, including surveillance patrols over Poland and Romania and increased numbers of fighter aircraft allocated to the NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States. … NATO Foreign Ministers also agreed to suspend all of NATO’s practical cooperation with Russia.”
Does anyone recall what NATO said in 2003 when the United States bombed and invaded Iraq with “shock and awe”, compared to the Russians now not firing a single known shot at anyone? And neither Russia nor Ukraine is even a member of NATO. Does NATO have a word to say about the right-wing coup in Ukraine, openly supported by the United States, overthrowing the elected government? Did the hypocrisy get any worse during the Cold War? Imagine that NATO had not been created in 1949. Imagine that it has never existed. What reason could one give today for its creation? Other than to provide a multi-national cover for Washington’s interventions.

One of the main differences between now and the Cold War period is that Americans at home are (not yet) persecuted or prosecuted for supporting Russia or things Russian.

But don’t worry, folks, there won’t be a big US-Russian war. For the same reason there wasn’t one during the Cold War. The United States doesn’t pick on any country which can defend itself.

Cuba … Again … Still … Forever

Is there actually a limit? Will the United States ever stop trying to overthrow the Cuban government? Entire books have been written documenting the unrelenting ways Washington has tried to get rid of tiny Cuba’s horrid socialism – from military invasion to repeated assassination attempts to an embargo that President Clinton’s National Security Advisor called “the most pervasive sanctions ever imposed on a nation in the history of mankind”. But nothing has ever come even close to succeeding. The horrid socialism keeps on inspiring people all over the world. It’s the darnedest thing. Can providing people free or remarkably affordable health care, education, housing, food and culture be all that important?

And now it’s “Cuban Twitter” – an elaborately complex system set up by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to disguise its American origins and financing, aiming to bring about a “Cuban Spring” uprising. USAID sought to first “build a Cuban audience, mostly young people; then the plan was to push them toward dissent”, hoping the messaging network “would reach critical mass so that dissidents could organize ‘smart mobs’ – mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice – that might trigger political demonstrations or ‘renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society’.” It’s too bad it’s now been exposed, because we all know how wonderful the Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan, and other “Arab Springs” have turned out.

Here’s USAID speaking after their scheme was revealed on April 3: “Cubans were able to talk among themselves, and we are proud of that.” We are thus asked to believe that normally the poor downtrodden Cubans have no good or safe way to communicate with each other. Is the US National Security Agency working for the Cuban government now?

The Associated Press, which broke the story, asks us further to believe that the “truth” about most things important in the world is being kept from the Cuban people by the Castro regime, and that the “Cuban Twitter” would have opened people’s eyes. But what information might a Cuban citizen discover online that the government would not want him to know about? I can’t imagine. Cubans are in constant touch with relatives in the US, by mail and in person. They get US television programs from Miami and other southern cities; both CNN and Telesur (Venezuela, covering Latin America) are seen regularly on Cuban television”; international conferences on all manner of political, economic and social issues are held regularly in Cuba. I’ve spoken at more than one myself. What – it must be asked – does USAID, as well as the American media, think are the great dark secrets being kept from the Cuban people by the nasty commie government?

Those who push this line sometimes point to the serious difficulty of using the Internet in Cuba. The problem is that it’s extremely slow, making certain desired usages often impractical. From an American friend living in Havana: “It’s not a question of getting or not getting internet. I get internet here. The problem is downloading something or connecting to a link takes too long on the very slow connection that exists here, so usually I/we get ‘timed out’.” But the USAID’s “Cuban Twitter”, after all, could not have functioned at all without the Internet.
Places like universities, upscale hotels, and Internet cafés get better connections, at least some of the time; however, it’s rather expensive to use at the hotels and cafés.

In any event, this isn’t a government plot to hide dangerous information. It’s a matter of technical availability and prohibitive cost, both things at least partly in the hands of the United States and American corporations. Microsoft, for example, at one point, if not at present, barred Cuba from using its Messenger instant messaging service.

Cuba and Venezuela have jointly built a fiber optic underwater cable connection that they hope will make them less reliant on the gringos; the outcome of this has not yet been reported in much detail.

The grandly named Agency for International Development does not have an honorable history; this can perhaps be captured by a couple of examples: In 1981, the agency’s director, John Gilligan, stated: “At one time, many AID field offices were infiltrated from top to bottom with CIA people. The idea was to plant operatives in every kind of activity we had overseas, government, volunteer, religious, every kind.”

On June 21, 2012, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) issued a resolution calling for the immediate expulsion of USAID from their nine member countries, “due to the fact that we consider their presence and actions to constitute an interference which threatens the sovereignty and stability of our nations.”

USAID, the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy (and the latter’s subsidiaries), together or singly, continue to be present at regime changes, or attempts at same, favorable to Washington, from “color revolutions” to “spring” uprisings, producing a large measure of chaos and suffering for our tired old world.


  1. William Blum, America’s Deadliest Export – Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else, p.22-5
  2. Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas, The Wise Men (1986), p.158
  3. Washington Post, March 31, 2014
  4. NATO takes measures to reinforce collective defence, agrees on support for Ukraine”, NATO website, April 1, 2014
  5. Sandy Berger, White House press briefing, November 14, 1997, US Newswire transcript
  6. Associated Press, April 3 & 4, 2014
  7. Washington Post, April 4, 2014
  8. Associated Press, June 2, 2009
  9. George Cotter, “Spies, strings and missionaries”, The Christian Century (Chicago), March 25, 1981, p.321
Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fighting for American credibility

A project of The Nation Institute


The Widening Lens

Jonathan Schell and the Fate of the Earth

By Tom Engelhardt

“Up to a few months ago, Ben Suc was a prosperous village of some thirty-five hundred people.”  That is the initial line of The Village of Ben Suc, his first book, a copy of which I recently reread on a plane trip, knowing that he was soon to die. That book, that specific copy, had a history of its own.  It was a Knopf first edition, published in 1967 in the midst of the Vietnam War, after the then-shocking text had appeared in the New Yorker magazine. An on-the-spot account of an American operation, the largest of the Vietnam War to that moment, it followed American troops as they helicoptered into a village controlled by the enemy about 30 miles from the capital, Saigon.  All its inhabitants, other than those killed in the process, were removed from their homes and sent to a makeshift refugee camp elsewhere.  The U.S. military then set Ben Suc afire, brought in bulldozers to reduce it to rubble, and finally called in the U.S. Air Force to bomb that rubble to smithereens -- as though, as the final line of his book put it, “having once decided to destroy it, we were now bent on annihilating every possible indication that the village of Ben Suc had ever existed.”

I had read the piece in the New Yorker when that magazine devoted a single issue to it, something it had not done since it published John Hersey’s Hiroshima in a similar fashion in 1946.  I never forgot it.  I was then 23 years old and just launched on a life as an anti-Vietnam War activist.  I would not meet the author, 24-year-old neophyte reporter Jonathan Schell, for years.

To look at that first edition some 47 years later is to be reminded of just how young he was then, so young that Knopf thought it appropriate in his nearly nonexistent bio to mention where he went to high school (“the Putney School in Vermont”).  The book was tiny.  Only 132 pages with an all-print orange cover that, in addition to the author and title, said: “The story of the American destruction of a Vietnamese village -- this is the complete text of the brilliant report to which the New Yorker devoted almost an entire issue.”  That was bold advertising in those publishing days.  I know.  As an editor at a publishing house as the 1980s began, I can still remember having a fierce argument about whether or not it was “tasteless” to put a blurb from a prominent person on a book’s cover.

The year after Ben Suc was published, he wrote The Military Half, his second great book on that horrific American war, in which he widened his lens from a single devastated village to two provinces where almost every hamlet had been destroyed, largely by American air power.  To report it, he rode in tiny forward observation planes that were calling down destruction on the Vietnamese countryside.  He then went to work as a staff writer for the New Yorker and in 1975 widened his lens further in his book The Time of Illusion, taking in the history and fate of a single administration in Washington as it waged “limited war” abroad in a nuclear age and created constitutional mayhem at home, bringing yet more violence to Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians, as well as to the American political system.

In 1982, with his globally bestselling book The Fate of the Earth, whose first chapter, looking directly into a future of annihilation, was memorably entitled “A Republic of Insects and Grass,” he trained his lens on the threat of violence against all humanity.  He memorably explored what was then known as “the nuclear predicament,” the way we had fully taken over a role previously occupied by God and, in the midst of the Cold War, were threatening the extinction not of a village, a couple of provinces in a distant land, or a political system, but the planet itself.

I was by then working at Pantheon Books, where in 1988 I re-read his two Vietnam reports and republished them in a single volume as The Real War.  Its cover copy read: “The classic reporting on the Vietnam War,” which couldn’t have been more accurate.  And then, some years later, I evidently stumbled across that first edition in New York’s great used bookstore, the Strand.  My copy is dated 8/93 on a little yellow tag inside the front cover and cost me $4. I doubt I read it a third time when I bought it.  I can only imagine that I wanted to have that memorable first book by someone I already considered one of the greats of our age.

As it happened, at another publishing house in 2003, in an even grimmer century, I put out his book The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People.  His lens by then couldn’t have been wider.  In it, he appropriated a hollowed-out term from the war in Vietnam, the hopeless American effort to “win hearts and minds,” celebrating instead the untamed “rebellious hearts and minds” across the planet that might find new sources of people power and alter a world headed for destruction.  It was a book so far ahead of its time that, in the invasion-of-Iraq moment, almost no one noticed.
He was then perhaps the only person who imagined that, in our future, lay an Arab Spring, an Occupy Movement, and whatever-is-still-to-come.  He may have been the first to see that this planet, careening toward disaster, might no longer be controllable in any of the usual ways.  (“Fifty-eight years after Hiroshima, the world has to decide whether to continue on the path of cataclysmic violence charted in the twentieth century and now resumed in the twenty-first or whether to embark on a new, cooperative political path... In our age of sustained democratic revolution, the power that governments inspire through fear remains under constant challenge by the power that flows from people’s freedom to act in behalf of their interests and beliefs.”)

His final great work on climate change, on which he spent years of research, provisionally titled The Human Shadow, will sadly never be written.  In the end, the lens simply grew too wide for a single lifetime -- and we will all be the poorer for it.

He died on the night of March 25th of a cancer spurred on by an underlying blood condition that just might have been caused by Agent Orange, the poisonous defoliant chemical so widely used by U.S. forces in Vietnam.  There is, of course, no way of knowing, but the Veteran’s Administration website does list his condition as one that might have been Agent Orange-induced.  In life as in death, Vietnam may have defined, but never confined, him.  He was a figure in my life and at TomDispatch -- as a friend, a writer, an interviewee, and for me a source of constant inspiration.  I mourn him.

Given the role Vietnam played in his life, in mine, and in this country’s, I thought it might be appropriate to look not to his last words, but -- in a sense -- to his first words.  So, today, I’m returning us to the young Jonathan Schell, the boy who, knowing so little but so terribly open, landed in Vietnam in 1966 and during that nightmarish war that seemed never to end, later at the New Yorker, and finally at the Nation magazine, as well as in his many books, helped shape our thinking and our world.  Here, then, is an interview that historian Chris Appy did with him for his remarkable 2003 oral history of the Vietnam War from all sides, Patriots.  It catches the sensibility both of the youthful Jonathan Schell and of the man I later came to know.  I thank Appy and his publisher, Viking Penguin, for letting me remember and honor him in this way.

“The More We ‘Won,’ The More We Lost”

An Interview with Jonathan Schell on America’s Vietnam Debacle

By Chris Appy

[The following interview from Chris Appy’s 2003 book Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides is used with the kind permission of his publisher, Viking Penguin, and is posted at as a memorial to Jonathan Schell, who died on March 25th, and to his work, which will long outlast him.]

Rushing into the magazine’s office, his cheeks flushed, he flops down on a couch looking impossibly burdened by the distractions of a journalist’s life. The odds seem slim that much of value will be gained by dredging up a 30-year-old topic. As soon as the subject is mentioned, however, the present evaporates. It’s as if the middle-aged man has entered a time machine dated 1966.That was the year he went to Vietnam on a whim, at age 23, hoping to write “something” about the war. On the basis of that trip, and another in 1967, he wrote two book-length articles for The New Yorker that were later published as The Village of Ben Suc and The Military Half.

I wasn’t very political in college but I do remember noticing that this Vietnam War seemed to be a sort of unsolvable problem. At the time, I didn’t see how we could pull out and I suppose I bought into the domino theory. But I didn’t see how we could win. It just looked bad. When I graduated from college in 1965, I went to Japan to study and spend a year abroad. On the way back from Japan I had a round-the-world ticket that permitted me to stop anywhere I wanted. I had a certain ambition to be a writer of factual pieces so I decided I would go to Vietnam. I remember reading Bernard Fall’s latest book on the plane, which was my little crash education. When I landed in Vietnam I was the very definition of a pest -- a graduate student who had no knowledge and who vaguely thought he might like to write something.
Somehow or other it occurred to me that François Sully might be in Vietnam working for Newsweek. He was a French reporter I’d met at Harvard when he was a Nieman Fellow so I called up the Newsweek office and, lo and behold, he was there and invited me over.

It was a loft-like office with a back room full of the pseudo-military gear that journalists wore. When I greeted Sully I had Bernard Fall’s book under my arm and mentioned that I had been reading it. There was another fellow at a desk who said, “Could I see the book?” So I went over and gave him the book.

He opened it up and signed it. It was Bernard Fall!

So here were these two ebullient, life-loving Frenchmen, brave and brilliant journalists, both. And just out of sheer high spirits, they took me up -- this nuisance, this pest, this ignorant graduate student. They used their connections to perform a kind of miracle. They persuaded the military to give me a press pass on the somewhat deceptive basis that I was there for the Harvard Crimson. I had actually written for the Crimson, and very possibly they would have wanted me reporting for them, but we made up that little tale.

Well, if you had a press pass in Vietnam, it was a free travel ticket all over the country. You could hitchhike rides on helicopters and transport planes, wherever you wanted. It was a meal ticket. It was a hotel reservation anywhere. It gave a fantastic freedom to see what you wanted to see. I think the reason was the cooperation between the press and the military during the Second World War, and the Korean War had carried over for a while to Vietnam. So just a day or two later Fall and Sully called me up at my ratty hotel and said, “Something is going to happen. It’s all secret, but you can go and see it if you want. Come over to such-and-such a place at four-thirty A.M. and there’ll be a bus.” These two wonderful journalists, both of whom later lost their lives in the war, gave me this one-hundred-and-eighty-degree life-changing gift, which set me on the journalistic path I’ve been on ever since.

We got on a bus and were taken out to an airstrip where we were flown off in a C-5 to a big dusty field in the jungle. A spiffy major with an easel told us we were there for Operation Cedar Falls -- the largest military operation of the war to that date. The idea was to clear out the infamous Iron Triangle [a 40-square-mile patch of jungle with its southernmost tip just a dozen miles north of Saigon], which had been the source of so much woe for the South Vietnamese army and a revolutionary stronghold since the war against the French. The American military wanted to clear it out once and for all. On the major’s easel there was a great menu of things they were going to do. One of the items on the list was a helicopter attack on the village of Ben Suc. When we got to that item on the list, I asked, “What’s going to happen to the village after it’s attacked?” The major said, “Well, we’re going to destroy it and move the people out.”

“Then what?” I said.

“Well, we’re going to bulldoze it and bomb it.”

So I thought, okay, I’ll just follow that particular story from start to finish. It didn’t feel like a singularly adventurous or bold thing to do. And I do recall one little act of cowardice. When they asked which of the 60 helicopters we wanted to go on, many of the journalists were clamoring to be on the first or second helicopter. I was delighted to be on helicopter number 47. You could say that the operation came off beautifully. It worked exactly as planned. The helicopters flew in, moved the people out, destroyed the village. Mission accomplished. But to what end? Most of the reporting about Operation Cedar Falls told you how many Viet Cong were captured or killed, and those may have been true facts. But they left out what I believed was fundamental -- that we were destroying villages and throwing people off their land.
The unmistakable fact was that the general population despised the United States and if they hadn’t despised it before we arrived, they soon did after we destroyed their villages. Our whole goal was to build up a political system that would stand after we left, with a functioning government supported enough by its people so it could fight on its own. But our policies were destroying whatever support that government might ever have had, which was probably about zero to begin with. The more we’d win on the battlefield -- and we did just about every day in just about every battle -- the more we lost the political war.

The more we “won,” the more we lost. That was the paradox of Vietnam. American soldiers went over thinking they were freeing an enslaved people from their oppressors. I do think the Communists were pretty oppressive. However, it just so happened that they were the representatives of national dignity and that seemed to trump whatever oppression they dealt out. Whatever the reason, the people by and large supported them and they were the de facto government of a very considerable part of South Vietnam. So the idea that the Viet Cong were a sort of mysterious band of people that could be rooted out and separated from the population at large just didn’t have a basis in political reality.

One thing that struck me very powerfully was the capacity of both the officer corps and the press corps to see things in terms of a story they had brought with them to Vietnam and not to see what was actually going on under their noses. For example, when I came back to Vietnam in the summer of 1967 I went up to Quang Ngai Province and saw that the place was being leveled by American bombing. But when I got home, I remember reading a story in the New York Times about how the marines had built a hospital in this area. Apparently the Hiroshima-like devastation that was around that hospital was not visible to the reporters of the New York Times because they weren’t telling about that.
And it wasn’t a subtle thing. The fire and smoke was pouring up to the heavens. You didn’t have to be a detective or do any investigative journalism. The flames were roaring around you. I mapped it all out and seventy, eighty percent of the villages were just dust -- ashes and dust. But that was not the story. The story was still how we were going to help the South Vietnamese resist the attack from the North. In Vietnam I learned about the capacity of the human mind to build a model of experience that screens out even very dramatic and obvious realities.
When I first went back to Vietnam that summer I joined the journalistic pack, the “boys on the bus.” What they were covering at the time was this fraudulent election, a completely farcical election. One day we were all taken to a village for a campaign rally, but the candidates somehow didn’t make it. Apart from the journalists, the only person who showed up was an ancient guy going around with a bullhorn shouting that there was going to be an election rally. This was supposed to be democracy in action and we were the only people there.

To report on that as if it was something real would have been absolutely absurd so I just took the next helicopter out and somehow decided to begin covering the air war in the South -- the air slaughter, really. People had been writing about the bombing of North Vietnam, but the air war in the South was far more devastating and not getting much attention.

So in Quang Ngai I started going up in forward air control (FAC) planes -- little Cessna two-seater spotter planes that would direct the pilots to their targets. These little planes were constantly turning and twisting, in part to avoid enemy ground fire. That and the overwhelming heat made me constantly nauseous. But I had my notebook right there in the plane and the setup was unbelievably perfect for reporting. It was as if it had been designed for reporting. It gave you this fantastic perch. You could sit over the scene of the action, witness it, and you were conveniently supplied with earphones in which you heard conversations among the pilots, the forward air controller, and the ground. The quotes were coming right into the earphones and I wrote them down as if it were a lecture at Harvard. It was an amazing stroke of journalistic luck.

The idea that the U.S. military was operating under constraints in South Vietnam is ridiculous. We pulverized villages from the air if we merely imagined that we received hostile fire. I witnessed it with my own eyes and I saw the leaflets we dropped which said, “If you fire on us, we will destroy your village,” and then a follow-up leaflet that said, “You did fire on us, and we did destroy your village.” And U.S. planes were actually bombing churches. They would see the church, target it, and blow it up. I saw that happen.

And sometimes they cracked jokes about it. They were trying to imagine that the war was something like World War II. When you were in the air you could try to forget about all the paradoxes of policy that made your very successes counterproductive. But I sensed a deep uneasiness and regret among the pilots. They sometimes sang rather brutal ditties that seemed to me like confessions in a way:

“Strafe the town and kill the people,
Drop napalm in the square,
Get out early every Sunday
And catch them at their morning prayer.”

I wasn’t inclined to blame the people doing it so much as the people ordering it. I got along well with the soldiers and their officers. I liked them very much. Maybe that was a defensive thing. It would have been very uncomfortable for me to be in a position of feeling fury at the people doing it. Those are deep questions. You know, just following orders is no excuse. These were atrocities -- bombing villages from the air, just pulverizing houses, attacking people on the basis of little or no information. And there was this absurd supposition that if someone ran away from your attack, they automatically belonged to the Viet Cong.

It was a massacre from the air that was going on every day and I was a part of it in a way. I was kind of doing it. That was the feeling. The FACs were equipped with phosphorous rockets. They were used as markers for the bombers, but phosphorous rockets are particularly horrifying weapons -- worse than napalm. It’s something that burns that you can’t put out. The rocket would blow up the house and then people would run out. I was witnessing from a distance, but I had a real feeling of complicity. I mean I didn’t push the button, but I was there.

When I got back from Vietnam I met Jerry Wiesner, provost of MIT and a friend of my parents. He had been Kennedy’s science adviser and knew Secretary of Defense McNamara. We had lunch and when I told him about what I’d seen in Vietnam he said, “Would you be willing to go and talk to McNamara about this?” I said, “Yeah, sure,” and the meeting was arranged. So I went down to the Pentagon, where I’d never set foot, and was ushered into the secretary of defense’s office. It’s the size of a football field -- a proper imperial size. And there was McNamara, all business as usual, with that slicked-back hair of steel.  I began to tell my story and he said, “Come over to the map here and show me what you’re talking about.”

Well, I truly had my ducks in a row. I had overflown the entire province of Quang Ngai and half of Quang Tin. And so I really had chapter and verse. After a while he interrupted and asked, “Do you have anything in writing?” I said, “Yes, but it’s all in longhand.” So he said, “Well, I’ll put you in General so-and-so’s office -- he’s off in South America -- and you can dictate it.” And so for three days I sat in the general’s office dictating my longhand, book-length New Yorker article on the air war in South Vietnam. Up from the bowels of the Pentagon would come typed copy. It was a dream for me, probably saving me a month’s work because this was long before word processors.

Three days later, stinking to high heaven because I had no change of clothes, I reappeared in McNamara’s office. I handed it to him, he took it, and that was the last I heard about it from him. But I learned later that a foreign service officer in Saigon was sent around Vietnam to retrace my steps and re-interview the pilots and the soldiers I had quoted. He even read back to the pilots the gruesome ditties they had sung for me at the bar. The foreign service officer had to admit that my book was accurate but he added, “What Schell doesn’t realize is what terrible circumstances our troops are in. He doesn’t realize that old ladies and children are throwing hand grenades because the people are against us.” Hence, the Vietnam War makes sense because the South Vietnamese are against us!

So why couldn’t we get out? When it became clear that the costs were so much greater than anything at stake on the ground in Vietnam itself, then why couldn’t we just withdraw? None of the official war aims made much sense. It was hard to maintain that we were fighting for freedom or democracy in South Vietnam since the government we were defending was so obviously corrupt and dictatorial. Nor could we honestly claim to be preventing aggression when the only foreign combatants in Vietnam were Americans or soldiers paid for by the United States like the South Koreans. Even the domino theory seemed to fall apart in the face of intense nationalism, support for reunification throughout Vietnam, and the historical conflicts between Vietnam and China.

But the one justification that proved most durable was this idea of credibility. Fighting for American credibility was not a tangible goal; it was the defense of an image -- an image of vast national strength and the will to use it. According to the doctrine of credibility, the United States was engaged in a global public-relations struggle in which a reverse in any part of the world, no matter how small, could undermine the whole structure of American power.

Part of the concern with maintaining credibility stemmed from a kind of psychological domino theory. In other words, policy makers worried that if the United States did not prevail in Vietnam, it would cast doubt on our determination to prevail anywhere. If the United States lost in Vietnam, then countries and revolutionaries all over the world would see that we were a paper tiger who couldn’t win wars and they would be emboldened to resist our will. So what was at stake in Vietnam was the ability of the United States to maintain control all over the world on a psychological basis.

But there was another component of the doctrine of credibility that is in a way the most subtle and the least noticed, but I think the most important. It was nuclear policy. In nuclear strategy one of the crucial facts is that you can’t actually fight a nuclear war. The moment that you fight the war you’ve lost it because everybody loses in a nuclear war. The purpose of deterrence is to prevent a nuclear war from happening. It depends entirely on producing a psychological impression in the mind of the enemy that you are a very tough guy -- so tough you’re ready to commit suicide and drag the enemy down with you.

Well that is a kind of crazy proposition. It doesn’t have a lot of inherent credibility. Why would you commit suicide to defend yourself? So it’s a real strain to keep producing an impression of toughness. All you could do in the arena of nuclear confrontation was build up your arms and talk tough. You couldn’t prove your toughness by actually using the weapons. 'Round about the end of the 1950s there were a number of thinkers, including Henry Kissinger, who began to say, well, okay, we’re paralyzed in the nuclear arena, but we can go out and win a few on the periphery. Here’s a place where we can actually fight wars and show how tough we are. At the same time [Soviet Premier]

Khrushchev began to talk about the necessity of fighting wars of national liberation in the Third World so the Soviets were making their own contribution to the rhetorical battle. Thus, the model for Vietnam was actually created before we ever went directly into that war. Because the so-called peripheral wars were supposedly winnable, and since they occurred in a context of a very shaky credibility based on nuclear weapons that you couldn’t use, these limited wars came to bear an additional burden.

It was as if World War III were being fought in Vietnam. In the nuclear age, the whole structure of credibility and deterrence seemed to depend on winning these wars out there on the periphery. This was the sort of theoretical trap that the policy makers found themselves in. They thought they were not only preventing the toppling of dominoes but total war itself. And if you believed the assumptions, then almost no cost was too high to pay in Vietnam.

The above interview is from Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides by Christian Appy, copyright (c) 2003 by Christian G. Appy. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

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Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt and Christian Appy

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Hypocritical United States of Amnesia and Russia

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The Hypocritical United States of Amnesia and Russia

During the mid-1980s, right-wing Americans loved to invoke President Reagan’s observation about the Soviet Union: “They reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat,” in order to attain a one-word Socialist or Communist state. The Soviet Union was the “Evil Empire.”

But, it was the Reagan Administration, you’ll recall, that ordered the execution of Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada in October 1983. Eleven of the twelve members of the United Nations Security Council called the invasion a “flagrant violation of international law.” The only Security Council member to veto the condemnation was the very country accused of the flagrant violation.
It also was the Reagan administration, you’ll recall, that was hauled before the International Court of Justice in 1984 by Nicaragua, and found to be “in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State”, “not to intervene in its affairs”, “not to violate its sovereignty,” “not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce”, and “in breach of its obligations under Article XIX of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Parties signed at Managua 21 January 1956.”

Moreover, when the Reagan Administration gave the CIA the order to mine the harbors of Nicaragua, it was legally obligated to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Barry Goldwater. When it failed to do so, Goldwater went ballistic. In a letter written to Secretary of State, George Schultz, Goldwater wrote: “But mine the harbors in Nicaragua? This is an act violating international law. It is an act of war.”

But, such criminality, lying and cheating was nothing when compared with Reagan’s Iran-Contra Scandal. In order to circumvent the funding prohibitions, which the U.S. Congress (with its Boland Amendment of 1984) placed on the covert war that the Reagan administration was waging against Nicaragua, Reagan and his right-wing zealots decided to sell weapons to Iran secretly, initially through Israel, and use those funds to continue the war that Congress refused to finance.

Time magazine put it well when it asserted that Reagan “stands exposed as a President willfully ignorant of what his aides were doing, myopically unaware of the glaring contradictions between his public and secret policies… unable to recall when, how, or even whether he had reached the key decision that started the whole arms-to-Iran affair… the President has consistently and vehemently denied that the U.S. was swapping arms for hostages, though the voluminous record assembled by the Tower commission leaves no question that that is what happened.”

Reagan probably escaped impeachment due to his reputation for stupidity, lax management, and inability to remember his own actions. People genuinely believed him when he attempted to explain his lies: “I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own…the simple truth is, I don’t remember – period.”

Thus, the very President who accused the Soviet leaders of reserving unto themselves “the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat,” in order to achieve their broad objectives was at least as immoral as the doddering Soviet gerontocrats he slandered. Reagan became a monument to U.S. hypocrisy in international affairs.

Today, America’s conservatives ignore his crimes and, instead, credit President Reagan with ending the Cold War and precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are wrong on both counts. Moreover, that was not the tune they were singing when Reagan left office.

Some felt that Reagan had been duped by Mikhail Gorbachev. For example, Henry Kissinger, William Safire and George Will accused Reagan of “creating a false ‘euphoria’ that would give breathing space to an unchanging enemy.” Mr. Will went so far as to claim, “Reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West – actual disarmament will follow.”

Nevertheless, the criminality continued under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush when, in December 1989, the United States invaded Panama and deposed its dictator, Manuel Noriega.

The invasion sparked international outrage. On 22 December, the Organization of American States passed a resolution that denounced the invasion. Seven days later the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned the invasion as a flagrant violation of international law. When the UN Security Council drafted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Panama, it was vetoed on 23 December by France, Great Britain and the U.S. – which cited its obligation to protect some 35,000 Americans in the Canal Zone. (Sounds eerily similar to President Vladimir Putin’s justification for Russian troops in the Crimea today, does it not?)

In February 1990, President Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, flew to Moscow to discuss the peaceful unification of Germany. He promised Gorbachev that there would be no further eastward expansion of NATO if he assisted the West in the peaceful unification of Germany under NATO. According to Jack Matlock, America’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union, “We gave categorical assurances to Gorbachev back when the Soviet Union existed that if a united Germany was able to stay in NATO, NATO would not move eastward.”

Secretary Baker subsequently denied making such a deal. In addition, some American diplomats, policy wonks and news reporters noted that, even if there was such a deal, no such deal was put in writing. Apparently, none of them understand what it means to be a man of one’s word.

Mikhail Gorbachev, however, claims that there was such a deal – and his word counts, especially when assessing Russia’s attitude about NATO then and today. Moreover, supporting his claim is German archival evidence, publicized by three writers for Der Spiegel.

According to a 26 November 2009 article in Der Spiegel, “On Feb. 10, 1990, between 4 and 6:30 p.m., [German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich] Genscher spoke with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze. And, according to the German record of the conversation, which was only recently declassified, Genscher said: ‘We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

President Clinton came to office in the wake of a scandalous draft Defense Planning Guidance, written under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz. The draft called for the exercise of diplomacy, backed by unassailable military power, in a quest for America’s “benevolent domination” of the world. It sketched “a world in which there is one military power whose leaders ‘must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.’”1
(After Mr. Wolfowitz’s abomination was leaked to the press, President Bush rushed to repudiate it as un-American. But it was resuscitated by neoconservatives during the presidency of George W. Bush.)

President Clinton had no plan as obnoxious as Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guidance. Instead, on 22 October 1996 he asserted: “America truly is the world’s indispensable nation. There are times when only America can make the difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression, between hope and fear. We cannot and should not try to be the world’s policeman. But where our interests and values are clearly at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must act and lead.”

During that same speech, Clinton acknowledged: “At the first NATO summit I attended in January of 1994, I proposed that NATO should enlarge steadily, deliberately, openly.” By doing so, Clinton reneged on the pledges made by Baker and Genscher to Gorbachev and Shevardnadze.

Clinton made what George Kennan called a “fateful error.” Writing in the New York Times on February 5, 1997, Kennan asserted: “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”
“Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

I received a dose of such anti-American sentiment during my first and only meeting with Igor Sutyagin on 7 September 1998 at Moscow’s Aerostar Hotel. A senior scholar in the Department for Military-Political Studies at the Institute for the USA and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Sutyagin had answered a series of questions about the economic crisis in Russia, before I asked him, “What do you make of President Clinton’s recent decision to permit the expansion of NATO”

Much to my surprise, Igor’s face turned crimson as he reached into his wallet to withdraw a folded newspaper article that described a deal struck between former Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
According to the article, Baker assured Gorbachev that, in return for the Soviet leader’s assistance in accomplishing the peaceful unification of Germany, the United States would not pursue any further expansion of NATO. (Gorbachev reiterated Baker’s promise as recently as March 2009) Having read Baker’s promise, Igor characterized Clinton’s decision to expand NATO as a “stab in the back.” He quickly added: “Why should Russians trust the United States to honor any of its agreements?” Why, indeed?

Earlier in the year, a book edited by Ted Galen Carpenter and Barbara Conry and titled NATO Enlargement: Illusions and Reality suggested that Sutyagin’s anger wasn’t an isolated incident. “The rhetoric coming from Moscow suggests a continuing seething resentment about the West’s determination to expand NATO and a growing determination to prevent any further rounds of enlargement. The danger is that, when Russia recovers economically and militarily, Russians will remember that the West exploited their country’s temporary weakness to establish a dominant position in Central and Eastern Europe and seek to overturn that outcome.”

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009. Russians could do little but seethe at the cumulative impact of Clinton’s perfidy. (Yet, one could hardly blame these countries for voting with their feet, given their recent experience with the Soviet Union.)

Aggravating Russian sensibilities further was the fact that these countries were joining a NATO that was in the process of jettisoning the solely defensive posture of its organization. Its central stipulation, found in Article 5, was defensive. An armed attack against one member would be considered an attack on all. In 1991, NATO affirmed, “The Alliance is purely defensive in purpose; none of its weapons will ever be used except in self-defense.”

Yet, it was impossible for NATO to claim self-defense when, on 30 August 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force – the large-scale bombing of Serbian targets that constituted “NATO’s biggest military assault in its entire history.” After all, Serbia hadn’t attacked a single NATO member.

According the Beverly Crawford, author of the 1998 working paper titled, “The Bosnian Road to NATO Enlargement,” in the spring of 1994 a few top policy makers in the Clinton administration made the decision to support the enlargement of NATO as a way on strengthening it and keeping Russia out. (p.13)

Why? Because, as Ms. Crawford concludes, “The Bosnian war provided NATO with the renewed legitimacy that it needed to expand eastward. It left no doubt in the minds of both European and American leaders, that other institutions in which Russia participated would be too conflict-ridden and too weak to provide a common security umbrella for Europe. NATO enlargement was thus an unambiguous strategy to keep Russia out of the security institution in Europe that really counted.” (p. 16-17)

Russia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program on June 22, 1994. But, President Boris Yeltsin justified the move this way: “NATO’s plans to expand eastward…became a threat to Russia’s security…The task was to minimize the negative consequences of the North Atlantic alliance’s expansion and prevent a new split in Europe.”2 Unfortunately, NATO’s decision to bomb the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 quickly demonstrated to Russia that it had little power to control NATO from within.

Russia’s relationship with NATO took its most serious nosedive in 1999, when NATO began bombing Serbia to make Serbian forces stop their unconscionable and criminal ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Serbian forces were in the process of killing some 10,000 Kosovar Albanians, raping and gang-raping countless women to produce Serbian offspring, and forcibly displacing some 1.5 million people from their homes.

In her examination of Russia’s relations with NATO during the late 1990s, Sharyl Cross noted: in 1999, “Russian officials responded to the first full-scale intervention in the 50 year history of the Alliance by suspending relations with NATO. NATO’s representative was asked to leave Moscow immediately and Russia’s military liaison representatives were removed from Brussels. Objection to NATO airstrikes in former Yugoslavia generated adamant and even emotional outrage throughout the Russian political-military elite and society. The revision of NATO’s Strategic Concept to enable NATO to intervene in situations beyond the borders of member nations led Russians to conclude that the Alliance had become an offensive, rather than solely defensive, military organization that could one day threaten the Russian Federation.”3
In 2003, using the false pretexts of weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda to manipulate an American public still angry about and fearful from al-Qaeda’s attacks on 11 September 2001, the administration of George W. Bush ordered the illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq – perhaps the worst war crime since those committed by Nazi Germany during World War II. The invasion precipitated an incipient civil war between the Sunnis and Shias, give rise to an anti-American insurgency, caused a massive destruction of property, cost Iraq the lives of least 100,000 innocent men, women and children and forced the displacement of at least 4 million people from their homes. (Thus far, Putin’s intrusion into the Crimea has caused nothing like that.)

France, Germany and Russia ended up on the right side of history when they opposed America’s invasion. But, none of them threatened economic sanctions against the U.S. for its brazen violation of international law. Their feckless behavior brings to mind the observation made by an Athenian in Thucydides’ “Melian dialogue:” “You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (But, Russia can play that game, too.)

In 2008, Russia finally began to defend its national interests against the West’s never-ending attempts to encircle it with states incorporated into the European Union and NATO. President Putin did so in Georgia by seizing upon Georgia’s reckless shelling of Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, to invade Georgia. As the New York Times reported on November 6, 2008, “The brief war was a disaster for Georgia. The attack backfired. Georgia’s army was humiliated as Russian forces overwhelmed its brigades, seized and looted their bases, captured equipment and roamed the country’s roads at will.” Ultimately Russia supported the right of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to secede from Georgia.

Georgia’s bigger mistake, however, was it publicly expressed desire to join NATO. Professor Stephen F. Cohen – who, in my 47 years of studying Russia, has probably been the most astute expert about that country, with the exception, perhaps, of George Kennan – probably got it right when he observed: “…the fundamental issue here is that, three or four years ago, Putin made absolutely clear he had two red lines. You remember Obama’s red lines in Syria? But Putin was serious. One was the former Soviet republic of Georgia. NATO and NATO influence couldn’t come there. The other was Ukraine. We crossed both. You got a war in Georgia in 2008, and you have got today in Ukraine because we, the United States and Europe, crossed Putin’s red line. Now, you can debate whether he has a right to that red line, but let’s at least discuss it.”

I’m no fan of Vladimir Putin. I made my first public protest against him in 1999, when he permitted my friend, Igor Sutyagin, to be arrested on the trumped-up charge of espionage. Moreover, I’ve temporarily ceased visiting Russia – even the St. Petersburg that I love – due to my outrage about political repression in Russia and its slide from incipient democracy toward autocracy.

But, I reject the views of Madeleine Albright, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Hillary Clinton who recklessly compared Putin to Hitler. I also reject the facile allegations made by Rachel Maddow and Martha Raddatz (a so-called “journalist” whose mind has been completely captured by sympathy for the U.S. military) who assert that Putin is “mad.” After all, as Henry Kissinger has observed: “The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.”

Moreover, I resent the hypocrisy of President Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry. On March 2, 2014, Kerry commented on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine by making the following observation: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” (Germany’s Angela Merkel said something similarly hypocritical.) Yet, Mr. Kerry voted to support America’s illegal 21st century invasion of Iraq and Ms. Merkel did nothing to stop it.

Why my rejection and resentment? Because, I completely understand how President Putin could believe that Russia’s national interests have been under an unrelenting assault by an expansionistic NATO and European Union. There’s solid evidence to support that point of view. And it goes back to President Clinton’s decision to renege on the promise that James Baker made to Mikhail Gorbachev.

  1. New York Times, March 8, 1992. []
  2. Leon Aron, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life, p. 667. []
  3. Sharyl Cross, Russia and NATO Toward the 21st Century, p. 2. []
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: 

Friday, March 14, 2014

American Imperialism is Alive and Well: Neocons Have Weathered the Storm


Official Washington’s bipartisan hysteria over Ukraine and Crimea is evidence that the neocons not only weathered the public fury over the Iraq War but are now back shaping U.S. geopolitical strategies

By the middle of last decade, the storm clouds were building over the neocons: their “regime change” in Iraq was a disaster; President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech was a running joke; news articles were appearing about their “dark side” behavior in the “war on terror”; and the public was tired of the blood and treasure being wasted.

You might have expected that the neocons would have been banished to the farthest reaches of U.S. policymaking, so far away that they would never be heard from again. However, instead of disappearing, the neocons have proved their staying power, now reemerging as the architects of the U.S. strategy toward Ukraine.


Prominent neocon and co-founder of the Project for the New American Century Robert Kagan. Hillary Clinton elevated Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, to be State Department spokesperson. (Mariusz Kubik, Commons)Neocons played key behind-the-scenes roles in instigating the Feb. 22 coup that overthrew a democratically elected president with the help of neo-Nazi militias; the neocons have since whipped Official Washington into a frenzy of bipartisan support for the coup regime; and they are pushing for a new Cold War if the people of Crimea vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

A few weeks ago, most Americans probably had never heard of Ukraine and had no idea that Crimea was part of it. But, all of a sudden, the deficit-obsessed U.S. Congress is rushing to send billions of dollars to the coup regime in Kiev, as if the future of Ukraine were the most important issue facing the American people.
Even opinion writers who have resisted other neocon-driven stampedes have joined this one, apparently out of fear of being labeled “an apologist” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, it is almost impossible to find any mainstream U.S. politician or pundit who has not fallen into line with the belligerent neocon position on Ukraine.

And the skies ahead are even brighter. The neocons can expect to assert more power as President Barack Obama fades into “lame-duck” status, as his diplomatic initiatives on Syria and Iran struggle (in part because the Ukraine crisis has driven a deep wedge between Obama and Putin), as neocon-leaning Democrat Hillary Clinton scares off any serious opposition for the 2016 presidential nomination, and as her most likely Republican presidential rivals also grovel for the neocons’ blessings.

But this stunning turn of fate would have been hard to predict after the neocons had steered the United States into the catastrophic Iraq War and its ugly bloodletting, including the death and maiming of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and the squandering of perhaps $1 trillion in U.S. taxpayers’ money.
In Election 2006, GOP congressional candidates took a pounding because Bush and the Republicans were most associated with the neocons. In Election 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton, a neocon-lite who had voted for the Iraq War, lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Sen. Barack Obama, who had opposed invading Iraq. Then, in the general election, Obama defeated neocon standard-bearer John McCain to win the White House.

At that moment, it looked like the neocons were in serious trouble. Indeed, many of them did have to pack up their personal belongings and depart government, seeking new jobs at think tanks or other neocon-friendly non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

More significantly, their grand strategy seemed discredited. Many Americans considered the neocons’ dream of more “regime change” across the Middle East — in countries opposed to Israel, especially Syria and Iran – to be an unending nightmare of death and destruction.

After taking office, President Obama called for winding down Bush’s wars and doing some “nation-building at home.” The broad American public seemed to agree. Even some right-wing Republicans were having second thoughts about the neocons’ advocacy of an American Empire, recognizing its devastating impact on the American Republic.

The Comeback

But the neocons were anything but finished. They had positioned themselves wisely.

They still controlled government-funded operations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); they held prominent positions inside think tanks, from the American Enterprise Institute to the Council on Foreign Relations to the Brookings Institution; they had powerful allies in Congress, such as Senators McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman; and they dominated TV chat shows and opinion pages, particularly at the Washington Post, the capital’s hometown newspaper.

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s when they first emerged as a noticeable force in Washington, the neocons had become “insiders.” They were both admired and feared for their intellectual ferocity, but — most important for their long-term survival – they had secured access to government money, including the slush fund at NED whose budget grew to over $100 million during the Bush-43 years.

NED, which was founded in 1983, is best known for investing in other countries’ “democracy building” (or CIA-style “destabilization” campaigns, depending on your point of view), but much of NED’s money actually goes to NGOs in Washington, meaning that it became a lifeline for neocon operatives who found themselves out of work because of the arrival of Obama.

While ideological advocates for other failed movements might have had to move back home or take up new professions, the neocons had their financial ballast (from NED and many other sources) so their ideological ship could ride out the rough weather.

And, despite Obama’s opposition to the neocons’ obsession with endless warfare, he didn’t purge them from his administration. Neocons, who had burrowed deep inside the U.S. government as “civil servants” or “career foreign service officers,” remained as a “stay-behind” force, looking for new allies and biding their time.

Obama compounded this “stay-behind” problem with his fateful decision in November 2008 to adopt the trendy idea of “a team of rivals,” including keeping Republican operative (and neocon ally) Robert Gates at the Defense Department and putting hawkish Democrat Hillary Clinton, another neocon ally, at State. The neocons probably couldn’t believe their luck.

Back in Good Graces

Rather than being ostracized and marginalized – as they surely deserved for the Iraq War fiasco – key neocons were still held in the highest regard. According to his memoir Duty, Gates let neocon military theorist Frederick Kagan persuade him to support a “surge” of 30,000 U.S. soldiers into the Afghan War in 2009.
Gates wrote 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.”

Defense Secretary Gates then collaborated with holdovers from Bush’s high command, including neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus, and Secretary of State Clinton to maneuver Obama into a political corner from which he felt he had no choice but to accede to their recommendation for the “surge.”
Obama reportedly regretted the decision almost immediately after he made it. The Afghan “surge,” like the earlier neocon-driven Iraq War “surge,” cost another 1,000 or so dead U.S. soldiers but ultimately didn’t change the war’s strategic direction.

At Clinton’s State Department, other neocons were given influential posts. Frederick Kagan’s brother Robert, a neocon from the Reagan administration and co-founder of the neocon Project for the New American Century, was named to an advisory position on the Foreign Affairs Policy Board. Secretary Clinton also elevated Robert Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, to be State Department spokesperson.

Though Obama’s original “team of rivals” eventually left the scene (Gates in mid-2011, Petraeus in a sex scandal in late 2012, and Clinton in early 2013), those three provided the neocons a crucial respite, time to regroup and reorganize. So, when Sen. John Kerry replaced Clinton as Secretary of State (with the considerable help of his neocon friend John McCain), the State Department’s neocons were poised for a powerful comeback.

Nuland was promoted to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs and took personal aim at the elected government of Ukraine, which had become a choice neocon target because it maintained close ties to Russia, whose President Putin was undercutting the neocons’ “regime change” strategies in their most valued area, the Middle East. Most egregiously, Putin was helping Obama avert wars in Syria and Iran.

So, as neocon NED president Carl Gershman wrote in the Washington Post in September 2013, Ukraine became “the biggest prize,” but he added that the even juicier target beyond Ukraine was Putin, who, Gershman added, “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”
In other words, the ultimate goal of the Ukraine gambit is not just “regime change” in Kiev but “regime change” in Moscow. By eliminating the independent-minded and strong-willed Putin, the neocons presumably fantasize about slipping one of their ciphers (perhaps a Russian version of Ahmed Chalabi) into the Kremlin.

Then, the neocons could press ahead, unencumbered, toward their original “regime change” scheme in the Middle East, with wars against Syria and Iran.
As dangerous – and even crazy – as this neocon vision is (raising the specter of a possible nuclear confrontation between the United States and Russia), the neocons clearly appear back in control of U.S. foreign policy. And, they almost can’t lose in terms of their own self-interest, whichever way the Ukraine crisis breaks.

If Putin backs down in the face of U.S. ultimatums on Ukraine and Crimea, the neocons can beat their chests and argue that similar ultimatums should be presented to other neocon targets, i.e. Syria and Iran. And, if those countries don’t submit to the ultimatums, then there will be no choice but to let the U.S. bombings begin, more “shock and awe.”

On the other hand, if Putin refuses to back down and Crimea votes to abandon Ukraine and reattach itself to Russia (which has ties to Crimea dating back to Catherine the Great in the 1700s), then the neocons can ride the wave of Official Washington’s outrage, demanding that Obama renounce any future cooperation with Putin and thus clear the way for heightened confrontations with Syria and Iran.
Even if Obama can somehow continue to weave his way around the neocon war demands for the next two-plus years, his quiet strategy of collaborating with Putin to resolve difficult disputes with Syria and Iran will be dead in the water. The neocons can then wait for their own sails to fill when either President Hillary Clinton or a Republican (likely to need neocon support) moves into the White House in 2017.

But the neocons don’t need to wait that long to start celebrating. They have weathered the storm.

Robert Parry
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'.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NSA: Global 'Trendsetter' for Privacy Abuse


As other countries follow suit, soon there will be 'no safe haven,' warns Human Rights Watch

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer 
A billboard by German artist Nils Knoblich warns passersby about the United States' widespread international surveillance. (Photo: Nils Knoblich/ cc via Flickr)

With the United States' National Security Agency 'setting trends' among the international community for worldwide surveillance and privacy abuses, soon there will be "no safe haven," a human rights watchdog group warned in their annual report published Tuesday.

"As the world’s information moves into cyberspace, surveillance capabilities have grown commensurately," writes New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in their annual World Report (pdf). "The U.S. now leads in ability for global data capture, but other nations and actors are likely to catch up, and some already insist that more data be kept within their reach."

"As the birthplace of the Internet, home to major related industries, and with most global online communications running through its territory or facilities, the U.S. is uniquely placed to conduct global surveillance," the report continues.
Further, HRW notes, the United States' exploitation of constitutional loopholes—particularly those limiting protections for foreigners and regarding the bulk collection of "metadata"—has enabled the broad expansion of surveillance of individuals both domestically and abroad.

"In the end, there will be no safe haven if privacy is seen as a strictly domestic issue, subject to many carve-outs and lax or non-existent oversight," the report warns.

The publication comes days after President Obama gave a nationally televised speech to discuss reforming the extreme overreach of the NSA. Though critics slammed the address as "little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public," others noted the triumph of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for forcing these issues into national awareness.

Following publication of the report, HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in an interview that, led by the example of the U.S., other countries will be quick to follow suit.

"The US government, for better or worse, is a trendsetter with respect to Internet privacy and Internet freedom," Roth told AFP.