Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Presidential debate should include nuclear weapons discussion

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 19, 2016 at 10:19 pm

By Tom Le, The Hill, October 18. 2016

Last May, I traveled to Japan to observe President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima. Obama stopped short of an apology for the use of atomic bombs that took the lives of 140,000 in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki, but he delivered a lengthier and more substantive speech than many predicted.

The President’s remarks highlighted the dangers of technology and the need for interdependence and strong institutions to promote cooperation and avoid conflict.
In August, I returned to Hiroshima the “Obama buzz” was still in the air as the president mulled a no-first-use policy for the U.S. But when that idea faded away, so did attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Now another grueling U.S. presidential campaign is passing by with scant mention of this life-and-death issue. Some may argue that the use of nuclear weapons is unlikely and there are more immediate concerns to be discussed, such as jobs and terrorism.

Yet, nuclear weapons are an expensive tax on the domestic economy and pose significant costs when managing global security. Even though the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has slowed down under Obama, the US is expected to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years upgrading its arsenal.

Currently, nine nations possess approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons, 90% of which are held by the U.S. and Russia. North Korea has already conducted two nuclear weapons test this year and Iran’s nuclear ambitions have only recently been stalled.

U.S.-Russia relations have not been this frail since the Cold War and terrorism and proliferation are ever present dangers to the U.S. and global security. However, from the tone of this year’s presidential election, it seems neither candidate nor the public are particularly concerned about this threat.

Throughout the campaign, political commentary on the U.S. nuclear arsenal and global anti-proliferation measures has been almost non-existent. During the Republican Primary, nuclear weapons were only mentioned in relation to Donald Trump’s temperament and his lack of qualifications to be president.

Questioning Trump’s temperament is a valid concern, but there needs to be genuine discussion of whether anyone is qualified to use nuclear weapons. What specific qualifications does Clinton have that suggest she is prepared to use weapons that are hundreds of times more powerful than the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

In their first debate, Trump and Clinton were asked whether they supported Obama’s consideration of ending the U.S.’s long-standing policy on first use, and neither gave a comprehensive answer.

Trump stated that the U.S. was “not keeping up with other countries” and would “certainly not do for a strike,” but would not “take anything off the table” when it comes to first use. Clinton used her two minutes to assure U.S. allies that she would honor mutual defense treaties and said nothing concerning first use, non-proliferation, or the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

In the second presidential debate, Clinton briefly mentioned nuclear weapons when elaborating on her successes, such as negotiating treaties to reduce nuclear weapons and Iran’s nuclear program. Donald Trump countered by saying that the U.S. nuclear program had “fallen behind” and was “old” and “tired.”

Clinton was not given a chance to respond and North Korea’s nuclear program was not mentioned once in the debate.

Clinton has largely been silent on non-proliferation, while Trump has been absolutely flippant on the prospects of using nuclear weapons. According to one report, during a meeting with a foreign policy expert Trump asked three times why the U.S. could not use nuclear weapons if it had them.

During one interview, Trump stated that he would consider using nuclear weapons against ISIS, the stateless terrorist entity with a footprint in several states. In another interview, Trump openly advocated for proliferation, suggesting that Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia acquire their own nuclear weapons.

Trump would undo decades of hard work in mere seconds. These answers are consistent with his general lack of knowledge on nuclear weapons, demonstrated back in the Republican Primary when he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” was. Clinton’s position is consistent with long standing U.S. policy, focus on horizontal proliferation and downplay vertical proliferation.

The U.S. inability to take a firm stance on proliferation worries non-nuclear states, weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and halts any momentum for meaningful changes in how we thinkabout nuclear weapons. Seven decades of not using nuclear weapons may have led to us to forget how immediate and devastating a nuclear attack would be.

Nuclear weapons breed distrust in the international community and their production and maintenance cause immeasurable environmental damage. And the threat of increases with each passing day as the likelihood of use increases, whether due to terrorism, accidental launch or conflict.

In Obama’s Hiroshima speech, he said, “We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

Critical examination cannot come only during momentous visits or anniversaries; it needs to be constant because nuclear weapons will always be a threat in the here and now. The mushroom cloud casts a long shadow and completely defined the way the U.S. conducts international relations.

In order to “do things differently to curb such suffering again”, we must urge our presidential candidates to have the intellectual honesty and the moral strength to make nuclear weapons a front and center issue of this election for the sake of lasting world peace.


Le is an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College whose research interests include Japanese security policy, militarism norms, military/security balance in East Asia and war memory and reconciliation. He was a Sasakawa Peace Foundation non-resident fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS and a Fulbright Fellow at Hiroshima City University.

NY Times Absurd New Anti-Russian Propaganda

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 19, 2016 at 12:30 am

October 16, 2016
The New York Times is so determined to generate hate against Russia that it has lost all journalistic perspective, even portraying Russia’s military decoys – like those used in World War II – as uniquely evil, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry


If the dangers weren’t so great – a possible nuclear war that could exterminate life on the planet – The New York Times over-the-top denunciation of all things Russian would be almost funny, like the recent front-page story finding something uniquely sinister about Russia using inflatable decoys of military weapons to confuse adversaries.

The Oct. 13 article, entitled “Decoys in Service of an Inflated Russian Might,” was described as part of a series called “DARK ARTS … How Russia projects power covertly,” suggesting that the nefarious Russians aren’t to be trusted in anything even in the case of “one of Russia’s lesser-known military threats: a growing arsenal of inflatable tanks, jets and missile launchers.”

The bizarre article by Andrew E. Kramer, one of the most prolific producers of this anti-Russian propaganda, then states: “As Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin has muscled its way back onto the geopolitical stage, the Kremlin has employed a range of stealthy tactics. … One of the newer entries to that list is an updating of the Russian military’s longtime interest in operations of deceit and disguise, a repertoire of lethal tricks known as maskirovka, or masking. It is a psychological warfare doctrine that is becoming an increasingly critical element in the country’s geopolitical ambitions.”

What is particularly curious about Kramer’s article is that it takes actions that are typical of all militaries, going back centuries, and presents them as some special kind of evil attributable to the Russians, such as Special Forces units not dressing in official uniforms and instead blending in with the surroundings while creating deniability for political leaders.

American and European Special Forces, for instance, have been deployed on the ground in Libya and Syria without official confirmation, at least initially. Sometimes, their presence is acknowledged only after exposure because of casualties, such as the death of three French soldiers near Benghazi, Libya, in July.

Indeed, one could argue that the United States has excelled at this practice of stealthily entering other countries, usually in violation of international law, to carry out lethal operations, such as drone assassinations and Special Forces’ strikes. However, rather than condemning U.S. officials for their sneakiness, the Times and other mainstream Western publications often extol the secrecy of these acts and sometimes even agree to delay publication of information about the covert attacks so as not to jeopardize the lives of American soldiers.

U.S. Propaganda Network

The U.S. government also has built extensive propaganda operations around the world that pump out all sorts of half-truths and disinformation to put U.S. adversaries on the defensive, with the American financial hand kept hidden so the public is more likely to trust the claims of supposedly independent voices.

Much of that disinformation is then promoted by the Times, which famously assisted in one major set of lies by publishing a false 2002 front-page story about Iraq reconstituting its nuclear weapons program as a key justification for the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Yet, the Russians are called out for activities far less egregious than what the U.S. government – aided and abetted by the Times – has done.

You could even view the Times’ article citing inflatable weapons as proof of Moscow’s perfidy as itself an example of another U.S. psychological operation along the lines of the Times’ article accusing Iraq of obtaining aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges, when the tubes were actually unsuited for that purpose. In this new case, however, the Times is heating up a war fever against Russia rather than Iraq.

Yet, as in 2002, this current psy-op is not primarily aimed at a foreign adversary as much as it is targeting the American people. The primary difference is that in 2002, the Times was helping instigate war against a relatively small and defenseless nation in Iraq. Now, the Times is whipping up an hysteria against nuclear-armed Russia with the prospect that this manufactured outrage could induce politicians into further steps that could lead to nuclear conflagration.

As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in a recent opinion piece, the current tensions between Washington and Moscow are “more dangerous” than during the Cold War.

“It’s a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War,” Steinmeier wrote. “The current times are different and more dangerous” because there were clear “red lines” during the Cold War where the rival nuclear powers knew not to tread.

Though Steinmeier, as a part of the NATO alliance, puts most of the blame on Moscow, the reality is that Washington has been the prime instigator of the recent tensions, including pressing NATO up to Russia’s borders, supporting an anti-Russian putsch in neighboring Ukraine, and helping to arm rebel groups fighting in Syria alongside Al Qaeda’s affiliate and threatening Russia’s allied Syrian government.

‘Regime Change’ in Moscow?

Further feeding Russia’s fears, prominent Americans, including at least one financed by the U.S. government, have called for a “regime change” project in Moscow. Yet all Americans hear about is the unproven allegation that Russia was responsible for hacking into Democratic Party emails and exposing information that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has tried to keep secret, such as the content of her speeches to Wall Street investment banks and other special interests.

Vice President Joe Biden has announced Washington will retaliate with some information-warfare strike against Moscow. But the reality is that the U.S. government, working hand-in-glove with the Times and other mainstream American publications, has been waging such an information war against Russia for at least the past several years, including promotion of dubious charges such as the so-called Magnitsky case which was largely debunked by a courageous documentary that has been virtually blacklisted in the supposedly “free” West.

The Times also has embraced the U.S. government’s version of pretty much every dubious claim lodged against Moscow, systematically excluding evidence that points in a different direction. For instance, regarding the shootdown of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, the Times ignored a published Dutch (i.e. NATO) intelligence report stating that the only powerful anti-aircraft missiles in the area capable of hitting MH-17 were under the control of the Ukrainian military.

While it may be understandable that the Times opts to embrace claims by a Ukrainian-dominated investigation that the Russians were responsible – despite that inquiry’s evidentiary and logical shortcomings – it is not journalistically proper to ignore official evidence, such as the Dutch intelligence report, because it doesn’t go in the preferred direction. If the Times were not acting as a propaganda vehicle, it would at least have cited the Dutch intelligence report as one piece of the puzzle.

The Times’ relentless service as the chief conveyor belt for anti-Russian propaganda has drawn at least some objections from readers, although they are rarely acknowledged by the Times.

For instance, Theodore A. Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tried to lodge a protest with the Times’ editors about the “inflatable weapons” story.

In the email, a copy of which he forwarded to me, Postol wrote: “This article is a very good example of the misleading foreign policy reporting that has unfortunately become a hallmark of the New York Times.

“The complete lack of sophistication of this article, coupled with the implication that the use of such decoys is somehow an indication of a Russian cultural bias towards deception is exactly the kind of misleading reporting that cannot possibly be explained as a competent attempt to inform Times readers about real and serious national security issues that we are today facing with Russia.”

Postol attached to his email a series of photographs showing decoys that were used by the Allies during the Battle of Britain and the D-Day invasion. He noted, “There is a vast popular literature about this kind of deception in warfare that is available to even the most unsophisticated nonexperts. It is simply unimaginable to me that such an article could be published in the Times, yet alone on the front page, if the oversight mechanisms at the Times were properly functioning.”

Postol, however, assumes that the editorial system of the Times wishes to provide genuine balance and context to such stories, when the pattern has clearly shown that – as with Iraq in 2002-2003 – the Times’ editors see their role as preparing the American people for war.

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

America’s Russia Policy Has Failed

In Democracy, Peace, War on October 14, 2016 at 11:15 pm

By Thomas Graham and Matthew Rojansky, Foreign Policy, October 13, 2016

Here are seven things the next U.S. president should do to pub Washington back in the driver’s seat.
By any number of measures, Washington’s Russia policy has failed. While ostensibly suffering from diplomatic and economic isolation under a U.S.-led international sanctions regime, Moscow has succeeded in challenging a wide range of American interests, most notably in Ukraine, Syria, and cyberspace. Coming up with a new approach on Russia should therefore be a top priority for either President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump soon after Jan. 20, 2017. So far, however, neither candidate has offered a vision that goes beyond the failed tropes of the past, with Clinton painting Russian President Vladimir Putin as a cartoonish villain and Trump viewing Moscow as an ally in-waiting.

The most common U.S. policy responses to Russia — from both Republican and Democratic administrations across three decades — have depended either on the hope that Moscow can be fully defeated or that it can become a friend and fellow democracy. But Russia is not a democracy, nor is it democratizing, and although Russia may be in secular decline, it is a major power on the world stage. The next president needs to accept that Moscow cannot simply be defeated or contained in the emerging multipolar, globalized world order. It must be engaged through a comprehensive balance of cooperation and competition.

The next president will have to persuade Moscow to cooperate where cooperation is needed on things like preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) while limiting room for Russia to maneuver where its interests largely oppose American ones, such as in Syria. And this new U.S. policy must also recognize that tensions with Russia do not divide neatly along the lines of geography or individual issues, and that even shared interests will seldom overlap entirely. The goal should involve constructing a web of interactions, both cooperative and competitive, that yields the most beneficial balance for our national interests. But above all, rather than setting out to defeat or transform Russia, a new U.S. approach should deal with Russia as it really is.
1) Understand That It’s Not Just About Putin

The next president must begin by abandoning the two axioms that have plagued Washington’s Russia policymaking for the last 25 years: The first, that Moscow opposes the United States because of the Kremlin’s undemocratic politics. And, secondly, that areas of agreement between the two countries can be walled off from areas of conflict.

It’s also essential to recognize that America’s problems with Russia aren’t solely because of Putin: They’re geopolitical. Neither Putin’s departure nor broader regime change in Russia will resolve this challenge. Putin stands squarely within centuries of tradition in Russian strategic thinking, and his foreign policy enjoys overwhelming elite support while resonating with the public. Geopolitical competition of some dimension is inevitable among major powers with strategic interests stretching across the globe, regardless of what politics they practice at home.

The next administration needs to break with its predecessors and realize that relations with Moscow can’t simply be compartmentalized into areas of cooperation and disagreement. American actions on one issue will influence Russia’s assessment of U.S. approaches on other issues. The George W. Bush administration, for example, unsuccessfully sought to insulate counterterrorism cooperation following 9/11 from competition with Moscow in the former Soviet space. Barack Obama’s administration hoped to continue cooperation on nuclear security even as overall relations deteriorated sharply. But that, too, failed, evidenced by Russia’s skipping the U.S.-sponsored nuclear security summit in April and suspending the Plutonium Disposition Agreement because of “hostile” American actions last week.

After 1991, successive U.S. administrations attempted to integrate Russia into the West by encouraging its transformation from a totalitarian Communist state into a free-market democracy. At a time of Russian weakness following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington also reshaped the structure of Europe by enlarging NATO and supporting the expansion of the European Union. But as Moscow regained its geopolitical strength and expanded its ambitions under Putin, Russia pushed back against U.S. efforts, first in the former Soviet Union, then in Europe, and more recently in the broader Middle East. After 25 years of U.S. and European efforts, Russia has made it clear that it is not interested in integrating into the West and that it is prepared to challenge the United States along a broad front, even by interfering in domestic U.S. politics.

U.S. policy must adapt to new challenges, and Washington may need to give ground on other, lesser priorities. For example, if forced to choose between securing cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and supporting pro-Western political change in Russia’s neighborhood, a tactical withdrawal on the latter may be necessary to preserve a larger victory on arms control. In other cases, Moscow’s actions that directly threaten vital U.S. interests will demand that Washington impose costs in proportion to the threat, such as supporting NATO allies when Russia deploys its forces or conducts provocative military exercises along their borders.
2) Stop Ukraine From Becoming a Frozen Conflict

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was the tipping point for the tensions and mistrust that define the U.S.-Russia relationship today. Washington used the pressure of international sanctions and diplomatic isolation to compel Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine. But the Russians responded with countermeasures of their own, and the resulting reciprocal sanctions and warring narratives now combine to block even basic diplomatic engagement.

Making any sort of diplomatic progress with the Kremlin will first hinge on how the next U.S. president interprets Moscow’s motivations in Ukraine: Is Russia primarily holding Ukraine hostage because of its fear of Western encirclement and regime change? Or is Putin exploiting Ukraine’s vulnerability for his government’s political and territorial aggrandizement? The answer is most likely a combination of both, but from a policy perspective it makes sense to operate on the basis of the more positive interpretation, while hedging against the chance of being wrong.

In many respects, the hedge is already in place. NATO has decided to rotate new forces through the Baltic States and stepped up planning for various contingencies involving conflict with Russia. The West’s support for political and economic reform in Ukraine — to help build a competent democratic state and raise standards of living — is another important part of the strategy. But a solution to the crisis in Ukraine will need more than preparing for the worst-case scenario.

A voluntary Russian withdrawal from Ukraine depends for now on the highly flawed Minsk II peace deal signed in February 2015 by France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine. Despite Minsk’s obvious imperfection, it has two key features that cannot be abandoned: a legal and political commitment undertaken by major European powers and Russia and military de-escalation on the ground linked to a sustainable political process for ending the conflict. Abandoning either element would practically guarantee that eastern Ukraine will become yet another frozen conflict. Although Washington is not a signatory to the deal, the United States can help incentivize Minsk for Moscow by linking specific sanctions relief to concrete Russian steps it can implement to sustain a cease-fire, withdraw heavy military equipment from the zone of conflict, and return control of Ukraine’s side of the border with Russia to Kiev.

U.S. army soldiers stand in formation during a joint military tactical training exercise with Bulgarian military on Apr. 11. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)
3) Have an Honest Talk About Europe

For better or worse, Moscow retains sufficient power to shape the security environment in Europe. In this realm, the task for the next president in shaping U.S. policy will be to insulate European allies against Russian action in the short term while laying the groundwork for a more durable European security framework, with Russian participation, in the long term.

The next administration’s most urgent and immediate goal should be to maintain the integrity of NATO as the guarantor of European security. In light of Russia’s threatening behavior, many of its neighbors look to the transatlantic alliance, and the United States in particular, for the necessary commitment of manpower, hardware, and political will. Washington must also bolster NATO’s collective defense capabilities, not simply by spending more, but by coordinating efforts and expenditures far better. U.S. leadership in this arena is essential, and American credibility in Europe will be judged not just by what is said and done on the continent, but by Washington’s performance in managing security commitments globally, such as in East Asia and the greater Middle East.

Enhancing the forums in which Russia and the West participate, like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the NATO-Russia Council, even if they can’t resolve or even manage disagreements, is a necessary step toward preventing conflict. The OSCE, still the only fully inclusive security organization for North America, Europe, and the entire former Soviet space, has an important role to play. Washington should seek to re-launch talks with Moscow and its place in the European security architecture through the body in an unofficial, second track format.

Where these discussions will end up is an open question. But the next administration will have better chances of reducing tensions and building a stable security order in Europe by allowing Russia’s legitimate security interests in the region to be heard.
4) Push for More Arms Control

Even with reductions in nuclear forces under various arms-control agreements like the new START agreement of 2011, Russia is still the only country that can destroy the United States as a functioning society in 30 minutes. Absurd as it may seem more than 25 years after the Cold War, both sides maintain their nuclear forces on hair-trigger alert. That means the possibility of a crisis escalating to a nuclear exchange is still very real, even if the probability remains low. Stability in U.S.-Russia nuclear relations isn’t just one of the most important issues for the two countries, it is also critical to the stability among the world’s other major powers.

In addition, Russia, like the United States, is one of a handful of countries with the scientific prowess and industrial capacity to weaponize new technologies that can change the global balance of power, including the advanced air-defense systems Russia is deploying in Syria and selling to Iran, or cyber-weapons that could cripple critical infrastructure in the United States and elsewhere. As the second-largest arms seller after the United States, Russia can either hinder or facilitate the spread of advanced conventional weapons. Given the speed, accuracy, and destructive power of Russian weaponry, they could affect regional and global stability by eroding a country’s faith in its deterrent capability. Russian sales to Iran, for example, remain a top concern for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey in the Middle East, while the sale of advanced weaponry to China alarms Japan and South Korea and complicates U.S. efforts to guarantee security in East Asia.

Finally, as the largest non-Western supplier of civilian nuclear technology, Russia can either greatly assist or totally derail international efforts to limit the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. Given the profound distrust between the United States and Russia, a key step, beyond safeguarding the agreements already in place, would be to promote maximum transparency about each side’s strategic objectives and doctrines for nuclear weapons, advanced conventional weapons, cyber-weapons, missile defenses, and other technologies with the potential to erode either side’s confidence in its deterrent capability. The need for this step has grown even more urgent as Russia’s public threats about its possible use of nuclear weapons have increased, it has suspended arms-control agreements, and has hacked into the Democratic National Committee to disrupt the U.S. presidential campaign.

Russia and the United States will rarely join hands as the world’s nuclear and WMD proliferation police force. That means U.S. policy must contemplate the need to counter Russian moves in sharing weapons and technologies with hostile or potentially hostile countries, like Iran. Washington will also need to compete with Russia when it deploys conventional, cyber, or other capabilities designed to neutralize current U.S. advantages in those areas. Success in maintaining strategic stability and preventing weapons proliferation is vital to U.S. national security, but will demand a careful balance among competing concerns in Europe and East Asia, where the Kremlin has been willing to challenge U.S. interests or hold agreements on strategic stability and nonproliferation hostage until its demands are met.
5) Work With Russia in Asia

Containing China is an impossible task in today’s world. Instead, the next president should pursue flexible coalitions with other major powers to channel Chinese energies in ways that don’t endanger America’s core interests or, better, work to Washington’s benefit. Russia could be one of those partners if the United States is able to avoid forcing the Kremlin into a position of de facto commercial and strategic dependence on Beijing.

Despite its attempts in the wake of Western sanctions to reduce its dependence on European energy markets by building up ties with China, Russia remains deeply concerned about Beijing’s growing influence along its borders. Moreover, the economic promise of Moscow’s own “pivot to Asia,” particularly in penetrating the Chinese market, has so far failed to unfold as the Kremlin had hoped, with trade and investment slow to materialize. In East Asia, Moscow has sought to diversify its commercial relations, including with South Korea and Japan, two major U.S. allies, to reduce the risks that the development of Russia’s far eastern provinces will become hostage to Chinese markets. South Korea and Japan also view Russia as a potential economic and security partner in managing their concerns about China. This leaves an opening where American and Russian interests can align in forging new coalitions that give each party more leverage in relations with China.

Former Soviet Central Asia is another area where Washington’s and Moscow’s interests could actually align on China. Russia is unsettled by the rapidly growing Chinese presence within what the Kremlin considers its own backyard. Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a massive network of roads, railways, and pipelines, has brought billions of dollars’ worth of investment into the region and dwarfed Russia’s projects, like the Eurasian Union. The Kremlin has so far welcomed the emergence of other regional players, such as India and Japan, to counterbalance China. The United States could play a role here if it reversed its policy since the end of the Cold War of seeking to reduce Russian influence in Central Asia. Recognizing that China’s expansion into the region poses more of a long-term challenge to U.S. interests than Russia’s continued presence, Washington should not work against Russian initiatives in the region and promote other regional powers in Central Asia.
6) Recognize That Syria Is About More Than Syria

With the collapse of the U.S.-Russia negotiated cease-fire and the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Aleppo, the Syrian crisis demands urgent attention. Like it or not, the United States has no better option than to keep trying to work with Russia, which inserted itself into the region with a dramatic military intervention in September 2015. Moscow has the wherewithal to maintain its military deployment for a prolonged period, and regional powers like Iran, and perhaps even Turkey, support its continued presence. The more forceful options that some are now advocating — such as a no-fly zone or the destruction of the Syrian air force — carry too large a risk of outright military confrontation with Moscow in the region and elsewhere.

Discussions with Moscow on Syria, however, will have no greater chances of success unless they include a new willingness to discuss the broader relationship with Russia, especially in Europe. In its statements and proposals, Moscow has effectively linked the situation in Syria to the Ukraine crisis and the larger issue of European security, but Washington has so far refused to recognize this linkage. Instead, the Obama administration has followed in the missteps of its predecessors and doubled down on trying to compartmentalize issues from one another. Only by acknowledging that the links among the various regional challenges posed by Russia are real can the next president extract a favorable balance for U.S. interests.
7) Show America’s Promise

As in the Cold War, there is an ideological element to U.S.-Russia competition today. However, rather than advocating Communist class struggle, Moscow is focused on diminishing American credibility. Russia will be most effective where U.S.-led economic and political initiatives fail to serve the needs of the American people. This theme has been evident in the disconcerting overlap between damaging cyber-leaks from apparent Russian-related sources to favorable coverage in the Russian press of Trump’s harsh attacks on the U.S. establishment.

How the next U.S. president tackles the well-known domestic and global challenges of wealth inequality, cultural pluralism, migration, resource insecurity, and climate change will determine the degree to which the United States is actually vulnerable to Russia’s political and propaganda broadsides. As George F. Kennan, the U.S. diplomat who mapped out America’s Cold War containment policy toward the Soviet Union, recognized in his famous Long Telegram, if Americans demonstrate vision and resolve to address the United States’ most pressing challenges, the country can have far greater influence on developments in Russia than it ever could through direct confrontation.

The Cold War ended to a great degree because Russians saw the United States as a successful and prosperous society, whose model they hoped to emulate. By contrast, today’s deterioration in relations has been deepened by American failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and the still lingering consequences of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, which shattered Russians’ faith in the American model for economic development. An aura of renewed success and growing power will go a long way toward restoring the United States as an attractive partner, and perhaps eventually as a leader by example.

For the moment, America’s priorities must be on putting out the fires of regional conflicts in Ukraine and Syria and preventing the simmering threats of WMD proliferation and a new arms race from igniting. But success on any one of these issues cannot occur in a vacuum and depends on the credibility and effectiveness of the U.S. approach to other regions and issues where Russia holds important cards. By weighing the value of cooperation and competition with Moscow in terms of what matters most to the United States, the next presidential administration has its best chance to come out ahead in dealing with the Kremlin.


Thomas Graham is a managing director at Kissinger Associates and a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. He was previously the senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff from 2004-2007.

Matthew Rojansky is the director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. He is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the U.S. executive secretary of the Dartmouth Conference, a track-two U.S.-Russian conflict resolution initiative begun in 1960.



An Urgently Necessary Briefing on Syria

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, War on October 14, 2016 at 11:04 pm

By Gary Leupp, Counterpunch, October 14, 2016

1. Syria is country about the size of Washington state, with an extraordinarily long, well-documented and glorious history, and central role in the emergence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Before the current war, it had a population of around 22 millions. It has never threatened and poses no threat to the United States.
It is a secular, constitutional republic recognized diplomatically by the United Nations and has diplomatic and usually cordial relations with Russia, Iran, China, India, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, Argentina, Tanzania, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Oman, etc. It has historically been a battleground of Arab, Iranian and Turkish peoples, at different times a part of the Persian Empire, the Arab-led Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, or the Ottoman Empire. It fell under French colonial administration after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire (centered on what is now Turkey) in the course of World War I. It was briefly declared a kingdom under the Arab Emir Feisal until the French drove him out of Damascus in 1920.

Thereafter the League of Nations awarded France a “mandate” to govern Syria (including Lebanon, which the French made a separate state). This colonial administration continued to 1946. After independence from France, political parties representing merchants and intellectuals from Damascus or Aleppo vied for power while the Communist Party was (to Washington’s alarm) tolerated. The secularist Ba’ath Party founded by Christians, Sunnis and Alawites in 1947 began to organize.

2. The U.S. has a long history of pressing for “regime change” in Syria. After Syrian became independent, the U.S. routinely intervened in the country in pursuing its Cold War political agendas. It is widely suspected that the military coup in Syria in 1949 was abetted by the U.S., which saw the previous regime as soft on communism. And the CIA openly acknowledges responsibility for the failed coup attempts designed to install a suitable anti-communist regime called “Operation Straggle” in 1956 and “Operation Wappen” directed by Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. in 1957. The latter included failed bribery efforts which, when exposed, embarrassed the U.S. (After the Syrian government foiled the plot, Washington began accusing Syria of being a “Soviet client.”)
Syria and Egypt briefly united as the United Arab Republic, perceived by the U.S. as pro-Soviet, in 1958; after it collapsed following another coup in 1961, the Baathists rose to power. Following the Baathist coup in neighboring Iraq in February 1963, their comrades in Syria took power. But the Syrian partisans split into factions, and relations between the two countries’ parties soured. Still, they constituted the ruling status quo in both Syria and Iraq from this time to 2003 when the U.S. Occupation dissolved the Baath Party of Iraq. (It then numbered some 400,000 members).

3. Up to the 1967 War, Washington saw the Baathists as the preferred option in the Middle East—a middle force between Islamism and Communism. Promoting secularism, pan-Arabism, and economic nationalism they seemed relatively non-hostile to the U.S. Although during the early years of the Cold War in particular, the U.S. vilified “neutral” parties in general, the Baathists could be partnered with for common purposes. (Saddam Hussein—as you surely know?—after the 1963 coup in Iraq worked with the CIA to round up, torture and execute Iraqi communists in the Qasr al-Nehayat, the Palace of the End. A former senior State Department official who was there told UPI: “We were frankly glad to be rid of them. You ask that they get a fair trial? You have to get kidding. This was serious business.”)
But after Israel’s 1967 victories Washington decided to rethink its Middle East relationships and to defer more and more deeply to the Israel Lobby—-which saw the Baathists as anti-Zionist (hence “anti-Semitic”) pan-Arab nationalists who were dangerously sophisticated (precisely because they were secular, anti-Islamist, and appeal to religious minorities), who provided political and material support to Palestinian and Lebanese groups resisting Israeli occupation, and who demanded the return of the occupied Golan Heights that the entire world agrees is Syrian land—by listing Syria and Iraq as “terror-sponsoring” nations. Meanwhile Syria intervened in Lebanon repeatedly from 1976, ostensibly in response to appeals from different parties in a widening civil conflict involving Palestinians and Israeli invaders after 1982.

4. Still, while looking at Syria through an Israeli lens, and considering it “terrorist,” U.S. policy makers have generally maintained diplomatic relations with Syria (last broken off in 2011) and even sought its cooperation on occasion. Syria, then ruled by the current president’s father Hafez al-Assad, participated in the international coalition organized by George W. Bush against Iraq in 1991 (yes, despite the fact that wings of the Baath Party ruled both Syria and Iraq at the time). A decade later, after 9/11, the U.S. sought Syrian cooperation in another war; it—how do you say it?—rendered covert service to the extraordinary renditions program following cordial talks with Colin Powell and other officials.

5. So far in this century, U.S. officials have been divided between those more or less eager to use U.S. power to bring down the regime, and cooler heads fearing the consequences. The neoconservatives dominating the first George W. Bush administrations had clearly articulated in 1996 (to the Israeli government, which they advised as Israeli-U.S. dual-nationals) their vision of U.S.-triggered regime-change from Iran to Iraq to Syria to make the region more hospitable to Israel.
9/11 allowed the neoconservative regime-changers and their allies to move quickly. Exploiting fear and ignorance, they immediately set about preparing for war on Iraq, even though Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. We know from Gen. Wesley Clark’s often-quoted words, after talking with a Pentagon general shortly after 9/11, that there was a plan already in place to “take out seven countries in 5 years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” There were loud voices in the Bush administration (most notably undersecretary of state John Bolton, who Trump has said is one of the foreign policy experts he most respects) calling for strikes on Syria (as “low-hanging fruit”) and echoing baseless Israeli allegations that the WMDs not found in Iraq must have been sent across the border to Syria. And of course everyone applauded in Sept. 2007 when the Israel Air Force bombed an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria.
In 2005 the Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Beirut. The U.S. blamed Syria and forced Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. Yet it maintained relations with Damascus. When Bashar succeeded his father as president in 2000, he had been welcomed as a reformer; Hillary Clinton had still referred to him as such as of 2010. But leaked diplomatic messages indicate that the Damascus U.S. embassy was actively pursuing the overthrow of the president even before 2011.

6. The “Arab Spring” of 2011 ended the discussion about regime change. The neocon faction at the State Department kicked into gear. Hillary Clinton and soon Barack Obama commanded Bashar al-Assad to step down, after some fatal encounters between demonstrators and police afforded them the opportunity to deploy a pre-determined accusation: “He has attacked his own people!” The U.S. closed its Damascus embassy, planning to return after the moderate opposition was in power as planned. The then-Secretary of State is known to have advocated overt military aid to the rebels, although Obama was reluctant. In fact, the U.S. covertly trained 53 Syrian militants in Turkey who as soon as they entered Syria in September 2015 were captured or defected, handing over their weapons. Efforts to turn Syria’s “Arab Spring” into a quick pro-U.S. regime change exercise have failed dismally while resulting in mass slaughter.

7. At the same time, the al-Qaeda forces gathered, quickly becoming the backbone of the anti-Assad armed movement. ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) appeared in 2013, latest incarnation of the al-Qaeda franchise established in Iraq by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (after the U.S. occupation on 2003 had for the first time made the country an al-Qaeda breeding ground). It carved out a niche of territory in northeast Syria headquartered in Raqqa (pop. 220,000), captured in March 2013. Meanwhile al-Nusra, emerging from a group of jihadis more connected to Al-Qaeda Central in Pakistan, assumed leadership of the armed opposition around the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo. The two groups held unity talks but Al-Qaeda’s al-Zawahiri rejected a merger and the two have been antagonistic ever since.
Al-Nusra has been the indispensable partner of the so-called “Free Syrian Army” since its inception, and has received massive amounts of aid from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

8. In September 2013, as the Syrian state forces made advances against the armed opposition and many analysts concluded that the tide had turned in the conflict, someone released sarin gas in a Damascus suburb. Some blamed it on the Assad regime. John Kerry, Hillary Clinton’s successor as secretary of state, was eager to attack Syria. A year earlier, Obama had indicated that the U.S. would attack if it saw “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” Obama was on the verge of ordering an attack when careful Russian diplomacy stayed his hand. Moscow challenged the U.S. attribution of the attack to the regime, pointing instead to the opposition, and in any case facilitated the Assad regime’s resignation of its chemical weapons stockpiles to the UN. This was an important triumph for Russian diplomacy and setback for neocon regime change plans in Syria.

9. The lightning victories of ISIL in early 2014, as it returned to Iraq conquering Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul, were a PR nightmare for the U.S. They were clear testimony that the U.S. destruction of the secular, modern Iraqi state had paved the way for child-beheading, woman-enslaving, monument-destroying crazies. The U.S. had to bomb ISIL, both in Iraq (with permission from the government) and in Syria (where U.S. warplanes, unlike Russian warplanes, operate illegally). From Sept. 2014, the U.S. and its “coalition” have bombed ISIL (although not al-Nusra, which is so entwined with groups the U.S. considers “moderate” that it’s been generally spared attack) while simultaneously maintaining that the main problem—somehow giving rise to this problem of these people who burn people in cages, and bury people alive, and force conversions—is the Baathist regime.

It has been difficult to argue this because it does not make any sense. There is no rational perception of historical causality here. Even if the Syrian example of Baathism constitutes an authoritarian, even in some respects fascistic system (although in its corruption, inefficiency and religious tolerance it seems quite un-fascistic), it did not give rise to al-Qaeda or any of its spin-offs. The U.S did that, by supporting the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s (in league with Osama bin Laden), by destroying the secular state of Iraq, and by targeting the secular state of Syria for regime change. ISIL arose because the U.S. drove Abu Musad al-Zarqawi out of Afghanistan in 2001; alienated the Sunnis of Iraq by the destruction of Iraq’s institutions, producing a base for Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda recruitment; and destabilized Syria, producing more opportunities for caliphate expansion.

To suggest that Assad is responsible for the presence of ISIL in his country (due to his refusal to heed the U.S. diktat, and step down paving the way for the U.S.’s alternative) is just stupid. That it should be so widely repeated by pundits in the mainstream press should be the cause for mass alarm if not despair. Such State Department talking points are the drumbeats of war. As it is, from 2014 there have been many press reports of frustration in both the State Department and Defense Department about the unclarity of the Syrian mission: is it to get ride of Assad (the “main problem”), or to “destroy” (as Obama put it) the child-torturers conjured up by the criminal Iraq invasion? The preponderance of opinion in the State Department seems to have drifted to near-term regime change.
In August 2015 it was widely reported that Gen. David Petraeus, then CIA director, was advocating “using so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria.” Yes that’s right—ally with al-Qaeda, against an even worse al-Qaeda spin-off, the better to topple Assad who stubbornly clings to power defying Washington’s orders.

10. Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, beginning in September 2015 (precisely one year after the U.S. began bombing ISIL targets in the country), intended to shore up the Syrian state against an opposition interwoven with what the U.S. deems the “moderate opposition,” has been a game-changer. Occurring at the request of the Syrian government (which, to repeat, is the government of a secular, constitutional republic recognized diplomatically by the United Nations and has cordial relations with Russia, Iran, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, Argentina, Tanzania, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Oman and many other countries despite Washington’s efforts to isolate and overthrow it), this intervention is legal, while the U.S.’s is not.
The U.S. press has virtually ignored Russian successes in aiding the Syrian army in recapturing Palmyra from the horrific ISIL, which had destroyed the Temple of Bel, and destroying oil convoys heading from terrorist-controlled territory to Turkey for illegal sale. Instead it has, echoing the State Department, merely accused Moscow of supporting the internationally recognized government against rebels whom the U.S. wants to win.

11. Russian actions, by further strengthening the regime’s position and weakening those officially regarded by both Washington and Moscow as terrorists, forced the U.S. to respond positively to Russian appeals for joint action against the latter groups. On Sept. 9 Kerry and Lavrov agreed on a plan for a one-week ceasefire (to which the Syrian government agreed) between state forces and the “legitimate” (U.S.-backed) opposition. During this period, the latter would separate themselves from al-Nusra to avoid being bombed themselves.
These measures were to be followed by coordinated U.S.-Russian action against the terrorists while peace talks resumed in Geneva. Unfortunately the U.S. was unable or unwilling to persuade its many proxies in the conflict to split with al-Nusra. (That’s what really doomed the deal; the U.S.’s failure to hold up its end.) Some clients angrily refused and turned on their U.S. advisors. On Sept. 16 (supposedly by mistake) the U.S. and several of its allies bombed a Syrian army base killing 62 soldiers engaged in combat with ISIL. Enraged, Syria resumed the bombing of East Aleppo, which is controlled by al-Nusra (Fateh al-Sham). The U.S. blamed the still-unexplained bombing of a UN aid convoy, killing 20 three days later, on Syria or Russia and suspended negotiations with Russia, period, over Syria.
In other words, having temporarily conceded the need to cooperate with Syria’s ally Russia to resolve a conflict that the U.S. had deliberately exacerbated, with horrific results, the U.S. sabotaged the talks. And after doing so, suddenly slipped into a mode of unprecedented vitriol; witness UN ambassador Samantha Power’s performance at the UN Sept. 18 where she angrily dismissed the death of the Syrian soldiers as a minor detail in a war, and berated the Russian ambassador for calling a Security Council meeting to discuss Syria a “stunt.” (She obviously wearies of Russia’s stubborn refusal to concede to the “exceptional nation” the future of its ally.)

12. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton as recently as Oct. 9 reiterated in the “debate” with Trump that she (still) supports a no-fly zone. Even though the brass has told her that that would mean the deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in a war with Syria and Russia. She is buoyed by that highly unusual dissent memo signed by 51 current State Department officials last June opposing the current focus on ISIL and demanding immediate regime change in Syria. She knows that the State Department is more hawkish than the Pentagon, but that the Pentagon is also leery about any cooperation with Russia, anywhere, such as Lavrov has repeatedly proposed. She knows the news media in this country has entire bought the line that Russia through its support for a brutal dictator is responsible for genocide in East Aleppo—while the U.S. sits back and does nothing!
She is eager to appoint Michele Flournoy (formerly the third-ranking civilian in the Pentagon under Obama) as her Secretary of Defense. Flournoy has also called for a “no-fly zone” over Syria and “limited military coercion” to drive Assad from power. She has actually proposed the deployment of U.S. ground troops against the Syrian Arab Army.
On Oct. 8 France proposed a UNSC resolution prohibiting Syrian or Russian bombing of al-Nusra controlled East Aleppo, while saying nothing about the illegal bombing of Syria conducted by the U.S and its allies. It was a preposterous joke, opposed by China and Russia, immediately vetoed. It was intended to further vilify the Syrian government and Russia.
Is it not obvious? Public opinion is being prepared for another regime-change war. The most high-stakes one to date, because this one could lead to World War III.
And it’s hardly even a topic of conversation in this rigged election, which seems designed to not only to inaugurate a war-monger, but to exploit crude Russophobia to the max in the process. The point is for Hillary not only to ascend to power—whatever that might require—but to prepare the people for more Afghanistans, Iraqs and Libyas in the process. The point is to lull the people into historical amnesia, blind them to Hillary’s record of Goldwater-type reckless militarism, exploit the Cold War mentality lingering among the most backward and ignorant, and insure that the electorate that, while generally deploring the result of the rigged election in November, will soon afterwards rally behind corrupt Hillary as soon as she seizes on some pretext for war.
Very, very dangerous.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

End the Nuclear Insanity

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 13, 2016 at 12:07 am

World Post, October 11, 2016


This month the United Nations has the opportunity to take a major step toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is an opportunity that must not be lost.

More than four decades ago, the nations with nuclear arsenals and the world’s non-nuclear states entered into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); the nuclear states — the US, Russia, UK, France and China — pledged that if the states that did not have nuclear weapons agreed not to develop them, they would enter into good-faith negotiations toward the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. During the ensuing years, the three nations that did not sign the NPT — namely India, Pakistan, and Israel — developed nuclear weapons. All of the non-nuclear weapons states that signed the treaty except North Korea have kept their pledge.

Unfortunately, the nuclear powers have not kept their part of the bargain. While the US and Russia have dismantled many of their nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, they retain thousands of them, enough to destroy the world many times over.

More importantly, they have made clear that, in defiance of their treaty obligations, they do not intend to eliminate their arsenals. Instead, all of the states that possess nuclear weapons today are engaged in massive upgrades of their nuclear arsenals. The US alone expects to spend $1 trillion on this modernization program over the next three decades.

While the nuclear powers claim that their arsenals only exist to deter the threat of attack from other nuclear states, their actual military doctrines tell a different story. The US refuses to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons, even against states that don’t possess them. Russia plans to use nuclear weapons early on in conventional conflict with NATO. Pakistan similarly threatens to use tactical nuclear weapons against Indian conventional forces. India threatens to retaliate with strategic nuclear forces.

In the face of this intransigence, most of the states that do not possess nuclear weapons have decided that they must act. They are not planning to build nuclear weapons of their own, but are demanding that the nuclear powers honor their obligations.

In 2013 and 2014, more than 150 countries came together — in Oslo, Vienna and Nayarit, Mexico — in a series of historic conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, to focus attention on the actual consequences of nuclear war. These conferences examined the latest scientific findings, that show that even a limited nuclear war, involving less than 0.05% of the world’s nuclear arsenals, would cause catastrophic climate disruption across the planet and lead to a global famine that could put up to 2 billion people at risk of starvation. Other data shows that a large scale war between the US and Russia would cause even more profound climate disruption, producing a nuclear winter that would kill the vast majority of the human race and could cause our extinction as a species.

In response to these warnings from the scientific and medical community, more than 100 nations have met in Geneva over the last five months at an Open Ended Working Group, convened by the UN General Assembly, to consider how to pressure the nuclear powers to disarm.

The recommendation of this OEWG will be presented to the General Assembly this month. A resolution sponsored by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa calls for the UN to convene a formal negotiating conference in 2017 to conclude a new treaty that prohibits the possession of nuclear weapons.

This “Ban Treaty” will not take the place of an actual nuclear weapons convention negotiated by the nuclear powers, which would have to establish a firm timetable for dismantling nuclear weapons, with detailed mechanisms to verify and enforce compliance. But it will create a powerful new norm about nuclear weapons, defining them not as the status symbols of great nations, but as the badges of shame of rogue nations.

Much work will need to be done to use this new treaty to actually get the nuclear powers to disarm, but their fierce opposition to the treaty makes it clear that they are feeling the pressure already even before negotiations have begun.

The non-nuclear weapons states must resist that pressure, and continue their historic efforts to protect humanity from the grave threat posed by nuclear weapons. And the citizens of nuclear weapons states must hold their governments accountable for their unconscionable refusal to meet their treaty obligations and negotiate the elimination of these weapons, which are the greatest threat to the security of all peoples throughout the world.

* Jose Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1996)

* Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2006)

* Kaylash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2014)

* Sir Richard J. Roberts Ph.D. F.R.S., Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (1993)

* Prof. Brian Schmidt, Nobel Laureate in Physics (2011)

* Ira Helfand, co-President International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1985)

This letter is cross-posted on TheCommunity.com.

Follow José Ramos-Horta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JoseRamosHorta
Follow Muhammad Yunus on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Yunus_Centre
Follow Kailash Satyarthi on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/k_satyarthi

Needed Now: A Peace Movement Against Clinton Wars To Come

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, War on October 10, 2016 at 2:29 am

By Andrew Levine, http://www.counterpunch.org
Popular Resistance, October 8th, 2016

Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize –for not being George W. Bush. This seemed unseemly at the time, but not outrageous. Seven years later, it seems grotesque.

As the steward-in-chief of the American empire, Obama continued Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, and extended his “War on Terror” into Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.

He also became a terrorist himself and a serial killer, weaponized drones and special ops assassins being his weapons of choice.

Much of this has taken place under a veil of secrecy. A great deal of effort has gone into keeping news of the murder and mayhem Obama let loose upon the world out of public view; so far out that, to this day, Obama, is still widely thought of as a man of peace.

He kept that illusion intact the way that Bill Clinton kept a similar illusion alive in the nineties– by keeping war talk to a minimum and by keeping American combatants out of harm’s way.

Along with his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, Clinton saw to it that sanctions would kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And when sanctions weren’t enough to complete the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, he unleashed death and destruction from the skies.

With his drones, Obama has surpassed Clinton in that one respect; if they gave a Nobel Prize for killing from afar, he’d win hands down.

Sometimes, though, there is no avoiding “boots on the ground.” When this is the case, the Clinton-Obama way is to rely as much as possible on proxy armies or militias to do the fighting, using the empire’s own troops only as a last resort.

Also, like Clinton, Obama relies on “humanitarian” interveners to make his depredations seem kosher. Nobody can sell killing and maiming to a gullible public as well as they.

Now that old horn dog must be smarting inside – because he showed the way, and Obama got the prize.

The sad part is that, compared to several other Nobel laureates — Henry Kissinger and Menachem Begin come immediately to mind –Obama’s prize doesn’t even seem particularly absurd.

And credit where credit is due: an important accomplishment of Obama’s has been to restrain the more bellicose underlings he empowered. Hillary Clinton, his first Secretary of State and inevitable successor, for example.

This is why, when Obama goes off to do whatever he will do with the rest of his life, he will actually be missed.

It must be said, though, that the more noxious laureates at least didsomething to earn the honor bestowed upon them. What they did was often of dubious value, but it was something nevertheless.

For example, the late Shimon Peres also got a lot of people killed and maimed; and, remarkably, he too is widely thought to be a man of peace. But he won his Nobel Prize, along with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, for his role in negotiating the now defunct – and always doomed — Oslo accords. The Nobel Committee could at least justify giving the prize to him on that account.

Obama won his with no peace-making accomplishments at all, dubious or otherwise, to his credit. What he had going for him was just that “hope and change thing,” as Sarah Palin aptly called it.

This was before those words came to stick in the craws of progressives throughout the United States. Obamamania was already on the wane in America by the time Obama won his Nobel; evidently, it took a while for the news to reach Norway.

With Hillary it will be different. Candidate Obama was a magnet for illusions; Hillary is anything but. She is not about to get peace prizes just for being there.

Even the people who give out Nobels know better than that. She regards the (unindicted) war criminal Kissinger as a mentor, and, when she abases herself before AIPAC, she might as well be channeling Peres or even Begin, but it makes no difference to them. Her fondness for all things military is too well known.

Needless to say, while running for President, she would as soon not call attention to her bellicose and imperialist side. She and her handlers would rather people think that a vote for her is a vote against Donald Trump – period, full stop.

In a sense, it is; it is also a vote against Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, and Jill Stein of the Greens.

Trump will get more votes than either of them, but his chances of being elected President are not much better than theirs.

This is why, despite all the anti-Trump hysteria mongering, what a vote for Clinton really is is a vote for war — for intensifying the wars Obama inherited or initiated, for starting others, and for provoking Russia, and its vilified leader enough to advance the Doomsday Clock by a significant amount.

And since, time and again, Hillary has proven herself too inept to properly execute her ill-conceived initiatives – the assault on Libya is only the most egregious example – the risk of nuclear war, once momentum for it gets going, will be a lot harder to contain than it has been under other Presidents.

Most Americans understand how dangerous it would be were Trump in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal – not so much because of his views, which, to the extent that they can be determined, seem generally saner than Hillary’s, at least in this respect, but because of his temperament. If he had a decent chance of winning, the idea that he might become the Commander-in-Chief would be worrisome indeed.

But his chances of winning are negligible. Hillary’s, on the other hand, are excellent, notwithstanding the fact that she is as charismatic as a turnip, and is widely despised for both good reasons and bad.

This makes her the one to worry about. Hillary’s impulse control is better than the Donald’s and she is a lot less inclined to act out, but she is, by sympathy and conviction, an ardent proponent of military “solutions,” even for problems that don’t exist.

Lesser evil voting is problematic in its own right; among other things, for fostering a race to the bottom. But, in this case, lesser evil considerations are, or ought to be, moot, because Trump, the evil lesser evilists want to avoid, is on track for suffering a major defeat. Lesser evilists who might prefer a turnip to Hillary or who realize how great an evil she is are therefore wasting their votes.

Nevertheless, Hillary is slouching towards victory, and nothing except an act of God can stop her.

Now is therefore the time to start planning for life after November 8.

What We Talk About When We Don’t Want to Talk About Nuclear War

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 6, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Posted on Oct 5, 2016

By Andrew J. Bacevich / TomDispatch

With Election Day now merely a month away, there is no more reason to believe that such questions will receive serious consideration than to expect Trump to come clean on his personal finances or Clinton to release the transcripts of her handsomely compensated Goldman Sachs speeches.

When outcomes don’t accord with his wishes, Trump reflexively blames a “rigged” system. But a system that makes someone like Trump a finalist for the presidency isn’t rigged. It is manifestly absurd, a fact that has left most of the national media grasping wildly for explanations (albeit none that tag them with having facilitated the transformation of politics into theater).

I’ll take a backseat to no one in finding Trump unfit to serve as president. Yet beyond the outsized presence of one particular personality, the real travesty of our predicament lies elsewhere—in the utter shallowness of our political discourse, no more vividly on display than in the realm of national security.

What do our presidential candidates talk about when they don’t want to talk about nuclear war? The one, in a vain effort to conceal his own ignorance, offers rambling nonsense. The other, accustomed to making her own rules, simply changes the subject.
The American people thereby remain in darkness. On that score, Trump, Clinton, and the parties they represent are not adversaries. They are collaborators.

Andrew Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is the author, most recently, of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,” which has been longlisted for the National Book Award.

Asking Hillary about nuclear weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm

This series of exchanges begin with Judy Elliott of AFSC talking with Hillary Clinton on September 18, 2015.


Hillary Clinton responded – briefly – to questions about nuclear weapons modernization and the military industrial complex. She agreed we have to find a way to rid the world of nuclear weapons and said she would start a high-level commission to study how to make weapons procurement decisions more resistant to the political influence of weapons makers.
New Hampshire

Finally! I’ve spent a couple of months trying to ask Hillary Clinton about nuclear weapons. At a September 17 town hall event in Concord, New Hampshire, I finally got to do it. Here’s how it went:

Judy: There has been a lot of talk about Iran but I am so worried about U.S. nuclear weapons also. We have almost 5,000 nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert. Now there’s a plan to build … [spend] a trillion more dollars for new warheads, new planes, a whole new fleet of submarines. It’s going to make the weapons makers a whole lot of money, but I am personally terrified of nuclear annihilation. Do you support this renewed spending?

Clinton: One of the highest goals of the Obama Administration was to try to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. And we did get a treaty with Russia that was limited but at least it continued the process. Trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons – we have a long way to go, and we’re just going to have to figure out how to manage it. One of the reasons why I supported the Iran deal [was] because it put a lid on one more country with nuclear weapons at least for a number of years.

In the crowd afterwards, Arnie Alpert spoke to Clinton and pointed out that the nuclear weapons modernization plan contradicts nonproliferation goals. She replied that a trillion dollars was ridiculous and the money could be used for other needs.

I wasn’t the only voter last night to ask Clinton about military policy. Dwight Haynes, a retired Methodist minister, started off the evening’s questions.

Dwight: I’m Dwight Haines and in 1950, at the Boy Scout Jamboree in Valley Forge, I had the privilege to meet … Dwight Eisenhower. … And … after that event I heard him speak against the growing military- industrial complex. As I listened last night [to the Republican debate] … it seems to me the Republicans are determined to put more and more money into defense, regardless of what else happens. So I’m wondering, as president, would you be willing to set some kind of limits on how much we put into the defense piece of the pie? Also, will you make sure that corporations that sell weapons systems don’t influence our politics?

Clinton: Two good questions. I’m a great admirer of President Eisenhower… I think he was very far-sighted when he gave that speech about the necessity for us to be careful about the military-industrial complex, as he called it. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we have always had two conflicting imperatives. We need to have a strong defense, everybody agrees with that. But how we do it and how much it costs is subject to debate. And I think we are overdue for a very thorough debate in our country about what we need and how we are willing to pay for it. Because I think some of the decisions that have been made, because of the sequester, which just cut without regard for the effectiveness of the program or the impact of it being eliminated, was much too blunt an instrument. I think we should have a high-level commission of really well-respected people from different walks of life, who have not lived their life completely in the military-industrial world, really taking a hard look, the same way we have had to in the past look at closing bases. A system was put in place where there could be somewhat less influence from Congressional politics, and I’d like to see such a commission come up with recommendations. Because what I hear all the time, that I saw as a senator – I served on the Armed Services Committee – [and] what I saw as Secretary of State is that very often the leadership of the Defense Department wants to eliminate certain spending, or wants to change it, maybe put it somewhere else where they think it’ll do more good, and … they’re stopped by Congress. So what I’m looking for is a way of avoiding that.

Clinton was not the first candidate I’ve asked about nuclear weapons (see earlier posts), but she’s among those I most wanted to hear from. She’s a front-runner and she has a lot of foreign policy experience. It was great to hear her comments about nuclear abolition and restraining the arms budget. But she needs to be more specific about her intentions.

A little background. President Obama endorsed nuclear weapons abolition during his first campaign. He reaffirmed that goal in a speech in Prague in 2009. Initial progress was exciting. The President negotiated the New Start treaty in 2010, limiting deployed warheads to 1,550 each for the United States and Russia. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review endorsed “a multilateral effort to limit, reduce, and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.” The NPR also said the United States would not develop any new nuclear weapons.

In a June 2013 speech in Berlin, President Obama went further, suggesting that the two powers negotiate an additional one-third reduction of deployed nuclear weapons.

Apparently even deeper reductions were discussed by American policy-makers. Journalist Marc Herman reported that computer modelling at the National Defense University showed that reductions to 500 nuclear weapons for each side would provide both countries with a “minimal deterrent” sufficient to prevent a first strike from the other.[1] While it wouldn’t be nuclear abolition, such reductions would represent genuine progress.

But recently progress has stalled and a frightening new arms race is heating up.

Part of the reason, as explained by James Carroll, is that “[in] order to get the votes of Senate Republicans to ratify the START treaty, Obama made what turned out to be a devil’s bargain. He agreed to lay the groundwork for a vast ‘modernization’ of the US nuclear arsenal, which, in the name of updating an aged system, is already morphing into a full-blown reinvention of the arms cache at an estimated future cost of more than a trillion dollars. In the process, the Navy wants … twelve new strategic submarines; the Air Force wants… a new long-range strike bomber force. Bombers and submarines would … both be outfitted with next-generation missiles.” Modernization, under the guise of “life extension” for existing weapons, also involves creation of upgraded warheads, contrary to intentions stated in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

This is why we need to know whether Clinton opposes nuclear weapons modernization. The problem is not just the immense expense, using money that, as she told Arnie, is needed elsewhere. (Bernie Sanders said something similar at a forum in Portsmouth last May, but like Clinton was vague about his exact stance.) Even if nuclear weapons modernization were without cost, the program represents a frightening about-face from Obama’s early progress towards nuclear abolition.

Once the Pentagon is invested in the new weapons systems, as is already happening, the new arms race will be hard to reverse. And of course, defense contractors will reap hundreds of billions of dollars building the new weapons. Their profit motives will continue to drive spending on nuclear weapons.

So here are questions we should ask Clinton and the other candidates:

· How will you put the United States into compliance with Article 6 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control?”

· If you become president, will you stop the nuclear weapons modernization program?

· Will you commit to reduce the United States’ military stockpile to 1000 nuclear weapons in your first term, and 500 in your second term?

According James Carroll, “[If] a commander-in-chief were to order nuclear reductions into the hundreds, the result might actually be a transformation of the American political conscience. In the process, the global dream of a nuclear-free world could be resuscitated and the commitment of non-nuclear states (including Iran) to refrain from nuclear-weapons development could be rescued. Most crucially, there would no longer be any rationale for the large-scale reinvention of the American nuclear arsenal, a deadly project this nation is even now preparing to launch.“

Let’s make sure that the candidates address these issues. The more of us who get out and talk to them, the better.


[1] In 2009, a report by the Federation of American Scientists also said that reductions to “initially 1,000 warheads, and later a few hundred warheads, are more than adequate to serve as a deterrent against anyone unwise enough to attack the United States with nuclear weapons.”

Imagining a World Beyond War

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace on October 6, 2016 at 4:48 am

A conference at American University asks a fundamental question.

Over 300 people gathered last week at a conference at American University in Washington, DC, which brought together a remarkable assembly of philosophers, scientists, activists, diplomats, lawyers, doctors, economists, media experts, and activists working against patriarchy, gender discrimination, poverty, and racism, to develop creative answers and intelligent directions on how people can take action to put an end to war. The event was organized by World Beyond War, a new and vibrant network and campaign, which in less than two years has gained the endorsement of thousands of people and organizations in 135 countries who signed a pledge “to commit to engage in and support nonviolent efforts to end all war and preparations for war and to create a sustainable and just peace.” The gathering initiated a sorely needed examination of the public perception of the inevitability of war on the planet while promoting the possibilities and solutions for abolishing it.
One of the more astonishing reports was the heart wrenching presentations on the ongoing state of chaos and destruction in the Congo where more than 6 million people have died. We learned how the United States and its allies have been supporting brutal dictators who are responsible for these deaths, ever since the CIA was involved in the overthrow and murder of its first democratically elected president, Patrice Lumumba, in 1961. (To help those trying to spread the word and bring peace to the region, check out http://www.congojustice.org orwww.friendsofthecongo.org.)
Dennis Kucinich spoke about his success in establishing a Department of Peace as well as missed opportunities when Congress rejected the impeachment legislation he introduced to hold the Bush administration to account for war crimes in Iraq. Gar Alperovitz gave a challenging analysis of a new initiative to create the post-capitalist economy, The Next System Project, with inspiring examples of programs instituted at the community level, such as worker cooperatives and public ownership of banks and utilities. Barbara Wien delivered a rousing presentation on patriarchy, calling it “the mother’s milk of militarism.” We heard, via video link, UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time peace activist who has been campaigning to scrap Britain’s nuclear arsenal, on the very same day he was reelected to lead his party and be its next candidate for Prime Minister. Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin gave a chilling report on how Saudi Arabia corrupts and buys the US Congress and its army of lobbyists with huge multimillion-dollar payments. Bruce Gagnon, with the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, reported on the rising tide of activism in South Korea and Japan to protest the destabilizing new US missile bases in Asia and how more than 10,000 people demonstrated in Seoul. Journalist Gareth Porter proposed a 10-year plan for ending what he described as “the permanent war state,” crediting General Smedley, known for having characterized war as a “racket.”
What Smedley said in 1935, underscored by Porter was:
War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
Videos of all the panels and speakers are posted here.
Workshops addressed issues such as closing the more than 800 US military bases encircling the globe, ending military recruitment in schools, abolishing nuclear weapons, organizing young people to work for Palestinian freedom, bringing the United States into the International Criminal Court, mitigating the effects of the new cold war through citizen exchanges with Russia to promote better relations, updating World Beyond War’s strategy manual, A Global Security System: An Alternative to War, providing activists and scholars key information on the myths, obstacles, and solutions that have already worked to end wars.

The conference came at a time when significant global events demonstrated that it is possible to end war. During the weekend of the meeting, Columbia negotiated to settle the longest running armed conflict in the Western hemisphere after 53 years of slaughter and destruction at a peace conference between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Unfortunately, a subsequent public referendum rejected the historic settlement by a margin of less than one percent although the ceasefire is still holding. And the phenomenon of so many previously hostile indigenous tribes of America coming together in North Dakota to help the Standing Rock Sioux defeat the pipeline that is threatening their water and earth—“burying the hatchet” so to speak and using peaceful nonviolent means to protect our planet can be seen as a metaphor for what all the nations of the world must now do as well—give up our tribal differences as members of nation states and “bury the hatchet” as global citizens.

It is increasingly dawning on people that the current post–Cold War series of wars and military devastation waged on the world by the US and its alliances only make conditions more violent and perilous at home. We are beginning to understand that these wars may be void of any conceivable purpose except to feed the war machine. A growing number of people are supporting third party candidates that pledge to drastically cut the military budget although their voices are generally ignored. Despite the difficulty most of us have in imagining an end to war in these distressing times, when our foreign policy is so militarized, and the media is beating the drums for war and shutting out the voices of the peacemakers, the World Beyond War gathering offered new possibilities for shifting our priorities and our mind set. Regardless of who is elected on November 16, this conference demonstrated that there are growing numbers of us who are engaged and understand what is at stake. Their work and ideas will be needed if we are to end the violence and destruction of war.

Air Force Wins Golden Fleece Award for Hiding Cost of the B-21 from Taxpayers

In Cost, Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Uncategorized, War on October 6, 2016 at 2:01 am

Washington, DC – How about a catchy nickname, something like the “Raider.’’ That’s what the Air Force is going to call its new long-range bomber—the B-21 Raider. But don’t ask how much Northrop Grumman will be paid to produce a boatload of these planes. Air Force officials won’t tell you. For clamping a tight lid on this raid on the U.S. Treasury, Taxpayers for Common Sense awards the Air Force the “coveted’’ Golden Fleece Award.
The award is given by TCS to government agencies or officials who have shown exceptional achievement in wasting taxpayer money.
The Air Force plans to buy about 100 B-21 Raiders but has adamantly refused to disclose to the American public how much in taxpayer funds will be shelled out. One independent estimate pegged the cost at $23.5 billion, but that’s in 2016 dollars. Taxpayer alert: Be prepared for inflation!

The Golden Fleece Award, created in 1975, was the brainchild of the late Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin). Proxmire used humor and outrage, embodied in the Golden Fleece, to spotlight waste and abuse of taxpayer funds. To commemorate its 25th anniversary, Proxmire asked TCS to become the steward of the Golden Fleece in 2000.
“’Black’ weapons systems are developed in secret, but the B-21 Raider is not a black program,’’ Ryan Alexander, the president of TCS, says. “Other than feeding its appetite for secrecy, the Air Force has no business keeping the cost of this project from taxpayers.’’
Alexander says that the Air Force has a dismal record of cost overruns on aircraft acquisitions. “You don’t have to look any further than the F-35, the F-22, and the B-2,’’ she says. “This is more about keeping embarrassing cost overruns out of the headlines and away from congressional oversight.” A review of Air Force aircraft acquisitions supports that assessment. In the last 30 years, the Air Force has underestimated the unit costs of the B-2 by 465%, the F-22 by 205%, and the F-35 by 68% (so far).

The Air Force is in the initial stages of purchasing the B-21 Raider. Air Force officials recently announced that Northrop Grumman, a Virginia-based defense contractor, was the winning bidder to develop the new bomber. Testifying in June at his Senate confirmation hearings to become Air Force Chief of Staff, General David L. Goldfein suggested that the Air Force should disclose the cost of the program.
Responding to questions from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Goldfein said: “. . .If we are not transparent with the American people on the costs of this weapon system, through its elected leadership, then we have a good chance of losing this program.’’

Goldfein’s testimony appears to conflict with the Air Force’s official position. Officials maintain that releasing cost data would provide information about enhanced capabilities of the aircraft. Despite publicly available images and cost estimates, the secrecy continues.