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Philip Giraldi

The Magnitsky Hoax?

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Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer hired by an Anglo-American investment fund operating in Moscow to investigate the apparent diversion of as much as $230 million in taxes due to the government. He became a whistleblower after discovering that the money had been stolen by the police, organized crime figures and other government officials. After he went to the authorities to complain he was unjustly imprisoned for eleven months. When he refused to recant he was both beaten and denied medical treatment to coerce him into cooperating, resulting in his death in jail at age 37 in November 2009. He has become something of a hero for those who have decried official corruption in Russia.

The Magnitsky case is of particular importance because both the European Union and the United States have initiated sanctions against the Russian officials who were allegedly involved. In the Magnitsky Act, sponsored by Russia-phobic Senator Ben Cardin and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, the US asserted its willingness to punish foreign governments for violations of human rights. Russia reacted angrily, noting that the actions taken by its government internally, notably the operation of its judiciary, were being subjected to outside interference. It reciprocated with sanctions against US officials as well as by increasing pressure on foreign non-governmental pro-democracy groups operating in Russia.

Tension between Moscow and Washington increased considerably as a result and Congress will likely soon approve a so-called Global Magnitsky Act as part of the current defense appropriation bill. It expands the use of sanctions and other punitive measures against regimes guilty of egregious human rights abuses though it is unlikely to be applied to US friends like Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is also sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin and is clearly intended to intimidate Russia.
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Fifty-One Foreign Service Officers Can't be Wrong…Or Can They? More bombs and Less Talk on Syria


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It is ironic that fifty-one US State Department employees, perhaps overly-generously dignified in the media with the title of “diplomats,” have come out in favor of removing a foreign head of state by force. Detailing their opposition to the status quo, the signatories submitted a dissent memo through established Foreign Service channels. The document itself is classified, even though the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal clearly have obtained copies, presumably leaked to them by some of the dissident officers.

The signatories have reportedly demanded “targeted air strikes” and the “judicious use of stand-off and air weapons which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed US-led diplomatic process” to bring down the al-Assad government. They justify their dissent by arguing that “The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable. The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges.”

The memo describes the Syrian government’s alleged barrel bomb attacks on civilians “the root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region. Crucially, Syria’s Sunni population continues to view the Assad regime as the primary enemy in the conflict. Failure to stem Assad’s flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as (IS), even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield.”
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How the World Ends - Baiting Russia is Not Good Policy

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Last week I attended a foreign policy conference in Washington that featured a number of prominent academics and former government officials who have been highly critical of the way the Bush and Obama Administrations have interacted with the rest of the world. Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago was on a panel and was asked what, in his opinion, has been the most notable foreign policy success and the most significant failure in the past twenty-five years. The success was hard to identify and there was some suggestion that it might be the balancing of relationships in strategically vital Northeast Asia, which “we have not yet screwed up.” If I had been on the panel I would have suggested the Iran nuclear agreement as a plus.

As for the leading foreign policy failure there was an easy answer, “Iraq” which was on everyone in the room’s lips, but Mearsheimer urged one not to be so hasty. In reality the Iraq disaster has killed hundreds of thousands, has cost trillions of dollars and has unleashed serious problems for the Mideast region in general while allowing the rise of ISIS, but in “realistic foreign policy terms” it has not been a catastrophic event for the United States, which had hardly been seriously injured by it apart from financially and in terms of reputation.

Mearsheimer went on to say that, in his opinion, there is a far greater disaster lurking and that is the total mismanagement of the relationship with Russia ever since the downfall of communism. He cited the drive by Washington democracy promoters to push Ukraine into the western economic and political sphere as a major miscalculation as they failed to realize or did not care that what takes place in Kiev was to Moscow a vital interest.
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Washington’s War Against the World

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Secretary of War Ash Carter is concerned about America’s posture. No, it’s not about sitting with your back straight up and your knees placed primly together. It all has to do with how many enemies there are out there threatening the United States and what we have to do, globally speaking, to make them cry uncle. Ash outlined his views at a “posture hearing” before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 17th, part of a process intended to give still more money to the Pentagon, $582.7 billion to be exact for fiscal year 2017.

I respect Ash at least a bit because he once studied Medieval History at Yale, though he apparently has forgotten about the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses. Both devastated winners and losers alike, a salutary lesson for those who are concerned about what the United States has been up to for the past fifteen years. Yet Ash, who is characteristically no veteran and for whom war is an abstraction that must be supported by counting and piling up sufficient beans, thinks that more is always better when it comes to having fancy new toys to play with. Since his proposed budget will be giving the Navy a few tens of billions worth of Ohio class subs the Air Force will have to get its own strategic bombers so no one will feel cheated. Just wait until the bill from the Army comes in.

Ash justified all the needless spending by telling the Senators that there are five “security challenges” confronting the United States – terrorism, North Korea, China, Russia and Iran – before lapsing into Pentagon-speak about why more money is always better than less money. He attacked any attempt at sequestration, which would require budget cuts across the board, because it risks the “funding of critical investments.”
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Killing by Sanctions

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While Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who is currently advising presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, famously said that the estimated 500,000 children who died as a result of US sanctions on Iraq was “worth it.” It was, perhaps, a rare moment of candor from a politician, an admission that Washington is willing to support ostensibly non-lethal measures in such an all-encompassing fashion as to produce mass deaths of people who have no ability to influence the actions undertaken by their government. Sanctions are collective punishment, a blunt edged weapon used all too frequently by Washington to compel foreign governments to submit without having to go to war. There is nothing benign about them and Americans should regard them as potentially just as deadly as direct military intervention.

There are currently a number of countries that are subject to US enforced sanctions but only three fall under the category of “state sponsors of terrorism.” They are Iran, Syria and Sudan. That status entails a number of US Government sanctions including a ban on arms-related exports and sales; controls over exports of dual-use items; prohibitions on economic assistance; and imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions. The financial measures require the United States to oppose loans by the World Bank or other international financial institutions and prohibit any US person from engaging in a financial transaction with a terrorism-list government without a Treasury Department license issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The license and other approvals are reported to be complicated and the process is extremely difficult to navigate, discouraging anyone from having business dealings with the targeted countries.

Other sanctions are not always directly related to terrorism. They sometimes target select individuals and organizations that are considered by the US government to be focal points of some aberrant behavior. A number of Russian officials have been sanctioned over Ukraine and even over the functioning of the country’s judiciary while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been sanctioned both for its involvement with radical groups and its support of Tehran’s missile program.
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Cold War Redux: Dishing it to the Russkies

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One of the most astonishing news stories I have read of late appeared in Business Insider at the beginning of February entitled “‘The Russians are going to have a cow’: the US’s message to Putin ‘is a really big deal.’” The article described how the Barack Obama Administration has decided to build up “its military presence in Eastern Europe in an effort to deter Russian aggression in the region.” The “cow” and “big deal” verbal effusions were attributed to Evelyn Farkas, who, until recently was the Pentagon’s “top policy official on Russia and Ukraine.” Farkas, for what it’s worth, is of Hungarian descent and has made a career out of being suspicious of Russia. She has the usual credentials in academia so admired by the Obamaites and has served in host of government bubbles but never been in the military. As is all too often the case she and her peers will not be wearing the boots on the ground if the United States goes to war over giving Moscow a “cow.”

According to the article, the US will quadruple its military spending in Europe up to $3.4 billion for fiscal year 2017. The extra money will provide heavy weapons and armored vehicles, including tanks, to America’s Eastern European associates in NATO and also to non-allies including Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Unlike previous assistance to Ukraine, the new weapons are both lethal and capable of being used offensively. The United States has also committed itself to bolstering its own presence in former Warsaw Pact states to include Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic Republics through an increase in bi- and multi- lateral training exercises in those countries. American soldiers will be eye-to-eye with those of Russia in a confrontation not seen since the Cold War ended.

The article cites Tony Badran of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), who claims that “Russia is of course trying to leverage the entire intervention [in Syria] as a way to lap up as much real estate in the Middle East as possible.” The FDD is, of course, a neocon outfit, which is not noted in the article, and the implausible suggestion that Moscow wants to obtain “real estate” in the Middle East which would be an enormous burden and liability is given a pass without even the slightest editorial objection or contrary comment.
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Delusions on Syria Prevail in Official Washington

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Tulsi Gabbard is one brave Congresswoman. She has challenged her party and the president saying that it’s time for Washington to halt its “illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad. I don’t think Assad should be removed. If Assad is removed and overthrown, ISIS, al Qaeda, Al Nustra, these Islamic extremist groups will walk straight in and take over all of Syria … they will be even stronger.”

Indeed, Washington’s senseless policy in Syria has been hanging out there like overripe fruit for quite some time with the mainstream media instead marching at lockstep to the tune being whistled by a large disengaged and unaccountable White House. Gabbard might go one step further to ask why Syria is the way it is in the first place since that would question Administration priorities under Democrats as well as Republicans, both of which have emphasized eliminating al-Assad for no conceivable reason that has anything to do with actual American interests.

Much has been made of Washington groupthink, which is the concept that when a meeting of senior staffers is held everyone will veer towards a point of view that is being espoused by whoever called the meeting, be they the president or one of the cabinet secretaries. It is also reflected in the output of foundations and think tanks, which rely on government access as well as funding from beneficiaries of the war economy. Current groupthink, rejected by Gabbard, is that removing al-Assad is somehow an essential precondition for any settlement of Syria’s torment.
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Missing from the 'State of the Union'

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I had expected that there would be little in last week’s State of the Union address about foreign policy as it is not an Administration strength, but, to my surprise, President Barack Obama gave it about eight minutes, a little over 1000 words. Governor Nikki Haley was, however, more detached from the issue in her rebuttal speech, stating only that “… we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.”

Obama made a number of points which illustrate his own inclinations regarding how to deal with the rest of the world. He emphasized that America, the “most powerful nation on earth,” must be the global leader, “…when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead. They call us.”

Regarding the major conflict zones, he observed that “In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia. Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria, client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.”

Obama added that “Both Al Qaida and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people… Our foreign policy has to be focused on the threat from ISIL and Al Qaida. We have to take them out. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries…If this Congress is serious about winning this war and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.”
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Turkey's Dangerous Game

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Turkey borders several Middle Eastern countries that are either unstable or potentially hostile to it, sometimes both simultaneously. With a modern military of more than 600,000 underwritten by NATO membership it is regional superpower whose ability to dominate the politics of its neighbors is sometimes exercised. Turkey has a large and educated population, a vibrant diversified economy and is at the crossroads of east and west, Asia and Europe. Together with Egypt, it is truly the indispensable nation if anyone wants to seriously consider influencing developments in the Near East.


It is perhaps Turkey’s indispensability that is part of the problem, as it has given its current government a hubristic sense of entitlement that has developed into a conceit that it can be the arbiter for all its neighbors while also transforming itself into an autocracy at home. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is attempting to turn the country’s traditionally fractious party politics into one party rule with himself at the helm. In so doing he has created what some call an “illiberal democracy” where dissent is systematically repressed and elections are rigged to favor his incumbency.

Erdogan has largely destroyed his country’s independent media by imprisoning and intimidating journalists, has not hesitated to characterize protesters as “terrorists” before having them beaten and shot, has packed the military and intelligence services with his own supporters, and has hobbled the judiciary and police. In Turkey it is now a crime to “insult” a public official. The law is strictly enforced regarding Erdogan. A man was fired from his job and is facing two years in prison for comparing the president to Gollum, the character in Lord of the Rings.
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Someone Wants War with Russia

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Something very odd is going on in Washington. I recently attended and spoke at a conference in Washington on “realism and restraint” as a broad formula to reform US foreign policy. Most presentations reflected that agenda more-or-less but oddly one of the speakers said that it was necessary for the United States to mark its place in the world while “carrying a big stick” while another panelist asserted that it was a core mission of the American people to “help other countries striving to be free.” Both were referring to how the US should comport itself vis-à-vis Russia and one had to suspect that they had wandered into the auditorium by mistake, intending instead to visit the nearby American Enterprise Institute.

That such views should be forthcoming at a conference featuring “restraint” might not in fact be regarded as particularly surprising if one bothers to listen to either the Republican or Democratic so-called debates. Nationalism and American “exceptionalism” are easy products to sell at any time, but recently there has been a strain of bellicosity that is quite astonishing to behold, particularly as only one candidate has ever served in the military, and he was a lawyer. One might call it “Chickenhawks on Parade.”

It is useful to consider in their own words what the GOP candidates said last Tuesday night. Carly Fiorina led the baying pack with “One of the reasons I’ve said I wouldn’t be talking to Vladimir Putin right now is because we are speaking to him from a position of weakness brought on by this administration, so, I wouldn’t talk to him for a while, but, I would do this. I would start rebuilding the Sixth Fleet right under his nose, rebuilding the military — the missile defense program in Poland right under his nose. I would conduct very aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States so that he understood we would protect our NATO allies…and I might also put in a few more thousand troops into Germany, not to start a war, but to make sure that Putin understand that the United States of America will stand with our allies… We must have a no fly zone in Syria because Russia cannot tell the United States of America where and when to fly our planes. We also have a set of allies in the Arab Middle East that know that ISIS is their fight…but they must see leadership support a
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