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Philip Giraldi

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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The "A" Word That Terrifies Washington

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Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has declared that there will be a thorough investigation of the recent US destruction of a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 22, including 12 of the medical staff, with more than thirty still missing in the rubble. The hospital, run by Geneva-based Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), had informed the US headed international military force of both its location and its activities in order to avoid becoming a target for either side in fighting around Kunduz but that apparently was not enough. The US military command in Afghanistan approved the bombing, which reportedly included multiple attacks from a C-130 gunship and lasted over half an hour, though there is some confusion over what constituted the “threat” that was being responded to, MSF claiming that there were no Taliban militants anywhere near their building either using it for shelter or as a firing point. Both MSF and some senior United Nations officials regard the attack as a war crime. President Barack Obama uncharacteristically apologized for a “mistake” though he took pains not to blame the US military.

Ashton might be a brilliant physicist but he has never been a soldier in spite of his long service in the Department of Defense. I don’t doubt his good intentions when it comes to declaring United States government willingness to let the chips fall where they may but he has no idea what he is up against. The uniformed military will stonewall, run circles around him and work hard to construct a narrative that ultimately blames no one but the Afghans for what happened. In the unlikely event that they fail in that, a soldier at the low end of the process will be punished with a slap on the wrist to demonstrate that military justice works while pari passu protecting the senior commanders. And the report will not even appear until long after Kunduz is forgotten. At that point Congress and the White House will have no stomach for going after our valiant warriors so the buck will ultimately stop with a toothless report that accomplishes nothing at all.

The Secretary of Defense, who reportedly had a dual major at Yale that included medieval history, might well consider the historical precedents for his initiating an investigation. He should appreciate above all that the “A” word that must never be spoken inside the United States government is “accountability,” which is by design as the government must never be made to look bad. Without demanding accountability even meticulous investigations into possible war crimes have no meaning and are literally not worth the paper they are written on.
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The Government We Deserve?

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The problem with the twenty-four hour news cycle is that everything being reported comes and goes too quickly to connect the dots. I noted a number of stories during the past several weeks that should have raised all kinds of red flags, particularly if considered together, but they frequently received such limited media coverage and were gone so quickly that there was hardly any reaction to them, which is precisely what the government relies on. People concerned about the state of permanent war overseas coupled with the decline of civil liberties within the United States should be looking at how the National Security State is evolving as it is happening right out in the open. But they should also be concerned about the collusion of the media with the government propaganda organs to shape a narrative designed to have a short shelf life, knowing that the story will quickly disappear and there will be little or no feedback.

There were a large number of stories relating to reported Russian support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. For those who have not been following it, Moscow has begun airlifting what it initially described as humanitarian supplies to a military airfield it prepared in Latakia, near its naval base at Tarsus. The materiel in question inevitably included some military equipment together with advisers, but the underlying assumption made by both Washington and the compliant media was that the Russian involvement in Syria constituted some kind of “threat.” That assessment was based on the presumption that the United States has a right to do whatever it wishes to overthrow Syria’s government while the Russians have no right whatsoever to attempt to support it.

Syria is not exactly on Russia’s doorstep but it is not that far away from Russia’s troubled Central Asian region while Damascus and Moscow have had treaty arrangements going back many years. After the initial “how dare they” shock, insider reports emanating from the White House suggested that there was a battle going on internally between those in the National Security Council who wanted to tighten the screws on the Russians to force them to back down and those who wanted to take advantage of Moscow’s initiative to seek a negotiated settlement that would permit Bashar al-Assad to gracefully retire to Dubai and create a unity government of sorts that could resist the real bad guys represented by ISIS and al-Qaeda.
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Foreign Policy by Intimidation: GOP Candidates Show How It's Done

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The media are anointing former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina as the winner of last Wednesday’s second Republican presidential-aspirant debate. They are saying that she was the best prepared and most convincing speaker, and, indeed, maybe she was. But what is being largely ignored is the actual content of the so-called debate, which was supposed to be focused on foreign policy. Presuming that all the potential candidates had been assiduously primed on the major issues by their advisers, what might have been informed opinion was instead pathetically ignorant and, more than that, dangerous.

Note for example what Fiorina had to say about her policy towards Russia: “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him. What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland. I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”
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Did Iranian Weapons Kill Americans?

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There is a new entrant in the already crowded field of Israeli Lobby funded groups opposed to an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. It is the “wounded warriors” and their families denouncing the perfidious Persians. The first salvo was fired on August 4th in a letter to Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post from the daughter of an Army Lieutenant Colonel killed in Iraq by “Iranian weapons,” who concluded that “we are already at war with Iran.”

After the letter ads began to appear in television markets where congressmen considered to be vulnerable to pressure from Israel’s friends were located. The ads were produced by a group called “Veterans Against an Iran Deal,” whose executive director is Michael Pregent, a former adviser to General David Petraeus who is also an “Expert” affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spin off. The group has a website which claims that “the Iranian regime murdered and maimed thousands of Americans” but there is no indication who exactly supports it and is providing funding or what kind of following it has.

The group’s first ad featured as a spokesman a retired army Staff Sergeant named Robert Bartlett. In the video, Bartlett, whose face bears the scars resulting from being on the receiving end of an improvised explosive device in Iraq, claims he was “blown up by an Iranian bomb.” In addition to blaming Iran for providing Iraqi insurgents with the weapons that were used to maim him and kill his colleagues he also tells how Iranians would “kidnap kids” and kill them in front of their parents. Per Bartlett, those who deal with Iran will have “blood on their hands” and will be responsible for funding Iranian terror.
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MH17: The Blaming Putin Game Goes On

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Once upon a time CIA Stations overseas received what was referred to as an “Operating Directive” which prioritized intelligence targets for the upcoming year based on their importance vis-à-vis national security. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, penetrating Moscow and preventing the KGB’s repaying the favor in kind loomed large as Russia and its allies represented the only genuine threat that could in fact destroy much of the United States. Today’s Russia retains much of that military capability but somehow the perception that you have to deal with what is important first has been lost on our policymakers, possibly due to a false impression inside the beltway that Moscow no longer matters.

A working relationship with Moscow that seeks to mitigate potential areas of conflict is not just important, it is essential. Russian willingness to cooperate with the west in key areas to include the Middle East is highly desirable in and of itself but the bottom line continues to be Moscow’s capability to go nuclear against Washington if it is backed into a corner. Unfortunately, US administrations since Bill Clinton have done their best to do just that, placing Russia on the defensive by encroaching on its legitimate sphere of influence through the expansion of NATO. Washington’s meddling has also led to interfering in Russia’s domestic politics as part of a misguided policy of “democracy building” as well as second guessing its judiciary and imposing sanctions through the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. The damage to relations has been aggravated by the ill-advised commentary from American politicians on the make, including Senator John McCain’s dismissal of Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.”
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Government Warmongering Criminals: Where Are They Now?

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The United States already has by far the per capita largest prison population of any developed country but I am probably one of the few Americans who on this Independence Day would like to see a lot more people in prison, mostly drawn from politicians and senior bureaucrats who have long believed that their status makes them untouchable, giving them license to steal and even to kill. The sad fact is that while whistleblowers have been imprisoned for revealing government criminality, no one in the federal bureaucracy has ever actually been punished for the crimes of torture, kidnapping and assassination committed during the George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama presidencies.

Why is accountability important? After the Second World War, the victorious allies believed it was important to establish responsibility for the crimes that had been committed by officials of the Axis powers. The judges at the Nuremberg Trials called the initiation of a war of aggression the ultimate war crime because it inevitably unleashed so many other evils. Ten leading Nazis were executed at Nuremberg and ninety-three Japanese officials at similar trials staged in Asia, including several guilty of waterboarding. Those who were not executed for being complicit in the actual launching of war were tried for torture of both military personnel and civilians and crimes against humanity, including the mass killing of civilians as well as of soldiers who had surrendered or been captured.
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