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Philip Giraldi

Hawks Resurgent in Washington

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One of the most discouraging aspects of the musical chairs being played among the members of the White House inner circle is that every change reflects an inexorable move to the right in foreign policy, which means that the interventionists are back without anyone at the White House level remaining to say “no.” President Donald Trump, for all his international experience as a businessman, is a novice at the step-by-step process required in diplomacy and in the development of a coherent foreign policy, so he is inevitably being directed by individuals who have long American global leadership by force if necessary.
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Christopher Steele As Seen By the New Yorker

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The latest salvo in the Russiagate saga is a 15,000 word New Yorker article entitled “Christopher Steele the man behind the Trump dossier: how the ex-spy tried to warn the world about Trump’s ties to Russia” by veteran journalist Jane Mayer. The premise of the piece is clear from the tediously long title, namely that the Steele dossier, which implicated Donald Trump and his associates in a number of high crimes and misdemeanors, is basically accurate in exposing an existential threat posed to our nation by Russia. How does it come to that conclusion? By citing sources that it does not identify whose credibility is alleged to be unimpeachable as well as by including testimony from Steele friends and supporters.

In other words, the Mayer piece is an elaboration of the same “trust me” narrative that has driven the hounding of Russia and Trump from day one. Inevitably, the Trump haters both from the left and the right have jumped on the Mayer piece as confirmation of their own presumptions regarding what has allegedly occurred, when, in reality, Trump might just be more right than wrong when he claims that he has been the victim of a conspiracy by the Establishment to discredit and remove him.

Mayer is a progressive and a long-time critic of Donald Trump. She has written a book denouncing “the Koch brothers’ deep influence on American politics” and co-authored another book with Jill Abramson, formerly Executive Editor of the New York Times. Abramson reportedly carries a small plastic replica of Barack Obama in her purse which she can take out “to take comfort” whenever she is confronted by Donald Trump’s America. Mayer’s New Yorker bio-blurb describes her as a journalist who covers national security, together with politics and culture.
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America’s Illegal Sojourn in Syria

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It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Donald Trump administration has recently affirmed that it has a perfect legal right to remain in Syria as long as it wishes because it is fighting terrorism. The argument goes something like this: Congress has approved a bill that permits the US military to seek out and destroy al-Qaeda and associated groups wherever they may be. It is part of what is referred to as the Authorization to Use Military Force or AUMF. According to the White House, an associated group, the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), remains currently active in Syria and the United States military presence is therefore legal until the group is completely eliminated, requiring no additional legislation or authority to remain in the country.

The Trump legal finding was spelled out in two letters released by the undersecretaries for policy at the State and Defense departments. They were in response to requests made by Senator Time Kaine of Virginia who has for several years been asking the White House under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump to clarify what legal authority has permitted it to base 2,000 American soldiers in Syria without any declaration of war, any United Nations authorization or any invitation by the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Kaine has cited the restrictions imposed by the War Powers Act of 1973, which permits a president to use military force in an emergency situation but after 60 days it is necessary to go to Congress for approval.

The State Department letter heightened the ambiguity of the US position with its explanation that “The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or Iran or Iranian-supported groups in Iraq or Syria. However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces…”
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Blundering Into Iran

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The deluge of recent reporting regarding possible conflict with nuclear armed North Korea has somewhat obscured consideration of the much higher probability that Israel or even Saudi Arabia will take steps that will lead to a war with Iran that will inevitably draw the United States in. Israel is particularly inclined to move aggressively, with potentially serious consequences for the US, in the wake of the recent incident involving an alleged Iranian drone and the shooting down of an Israeli aircraft. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been repeatedly warning about the alleged threat along his northern border and has pledged that Israel will not be in any way restrained if there are any hostile moves directed against it. The Israeli Transportation Minister Ysrael Katz has warned that Lebanon will be blasted back into the “stone age.”

There is also considerable anti-Iran rhetoric currently coming from sources in the United States, which might well be designed to prepare the American people for a transition from a cold war type situation to a new hot war involving US forces. The growing hostility towards Iran is coming out of both the Donald Trump Administration and from the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is warning that the “time to act is now” to thwart Iran’s allegedly aggressive regional ambitions while US United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley sees a “wake-up” call in the recent shooting incident involving Syria and Israel. The hostility emanating from Washington is increasing in spite of the fact that the developments in the region have little or no impact on vital US national interests, nor is Iran anything like an existential threat to the United States that would mandate sustained military action.

Iran’s alleged desire to stitch together a sphere of influence consisting of an arc of allied nations and proxy forces running from its western borders to the Mediterranean Sea has been frequently cited as justification for a more assertive policy against Tehran, but that concern is certainly greatly exaggerated. Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, is, to be sure, a major regional power but militarily, economically and politically it is highly vulnerable. Its economy is struggling and there is a small but growing protest movement regarding the choices being made for government spending.
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Russiagate Suddenly Becomes Bigger

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It’s hard to know where to begin. Last Friday’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was detailed in a 37 page document that provided a great deal of specific evidence claiming that a company based in St. Petersburg, starting in 2014, was using social media to assess American attitudes. Using that assessment, the company inter alia allegedly later ran a clandestine operation seeking to influence opinion in the United States regarding the candidates in the 2016 election in which it favored Donald Trump and denigrated Hillary Clinton. The Russians identified by name are all back in Russia and cannot be extradited to the US, so the indictment is, to a certain extent, political theater as the accused’s defense will never be heard.

In presenting the document, Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, stressed that there was no evidence to suggest that the alleged Russian activity actually changed the result of the 2016 presidential election or that any actual votes were altered or tampered with. Nor was there any direct link to either the Russian government or its officials or to the Donald Trump campaign developed as a result of the nine-month long investigation. There was also lacking any mention in the indictment of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton and Podesta e-mails, so it is to be presumed that the activity described in the document was unrelated to the WikiLeaks disclosures.

Those of the “okay, there’s smoke but where’s the fire” school of thought immediately noted the significant elephant in the room, namely that the document did not include any suggestion that there had been collusion between Team Trump and Moscow. As that narrative has become the very raison d’etre driving the Mueller investigation, its omission is noteworthy. Meanwhile, those who see more substance in what was revealed by the evidence provided in the indictment and who, for political reasons, would like to see Trump damaged, will surely be encouraged by their belief that the noose is tightening around the president.
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