Sanders Fingers Kuwait and Qatar, but Not Saudi Arabia as Fostering ISIS

Bernie Sanders in his "Socialist speech" yesterday articulated -- I believe for the first time -- some meaningful criticism of Gulf sheikdoms, but not Saudi Arabia:

"Equally important, and this is a point that must be made – countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE – countries of enormous wealth and resources – have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS. That must change. King Abdallah [of Jordan] is absolutely right when he says that that the Muslim nations must lead the fight against ISIS, and that includes some of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the region, who, up to this point have done far too little.

"Saudi Arabia has the 3rd largest defense budget in the world, yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Kuwait, a country whose ruling family was restored to power by U.S. troops after the first Gulf War, has been a well-known source of financing for ISIS and other violent extremists. It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event – $200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS." [emphasis added]

The Left and Right Must Stop the Establishment's Perpetual War Machine

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, some of us tried to raise questions of U.S. foreign policy. I got my mic cut on O'Reilly's show. Others got far worse -- a friend basically felt he had to move out of his neighborhood he was so reviled for criticizing the U.S.'s militarism. Oh, yeah, and hundreds of thousands of people got killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. 

The root causes of the 9/11 attacks were hardly discussed -- unless it was people deriding Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for blaming gay folks. 

Now, there's no meaningful peace movement. Party as a result of that, we're not having a serious discussion we should be about foreign policy after the Paris attacks: How U.S. -- and Western -- foreign policy manifests hatred and all that brings. 

One might have thought that would be possible -- the target of this attack was not the U.S., though it could be the next target. But that should give us some breathing room as well as a measure of urgency to think things through.

The major policy debate now is about Syrian refugees. 

This is part of a political pattern: The two party establishment agrees on a series of issues and those issues are largely ignored. (Perpetual war.)

Then, there's something they disagree on and that's vociferously debated. (Refugees.)

Problem is, sometimes what they agree on (perpetual war) is what causes the other issue (refugees). 

Right now, both the Democratic and Republican establishments both agree on a course of perpetual war. There's virtually no remorse about having pushed for regime change in Syria and Libya and that leading to enormous human suffering that we're mostly blind to. 

When the Obama administration made an overt push for war in Syria in 2013, the left and right united and stopped it. 

But ISIS threats gave the Obama administration the pretext it so seemed to desire to have a sustained bombing campaign, with thousands of strikes in Syria and Iraq the last year and a half -- which is largely ignored such that now "critics" of U.S. policy suggest that the U.S. bomb Syria, as if it hasn't been -- and that could be the actual problem. 

Now, Democratic Party politicos are talking about the humanity of Syrian refugees and ideals of the U.S. as a sanctuary. And Republican politicos are talking about alleged security concerns from letting refugees in. While I think we should let far more than a mere 10,000 refugees, which is what the Obama administration is talking about, I don't think that's the issue we really need to be talking about now. 

The real issue is that the Democratic Party has participated in perpetual war policies that are leading to Syrians becoming refugees. The real issue is that the Republican Party has participated in perpetual war policies that are leading to greater insecurity for people in the U.S. 

The issue of the refugees, while obvious real to real people is being seized on because it's a wedge issue to keep the Democratic base and the Republican base shouting at each other rather than to examine the underlying issue: Perpetual war and the current set of U.S. colonial allies in the Mideast. 

It's the nightmare of the establishment that the left and right wake up to the fact that they are manipulated by the Democratic Party and Republican Party establishments. 

A major issue is that the public is prone to scapegoating the vulnerable, like Syrian refugees, when no other cause of the problem is highlighted. There are obvious causes for the problems coming from the Mideast. But there's a silence of conspiracy about them. At the top of the list is is the U.S. government's backing of the authoritarian Saudi regime that has fostered Wahabism, a twisted from of Islam used by al-Qaeda and ISIS. 

But even the most progressive Democrats are silent on this. Just this week, Barbara Lee -- possibly the most left wing member of Congress -- was asked on "Democracy Now" about U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia. She didn't contemn it

Bernie Sanders talks about refugees; he can bring a lump to every throat in the hall while talking about economic inequality in the U.S. But his solution for ISIS is to get the Saudis to "get their hands dirty." Sorry, Bernie, but the Saudis hands are dirty enough as it is. They fostered jihadis like ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria and are now bombing Yemen, ripping human beings apart. 

So, at the CBS debate the day after the Paris attacks, Sanders didn't even want to talk about foreign policy. It was tragic really. He could have laid into U.S. foreign policy, he could have said that by arming the Saudis we've fostered problems, it would have jolted the campaign and the public could have been engaged in foreign policy in a meaningful way. 

But he didn't. 

The most he could do is criticize the invasion of Iraq, which is valid -- no one who voted for the Iraq war is qualified for any title other than inmate -- but 13 years later, totally inadequate. Whatever you have to say about economy (and even here I think Sanders could be better) will ultimately be trumped by the fact that you can't articulate a path out of perpetual war. If you don't show you've got a path out of perpetual war, the people will pick someone who they figure knows how to do perpetual war. 

But someone is going to have to break with the backing of autocratic regimes and perpetual war, because I've got news for you: Perpetual war is going to cost you a lot. The Vietnam War helped undermine the war on poverty -- Martin Luther King called it a "demonic suction tube." Perpetual war is going to make you lose your soul. Perpetual war will make you an accomplice to murder many times over. Perpetual war will mean generations more of Muslim youth driven to madness against the U.S. Perpetual war is going to potentially lead to nuclear war. Perpetual war will mean an even more militarized police force. Perpetual war will likely mean more of a repressive state. Perpetual war will mean you can't march against climate change -- or anything else. Perpetual war will mean that refugees and other folks get treated like trash. Perpetual war means your kid can't get a job in much of anything other than the military. Perpetual war means soldiers with PTSD coming home and beating the crap out of their wives and traumatizing their children. Perpetual war will mean at every public venue you've got to go through security so that you can scratch yourself without court approval. 

There's a hunger out there for another course. 

Fact is, the Republican candidates leading in the polls are those -- at least in public persona, whatever their faults may be -- that are furthest away from the foreign policy establishment. 

There was a group called Come Home America that aimed to bring the left and right together against Empire. 

Part of the reason that didn't take off is that elections are movement killers. People constantly being pushed -- especially in election years -- to focus on symptoms of policies gone wrong, like the Syrian refugees, without looking at the elephant in the room: Perpetual War, brought to you by the Democratic and Republican Parties and which ruined the refugees' lives -- and will ruin many more unless the left and right join to stop it. 


Sam Husseini founded the website votepact.org encouraging Democrats and Republicans to team up in pairs and and vote for the anti-establishment candidate(s) they most want. 

Barbara Lee Interestingly Declines to Address U.S. Arms to Saudi Arabia

I generally feel that the questioning by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now could be a lot stronger, but today, she did ask a good question of Rep. Barbara Lee: "The U.S. has just sealed, the Obama administration, yet another arms deal with Saudi Arabia, in the last year signed the biggest arms deals in the history of the world with Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia behind a lot of the militant activism from al-Qaeda to ISIS. Do you condemn these sales?"

This is Lee's full response: "Well, first, we need to reduce the sale of arms throughout the world. Also, I think when you look at the—for example, trying to rid Iran of the ability to develop nuclear weapons, we engaged in a strong, robust diplomatic effort. Many years ago, I introduced the first resolution calling for the end of no contact policy, for a special envoy and for us to begin to negotiate with Iran the elimination of their program of developing nuclear weapons. So far, those negotiations and that Iranian deal has worked. And so I think that we need to move in that direction in terms of diplomacy, in terms of trying to seek global peace and security without selling arms to all countries, because what you will have is an arms buildup throughout the world, and then weapons will be pointed at—each country will have weapons—of course, a nuclear weapon is the ultimate weapon—pointed in all directions. And so, we need to determine ways, as the president has done with regard to Iran, ways in which to engage to reduce the threats and to reduce the sale and the use of force and armaments and military weapons, because these can only make the world more dangerous."

Notice Lee does not condemn the weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, she doesn't utter the word "Saudi". Instead, she talks about alleged Iranian nuclear weapons designs -- a total staple of officialdom -- and speaks generally against arms sales. 

Nor do the hosts highlight this. Juan Gonzalez, who I think often asks more probing questions that Goodman, immediately proceeded to ask a somewhat fawning question: "And I’m wondering what advice you might have to parliamentarians in France now, as France is going through the same kind of crisis that this country went through after the attacks of 2001. The president is now seeking authorization from the French Parliament for extraordinary measures in his country. What advice might you give to the parliamentarians of France?" 

We're not going to get very far if we're looking to politicos for leadership who can't condemn policies like the U.S. government has to the Saudis. And we're not going to get very far if presumably tough, independent programs like "Democracy Now" can't keep officials accountable about that. 

More CrossTalk™

Hafsa Kara-Mustapha in CounterPunch today criticizes me at length in "Cross Talk, Semantics and the Downright Spineless" about our appearance on a panel on RT's program CrossTalk™ and my piece "Stated Goals vs Actual Goals: CrossTalk Lives Up to Its Name."

I won't rebut point for point what she writes, because I think it will continue to fuel the CrossTalk™ that began on the program -- she continues to alternate between talking about people "capable of questioning U.S. policy motives" on the one hand and then on the other referring to U.S. government policy as "blunders" and having "obvious flaws" -- tepid crits from my point of view. 

But, I should point out she claims: "It was only at the very end that Husseini gathered some courage to finally state that the U.S.’ policy was specifically designed to fuel conflict and encourage failed states."

I think that's a simplification of what I was saying, but the fact is that in the first segment of the program, at 6:30, I stated about U.S. government policy: "If you can't have subservient state -- and I think that's a difficult thing to do in countries like Libya, like Syria, like even Iraq under the circumstances -- then a failed state is a relatively positive outcome. That you have the Saudi ally/client, whatever you want to call it, being ever more dominant in the Middle East. You have Israel having evermore carte blanche in the Middle East. You have the alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah being hit at its weakest point." [video

I can understand her not having quite heard this given the CrossTalk™ on the program, I found it difficult to communicate under the circumstances as well, but she really should be able to have figured it out by watching the program after the fact. She'd then be free to respond to the substance. 

I should note that my piece after the program didn't just complain about the program, I posited a theory about why some associated with RT would not -- as one might expect -- be prone to criting the Machiavellian nature of U.S. policy: It would mean the U.S. government isn't really getting schooled by Putin. 

I've gotten a number of emails from folks about the substance of my remarks and hope to write a longer piece on that. 

Broadcasting Unaccountability

Radio headers, sometimes called "billboards" are critical -- they frame the issues, typically at the top of the hour, before a full blown segment.

But they are often not even transcribed, thus programs, including those from NPR and Democracy Now, become less accountable. This means in some respects, there's no record of the most powerful thing these outlets broadcast. 

Two examples:

Wednesday morning (Oct. 28) -- before officer Ben Fields was fired -- NPR Morning Edition said at top of the hour about the video: "It seems to show a white officer slamming a black student to the floor." "Seems." A segment was aired later in the hour without the word "seems" -- and is available and transcribed online, but I'm unable to find the header online in any form, even on Nexis. 

Similarly, with Democracy Now, on Monday's program (Oct. 26), at the top of the show, before a strong program featuring Charles Glass, host Amy Goodman talked about "international leaders meet in Vienna to find a solution to the conflict" in Syria. As if that's what the government representatives are clearly doing regarding Syria: trying to "find a solution to the conflict" -- when there's substantial evidence they've avoided that and have instead been pursuing their various geostrategic and political agendas. The segment with Glass is transcribed, the header isn't, though it is in video form, since Democracy Now does post entire programs, unlike NPR's Morning Edition. 

You'd think in this age, it would be a minimum requirement: if you're going to broadcast something on hundreds of stations, it should be stored and transcribed online. 

Stated Goals vs Actual Goals: "CrossTalk" Lives Up to Its Name

Last week, I was on RT's show "CrossTalk" about Syria and ended up spending most of the show trying to make a point I didn't think I'd have to on that media outlet. 

Here's the video: 


RT of course used to be know as Russia Today and is often regarded as extremely critical of U.S. government policy. But, I found out, not really that critical. 

As the show got going, the thrust of the conversation was that U.S. policy in the Mideast was "irrational". So, I made the point that one shouldn't exclude the possibility that U.S. government policy wasn't actually irrational, but rather that its stated goals -- democracy, stability, fighting terrorism -- were actually different from its actual goals. It might therefore appear to be irrational because its actions wouldn't "make sense" if you took it at its word, but they would have a Machiavellian logic to them. 

I thought it a fairly obvious point, but the other folks kept going back to either standard pro-Putin talking points or to their "irrational" depiction of U.S. policy, so I'd make that point again. The host, Peter Lavelle, at one point seemed -- there was a lot of CrossTalk, so can't be sure -- to say I didn't have a basic understand of foreign policy, which was actually the charge I was leveling at him. "Governments lie" as I.F. Stone was fond of reminding students

At first I thought that they were just being foolish by not seeing the point I was making -- they're supposed to be critics of U.S. government policy. Then I wondered if the notion of parsing through a government's stated goals vs its actual goals might be threatening to folks who take their queues from the establishment of any country. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. establishment is rather nimble at questioning the motives of official enemies, so contrast how Putin is written about in the U.S.: "Putin’s goals in Syria clear to all but Obama," "Moscow’s many stated reasons for fighting in Ukraine are either false or incoherent. Its actual goals, unfortunately, preclude a tidy and quick resolution ever taking hold," "Russia's real Syria goal explained by top experts". In this environment, when Putin's goals are regularly scrutinized -- sometimes in contorted manner -- and U.S. establishment goals are barely scrutinized at all, many end up drawing conclusions like "Putin outwits the United States, again" -- a questionable conclusion that perhaps some at RT have a stake in promulgating as well. 

The deeper issue is that we have these media outlets of various nationalities -- RT for Russia, France 24 for France, CNN for the U.S. establishment, Fox for the U.S. establishment rightwing, MSNBC for U.S. establishment corporate liberals, Al-Jazeera for Qatar, Al-Arabia for Saudi Arabia, CCTV for China, etc. 

They all foster shallowness and a ultimately prize hacks over real journalists. 

We desperately need a global, real network dedicated to real facts and meaningful dialogue between various viewpoints. 

Addendum: "More CrossTalk™"


The Need for Real Strategic Voting

In the aftermath of the Canadian election, The Real News brought on Dimitri Lascaris as part of their panel to discuss the election.

I know Dimitri as a expert on Greece, but he's a partner at a Canadian corporate law firm and ran for a seat in the Canadian election with the Green Party.

He summarized the quandary of running as a third party quite well:

Well you know, I did knock on a lot the doors. I had a lot of interactions with voters through a variety of methods, including canvasing, but also online debates, other campaign events, and I was pummeled in the sentiment that we had to do whatever it takes to get rid of the Harper government. I would say that you know, some 60-65 percent of the people I spoke to were intensely hostile to the Harper government and that was their singular objective, and the strategic voting argument had a great deal of appeal to them. You know, if I had a dollar for every time I heard "I want to vote Green, but I want to beat Harper more" I would be richer than Bill Gates. I mean, it was something that was a constant refrain in the campaign, and you know, I think it's reflected in the results. The Liberal candidate won handily in her riding, the incumbent Ministry of Science Ed Holder after two terms has been soundly defeated.

The NDP candidate was a distant third, and I did not manage to improve substantially on our party's last result in the 2011 elections with 2.7 percent. I'm currently standing at about 3 percent with about 82 percent of the votes counted. so it was really the only way to describe it was a toxic environment for which a small party to operate in, this environment in which you have a "first-past-the-post" system and intense hostility to the conservative incumbent government, and everybody looking to the most viable option to defeat that government.

Indeed, people can agree with a third party 100 percent, but unless they break out of the constraints of voting for the lesser evil that seems most likely to win, they will not even seriously consider casting a vote for them. 

Unfortunately, most third parties simply come up with platitudes like "voting for the lesser evil is still evil" or such. 

What's needed is a real concept of strategic voting beyond simply voting for the establishment party you least distaste. 
 
Unfortunately, most discussions by progressives, mirrored by discussions among conservatives, debate simply working within or outside either of the establishment parties without a real strategy. 

Both these positions are wrong. The people saying you have to work with the Democratic party are entering a situation where they have no leverage -- they will end up backing whoever the nominee is and have little leverage over that person. 

And the people saying you have to only back third parties have no meaningful strategy for winning and are going to end up being simply marginal, again.

The ironic solution, in my view, is for disenchanted Democrats to team up with disenchanted Republicans so the bases have a chance at actually breaking down the two party system and actual victory -- and, regardless, some leverage over the party apparatus. 

And it's in the U.S. -- with an extreme form of "first-past-the-post" electoral system -- that the establishment parties are most vulnerable with the VotePact strategy since the Democratic and Republican parties mirror each other and collude with each other so deeply. 

How "Progressive Media" Go Wrong: The Case of Jeffrey Sterling

Just helped organize a news conference with Holly Sterling, the wife of jailed CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling and a number of press freedom advocates and whistleblowers. 

Just prior to the news conference this morning, Democracy Now was good enough to have Norman Solomon (my boss) and Holly Sterling on the program.

The problem is how Democracy Now introed -- and therefore, framed -- the segment: "Sterling is serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for leaking classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen about a failed U.S. effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Risen later exposed how the risky operation could have actually aided the Iranian nuclear program."

That is a very benign way to describe what Operation Merlin (the program in question) was about. 

There's real evidence that the intention of the operation was not to forestall Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities, but rather, the program may have been to give Iran — and Iraq — nuclear weapons information that could then be used as a pretext to attack those countries for having such information.

I had some suspicions along these lines, and had been cautioning people from accepting the keystone kop narrative without definitive evidence, but David Swanson is the person who really moved the ball on this. His piece “In Convicting Jeff Sterling, CIA Revealed More Than It Accused Him of Revealing,” which analyzes a secret cable that was made public in the course of the Sterling trial. Swanson writes: “During the course of Sterling’s trial, the CIA itself made public a bigger story than the one it pinned on Sterling. The CIA revealed, unintentionally no doubt, that just after the nuclear weapons plans had been dropped off for the Iranians, the CIA had proposed to the same asset that he next approach the Iraqi government for the same purpose.”

Swanson wrote back in January: “CIA on Trial in Virginia for Planting Nuke Evidence in Iran,” which states: “The stated motivation for Operation Merlin is patent nonsense that cannot be explained by any level of incompetence or bureaucratic dysfunction or group think.

“Here’s another explanation of both Operation Merlin and of the defensiveness of the prosecution and its witnesses … at the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling which is thus far failing to prosecute Jeffrey Sterling. This was an effort to plant nuke plans on Iran.” (I featured David and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern -- and noted some interesting insights from Marcy Wheeler in "Operation Merlin: Did CIA Seek to “Plant a Nuclear Gun” on Iran and Iraq?"

Maintaining the Fiction that Torture Didn't Produce "Useful" Information

The establishment myths that perpetuate hollow "liberal-conservative" "debates" that perpetuate the war making of the establishment are maintained by reports like this headline from today's "Democracy Now": 

In more news from the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has endorsed the use of waterboarding in order to "get information that was necessary." A 2014 Senate report said waterboarding is tantamount to torture and that it has produced little useful intelligence. In her interview with Yahoo News, Fiorina attempted to discredit the report, calling it "disingenuous" and saying that it "undermined the morale of a whole lot of people who dedicated their lives to keeping the country safe."


The truth is that torture did work, but not the way its defenders claim. It worked to produce justifications for policies the establishment wanted, like the Iraq war. This is actually tacitly acknowledged in the report -- or one should say, it's buried in it. Footnote 857 of the report is about Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion and was interrogated by the FBI. He told them all he knew, but then the CIA rendered him to the brutal Mubarak regime in Egypt, in effect outsourcing their torture. From the footnote:
 
"Ibn Shaykh al-Libi reported while in [censored: 'Egyptian'] custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa'ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons. Some of this information was cited by Secretary Powell in his speech at the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February [censored], 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [censored, likely 'Egyptians'], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear. For more more details, see Volume III." Of course, Volume III -- like most of the Senate report -- has not been made public.