Saturday, November 09, 2013

A Pipeline Too Far: Enbridge Opposition Prep Rally

Street canvassing blitz one week before “critical No Enbridge rally”

by ForestEthics Advocacy

VANCOUVER - Concerned Canadians are hitting the streets, one week before a mass rally against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. ForestEthics Advocacy will be holding a canvassing blitz outside Science World on Saturday, Nov. 9, beginning at 1:30pm, to spread the word about a planned rally Nov. 16 at the same location.

"With the recent ‘agreement’ with Alberta announced by BC Premier Christy Clark it's more important than ever that we send a clear message to all those concerned that we will not let this pipeline be built. We won't accept a flip flop on this issue,” said Ben West, Tar Sands Campaign Director for ForestEthics Advocacy, one of the organizers of the Nov. 16 rally, which is part of a cross-Canada day of action with dozens of rallies planned.

“This is likely to be the largest rally yet against the Enbridge pipeline,” said West. “This is an all hands on deck moment, a critical turning point with massive implications for our province, our country and our planet."

The street canvassing will include youth and students who are actively involved in the campaigns against tar sands export pipelines through BC. “It’s our future we’re talking about. We don’t want to inherit an economy dependent on dirty energy,” said Sam Harrison, a high school student who will be speaking at the rally Nov. 16.

West, Harrison and a team of volunteers will be on hand to comment Saturday, Nov. 9 at 1:30pm. To draw attention to the rally, volunteers will have signs that look like killer whales with the hashtag #NoEnbridge to send the message that saying ‘No’ to Enbridge is "as black and white as the orcas Enbridge threatens."

There will also be photo ops as part of a viral campaign being launched this weekend where passersby can pose with a sign that says "another _______ against Enbridge" which they can fill in with their identifying characteristics.

"We are borrowing some cool ideas from the Keystone XL campaign and using Twitter and Facebook to organize," said West.

Activists opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline brought signs to the White House with similar messages. "I loved those signs that said another grandmother against Keystone XL, it's so powerful to see such a broad social movement represented. We will never have as much money as these big oil companies, but we do have passionate people who won't give up until we win."

For Immediate Release - Saturday, November 9, 2013
For more information contact: Ben West, Tar Sands Campaign Director, ForestEthics Advocacy

Face to Face with Chris Cook and Ingmar Lee

Victoria Indy TV Presents: Face to Face with Ingmar Lee

by Steve Poole - ICTV

We welcome back direct-action activist and woodsman Ingmar Lee as he joins Pacific Free Press editor Chris Cook for an intelligent discussion on a number of concerns including Tar Sands, pipelines and supertankers in BC, the Great Bear rainforest, Business As Usual envirogroups, fracking and the plight of the Humpback whales on BC's coast. With the recent "deal" struck between Alberta's Redford and BC's Clark, this conversation is more timely and important than ever.

On our community TV Channel Shaw Victoria Cable 4 
(and Saltspring Island)

Saturday, November 9 at 1:00 PM

Wednesday, November 13 at 11:00 PM

Also available for viewing on the Internet at:

Al Qaeda’s Air Force: Israel's Ground Support for Syrian "Rebels"

Israeli Bombers: Al Qaeda’s Air Force

by James Petras

Israel has committed repeated acts of war against countries that opposed its Zionist policies of colonization and annexation of Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli leaders have secured arms and diplomatic support for their attacks through their Zionist proxies in the United States Congress and the Executive Branch.

The current series of Israeli bombing raids and missile strikes against Syria are designed to strengthen the armed Syrian opposition and Islamist mercenaries seeking to destroy the government in Damascus. Israel intends to sabotage the upcoming round of peace negotiations.

The Zionist state does not want a peaceful resolution to the current regional conflict. Its foreign policy depends on perpetual regional wars and political instability. Toward this end, Tel Aviv has the unconditional support of the 52 Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organization and all other Zionist organizations in the US.

Armed Conflict and Intervention in Syria

For almost three years, Syria has increasingly transformed into a battleground and humanitarian disaster. At first, there were domestic Syrian political and social organizations staging protests against the Baathist government. The early protestors included secular liberals, Muslims, democrats and socialists. They had engaged in mostly peaceful protest against the authoritarian, but multi-cultural, secular regime of Bashar Assad. The government clamped down heavily and arrested many protestors. This heavy-handed response help to split the Syrian opposition: Peaceful, civil-society protestors remained in the country, although diminished in numbers, while many others went underground or fled to bordering countries and formed the early core of the armed opposition. They received military and financial support from NATO countries and Turkey, as well as from the corrupt Gulf Monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia. A cross-border war was launched in which US and European special military forces played a leading role in organizing, training and directing a makeshift collection of armed Syrian groups. Turkey provided arms, training camps and logistical support. The funding came from the rich kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Monarchies, which have spent hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Saudis recruited radical Islamist and Al Qaeda mercenaries and Wahhabi terrorists to fight the Damascus regime – targeting secular Syrians, Shiites, Alawites, Syrian Christians and Kurds. In just a few years, the conflict underwent a radical change in character and in intensity from internal broad-based civil strife to an armed foreign-backed invasion with vicious sectarian overtones.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled from their home when thousands of mostly foreign, Islamist fighters attacked and occupied their cities, towns and villages – conducting campaigns of ethnic cleansing against non-Sunni and non-Arab Syrians. The government in Damascus responded by mobilizing ground troops and its air force to recover its vital highways and cities and drive out this increasingly foreign occupation. This became especially critical toward the end of 2012, when Al Qaeda-linked extremists, funded by the Saudi and Gulf monarchies, gained ascendancy at a number of key fronts. These violent extremists overran and displaced the Western-backed ‘internal’ armed opposition who made up the so-called ‘moderates’. The Saudi proxies attacked Kurdish militia in the semi-autonomous Syrian northeast in order to secure cross border supply routes to Iraq thus regionalizing the war. This heralded the tremendous increase in terrorism and bombing against the Shiite government in Baghdad and majority Shia population.

As the Western-backed opposition retreated, the mercenaries, linked to Al Qaeda, fully expected their sponsors among the despotic Saudi oil billionaires to call on NATO and the US to launch missile strikes against the Syrian government. Without US and NATO air support, the jihadis would never take Damascus.

Meanwhile, the Islamist Turkish government had been playing a duplicitous role by allowing its border area to be used for terrorist camps, supply routes and a launch site for cross-border attacks against its neighbor. This has been very unpopular with the Turkish public. When it became evident that the Saudi-backed Al Qaeda terrorists were gaining the upper hand over Ankara’s more ‘moderate’ Islamist Syrian clients, the Turks may have developed concerns that their border would become a regional center for Al Qaeda with thousands of well-armed, battle-tested Islamist mercenaries. This may explain Ankara’s recent approach to Teheran hoping to undercut the jihadi clients of the Gulf Monarchies.

With the Syrian opposition badly split and the US domestic opposition to a new war increasing, the US-NATO regimes withdrew their commitment to the Saudis to act as ‘Al Qaeda’s Air Force’. In this context, US President Obama eagerly accepted the Russian President Putin’s offer to jointly oversee the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and to set up a peace conference between Syrian opposition factions, not-linked to Al Qaeda, and the Syrian government.

Chemical Weapons, Disarmament and Peace: Who’s in and Who’s Out?

The Putin-Obama agreement was a significant advance for the US and Russia. President Obama did not have to face massive domestic and Congressional opposition to a new war with Syria and he was ‘credited’ with accepting a diplomatic solution. Russian President Vladimir Putin assumed the role of a world statesman in initiating the process, ensuring Syrian compliance and moving the parties toward a peace conference in Geneva to be held in late November. The European Union and the NATO powers were able to temporarily disentangle from their military commitments to the Syrian ‘rebels’ and their Saudi backers and express their own indignation over US cyber-spying of their citizens and leaders. Furthermore, this gave the Obama Administration the opportunity to open nuclear negotiations with Iran. Turkey, which had been flooded by desperate Syrian refugees, was facing rising nationalist pressures against its own military role in the Syrian ‘civil war’. The Russian initiative allowed the Turks to further explore re-opening relations with Syria’s ally, Iran.

This advance toward peace and disarmament weakened the military ambitions of the despotic Saudi regime and threatened the hegemonic position of the Israeli junta. The Saudi-Gulf States strategy had been to destroy the secular Syrian state via a mercenary Al Qaeda ground war supported by massive NATO-US air strikes against Damascus. The Saudis envisioned a replay of the Libyan invasion that saw the overthrow of the secular Gadhafi. A bloody jihadist victory in Damascus would strike a blow at Iran, the Saudi’s (and the Israeli’s) ultimate target.

The US-Russian rapprochement and Obama’s withdrawal of his threat to bomb Damascus had deprived the Saudi’s Al Qaeda mercenaries of their long-awaited Western missile support. Across the Atlantic, in a fit of pique and high-pitched hysteria at NATO’s refusal to serve as ‘Al Qaeda’s air force’ for their pet mercenaries, the Saudis refused to sit take their appointed seat ‘with the infidels’ on the UN Security Council!

However, Israel was quick to step in with its own bombs and missiles to bolster the Islamist terrorists in Syria!

Israel viewed itself as a casualty of the Obama-Putin agreement; it had been clamoring for more overt Western involvement in the war against Syria. Israel’s strategy was to encourage the armed conflict, decimate the Syrian government, society and economy, and create a new client configuration composed of ‘Egypt-Jordan-Syria’ under joint Saudi-Israeli- US auspices (and financing).

The Israelis had expected US President Obama to unleash a massive NATO air strike against Syrian military installations, arms depots and vital civilian infrastructure. This would tip the military balance in favor of the armed Syrian opposition and foreign jihadist mercenaries and precipitate the collapse of Damascus. Indeed the entire US Jewish-Zionist power structure, including the pro-Israel media troika (the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal), called for the US to bomb Syria despite the fact that the majority of America citizens were increasingly vocal in their opposition to US involvement!

When Obama finally took note of US public opinion and embraced Vladimir Putin’s proposal for Syrian peace and the dismantling of its chemical weapons arsenal, the media troika and the ZPC unleashed hysterical attacks, accusing President Obama of vacillation (for disobeying Netanyahu?), sacrificing Syrian lives (what about the Syrian victims of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights?) and of betraying the ‘rebels’ (also known as Al Qaeda terrorists).

Israel and Saudi Arabia make logical ‘allies’: Both are sworn enemies of secular Arab nationalism and anti-colonialism; both have sponsored overseas terrorist groups against their opponents; both seek to destroy Iran and both are completely dependent on Western arms relying on imperialist wars to achieve their own regional aims. At the moment their plans for ‘re-drawing the map’ of the Middle East has met a speed-bump in the form of Obama’s reluctance to launch US missiles and bombs against Damascus.

The Israeli Air Force at the Service of Al Qaeda

In recent years Israel has committed numerous acts of war throughout the Middle East, including crimes against humanity in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. It is no surprise that Israel, a colonial state and would-be regional hegemon, would bomb Syrian military bases and weapon depots on six occasions this year, despite the fact that Damascus was struggling for its survival against thousands of Saudi-financed Al Qaeda-linked mercenaries.

Israel’s deliberate and unprovoked attacks against the beleaguered Syrian state are motivated by dangerous, sinister and cynical considerations on the part of Tel Aviv.

First, the Israel wants a strong Wahhabi-Al Qaeda presence in the region to counter the secular Baathists as well as their Shiite allies in Lebanon and Iran. Their attacks against the Syrian military show their desire for the terrorists to continue ravaging Syrian cities and towns. This is essentially a tactical alliance between extremist Zionist-Jews and Radical Sunni Muslims.

Second, Israel is calculating that its missile attacks against Syrian bases will provoke an armed response from Damascus which Tel Aviv could use as a pretext to declare war and unite the ‘hawk and dove’ Zionists in Israel, and especially in the US, and mobilize against another ‘existential threat’ to the ‘Jewish State’. In other words, Israel intends to prod the US Congress and White House to launch an ‘allied’ bombing campaign against Damascus.

Thirdly, Tel Aviv views its missile strikes and bombing raids against Syria as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for its planned attack on Iran. In the context of Iranian President Rouhani’s recent peace overtures toward the US, bombing Syria and provoking Damascus would scuttle any peaceful accord between the Washington and Teheran. Israeli pilots are using Syria as a laboratory to test radar and communications, flight patterns, its bombing accuracy, interception technology and assets to further their readiness for a pre-emptive attack on Iran. The purpose for attacking the Syrian government and destroying defensive weapons destined for its Lebanese Shiite ally, Hezbollah, is to destroy any Lebanese capacity to resist Israeli aggression in a regional conflagration.

However, Israel’s military-driven ‘diplomacy’ has failed. And yet the Jewish state cannot reverse its brutal, colonial policies in the West Bank, re-think its working alliance with Al Qaeda in the Levant or formulate a realistic political settlement with Syria and Iran. Instead, the characteristic failure and mediocrity of Israeli policymakers have condemned them to rely exclusively on their first, last and only resort – greater brutality and aggression.

Netanyahu showed his disappointment with Obama by announcing the construction of 1500 new ‘Jews-only’ apartments in Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Office denounced the Obama Administration for having revealed that Israeli planes and missiles had struck the major Syrian port of Latakia – implying that Washington’s revelation of Israel’s attempted sabotage of the peace talks amounted to a ‘betrayal’ or ‘crime’ against the Jewish state!

The entire Zionist power configuration in Washington has lined up to support the Jewish state. When Israel commits an act of war against its neighbor, no matter how unjust and brutal the act, Zionists from the most religious to the most secular, the ‘peaceniks’ and neo-cons, all form a united chorus in praise of the righteous and moral ‘Jewish Bombs’ even as they fall on the besieged people of Syria today and Iran tomorrow. While the pro-Israel media troika in the US doesn’t hesitate to denounce civilian suffering from Pentagon and CIA drones strikes in Pakistan, when Israeli missiles rain on Syria … acts of pre-emptive war by the heirs of the Holocaust … they are described as necessary for the defense of a peace-loving nation…because Bibi Netanyahu said so!!! That garrulous Harvard Law Professor will argue on the US television ‘talk shows’ that Israel had to pulverize the concrete bunkers of the Syrian military otherwise some anti-Semite might someday find some pebble to toss at some member of the moral Israeli ‘peace force’. ‘Existential threat’ indeed!

Rank cant and mendacious special pleadings aside, the Saudis and their Israeli allies intend to finance, arm and serve as Al Qaeda’s air force against the Assad regime in Syria. They mean to undermine any Syrian or Iranian peace process, that is, unless the US and Russia prevent them from provoking a major regional conflagration – threatening the welfare of hundreds of millions of people.


The Middle East has always been a mosaic of complex and changing alliances, marking shifts in the balance of imperial power. During the past decade, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and their satraps in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon have ruled the roosts. Iraq, as an independent modern secular nation and multicultural society, was shattered and under the US military boot; the Taliban were in retreat … Iran was isolated … Syria was surrounded by invading foreign armed and trained terrorists and mercenaries.

Time passed and circumstances changed. The US was forced to retreat from the horrific sectarian conflict it created in Iraq, while Iran gained political influence and stature in the region. Turkey captured lucrative regional markets. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have recovered, advanced and are preparing to take power as soon as the US withdraws support from its lackey in Kabul. The White House temporarily lost a dictator in Egypt, only to gain a new dictatorial client, but the junta in Cairo faces an uncertain future with massive popular unrest. The King of Jordan may still be on the CIA/Mossad payroll but that country is a backward satrapy forced to rely on police state tactics. The corrupt Gulf Monarchies repress their dissident majorities at home while using their countries’ incredible oil wealth to subsidize jihadi terrorists abroad. Their legitimacy and support is fragile: Petro-billions, bombs and US military bases do not constitute a state!

Tactical relations are in flux. The Saudi monarch rejects the UN, repudiates the US for its rapprochement with Iran and embraces ---its own hot air. Surely the Saudis understand that siding with Israel’s air force against an Arab nation is a dangerous and desperate ploy that could backfire. The Syrian and Iranian governments will continue with their peace agendas, democratic openings and calls for social co-existence, such as Hezbollah has successfully secured in Lebanon. The Russians support their overtures. If they are successful, even the US and Europe would reap immense economic benefits from a demilitarized and sanctions-free Middle East and Persian Gulf. The world economy would see lower energy prices and greater security, while the flow of rentier capital to the speculators in the City of London and Wall Street flood would reverse and benefit their own countries. We stand at the crossroads between turning toward peace or reverting to regional war, crisis and chaos.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Your Media-Induced Mental Illness: Massaging M23 Message in the Congo

M23 and the Unseen High-tech Genocide: Latest Congo propaganda

by Keith Harmon Snow - Dissident Voice

The western propaganda system is again trotting out the refrain that “rebels in Congo have been defeated.” The latest so-called “rebels” — the M23 forces — are actually Rwandan government troops, not rebels. (True Congolese “rebels” — such as the Mai Mai [also spelled Mayi-Mayi] are always denigrated by the international corporate media system.)

Reports now appearing in the western mass media are that the “M23 rebels” have “surrendered in Uganda”, or “turned themselves in” in Rwanda. This is nonsense, since these are Rwandan Defense Forces, most of them formerly National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) “rebels”, formerly Congolese Rally for Democracy “rebels”, formerly of the Rwandan Patriotic Army/Movement (RPA/RPF), formerly Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), formerly National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) troops. (This is especially true of commanders, e.g.: James Kabarebe, Laurent Nkundabatware, and many others). The varying incarnations of “rebels” in eastern Congo have all and always been backed by Museveni (Uganda) and Kagame (Rwanda), in turn backed by the USA, UK and Israel. M23 is the same: another predominantly Tutsi army serving the Tutsi/Hema elites — not the people of Uganda or the people of Rwanda/Burundi and the bain of innocent men, women and children wherever they go.

Meanwhile, in Kinshasa, Hippolyte Kanambe (alias Joseph Kabila) is showing his consistent treasonous betrayal of the people of Congo by calling for the M23 rebels to be included in the political process. How and why would the president of Congo be inviting “defeated” guerillas who have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Congo (1996-2013), Rwanda (1990-1995) and Uganda (1980-1985) to participate in the political process? Kanambe is another tutsi elite (his uncle is James Kabarebe) and his goal as Trojan Horse1 is to further integrate/infiltrate Rwandan guerillas and politicians into the Congo. Media reports have exaggerated the fighting between Congolese troops (FARDC) and their U.N. partner army the Rapid Intervention Forces, against the M23: most M23 were warned in advance of an impending assault and they fled to Rwanda and Uganda.

Meanwhile, multinational corporations operating in eastern Congo under the media radar, but soaked in Congolese blood, include Banro Gold, Casa Mining, Randgold, Mwana Africa, Loncor, Anglo-Gold Ashanti, Kilo Gold, and Moku Gold. These are U.S., Canadian, Australian, and European mining corporations and they benefit from having the Rwandan Tutsi in Kinshasa (Kanambe). They all have deep ties to the criminal extortion, money-laundering, racketeering and theft behind the plunder and depopulation in the Great Lakes countries, ties to Kagame and Museveni and their agents.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Forces (MONUC, MONUSCO) and the Rapid Intervention Forces (note the heavy presence of South African troops AND South African mining companies in eastern Congo!) serve the corporate agenda. Remember that almost half of the MONUC annual 1 billion budget went to Lockheed Martin subsidiary Pacific Architects and Engineers — a private military (read: mercenary) company also involved in the US/Canada/UK/Israeli invasions of Zaire (1996-1997) and Congo (1998-onward).

Meanwhile, Time Magazine this week (Nov. 11, 2013) ran a little propaganda clip by a white journalist Jessica Hatcher titled, “Saving Congo’s Gorillas”. In typical western media fashion, the furry primates are portrayed as the supreme victims of war in the Great Lakes region. The point is to manipulate public opinion to support further western/corporate intervention in Congo, but not for the people, rather ostensibly for the non-human primates, but really for other western corporate exploiters, including Dian Fossy Gorilla Fund, Jane Goodall Institute, Conservation International, CARE, Save the Children, UNICEF, etc. Oh, and don’t forget Ben Affleck and Eve Ensler’s million-dollars money-making schemes in Congo (requiring complete Ugandan and Rwandan government-war-criminal support).

The page-and-a-half Time story offers an interesting trail for anyone interested in understanding the nature of power and the political economy of the mass media. For example, if you haven’t heard, former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is now Barrack Obama’s new Secretary of State (replacing Hillary Clinton). The gorilla story doesn’t mention Kerry at all, though it might have, since Kerry traveled to Rwanda and has extensive ties to Kagame. Kerry also unveiled new diplomatic cooperation (PEPFAR) with South Africa (note those S. African mining companies and S. African troops in Congo!), Rwanda and Namibia (run by another criminal enterprise backed by Washington)(and, also, especially, by the world diamond cartels)(and PEPFAR is one of these corporate AIDS front efforts which are merely a few hops from covert operations). But, again, the short gorilla story does not mention Kerry. It does however mention a formerly mostly-unheard-of gorilla reserve, Senkwekwe Orphan Mountain Gorilla Center, described by Time as “a refugee camp for primate victims of war.”

Never mind the hundreds of thousands of human refugees in the region or the ongoing genocide against Congolese peoples… And remember that the so-called “humanitarian” charity (so-called “not-for-profit”) CARE INTERNATIONAL is “partnered” with BANRO GOLD Corp in the blood-drenched hills of South Kivu, DRC. This is the new humanitarian fascism.

So, let’s follow the trail Time inadvertently lays for us. Senkwekwe Orphan Mountain Gorilla Center , it turns out, gets some funding from the capitalist Buffet enterprises — in particular, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation. The gorilla story in Time doesn’t tell you this.

Time doesn’t tell us that Warren Buffet, Howard G. Buffet, and their companies, Berkshire Hathaway, have been deeply tied to the plunder and depopulation in the Great Lakes countries, and in Sudan. The Howard G. Buffet Foundation claims to have donated over $US 1 million to the World Food Program. Any enterprising honest journalist who wanted to look into this would find a haven of tax breaks, rotten grains, and corporate profiteering all at the expense of US taxpayers, all under the guise of the World Food Program, and involving protectionist agribusiness. Corporations like ConAgra and Archers Daniels Midland — both tied to the Buffets — that reap huge benefits by dumping shitty “food” on the World Food Program with the help of U.S. politicians. Buffet also claims to have provided “capacity-building and operations support for Virunga’s National Park rangers” and “Humanitarian support for counter-LRA efforts”. Unpack these claims and you will find the ugliest realities of predatory capitalism. “Humanitarian support for counter LRA-efforts” ??? What “counter LRA-efforts (Lord’s Resistance Army) could possibly involve anything “humanitarian? War is Peace.

Let’s dig a little deeper back in Time, though, and VOILA! see what we find (found). Warren Buffet is also on the Board of Directors of the H.J. Heinz Corporation. In fact, Berkshire Hathaway acquired H.J. Heinz in June 2013.

What does H. J. Heinz have to do with Congo?

Why did John Kerry travel there?

What are the real Buffet interests in the region?

I will only offer a small tidbit of insight: John Kerry’s wife is Teresa Heinz, of the H.J. Heinz fortune.


If you are consuming the western mass media (Time Magazine, New York Times, New Yorker, etc.) you are contributing to your own mental illness, and to the war against the people of Africa.

See, e.g, Yaa-Lengi Ngemi, “Kagame’s Trojan Horse in the Congo,” New York Times, November 29, 2012. []

Keith Harmon Snow is a war correspondent, photographer and independent investigator, and a four time (2003, 2006, 2007, 2010) Project Censored award winner. He is also the 2009 Regent's Lecturer in Law & Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, recognized for over a decade of work, outside of academia, contesting official narratives on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide while also working as a genocide investigator for the United Nations and other bodies. The first UCSB Regent's Lecturer, in 1960, was Aldous Huxley; other recipients include Margaret Mead, Peter Matthiessen and Meredith Monk. Read other articles by Keith, or visit Keith's website.

Making the Billionaire's Mommy's Monkey Jump

Steven Cohen Can't Make His Mommy's Monkey Jump

by Greg Palast - Truthout

[New York] Billionaire Steven A. Cohen's marriage was in hot water because his wife wouldn't tolerate the "other woman." The other woman was Steven's mother.

This week, Cohen's hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors will plead guilty to criminal charges of insider trading and pay $1.2 billion in fines and forfeitures.

Cohen says he'll pay the $1.2 billion from his own pocket — but it's a pretty big pocket. His net worth just hit ($9.4 billion). It would have been an even $10 billion, but last year he coughed up over half a billion for his company's illegal trades.

Cohen himself is not accused of knowing the information he used was obtained by criminal means. But, he still faces SEC charges of letting his minions operate like a high-finance NSA, sucking up and trading on illegally obtained information. And the US district attorney, when asked about imprisoning Cohen, said, in cryptic language, that unspecified criminal charges are yet to come.

And it's all Steven's mommy's fault. And her monkey's.

Tip to young journalists: Billionaires' ex-trophy wives are a terrific source of information. The blonder the better. They have vengeance in their eyes and files under their mattresses. And they want just three things: money, revenge, and

Patricia Cohen is very blonde and very ex'd. She split from the nona-billionaire in 1990 when he was still a poor, struggling nona-millionaire. Or so he led her to believe.

Patricia claims she was robbed — and that she firmly deserves a little of the ice from Cohen's private ice-skating rink, the one in his garden next to his own cinema theater and indoor pool.

So, Patricia, bent on justice, approached this reporter with a authoritatively detailed story of Cohen's first inside-trading scam, documents included.

Now, I should say at the outset that, despite Patricia's selfless exposure of the pitiless facts about Cohen's suspicious trades, and despite the guilty plea and charges pending, I don't for a minute believe that Steven Cohen is anything but an innocent genius.

Indeed, Cohen's brilliance borders on the clairvoyant. He knows which way a stock will move before God knows. He knows your kid's name before you know you're pregnant.

How? By using illegally obtained insider information? Heavens no!

So how does Cohen know the cards in your hand before they're dealt?

"Guessing,” says Cohen. "I was pretty good at guessing which way those [stock price] numbers would go.” In a drooling profile, Vanity Fair compares him to the "mathematical genius” in the film A Beautiful Mind. However, as Cohen was a crap student in math, his uncanny ability to predict the market better than any other mortal is attributed to some otherworldly brain kryptonite that gives him, "a Rain Man–like gift for reading the stock ticker.”

The ex-Mrs. Cohen has a different narrative. We sat in the kitchen at her Upper East Side digs, close enough to Mick Jagger's to borrow a cup of sugar, but not on a very high floor. (Deprivation is a relative concept.) Before jumping into the facts of finance flim-flam, I first wanted to know from her why she left Mr. Bullion Baggins.

"He loved his mother.” That's no crime.

"Yea, but he really loved his mother. Steven couldn't take a poopie without calling Mommy. Every week we'd go have dinner with her, and she would say to him, ‘All I know is, money makes the monkey jump! Money makes the monkey jump!"

"And we'd leave and half the time in the car he'd be in tears about his mommy humiliating him." No matter how many millions and billions he piled up, he couldn't make his mommy's monkey jump.

As a reporter, billionaires are my beat. For The Guardian, I've covered the Brothers Koch, Paul "The Vulture" Singer, Adnan Guns-for-Hostages Kashoggi, and many others. I'm often asked, "Why? Why is two billion or nine billion or twenty billion not enough for these guys?" Why would they play fast and loose with laws statutory and moral to make one more billion?

And the answer is, They can't make their mommy's monkey jump. In every twisted billionaire bamboozler I've investigated, I've found a hole in their soul which they are trying to fill with wads of dollar bills, but can't.

But then, "why" is for their shrinks and next wives to ponder. My issue is "how."

According to Patricia Cohen, Steven began to have visions of future stock moves when he was just a small-change trader at Gruntal & Co.

One night, Steven was again in tears, literally crying into his pillow, sleepless. Patricia claims he 'fessed to her that he'd secretly bought up a load of RCA stock, knowing the company would be taken over by General Electric. She also claims that she was too blonde at the time to know Steven's RCA purchase was a crime.

But she did suggest that he go to his boss and tell the truth because, whatever money he would make on the deal wasn't worth the midnight tears. "Is $9 million worth it?" he said to her. Apparently, it was — because she ceased to suggest confession until she felt shafted by her divorce settlement.

Well, that's her story. Steven's? He won't talk to me about it — nor to the FBI (to whom he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination).

The pattern of activities in past and recent indictments, including those to which he has now confessed, and the known facts of the RCA deal, comport with Patricia's accusation. But, given Patricia's own motive for revealing her hubby's pillow talk, I wasn't ready to bite.

Nevertheless, we have to ask: if his first big score, the RCA-GE merger, was more than a brilliant "guess,” then doesn't his entire $9.4 billion pot come from a scam?

In which case, he should give it up. All of it. All $9.4 billion.

One afternoon, Cohen made a cool quarter billion dollars after telling one of his traders to contact a doctor consulting with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals whom Cohen knew had inside information on drug tests. The trader comes back with the info, Cohen made the trade — though the government can't (yet) prove that Cohen knew the info was obtained illegally. Only the trader and SAC Capital were indicted for the crime.

According to the SEC, that's just a day in the life of SAC Capital.

But, according to Cohen's puppies in the financial press, he is just a brilliant risk-taker, his firm forced to plead guilty to what one Wall Street Journal columnist described as a crime "with no victims, it actually helps people.” CNN got all teary for Cohen, claiming he was the victim of a "longstanding anomaly in American law.” Who was the real criminal? "SAC Capital punished for the government's own failure” screamed their headline. This is the same crew that told us that JP Morgan only paid a $13 billion fine last week as part of a government "anti-business witch-hunt.”

Really? When a Cohen sells soon-to-swoon Wyeth stock to some schmuck who's not clued in, the "counter-party" loses his shirt. When JP Morgan labels financial feces as "prime” mortgages and dumps it on Fannie Mae, the US taxpayer gets a hosing. When Goldman Sachs and billionaire John Paulson sell the Royal Bank of Scotland "synthetic CDOs" that are as valuable as a chocolate kettle, the Bank of England pays and the people of England lose two million jobs. When hedge fund predator Paul Singer mounts a vulture attack on the Congo and makes a killing, Oxfam says he's taking cholera medicine away from kids who are facing death.

In other words: There's no such thing as a victimless billionaire.

Nevertheless, our financial press lauds these predators. Paulson slicking RBS into buying turds painted gold was "genius.”

And just this week, a New York Times columnist lauded Paul Singer a "loving father and generous donor.” Why? Because Singer tosses an insignificant amount of his ill-making gains back to support gay rights in Africa. There's no mention that Singer has buttered "human rights” groups with cash to front his campaigns to discredit governments he has sued for billions.

Cohen is a "modern-day Medici.” Witness his extraordinary philanthropy — the new Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center. Hey, thanks, Mr. Generous. Little Caesar might have avoided jail time and bad press if he'd only funded a wing of a Chicago's Cermak Prison Hospital called, "The Al Capone Center for Gunshot Wounds and Unfortunate Accidents."

Keep your hospital wing, Mr. Cohen. Keep your "human rights" donation, Mr. Vulture. If you'd let the sheep you fleece keep their skin, they wouldn't need your charity.

As to your generosity, genius, and brilliant guesses — sorry, my monkey ain't jumping.

* * * * * *

Greg Palast, author of Vultures' Picnic, featuring Cohen and other billionaires, is a former expert advisor to the US Department of Justice on financial fraud and racketeering.

Greg Palast is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Keeping Cuba on the Hook

Why Cuba Must Be Punished: NSA – The Only Part of The Government That Really Listens to What You Have to Say

by William Blum -

The New York Times (November 2) ran a long article based on NSA documents released by Edward Snowden. One of the lines that most caught my attention concerned “Sigint” – Signals intelligence, the term used for electronic intercepts. The document stated:

“Sigint professionals must hold the moral high ground, even as terrorists or dictators seek to exploit our freedoms. Some of our adversaries will say or do anything to advance their cause; we will not.”

What, I wondered, might that mean? What would the National Security Agency – on moral principle – refuse to say or do?

I have on occasion asked people who reject or rationalize any and all criticism of US foreign policy: “What would the United States have to do in its foreign policy to lose your support? What, for you, would be too much?” I’ve yet to get a suitable answer to that question. I suspect it’s because the person is afraid that whatever they say I’ll point out that the United States has already done it.
The United Nations vote on the Cuba embargo – 22 years in a row

For years American political leaders and media were fond of labeling Cuba an “international pariah”. We haven’t heard that for a very long time. Perhaps one reason is the annual vote in the United Nations General Assembly on the resolution which reads: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. This is how the vote has gone (not including abstentions):

Year Votes (Yes-No) No Votes

 1992 59-2 US, Israel
 1993 88-4 US, Israel, Albania, Paraguay
1994 101-2 US, Israel
1995 117-3 US, Israel, Uzbekistan
1996 138-3 US, Israel, Uzbekistan
1997 143-3 US, Israel, Uzbekistan
1998 157-2 US, Israel
1999 155-2 US, Israel
2000 167-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands
2001 167-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands
2002 173-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands
2003 179-3 US, Israel, Marshall Islands

2004 179-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2005 182-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2006 183-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2007 184-4 US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau
2008 185-3 US, Israel, Palau
2009 187-3 US, Israel, Palau
2010 187-2 US, Israel
2011 186-2 US, Israel
2012 188-3 US, Israel, Palau
2013 188-2 US, Israel

Each fall the UN vote is a welcome reminder that the world has not completely lost its senses and that the American empire does not completely control the opinion of other governments.

Speaking before the General Assembly, October 29, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez declared: “The economic damages accumulated after half a century as a result of the implementation of the blockade amount to $1.126 trillion.” He added that the blockade “has been further tightened under President Obama’s administration”, some 30 US and foreign entities being hit with $2.446 billion in fines due to their interaction with Cuba.

However, the American envoy, Ronald Godard, in an appeal to other countries to oppose the resolution, said:

“The international community … cannot in good conscience ignore the ease and frequency with which the Cuban regime silences critics, disrupts peaceful assembly, impedes independent journalism and, despite positive reforms, continues to prevent some Cubans from leaving or returning to the island. The Cuban government continues its tactics of politically motivated detentions, harassment and police violence against Cuban citizens.” 1

So there you have it. That is why Cuba must be punished. One can only guess what Mr. Godard would respond if told that more than 7,000 people were arrested in the United States during the Occupy Movement’s first 8 months of protest 2 ; that their encampments were violently smashed up; that many of them were physically abused by the police.

Does Mr. Godard ever read a newspaper or the Internet, or watch television? Hardly a day passes in America without a police officer shooting to death an unarmed person?

As to “independent journalism” – what would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control most of the media worth owning or controlling?

The real reason for Washington’s eternal hostility toward Cuba? The fear of a good example of an alternative to the capitalist model; a fear that has been validated repeatedly over the years as Third World countries have expressed their adulation of Cuba.

How the embargo began: On April 6, 1960, Lester D. Mallory, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, wrote in an internal memorandum: “The majority of Cubans support Castro … The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Mallory proposed “a line of action which … makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” 3 Later that year, the Eisenhower administration instituted the suffocating embargo against its everlasting enemy.

The Cold War Revisited

I’ve written the Introduction to a new book recently published in Russia that is sort of an updating of my book Killing Hope. 4 Here is a short excerpt:

The Cold War had not been a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. It had been a struggle between the United States and the Third World, which, in the decade following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, continued in Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.

The Cold War had not been a worldwide crusade by America to halt Soviet expansion, real or imaginary. It had been a worldwide crusade by America to block political and social changes in the Third World, changes opposed by the American power elite.

The Cold War had not been a glorious and noble movement of freedom and democracy against Communist totalitarianism. It had typically been a movement by the United States in support of dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and corrupt oligarchies which were willing to follow Washington’s party line on the Left, US corporations, Israel, oil, military bases, et al. and who protected American political and economic interests in their countries in exchange for the American military and CIA keeping them in power against the wishes of their own people.

In other words, whatever the diplomats at the time thought they were doing, the Cold War revisionists have been vindicated. American policy had been about imperialism and military expansion.

Apropos the countless other myths we were all taught about the Soviet Union is this letter I recently received from one of my readers, a Russian woman, age 49, who moved to the United States eight years ago and now lives in Northern Virginia:

I can’t imagine why anybody is surprised to hear when I say I miss life in the Soviet Union: what is bad about free healthcare and education, guaranteed employment, guaranteed free housing? No rent or mortgage of any kind, only utilities, but they were subsidized too, so it was really pennies. Now, to be honest, there was a waiting list to get those apartments, so some people got them quicker, some people had to wait for years, it all depended on where you worked. And there were no homeless people, and crime was way lower. As a first grader I was taking the public transportation to go to school, which was about 1 hour away by bus (it was a big city, about the size of Washington DC, we lived on the outskirts, and my school was downtown), and it was fine, all other kids were doing it. Can you even imagine this being done now? I am not saying everything was perfect, but overall, it is a more stable and socially just system, fair to everybody, nobody was left behind. This is what I miss: peace and stability, and not being afraid of the future.

Problem is, nobody believes it, they will say that I am a brainwashed “tovarish” [comrade]. I’ve tried to argue with Americans about this before, but just gave up now. They just refuse to believe anything that contradicts what CNN has been telling them for all their lives. One lady once told me: “You just don’t know what was going on there, because you did not have freedom of speech, but we, Americans, knew everything, because we could read about all of this in our media.” I told her “I was right there! I did not need to read about this in the media, I lived that life!”, but she still was unconvinced! You will not believe what she said: “Yes, maybe, but we have more stuff!”. Seriously, having 50 kinds of cereal available in the store, and walmarts full of plastic junk is more valuable to Americans than a stable and secure life, and social justice for everybody?

Of course there are people who lived in the Soviet Union who disagree with me, and I talked to them too, but I find their reasons just as silly. I heard one Russian lady whose argument was that Stalin killed “30, no 40 million people”. First of all it’s not true (I don’t in any way defend Stalin, but I do think that lying and exaggerating about him is as wrong)*, and second of all what does this have to do with the 70s, when I was a kid? By then life was completely different. I heard other arguments, like food shortages (again, not true, it’s not like there was no food at all, there were shortages of this or that specific product, like you wouldn’t find mayo or bologna in the store some days, but everything else was there!). So, you would come back next day, or in 2-3 days, and you would find them there. Really, this is such a big deal? Or you would have to stay in line to buy some other product, (ravioli for example). But how badly do you want that ravioli really that day, can’t you have anything else instead? Just buy something else, like potatoes, where there was no line.

Was this annoying, yes, and at the time I was annoyed too, but only now I realized that I would much prefer this nuisance to my present life now, when I am constantly under stress for the fear that I can possibly lose my job (as my husband already did), and as a result, lose everything else – my house? You couldn’t possibly lose your house in Soviet Union, it was yours for life, mortgage free. Only now, living here in the US, I realized that all those soviet nuisances combined were not as important as the benefits we had – housing, education, healthcare, employment, safe streets, all sort of free after school activities (music, sports, arts, anything you want) for kids, so parents never had to worry about what we do all day till they come home in the evening.

* We’ve all heard the figures many times … 10 million … 20 million … 40 million … 60 million … died under Stalin. But what does the number mean, whichever number you choose? Of course many people died under Stalin, many people died under Roosevelt, and many people are still dying under Bush. Dying appears to be a natural phenomenon in every country. The question is how did those people die under Stalin? Did they die from the famines that plagued the USSR in the 1920s and 30s? Did the Bolsheviks deliberately create those famines? How? Why? More people certainly died in India in the 20th century from famines than in the Soviet Union, but no one accuses India of the mass murder of its own citizens. Did the millions die from disease in an age before antibiotics? In prison? From what causes? People die in prison in the United States on a regular basis. Were millions actually murdered in cold blood? If so, how? How many were criminals executed for non-political crimes? The logistics of murdering tens of millions of people is daunting. 5

Let’s not repeat the Barack fuckup with Hillary

Not that it really matters who the Democrats nominate for the presidency in 2016. Whoever that politically regressive and morally bankrupt party chooses will be at best an uninspired and uninspiring centrist; in European terms a center-rightist; who believes that the American Empire – despite the admittedly occasional excessive behavior – is mankind’s last great hope. The only reason I bother to comment on this question so far in advance of the election is that the forces behind Clinton have clearly already begun their campaign and I’d like to use the opportunity to try to educate the many progressives who fell in love with Obama and may be poised now to embrace Clinton. Here’s what I wrote in July 2007 during the very early days of the 2008 campaign:

Who do you think said this on June 20? a) Rudy Giuliani; b) Hillary Clinton; c) George Bush; d) Mitt Romney; or e) Barack Obama?

“The American military has done its job. Look what they accomplished. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They gave the Iraqis a chance for free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the chance to begin to demonstrate that it understood its responsibilities to make the hard political decisions necessary to give the people of Iraq a better future. So the American military has succeeded. It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions which are important for their own people.” 6

Right, it was the woman who wants to be president because … because she wants to be president … because she thinks it would be nice to be president … no other reason, no burning cause, no heartfelt desire for basic change in American society or to make a better world … she just thinks it would be nice, even great, to be president. And keep the American Empire in business, its routine generating of horror and misery being no problem; she wouldn’t want to be known as the president that hastened the decline of the empire.

And she spoke the above words at the “Take Back America” conference; she was speaking to liberals, committed liberal Democrats and others further left. She didn’t have to cater to them with any flag-waving pro-war rhetoric; they wanted to hear anti-war rhetoric (and she of course gave them a bit of that as well out of the other side of her mouth), so we can assume that this is how she really feels, if indeed the woman feels anything. The audience, it should be noted, booed her, for the second year in a row.

Think of why you are opposed to the war. Is it not largely because of all the unspeakable suffering brought down upon the heads and souls of the poor people of Iraq by the American military? Hillary Clinton couldn’t care less about that, literally. She thinks the American military has “succeeded”. Has she ever unequivocally labeled the war “illegal” or “immoral”? I used to think that Tony Blair was a member of the right wing or conservative wing of the British Labour Party. I finally realized one day that that was an incorrect description of his ideology. Blair is a conservative, a bloody Tory. How he wound up in the Labour Party is a matter I haven’t studied. Hillary Clinton, however, I’ve long known is a conservative; going back to at least the 1980s, while the wife of the Arkansas governor, she strongly supported the death-squad torturers known as the Contras, who were the empire’s proxy army in Nicaragua. 7

Now we hear from America’s venerable conservative magazine, William Buckley’s National Review, an editorial by Bruce Bartlett, policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan; treasury official under President George H.W. Bush; a fellow at two of the leading conservative think-tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute – You get the picture? Bartlett tells his readers that it’s almost certain that the Democrats will win the White House in 2008. So what to do? Support the most conservative Democrat. He writes: “To right-wingers willing to look beneath what probably sounds to them like the same identical views of the Democratic candidates, it is pretty clear that Hillary Clinton is the most conservative.” 8

We also hear from America’s premier magazine for the corporate wealthy, Fortune, whose recent cover features a picture of Clinton and the headline: “Business Loves Hillary”. 9

Back to 2013: In October, the office of billionaire George Soros, who has long worked with US foreign policy to destabilize governments not in love with the empire, announced that “George Soros is delighted to join more than one million Americans in supporting Ready for Hillary.” 10

There’s much more evidence of Hillary Clinton’s conservative leanings, but if you need more, you’re probably still in love with Obama, who in a new book is quoted telling his aides during a comment on drone strikes that he’s “really good at killing people”. 11 Can we look forward to Hillary winning the much-discredited Nobel Peace Prize?

I’m sorry if I take away all your fun.

William Blum is the author of:

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2

Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower

West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir

Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at


Democracy Now!, “U.N. General Assembly Votes Overwhelmingly Against U.S. Embargo of Cuba”, October 30, 2013

Huffingfton Post, May 3, 2012

Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume VI, Cuba (1991), p.885

Copies can be purchased by emailing

From William Blum, Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2005), p.194

Speaking at the “Take Back America” conference, organized by the Campaign for America’s Future, June 20, 2007, Washington, DC; this excerpt can be heard on Democracy Now!’s website

Roger Morris, former member of the National Security Council, Partners in Power (1996), p.415

National Review Online, May 1, 2007

Fortune magazine, July 9, 2007

Washington Post, October 25, 2013

Washington Post, November 1, 2013, review of “Double Down: Game Change 2012”

Costing War (American Style)

They Didn’t Know What They Were Getting Into: The Cost of War American-Style

by Ann Jones

The last time I saw American soldiers in Afghanistan, they were silent. Knocked out by gunfire and explosions that left them grievously injured, as well as drugs administered by medics in the field, they were carried from medevac helicopters into a base hospital to be plugged into machines that would measure how much life they had left to save. They were bloody. They were missing pieces of themselves. They were quiet.

It’s that silence I remember from the time I spent in trauma hospitals among the wounded and the dying and the dead. It was almost as if they had fled their own bodies, abandoning that bloodied flesh upon the gurneys to surgeons ready to have a go at salvation. Later, sometimes much later, they might return to inhabit whatever the doctors had managed to salvage. They might take up those bodies or what was left of them and make them walk again, or run, or even ski. They might dress themselves, get a job, or conceive a child. But what I remember is the first days when they were swept up and dropped into the hospital so deathly still.

They were so unlike themselves. Or rather, unlike the American soldiers I had first seen in that country. Then, fired up by 9/11, they moved with the aggressive confidence of men high on their macho training and their own advance publicity.

I remember the very first American soldiers I saw in Afghanistan. It must have been in 2002. In those days, very few American troops were on the ground in that country -- most were being readied for Iraq to fulfill the vainglorious dreams of George W. Bush and Co. -- and they were not stationed in Kabul, the Afghan capital, but in the countryside, still supposedly searching for Osama bin Laden.

I was in the north, at the historic Dasht-i Shadian stadium near the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, watching an afternoon of buzkashi, the traditional Afghan sport in which mounted men, mostly farmers, vie for possession of a dead calf. The stadium was famous not only for the most fiercely contested buzkashi games in the country, but also for a day during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when local people invited 50 Soviet soldiers to enjoy the spectacle at Dasht-i Shadian and slaughtered them on the spot.

I was seated with Afghan friends in the bleachers when a squad of Americans in full battle gear barged into the dignitaries’ box and interrupted play. Some of them insisted on riding the horses. At a sign from the local warlord presiding over the games, Afghan riders helped the Americans mount. They may also have cued their horses to bolt, race away, and dump them in the dirt.

A little stiffly, the soldiers hiked back to the grandstand, took up their rifles, and made a great show of laughing off the incident -- of being loud and boisterous “good sports.” But a large audience of poker-faced Afghan men had taken their measure. A friend said something to me that I never forgot in years after as I watched the “progress” of the war unfold: “They didn’t know what they were getting into.”

The next day, I spotted another squad of American soldiers in the city’s central bazaar. In the midst of busy shops, they had fanned out in full battle gear in front of a well-known carpet store, dropped to one knee, and assumed the firing position. They aimed their assault rifles at women shoppers clad in the white burqas of Mazar and frozen in place like frightened ghosts. The Americans were protecting their lieutenant who was inside the store, shopping for a souvenir of his sojourn in this foreign land.

I can’t say exactly when the U.S. military brought that swagger to Kabul. But by 2004 the Americans were there behind the walls of fortified urban bases, behind concrete barriers and gigantic sandbags at armed checkpoints, blocking traffic, and closing thoroughfares. Their convoys were racing at top speed through city streets with machine-gunners on alert in the turrets of their armored vehicles. Women half-blind under their burqas brought their children to guide them across suddenly dangerous streets.

Enter the Warriors

I had come to Afghanistan to work for those women and children. In 2002, I started spending winters there, traveling the country but settling in Kabul. Schools long closed by the Taliban were reopening, and I volunteered to help English teachers revive memories of the language they had studied and taught in those schools before the wars swept so much away. I also worked with Afghan women and other internationals -- few in number then -- to start up organizations and services for women and girls brutalized by war and stunned by long confinement to their homes. They were emerging silently, like sleepwalkers, to find life as they had once known it long gone. Most of Kabul was gone too, a landscape of rubble left from years of civil war followed by Taliban neglect and then American bombs.

After the Taliban fled those bombs, the first soldiers to patrol the ruined streets of Kabul were members of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force established by the U.N. to safeguard the capital. Turks, Spaniards, Brits, and others strolled around downtown, wearing berets or caps -- no helmets or armor -- and walked into shops like casual tourists. They parked their military vehicles and let kids climb all over them. Afghans seemed to welcome the ISAF soldiers as an inconspicuous but friendly and reassuring presence.

Then they were supplanted by the aggressive Americans. The teachers in my English classes began to ask for help in writing letters to the U.S. military to claim compensation for friends or neighbors whose children had been run over by speeding soldiers. A teacher asked, “Why do Americans act in this way?” I had, at the time, no answer for her.

In my work, I found myself embroiled ever more often with those soldiers as I tried to get compensation, if not justice, for Afghans. As a reporter, I also occasionally felt duty-bound to attend press briefings concocted by Washington’s militarized theorists of a future American-dominated world of global free markets, spreading democracy, and perfect security in the oddly rebranded “homeland.”

The Pentagon prepared PowerPoint presentations cluttered with charts and arrows indicating how everything was ultimately connected to everything else in an insulated circularity of hokum. Subordinates based in Kabul delivered those talks to American journalists who dutifully took notes and submitted soon-familiar stories about new strategies and tactics, each guaranteed to bring success to Washington’s Afghan War, even as commanding generals came and went year after year.

To American officials back in that homeland, war was clearly a theoretical construct, and victory a matter of dreaming up those winning new strategies, or choosing some from past wars -- Iraq, for example, or Vietnam -- and then sending in the brash kids I would see in that stadium near Mazar-i-Sharif to carry them out. War was, in short, a business plan encoded in visual graphics. To Afghans, whose land had already served as the playing field for more than 20 years of Washington’s devastating modern wars, it wasn’t like that at all.

Frankly, I didn’t like the U.S. soldiers I met in those years. Unlike the ISAF troops, who appeared to be real people in uniforms, the Americans acted like PowerPoint Soldiers (with a capital S), or, as they preferred to be called, Warriors (with a capital W). What they seldom acted like was real people. For one thing, they seemed to have been trained to invade the space of any hapless civilian. They snapped to attention in your face and spat out sentences that splashed your flesh, something they hadn’t learned from their mothers.

In time, though, their canned -- and fearful -- aggressiveness stirred my sympathy and my curiosity to know something about who they really were, or had been. So much so that in the summer of 2010, I borrowed body armor from a friend and applied to embed with U.S. soldiers. At the time, General Stanley McChrystal was massing troops (and journalists) in the Taliban heartland of Helmand Province in southwestern Afghanistan for a well-advertised “decisive” showdown with the insurgency. I, on the other hand, was permitted to go to a forward operating base in northeast Afghanistan on the Pakistani border where, it was said, nothing was going on. In fact, American soldiers were “falling” there at a rate that took their commanders by surprise and troubled them.

By the time I arrived, those commanders had become secretive, cloistering themselves behind closed doors -- no more PowerPoint presentations offering the press (me) straight-faced assessments of “progress.”

For TomDispatch, I wrote a piece about that base and included one fact that brought me a deluge of outraged email from wives and girlfriends of the Warriors. It wasn’t my description of the deaths of soldiers that upset them, but my noting that the most common disabling injury on that base was a sprained ankle -- the result of jogging in the rocky high-desert terrain. How dare I say such a thing, the women demanded. It demeaned our nation’s great Warriors. It was an insult to all patriotic Americans.

I learned a lesson from that. America’s soldiers, when deployed, may no longer be “real people” even to their loved ones. To girlfriends and wives, left alone at home with bills to pay and kids to raise, they evidently had to be mythic Warriors of historic importance saving the nation even at the sacrifice of their own lives. Otherwise, what was the point?

Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?

And that may be the point: that there wasn’t one, not to this war of choice and revenge, or the one in Iraq either. There were only kids in uniform, most of whom by that time knew that they hadn’t known what they were getting into, and now were struggling to keep their illusions and themselves alive. They walked the streets of the base, two by two, battle buddies heading for the DFAC (mess hall), the laundry, the latrine, the gym. They hung out on the Internet and the international phones, in the war and out of it at the same time, until orders came down from somewhere: Washington, Kabul, Bagram, or the map-lined room behind the closed door of the base commander’s office. As a result, every day while I was on that base, patrols were ordered to drive or walk out into the surrounding mountains where Taliban flags flew. Very often they returned with men missing.

What had happened to those boys who had been there at breakfast in the DFAC? Dead or torn up by a sniper or a roadside bomb, they had been whisked off by helicopters and then... what?

They lodged in my memory. Unable to forget them, almost a year later, when I was officially not a nosy journalist but a research fellow at a leading university, I again applied for permission to embed in the military. This time, I asked to follow casualties from that high desert “battle space” to the trauma hospital at Bagram Air Base, onto a C-17 with the medical teams that accompanied the wounded soldiers to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany -- the biggest American hospital outside the United States -- then back onto a C-17 to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and in some cases, all the way home.

Over the years, more and more of America’s kids made that medevac journey back to the States. has tallied 106,000 Americans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan or evacuated from those war zones because of accident or disease. Because so many so-called “invisible wounds” are not diagnosed until after soldiers return home, the true number of wounded must be much higher. Witness the fact that, as of June 2012, 247,000 veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq had been diagnosed by the VA with post-traumatic stress disorder, and as of May 31, 2012, more than 745,000 veterans of those wars had filed disability claims with the Veterans Administration (VA). Taxpayers have already spent $135 billion on medical and disability payments for the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the long-term medical and disability costs are expected to peak at about midcentury, at an estimated $754 billion.

Then there were the “fallen,” the dead, shipped to Dover Air Base in metal “transfer cases” aboard standard cargo planes. They were transferred to the official military mortuary in ceremonies from which the media, and thus the public, were until 2009 excluded -- at least 6,656 of them from Iraq and Afghanistan by February of this year. At least 3,000 private contractors have also been killed in both wars. Add to this list the toll of post-deployment suicides, and soldiers or veterans hooked on addictive opioids pushed by Big Pharma and prescribed by military doctors or VA psychiatrists either to keep them on the job or, after they break down, to “cure” them of their war experiences.

The first veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq returned to the United States 10 years ago in 2003, yet I’ve never spoken to a damaged soldier or a soldier’s family members who thought the care he or she received from the Veterans Administration was anything like appropriate or enough. By the VA’s own admission, the time it takes to reach a decision on a veteran’s benefits, or simply to offer an appointment, is so long that some vets die while waiting.

So it is that, since their return, untold numbers of soldiers have been looked after by their parents. I visited a home on the Great Plains where a veteran has lain in his childhood bed, in his mother’s care, for most of the last decade, and another home in New England where a veteran spent the last evening before he took his own life sitting on his father’s lap.

As I followed the sad trail of damaged veterans to write my new book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- the Untold Story, I came to see how much they and their families have suffered, like Afghans, from the delusions of this nation’s leaders -- many running counter to international law -- and of other influential Americans, in and out of the military, more powerful and less accountable than themselves.

Like the soldiers, the country has changed. Muted now is the braggadocio of the bring-‘em-on decider who started the preemptive process that ate the children of the poor and patriotic. Now, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, Washington scrambles to make the exit look less like a defeat -- or worse, pointless waste. Most Americans no longer ask what the wars were for.

“Follow the money,” a furious Army officer, near the end of his career, instructed me. I had spent my time with poor kids in search of an honorable future who do the grunt work of America’s military. They are part of the nation’s lowliest 1%. But as that angry career officer told me, “They only follow orders.” It’s the other 1% at the top who are served by war, the great American engine that powers the transfer of wealth from the public treasury upward and into their pockets. Following that money trail reveals the real point of the chosen conflicts. As that disillusioned officer put it to me, the wars have made those profiteers “monu-fuckin'-mentally rich.” It’s the soldiers and their families who lost out.

Ann Jones has a new book published today: They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars -- the Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project in cooperation with Haymarket Books. Andrew Bacevich has already had this to say about it: “Read this unsparing, scathingly direct, and gut-wrenching account -- the war Washington doesn’t want you to see. Then see if you still believe that Americans ‘support the troops.’” Jones, who has reported from Afghanistan since 2002, is also the author of two books about the impact of war on civilians: Kabul in Winter and War Is Not Over When It’s Over.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out Nick Turse’s Dispatch book The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Ann Jones

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

"Boston Bomber" Case Continues Behind the Bleachers

Feds Accused Of Harassing “Boston Bomber” Friends, And Friends Of Friends

by Dave Lindorff, Russ Baker and Milicent Cranor

(This story originally ran in Who What Why News [1] ) 

Looking for answers or trying to hide them?

In the six months since the Boston Marathon bombing, the FBI has by all appearances been relentlessly intimidating, punishing, deporting and, in one case, shooting to death, persons connected, sometimes only tangentially, with the alleged bombers.

All of these individuals have something in common: If afforded constitutional protections and treated as witnesses instead of perpetrators, they could potentially help clear up questions about the violence of April 15. And they might also be able to help clarify the methods and extent of the FBI’s recruitment of immigrants and others for undercover work, and how that could relate to the Bureau’s prior relationship with the bombing suspects—a relationship the Bureau has variously hidden or downplayed.

Who Cares? We Do

The Boston tragedy may seem like a remote, distant memory, yet the bombing warrants continued scrutiny as a seminal event of our times. It was, after all, the only major terror attack in the United States since 9/11. With its grisly scenes of severed limbs and dead bodies, including that of a child, it shook Americans profoundly.

As importantly, in its aftermath we’ve seen public acquiescence in an ongoing erosion of civil liberties and privacy rights that began with 9/11—and to an unprecedented expansion of federal authority in the form of a unique military/law enforcement “lockdown” of a major metropolitan area.

FBI victims: Ashur Miraliev and Tatian Gruzdeva,
threatened with deportation or deported, and
Ibragim Todashev, killed during an interrogation

Nonetheless, at the time, most news organizations simply accepted at face value the shifting and thin official accounts of the strange events. Today few give the still-unfolding saga even the most minimal attention. And it is most certainly still unfolding, as we shall see.

The Little-Noticed Post-Marathon Hunt

The FBI’s strange obsession with marginal figures loosely connected to the bombing story began last May, with the daily questioning of a Chechen immigrant, Ibragim Todashev, and of his girlfriend and fellow immigrant, Tatiana Gruzdeva. Todashev had been a friend of the alleged lead Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a hail of police gunfire four days after the bombing. Tsarnaev’s younger brother Dzhokhar barely survived a massive police strafing of a trailered boat in which he was hiding, trapped and unarmed.

During one interrogation in Orlando, Florida, where Todashev was living, something went awry and he ended up dead from gunshots. Although to date the FBI has provided only hazy and inconsistent accounts of that incident, the killing of a suspect and potential witness in custody was clearly a highly irregular and problematical occurrence, replete with apparent violations of Bureau and standard law-enforcement procedure...

For the rest of this article, please go to: Who What Why News [1]

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Had to Happen: Journalism as Terror

Ex-CIA Analyst on Snowden and Calling Journalists Terrorists


On Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, Ray McGovern comments on the British Gov. calling journalist Glen Greenwald's partner a terrorist and on awarding Edward Snowden the Sam Adams award.

Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer. McGovern was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. McGovern was born and raised in the Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University, received an M.A. in Russian Studies from Fordham, a certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown University, and graduated from Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program. McGovern now works for "Tell the Word," a ministry of the inner-city/Washington Church of the Saviour.  

Sacrificing the Greenback for the Banksters' Benefit

Escape From The Dollar: An Interview with Paul Craig Roberts

by Mike Whitney - CounterPunch

Paul Craig Roberts thinks the Fed has backed itself into corner. A rise in interest rates would strengthen the dollar, give the dollar new life as world reserve currency, and halt the movement into gold, but a rise in rates would collapse the bond and stock markets and reduce the value of derivatives on the banks’ balance sheets. I asked Dr. Roberts if the Fed would sacrifice the dollar in order to save the banks and what the effect would be on Washington’s power viv-a-vis the rest of the world. His answers to these three questions suggest that Washington’s days of financial hegemony and world leadership are numbered.

Mike Whitney: Is the US dollar at risk of losing its position as reserve currency? How would this loss affect US leadership and other countries?

Paul Craig Roberts: In a way the dollar has already lost its reserve currency status, but this development has not yet been officially realized; nor has it hit the currency markets. Consider that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have announced their intention to abandon the use of the US dollar for the settlement of trade imbalances between themselves, instead settling their accounts in their own currencies. (There is now a website, the BRICSPOST, that reports on the developing relations between the five large countries.) There are also reports that Australia and China and Japan and China are going to settle their trade accounts without recourse to the dollar.

Different explanations are given. The BRICS imply that they are tired of US financial hegemony and have concerns about the dollar’s stability in view of Washington’s excessive issuance of new debt and new money to finance it. China, Australia, and Japan have cited the avoidance of transaction fees associated with exchanging their currencies first into US dollars and then into the other currencies. They say it is a cost-saving step to reduce transaction costs. This may be diplomatic cover for discarding the US dollar.

The October 2013 US government partial shutdown and (exaggerated) debt default threat resulted in the unprecedented currency swap agreements between the Chinese central bank and the European central bank and between the Chinese central bank and the Bank of England. The reason given for these currency swaps was necessary precaution against dollar disruption. In other words, US instability was seen as a threat to the international payments system. The dollar’s role of reserve currency is not compatible with the view that precautions must be taken against the dollar’s possible failure or disruption. China’s call for “a de-Americanized world” is a clear sign of growing impatience with Washington’s irresponsibility.

To summarize, there has been a change in attitudes toward the US dollar and acceptance of US financial hegemony. As the October deficit and debt ceiling crisis has not been resolved, merely moved to January/February, 2014, a repeat of the October impasse would further erode confidence in the dollar.

Regardless, most countries have come to the conclusion that not only has the US abused the reserve currency role, but also the power of Washington to impose its will and to act outside of law stems from its financial hegemony and that this financial power is more difficult to resist than Washington’s military power.

As the world, including US allies, made clear by standing up to Washington and blocking Washington’s military attack on Syria, Washington’s days of unchallenged hegemony are over. From China, Russia, Europe, and South America voices are rising against Washington’s lawlessness and recklessness. This changed attitude toward the US will break up the system of dollar imperialism.

Mike Whitney: How is the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing impacting the dollar and financial instruments?

Paul Craig Roberts: The Federal Reserve’s policy of creating large amounts of new money in order to support the balance sheets of “banks too big to fail” and to finance continuing large budget deficits is another factor undermining the dollar’s reserve currency role. The liquidity that the Federal Reserve has pumped into the financial system has created enormous bubbles in bond and stock markets. US bond prices are so high as to be incompatible with the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet and massive creation of new dollars.

Moreover, central banks and some investors have realized that the Federal Reserve is locked into the policy of supporting bond prices. If the Federal Reserve ceases to support bond prices, interest rates will rise, the prices of debt-related derivatives on the banks’ balance sheets will fall, and the stock and bond markets would collapse. Therefore, a tapering off of quantitative easing risks a financial panic.

On the other hand, continuing the policy of supporting bond prices further erodes confidence in the US dollar. Vast amounts of dollars and dollar-denominated financial instruments are held all over the world. Holders of dollars are watching the Federal Reserve dilute their holdings by creating 1,000 billion new dollars per year. The natural result of this experience is to lighten up on dollar holdings and to look for different ways in which to hold reserves.

The Federal Reserve can print money with which to purchase bonds, but it cannot print foreign currencies with which to purchase dollars. As concerns over the dollar rise, the dollar’s exchange value will fall as more dollars are sold in currency markets. As the US is import-dependent, this will translate into higher domestic prices. Rising inflation will further spook dollar holders.

According to recent reports, China and Japan have together reduced their holdings of US Treasuries by some $40 billion. This is not a large sum compared to the size of the market, but it is a change from continuing accumulation. In the past, Washington has been able to count on China and Japan recycling their trade surpluses with the US into US Treasury debt. If foreign willingness to acquire Treasury debt declines and the federal budget deficit does not, the Federal Reserve would have to increase quantitative easing, thus putting even more pressure on the dollar.

In other words, in order to avoid an immediate crisis, the Federal Reserve has to continue a policy that will produce a crisis down the road. It is either a financial crisis now or a dollar crisis later.

Eventually, the Federal Reserve’s hand will be forced. As the dollar’s exchange value declines, so will the value of dollar-denominated financial instruments regardless of how many bonds the Federal Reserve purchases.

Mike Whitney: How is China likely to respond to America’s changing economic position?

Paul Craig Roberts: When I met with Chinese policymakers in 2006, I advised them that there was a limit to how long they could rely on the US consumer market as jobs offshoring was destroying it. I pointed out that China’s large population provided policymakers with the potential for an enormous economy. They replied that the one-child policy, which had been necessary in early years to keep population from outrunning social infrastructure, was blocking the development of a domestic consumer economy. As peasant farmers no longer could rely on multiple children for old age insurance, they hoarded their earnings in order to provide for their old age. Chinese policymakers said that they intended to develop a social security system that would give the population confidence to spend more of their earnings. I do not know to what extent China has moved in this direction.

Since 2006 the Chinese government has let the yuan appreciate 25% or 33%, depending on the choice of base. The increase in the currency’s exchange value has not hurt exports or the economy. Moreover, the US no longer manufactures many of the items for which it is dependent on China, and other developing countries do not have the combination of the technology that US corporations have given to China and China’s large excess supply of labor. So it is unlikely that China faces any threat to its development except for US policies designed to cut China off from resources, such as the new US military focus on the Pacific announced by the Obama regime.

China’s large dollar holdings are the consequence of the technological prowess that China acquired from Western corporations offshoring jobs to China. What is important to China is the technology and business know-how, which they have now acquired. The paper wealth represented by dollar holdings is not the important factor.

China could destabilize the US dollar by converting its holdings into dollar currency and dumping the dollars into the exchange markets. The Federal Reserve would not be able to arrange currency swaps with other countries large enough to buy up the dumped dollars, and the dollar’s exchange value would fall. Such an action could be a Chinese response to military encirclement by Washington.

In the absence of a confrontation, the Chinese government is more likely to gradually convert its dollars into gold, other currencies and real assets such as oil and mineral deposits and food businesses.

Quantitative easing is rapidly increasing the supply of dollars, but as other countries move to other arrangements for settling their trade imbalances, the demand for dollars is not rising with the supply. Thus, the dollar’s price must fall. Whether the fall is slow over time or sudden due to an unanticipated Black Swan event remains to be seen.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

US Policy Getting "No Respect" in the Middle East

A Field Guide to Losing Friends, Influencing No One, and Alienating the Middle East: Obama’s Washington Is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Region

by Bob Dreyfuss - TomDispatch

Put in context, the simultaneous raids in Libya and Somalia last month, targeting an alleged al-Qaeda fugitive and an alleged kingpin of the al-Shabab Islamist movement, were less a sign of America’s awesome might than two minor exceptions that proved an emerging rule: namely, that the power, prestige, and influence of the United States in the broader Middle East and its ability to shape events there is in a death spiral.

Twelve years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and a decade after the misguided invasion of Iraq -- both designed to consolidate and expand America’s regional clout by removing adversaries -- Washington’s actual standing in country after country, including its chief allies in the region, has never been weaker. Though President Obama can order raids virtually anywhere using Special Operations forces, and though he can strike willy-nilly in targeted killing actions by calling in the Predator and Reaper drones, he has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Middle East. Not only does no one there respect the United States, but no one really fears it, either -- and increasingly, no one pays it any mind at all.

Tomgram: Bob Dreyfuss, American Death Spiral in the Middle East

When Barack Obama took office, the sky was the limit in the Greater Middle East. After all, it seemed the U.S. had hit rock bottom. President Bush had set the region aflame with a raging debacle in Iraq, a sputtering conflict in Afghanistan, and a low-level drone war in Pakistan. The outgoing president was wildly unpopular in the region and it was hard to imagine just what the new administration could do to make the situation worse.

For all his foreign policy faults, Bush had even left his successor with an ace in the hole. Obama had campaigned on ending the Iraq War and Bush was kind enough to negotiate the terms for him before he left office. All the new president had to do was sit back and reap the rewards.

Almost five years later, the administration surely wishes it had a time machine to take America back to the Bush days when Iraq was convulsed by a civil war, the war in Afghanistan was largely forgotten, Egypt and Tunisia were under the thumbs of American-backed tyrants, and Syria and Libya were controlled by detested but stable dictators.

What seemed at the time to be a blood-soaked hell must look more like the halcyon days to the Obama administration, whose national security team now seems content to limp through the remainder of the president’s second term with fingers crossed, hoping desperately that they won’t stumble, bumble, stagger, slide, or inadvertently leap into yet another foreign policy fiasco in the region. Today, as Bob Dreyfuss indicates, the administration finds itself adrift in the Greater Middle East, chastened by a series of its own foreign policy flubs, stumbles, and mini-disasters, as well as by governments that seem increasingly beyond its power or ability to control, coerce, or cajole. The only country in the region that seems to bear much resemblance to its pre-Obama self is Iraq, where violence has reached its highest level in half a decade and suicide and car bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and death threats are creeping ever closer to Bush-era levels.

Today, TomDispatch regular and Nation magazine stalwart Bob Dreyfuss wades knee deep in the Big Muddy in the Middle East to offer a vivid portrait of an Obama administration in remarkable disarray. Nick Turse 

A Field Guide to Losing Friends, Influencing No One, and Alienating the Middle East: Obama’s Washington Is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Region

by Bob Dreyfuss

There are plenty of reasons why America’s previously unchallenged hegemony in the Middle East is in free fall. The disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq generated anti-American fervor in the streets and in the elites. America’s economic crisis since 2008 has convinced many that the United States no longer has the wherewithal to sustain an imperial presence. The Arab Spring, for all its ups and downs, has challenged the status quo everywhere, leading to enormous uncertainty while empowering political forces unwilling to march in lockstep with Washington. In addition, oil-consuming nations like China and India have become more engaged with their suppliers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. The result: throughout the region, things are fast becoming unglued for the United States.

Its two closest allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are sullenly hostile, routinely ignore Obama’s advice, and openly oppose American policies. Iraq and Afghanistan, one formerly occupied and one about to be evacuated, are led, respectively, by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an inflexible sectarian Shiite closely tied to Iran, and President Hamid Karzai, a corrupt, mercurial leader who periodically threatens to join the Taliban. In Egypt, three successive regimes -- those of President Hosni Mubarak, Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the chieftains of the July 2013 military coup -- have insouciantly flouted U.S. wishes.

Turkey, ostensibly a NATO ally but led by a quirky Islamist, is miffed over Obama’s back-and-forth policy in Syria and has shocked the U.S. by deciding to buy a non-NATO-compatible missile defense system from China. Libya, Somalia, and Yemen have little or no government at all. They have essentially devolved into a mosaic of armed gangs, many implacably opposed to the United States.

This downward spiral has hardly escaped attention. In a recent address to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Chas Freeman, the former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, described it in some detail. “We have lost intellectual command and practical control of the many situations unfolding there,” said Freeman, whose nomination by Obama in 2009 to serve as head of the National Intelligence Council was shot down by the Israel Lobby. “We must acknowledge the reality that we no longer have or can expect to have the clout we once did in the region.”

In an editorial on October 29th, the New York Times ruefully concluded: “It is not every day that America finds itself facing open rebellion from its allies, yet that is what is happening with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel.” And in a front-page story on the administration's internal deliberations, the Times’s Mark Landler reported that, over the summer, the White House had decided to scale back its role in the Middle East because many objectives “lie outside [its] reach,” and henceforth would adopt a “more modest strategy” in the region.

Perhaps the most profound irony embedded in Washington’s current predicament is this: Iran, for decades the supposed epicenter of anti-Americanism in the region, is the country where the United States has perhaps its last opportunity to salvage its position. If Washington and Tehran can negotiate a détente -- and it’s a big if, given the domestic political power of hawks in both countries -- that accord might go a long way toward stabilizing Washington’s regional credibility.

Debacle in Syria

Let’s begin our survey of America’s Greater Middle Eastern fecklessness with Exhibit A: Syria. It is there, where a movement to oust President Bashar al-Assad devolved into a civil war, that the United States has demonstrated its utter inability to guide events. Back in the summer of 2011 -- at the very dawn of the conflict -- Obama demanded that Assad step down. There was only one problem: short of an Iraq-style invasion of Syria, he had no power to make that happen. Assad promptly called his bluff, escalated the conflict, and rallied support from Russia and Iran. Obama’s clarion call for his resignation only made things worse by convincing Syrian rebels that the United States would come to their aid.

A year later, Obama drew a “red line” in the sand, suggesting that any use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would precipitate a U.S. military response. Again Assad ignored him, and many hundreds of civilians were gassed to death in multiple uses of the dreaded weapons.

The crowning catastrophe of Obama’s Syria policy came when he threatened a devastating strike on Assad’s military facilities using Tomahawk cruise missiles and other weaponry. Instead of finding himself leading a George W. Bush-style “coalition of the willing” with domestic support, Obama watched as allies scattered, including the usually reliable British and the Arab League. At home, political support was nearly nil and evaporated from there. Polls showed Americans overwhelmingly opposed to a war with or attack on Syria.

When, in desperation, the president appealed to Congress for a resolution to authorize the use of military force against that country, the White House found (to its surprise) that Congress, which normally rubber-stamps such proposals, would have none of it. Paralyzed, reluctant to choose between backing down and striking Syria by presidential fiat, Obama was rescued in humiliating fashion by a proposal from Syria’s chief ally, Russia, to dismantle and destroy that country’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Adding insult to injury, as Secretary of State John Kerry scrambles to organize a long-postponed peace conference in Geneva aimed at reaching a political settlement of the civil war, he is faced with a sad paradox: while the Syrian government has agreed to attend the Geneva meeting, also sponsored by Russia, America’s allies, the anti-Assad rebels, have flatly refused to go.

Laughingstock in Egypt

Don’t think for a second that Washington’s ineffectiveness stops with the ongoing Syrian fiasco.

Next door, in a country whose government was installed by the United States after the 2003 invasion, the Obama administration notoriously failed to convince the Iraqis to allow even a small contingent of American troops to remain there past 2011. Since then, that country has moved ever more firmly into Iran’s orbit and has virtually broken with Washington over Syria.

Since the start of the civil war in Syria, Shiite-led Iraq has joined Shiite Iran in supporting Assad, whose ruling minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiism. There have been widespread reports that pro-Assad Iraqi Shiite militias are traveling to Syria, presumably with the support or at least acquiescence of the government. Ignoring Washington’s entreaties, it has also allowed Iran to conduct a virtual Berlin Airlift-style aerial resupply effort for Syria’s armed forces through Iraqi air space. Last month, in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York during the United Nations General Assembly session, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari undiplomatically warned Obama that his government stands against the U.S. decision -- taken in a secret presidential finding in April and only made public last summer -- to provide arms to Syria’s rebels. (“We oppose providing military assistance to any [Syrian] rebel groups.”)

Meanwhile, Washington is also flailing in its policy toward Egypt, where the Obama administration has been singularly hapless. In a rare feat, it has managed to anger and alienate every conceivable faction in that politically divided country. In July, when Egypt’s military ousted President Mohammad Morsi and violently clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration made itself look ridiculous to Egyptians (and to the rest of the Middle East) by refusing to call what happened a coup d’état, since under U.S. law that would have meant suspending aid to the Egyptian military.

As it happened, however, American aid figured little in the calculations of Egypt’s new military leaders. The reason was simple enough: Saudi Arabia and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, bitter opponents of the Morsi government, applauded the coup and poured at least $12 billion in cash into the country’s near-empty coffers. In the end, making no one happy, the administration tried to split the difference: Obama declared that he would suspend the delivery of some big-ticket military items like Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon missiles, M1-A1 tank parts, and F-16 fighter planes, but let other aid to the military continue, including counterterrorism assistance and the sale of border security items. Such a split decision only served to underscore the administration’s lack of leverage in Cairo. Meanwhile, there are reports that Egypt’s new rulers may turn to Russia for arms in open defiance of a horrified Washington’s wishes.

Saudi and Israeli Punching Bag

The most surprising defection from the pro-American coalition in the Middle East is, however, Saudi Arabia. In part, that kingdom’s erratic behavior may result from a growing awareness among its ultraconservative, kleptocratic princelings that they face an increasingly uncertain future. Christopher Davidson’s new book, After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, outlines the many pressures building on the country.

One significant cause of instability, claims Davidson, is the “existence of substantial Western military bases on the Arabian Peninsula, [which are considered] an affront to Islam and to national sovereignty.” For decades, such an American military presence in the region provided a security blanket for the Saudi royals, making the country a virtual U.S. protectorate. Now, amid the turmoil that has followed the war in Iraq, the Arab Spring, and the rise of an assertive Iran, Saudi Arabia isn’t sure which way to turn, or whether the United States is friend or foe.

Since 2003, the Saudi rulers have found themselves increasingly unhappy with American policy. Riyadh, the area’s chief Sunni power, was apoplectic when the United States toppled Iraq’s Sunni leader Saddam Hussein and allowed Iran to vastly increase its influence in Baghdad. In 2011, the Saudi royal family blamed Washington for not doing more to prevent the collapse of the conservative and pro-Saudi Mubarak government in Egypt.

Now, the Saudis are on the verge of a complete break over Washington’s policies toward Syria and Iran. As the chief backers of the rebels in Syria, they were dismayed when Obama chose not to bomb military sites around Damascus. Because it views Iran through the lens of a regional Sunni-Shiite struggle for dominance, it is no less dismayed by the possible emergence of a U.S.-Iran accord from renewed negotiations over that country’s nuclear program.

To express its pique, its foreign minister abruptly canceled his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, shocking U.N. members. Then, adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia turned down a prestigious seat on the Security Council, a post for which it had long campaigned. 
“Upset at President Barack Obama's policies on Iran and Syria,” reported Reuters, “members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.”

That news service quoted Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as saying that his country was on the verge of a “major shift” in its relations with the U.S. Former head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal lambasted America’s Syria policy this way: 
“The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. [It is] designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down [from military strikes], but also to help Assad to butcher his people.”

This is shocking stuff from America’s second most reliable ally in the region. As for reliable ally number one, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visibly decided to be anything but a cooperative partner in the region, making Obama’s job more difficult at every turn. Since 2009, he has gleefully defied the American president, starting with his refusal to impose a freeze on illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank when specifically asked to do so by the president at the start of his first term. Meanwhile, most of the world has spent the past half-decade on tenterhooks over the possibility that his country might actually launch a much-threatened military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran and indicated his interest in reorienting policy to make a deal with the Western powers over its nuclear program, Israeli statements have become ever more shrill. In a September speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for instance, Netanyahu rolled out extreme rhetoric, claiming that Israel is “challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.” This despite the fact that Iran possesses no nuclear weapons, has enriched not an ounce of uranium to weapons-grade level, and has probably not mastered the technology to manufacture a bomb. According to American intelligence reports, it has not yet even militarized its nuclear research.

Netanyahu’s speech was so full of hyperbole that observers concluded Israel was isolating itself from the rest of the world. “He was so anxious to make everything look as negative as possible he actually pushed the limits of credibility,” said Gary Sick, a former senior official in the Carter administration and an Iran expert. “He did himself harm by his exaggerations.”

Iran: Obama’s Ironic Beacon of Hope

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are fearful that the Middle Eastern balance of power could be tipped against them if the United States and Iran are able to strike a deal. Seeking to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into the talks between Iran, the U.S., and the P5+1 powers (the permanent members of the U.N. security Council plus Germany), Israel has put forward a series of demands that go far beyond anything Iran would accept, or that the other countries would go along with. Before supporting the removal of international economic sanctions against Iran, Israel wants that country to suspend all enrichment of uranium, shut down its nuclear facilities, not be allowed any centrifuges to enrich uranium, abandon the heavy-water plant it is constructing to produce plutonium, permanently close its fortified underground installation at Fordo, and ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country.

In contrast, it’s widely believed that the United States is ready to allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium, maintain some of its existing facilities, and retain a partial stockpile of enriched uranium for fuel under stricter and more intrusive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Ironically, a U.S.-Iran détente is the one thing that could slow down or reverse the death spiral of American influence in the region. Iran, for instance, could be helpful in convincing President Assad of Syria to leave office in 2014, in advance of elections there, if radical Sunni Islamic organizations, including allies of al-Qaeda, are suppressed. Enormously influential in Afghanistan, Iran could also help stabilize that country after the departure of U.S. combat forces in 2014. And it could be enlisted to work alongside the United States and regional powers to stabilize Iraq.

More broadly, a U.S.-Iran entente might lead to a gradual de-escalation of the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, including its huge naval forces, bases, and other facilities in Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. It’s even conceivable that Iran could be persuaded to join other regional and global powers in seeking a just and lasting negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States and Iran have a number of common interests, including opposing al-Qaeda-style terrorism and cracking down on drug smuggling.

Of course, such a deal will be exceedingly difficult to nail down, if for no other reason than that the hardliners in both countries are determined to prevent it.

Right now, imagine the Obama administration as one of those vaudeville acts that keep a dozen plates spinning atop vibrating poles. At just this moment in the Middle East, those “plates” are tipping in every direction. There’s still time to prevent them all from crashing to the ground, but it would take a masterful effort from the White House -- and it’s far from clear that anyone there is up to the task.

Bob Dreyfuss is an independent investigative journalist based in Cape May, New Jersey, specializing in politics and national security. He is a contributing editor at the Nation, and his blog appears daily at In the past, he has written extensively for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, the American Prospect, the New Republic, and many other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

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Copyright 2013 Bob Dreyfuss