Archive | June, 2014

Communities Protest That UK’s Equatorial Palm Oil Are Poised to Seize Land in Liberia

NOVANEWS

 

The UK-listed company, Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO), which is threatening to seize land owned by Liberians in defiance of commitments by Liberia’s President, will today receive a visit from affected communities. Members of the Jogbahn Clan, together with representatives from Liberian and international NGOs, will deliver a petition with over 90,000 signatures, reminding EPO that it does not have community consent to expand onto their lands, and that doing so could escalate violence. [1] EPO’s past operations in Liberia have triggered allegations of conflict and human rights abuses. The company has maintained that any expansion is legal. [2]

“EPO’s recent expansion efforts are a brazen example of a company defying international law, government orders and the rights of communities,” said Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, campaigner at the Sustainable Development Institute. “EPO has no claim to this land, it is owned by the communities who live on it.” [3]

Residents from the Jogbahn Clan in Liberia’s Grand Bassa County say that EPO has begun demarcating blocks of land in preparation for clearing, and have accused its security officers of threatening community members. These actions defy the March commitment by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that EPO could not expand onto the lands of the Joghban Clan without their permission. [4] The right of Liberian communities such as the Joghban Clan to give or withhold consent to projects that could have an impact on their land and resources is also provided under international human rights law, as well as the Principles and Criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) of which EPO is a member. [5] The Joghban people have refused to give such consent.

EPO has a very poor track record in Grand Bassa County. In September of last year, officers from the EPO security team and the Liberian Police reportedly worked together to assault and beat Joghban community members who were peacefully protesting the company’s operations. Those arrested were soon released after it was determined by the government’s Grand Bassa attorney that there was no justification for continued detention. No government investigation report regarding this incident has been made public. [6]

EPO denied any involvement in the violence, saying that it had been “falsely accused”, and does not “condone or encourage such described behaviour,” and “never instructed or directed any of its staff or PSU officers to intimidate Jogbahn community members in September or at any time.” However, EPO admitted to Global Witness that it provided logistical support to the Liberian police who are accused of intimidating villagers on the plantation. The company further stated that it “respect[s] the Liberian community rights and land, and ha[s] followed the law and procedures laid out”, had taken “strict steps” to ensure that it only plants oil palm on its concession land and legally-acquired community land, and  is “a responsible company and committed to sustainable oil palm development.” [7]

EPO’s concessions in Liberia total 8,900 km2 of land, which the company believes gives it the legal right to use the land to develop a palm oil concession.  The company is listed on the London-based AIM stock market, and is now majority owned by Malaysian palm oil giant Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK). Major brands including Kellogg’s, Kraft, Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and General Mills have been reported as direct or indirect consumers of KLK palm oil. [8]

“We demand that EPO stops inciting conflict by preparing to clear our land,” commented Jogbahn Elder Joseph Chio Johnson, “EPO must stop threatening our people and accept that our no means no.”

Notes to editor

  1. Sustainable Development Institute and Friends of the Earth International, Tell Equatorial Palm Oil NO means NO!, Rainforest Rescue, Wir stoppen die Walddiebe!, Friends of the Earth US, Stop an abusive palm oil company from grabbing Liberian land, Milieudefensie, Laat Equatorial Palm Oil weten dat NEE echt NEE betekent!
  2. Equatorial Palm Oil, Letter to Global Witness, 17 December 2013.  EPO’s full response can be found on Global Witness’ website at: www.globalwitness.org.
  3. Customary land rights are protected under a range of international human rights laws applicable to Liberia, including the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights (1981), the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (1965), as well as principles of customary international law expressed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).
  4. Sustainable Development Institute, SDI welcomes President Sirleaf’s commitment to protecting Joghban clan’s land from further encroachment by British palm oil company Equatorial Palm Oil, 6 March 2014; Global Witness,NGOs welcome Liberian President’s commitment to stop British palm oil company “taking” community land, 10 March 2014.
  5. Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a key principle of Liberia’s Community Rights Law with respect to Forest Lands (2009), which provides communities with a right to give or withhold their consent to activities planned on community land or which may impact on that land and the community. Article 7 of the Liberian Constitution provides for the maximum feasible participation by citizens of Liberia, in the management of Liberia’s natural resources. FPIC is also an established legal principle supported by numerous regional and international legal instruments to which Liberia is legally bound, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The decision of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights in the case of Endorois Welfare Council v. Kenya (276/2003) e.g. at para 209, including with regard to right to property (Art. 14 ACHPR), as well we the right to development (Art. 22 ACHPR). See also ACHPR Resolution 224 on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Natural Resources Governance, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as numerous other provisions and jurisprudence elaborated under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  6. Sustainable Development Institute, SDI calls on Equatorial Palm Oil to immediately cease land survey in Grand Bassa District #4, 25 September 2013. Sustainable Development Institute, Global Witness, FoE EWNI, FERN, Save My Future Foundation, UK’s Equatorial Palm Oil accused of human rights abuses in Liberia, 20 December 2013.
  7. Equatorial Palm Oil, Letter to Global Witness, 17 December 2013.  EPO’s full response can be found on Global Witness’ website at: www.globalwitness.org. Meeting between Global Witness and EPO in London on 14 November, 2013. EPO, “Letter to Global Witness,” 17 December 2013.
  8. Rainforest Action Network, Conflict Palm Oil in Practice: Exposing KLK’s role in rainforest destruction, land grabbing and child labour, 2 April 2014.

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The Plunder of Detroit and Iraq

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“Iraq was invaded with soldiers, guns and bombs. Detroit was invaded by the corporate ‘suits’ who made a fast buck for themselves.” Both are plundered by the same bandits.

Cadillac Square from City Hall looking east towards county building, Detroit, Mich. (Image: Boston Public Library)The ugly face of empire and disaster capitalism is visible all over the world. Detroit, Michigan, was once a thriving city but was sent into a tailspin by the deindustrialization of the United States, white flight, and institutional racism which blamed black people who were in fact the victims of catastrophe. The coup de grace was delivered by big banks like UBS, Bank of America and Barclays, which sold risky derivatives schemes to corrupt Detroit politicians. When the financial deal inevitably headed south, the banks were the creditors first in line for a payout.

Far back in that line were the workers and people of Detroit. The emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, whose very position they had voted against establishing, rules the city. The new mayor is a figurehead and the people have no representation as the Republican governor and emergency manager remake the city for capital and the gentrifying settler class.

A world away in Iraq, a nation is crumbling under the weight of eleven years of violent occupation by the United States. The once developing nation is now a ruin, with all of its infrastructure and systems from health care to education destroyed by western avarice. The prime minister who was chosen with America’s blessing, Nouri al-Maliki, has now become an inconvenience and faces a bleak fate.

“In the United States, residents of a major city must plead to the international community for the right to access water.”The Bush administration and now the Obama team determined that promoting one side in sectarian political disputes would make for a smooth running and profitable occupation. Instead they brought war between Sunni and Shia and with goal of knocking down more dominoes, continued to fund jihadistswho always upset their plans. Now Maliki is being told to get out of office if he wants help in crushing the enemies that America made for his country.

Just as Iraq’s infrastructure has been destroyed, Detroit residents now live without basic services which ought to be regarded as the right of every human being. In the United States, a country which boasts of its high level of advancement, residents of a major city must plead to the international community for the right to access water.

In a city already on the brink, the powers that be chose to pressure struggling people to pay increased fees for water. They have also used harsh and sometimes improper methods to deprive even those who have paid their bills. No one can survive at all without water to drink, and one cannot survive very well without water for cooking, cleaning and sanitation. Very powerful people in boardrooms and government offices made decisions that turned Detroit into an Iraq in America’s midst and now sneer at pleas for mercy.

Desperate Detroiters represented by the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Food & Water Watch and the Detroit People’s Water Board, have made their case to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water. They issued a report which outlines the latest scheme to destroy Detroit as a city and as a home to poor and working people. The plan will ultimately privatize the water system and make Detroit another location for prime real estate and riches for the few.

“Very powerful people in boardrooms and government offices made decisions that turned Detroit into an Iraq in America’s midst and now sneer at pleas for mercy.”President Obama and his cohorts in the Democratic and Republican parties will go to any lengths to prop up the empire, but do little to help people in need. American allies in Ukraine or Iraq and other countries receive astronomical sums of money in order to help maintain Manifest Destiny. Poor people in Detroit and the rest of the country are not so lucky. They are seen only as obstacles to putting the rule of capital firmly in place.

Iraq was invaded with soldiers, guns and bombs. Detroit was invaded by the corporate “suits” who made a fast buck for themselves. The end result is the same for Michiganders and Iraqis alike. They end up suffering in a plundered society while other people make out like the bandits that they really are.

The organizations which reached out to the U.N. took an important step in changing the Detroit narrative. Politicians and the corporate media dismiss the city’s troubles as the fault of incompetent black people. All of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s incompetence could not have created the ongoing occupation of Detroit by the thieves in high places. The outreach to the United Nations is important for another reason. It points out that millions of Americans live an existence far from the myth of the great country. They are struggling to survive just like millions in the so-called third world. It is the gangsters who run the show in Baghdad and in Michigan too.

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TIME on Iraq War: What Did We Do to Deserve This?

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(Credit: U.S. Army/cc/flickr)With Iraq in crisis, many corporate news accounts treat the US war there as if it was something that was done to us, and the ensuing chaos proof that the good intentions of a US superpower cannot overcome tribal grievances.

Michael Crowley‘s cover story for Time (6/19/14), “The End of Iraq,” might be the quintessential example. He writes:

The rapid march by ISIS from Syria into Iraq is only partly about the troubled land where the US lost almost 4,500 lives and spent nearly $1 trillion in increasingly vain hopes of establishing a stable, friendly democracy.

We tried to bring them a stable democracy, and look at what they’re doing.

Crowley’s statistic, of course, dismisses roughly 99 out of 100 human lives lost as a result of

(Photo: fair.org)the invasion of Iraq. But he wants to say that this is not even just about Iraq, but about Islamic radicalism from Nigeria to Pakistan. To Crowley, Osama bin Laden’s “fundamentalist ideology–and its cold logic of murder in God’s name–arguably has broader reach than ever.” And so in Iraq, the story is less about the brutal US invasion and more about inevitable history, a place where

ancient hatreds are grinding the country to bits. Washington has reacted with shock–no one saw it coming–and the usual finger pointing, but today’s Washington is a place where history is measured in hourly news cycles and 140-character riffs. What’s happening in Iraq is the work of centuries, the latest chapter in the story of a religious schism between Sunni and Shi’ite that was already old news a thousand years ago.

Why feel too bad about a 10-year-old invasion if what’s really happening is “the work of centuries”? The notion of an intractable, tribal religious war is popular in the press, but it has been questioned; see Murtaza Hussain’s “The Myth of the 1,400-Year Sunni/Shia War” (Al Jazeera7/9/13), for instance. And it functions as a way of letting the US off the hook for unleashing it. As Crowley writes, “To Americans weary of the Middle East, the urge is strong to close our eyes and, as Sarah Palin once put it so coarsely, ‘let Allah sort it out.'”

To be clear, Crowley doesn’t agree with regional expert Palin:

As long as the global economy still runs on Middle Eastern oil, Sunni radicals plot terrorist attacks against the West and Iran’s leaders pursue nuclear technology, the US cannot turn its back.

Time’s view of the Middle East, a place where “hatred, greed and tribalism” overwhelm “the spirit of liberty.” (Photo: fair.org)

One might assume that “nuclear technology” is code for weapons; Iran says it has no interest in the bomb, and there is no evidence that they do. But Time knows otherwise, as Crowley later writes of “Shi’ite Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon.”

The language about “turning its back” seems to want to let the US off the hook for starting the Iraq War–and give a green light for intervening in its next phase with a clear conscience. If you don’t think that line quite does it, Crowley also writes:

What Leon Trotsky supposedly said about war is also true of this war-torn region: Americans may not be interested in the Middle East. But the Middle East is interested in us.

Crowley is back to arguing that the region’s problems are due to a religious conflict the West simply cannot fathom, as he wonders: “But how could the secular West hope to understand cultures in which religion is government, scripture is law and the past defines the future?”

The piece closes by stating its premise quite clearly, with Time explaining:

On a deeper level, the blame belongs to history itself. At this ancient crossroads of the human drama, the US’s failure echoes earlier failures by the European powers, by the Ottoman pashas, by the Crusaders, by Alexander the Great. The civil war of Muslim against Muslim, brother against brother, plays out in the same region that gave us Cain vs. Abel. George W. Bush spoke of the spirit of liberty, and Obama often invokes the spirit of cooperation. Both speak to something powerful in the modern heart. But neither man–nor America itself–fully appreciated until now the continuing reign of much older spirits: hatred, greed and tribalism. Those spirits are loosed again, and the whole world will pay a price.

We offered them the spirits of cooperation and liberty and the modern heart, and this is the thanks we get. It’s almost as if some people don’t appreciate being invaded.

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How the US is Fueling Military Repression in Honduras

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The

Honduran military was a front-line enforcer of U.S. goals in Central America during the Cold War. The country is still paying the price to this day. (Photo: Charlie Company / Flickr)A few weeks ago in Honduras, six Americans were arrested and thrown in jail while salvaging from the ocean floor off the northern coast. Their charge: possession of illegal weapons while on board the ship. A spokesman for the salvage company the men work for said that port officials had approved the guns in advance for purposes of protection. Since their arrest, there have been reports that the men are poorly fed, the jail is foul and mosquito-infested, and vicious fights have broken out among the other inmates.

Publicity over the case has pried the lid off the longstanding human rights crisis in Honduras. Harassment, arbitrary arrest, crowded prisons, and a host of other human rights abuses are a way of life for many Hondurans, and especially the poor. Unionists, peasant activists, environmentalists, indigenous people, and the journalists, lawyers, and others who support them are particularly vulnerable to threats, disappearance, and murder. Over the years, politically motivated killings, along with other factors, have given Honduras the highest murder rate in the world.

The highly charged nature of politics in this country was on display last month when military police violently expelled members of former President Manuel Zelaya’s center-left party from the building for supporting a demonstration against military repression. Zelaya himself had been ousted from office in a 2009 coup, and his followers have suffered a wave of persecution since then. These events prompted a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry from 108 members of the House of Representatives asking him to review the human rights situation in Honduras and cut off aid to those responsible for abuses.

These and other dynamics have made Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the western hemisphere. It is curious that such conditions persist when armed forces in other parts of Latin America have long since come to terms with the principles of democracy. To understand the persistence of authoritarianism in Honduras, a comparison to neighboring Nicaragua reveals differences in the way that militaries in the region are trained and politicized.

Nicaragua: Dynastic Rule

For most of the 20th century, the United States maintained a strong influence in both Nicaragua and Honduras. The United States built the military forces there by establishing schools for military training, providing weapons and aircraft, and supplying funds. In both cases, the armed forces assisted with the U.S. Cold War objective of containing and suppressing the left in the region. The Nicaraguan military provided support for the U.S. invasion of Guatemala in 1954 as well as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. The Honduran armed forces also provided assistance in the invasion of Guatemala and in the “Contra” war against the Sandinista government in the 1980s.

Yet there were important differences in the way the United States worked with the military in each case. While the strategy was more direct in Honduras,U.S. officials managed the military indirectly in Nicaragua by relying on the loyalty of a single family. This longstanding relationship began when U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson gained the assistance of Anastasio Somoza García during the peace negotiations that ended the Nicaraguan civil war in 1927.

Having been schooled in the United States, Somoza spoke American English fluently, a rare ability in Nicaragua at the time. This ability more than anything else enabled Somoza to become head of the National Guard, an elite fighting force trained by the U.S. Marines. When the Marines withdrew in 1934, Somoza became the essential conduit between U.S. officials and the Spanish-speaking Guardsmen.

After his death in 1956, Somoza was succeeded first by one and then another of his sons, so that the family remained largely in control of the country for some 45 years.

As Anthony Lake writes, after U.S. forces left, “Nicaragua’s problems were Nicaragua’s affair. American representatives scrupulously avoided taking sides or even offering advice.” The Somoza dynasty and its supporters in the Liberal Party would be the key to maintaining stability and order even “at the cost of the American ideal of democracy.” Left to their own devices, the Somozas rooted out political rivals and intimidated and corrupted business interests, public officials, political opponents, and rural communities. In time, they became one of the richest families in Central America.

Honduras: Institutionalized Militarism

While Nicaraguans regarded the National Guard with contempt in Nicaragua, the Honduran military forces actually attained a level of cohesion with society.

As Honduran historians point out, the predominant National Party has upheld both traditional and economic versions of “conservative” politics in Honduras. In the economic version, as far back as the 1910s, the National Party strongly supported investments by foreign investors such as United Fruit. In the traditional version of conservatism, elites and peasants were seen as part of a whole community united by the Catholic faith and a belief in strong military leadership. As an embodiment of these two views, the National Party effectively fused the interests of elites, foreign investors, the military, and a portion of the peasantry.

This philosophy also led the army, as a strong ally of the National Party, to recruit from a broad segment of society, including “those of low social origin.”In this way, the armed forces were able to identify with the claims of the people and maintain a certain measure of popular appeal. This practice stood in stark contrast to that of the National Guard in Nicaragua.

The opposition Liberal Party, by far the weaker of the two, sought support among small holders and banana workers along the northern Atlantic coast by promoting worker rights and opposing imperialism. Although more subject to coups and political repression, the Liberals were credited early on with improving wages and working conditions in that region. Nonetheless, the two parties took turns protecting the interests of the fruit companies by cracking down on strikes and persecuting union leaders.

Authoritarianism also differed in the two countries as a result of the different goals that the United States advanced.

In Nicaragua, U.S. military bases were first established in 1914 along with the exclusive right to build a canal across that country. Hoping to fend off European and other great power designs in the region, the United States turned its attention in Nicaragua to concerns outside the country.

On the other hand,the United States chose Honduras as a central location for controlling unrest and revolutionary movements that threatened stability along the isthmus. U.S. Secretary of State Philander Knox had noted in 1912 how Honduras bordered on three other Central American countries and effectively served as a pathway for the armies of other states in the region: “It has not been possible to prevent their passing through without committing her to the struggle here or elsewhere.” For Knox, peace in Honduras would always be the key to peace in Central America.

By the late 1970s, political tensions were high in both countries as President Jimmy Carter pressed for democratization. Yet once again, the outcomes were quite different.

In Nicaragua, where the Somoza family and the National Guard had been isolated from the population, the opposition was able to build a broad base of support. The situation worsened after the devastating earthquake of 1972 amid reports that government officials had embezzled international donations. The assassination of an opposition leader in 1978 led to a mass strike while conservatives, business leaders, and the archbishop in Managua denounced the government. Sandinista leaders took advantage of these events to increase their support. After the overthrow of the Somoza family, exposing the abuses of the National Guard became a way to heighten support for the Sandinistas while also paving the way for free elections.

In Honduras, where the military had become a governing institution, society did not undergo the same level of polarization. Faith, philosophy, a close alliance with the National Party, a populist character, and ample backing from the United States all helped maintain the continuity of military rule throughout the 1980s.

Failing at Defense 

The faith of Hondurans in their armed forces was sadly misplaced, however. Not only did the armed forces repress their own population, they also failed miserably at actually defending the country against invasion.

On one occasion, an invasion by El Salvador set off what became known as the Soccer War in 1969. Despite air bombing by the Honduran Air Force, the superior Salvadoran ground forces attacked six points near the Honduran border and bombed 10 Honduran cities, including the capital. It took a negotiated ceasefire by the Organization of American States (OAS) to restore the old borders. The humiliation of the invasion and contempt for Salvadorans provoked a surge in Honduran nationalism and a new drive to expand and professionalize the army.

A second invasion took place during the Contra war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in the 1980s. At that time, Honduras hosted the base operations of the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries, or “Contras,” fighting to regain control in Nicaragua. The Reagan administration, determined to topple the Sandinistas, leaned hard on the Honduran government to continue that support, increasing military aid tenfold over what it had been in the late 1970s.

Nonetheless, in March 1986, 1,500 members of the Sandinista army successfully crossed into Honduras near the town of Las Vegas and engaged the Contras in combat. The Sandinistas subsequently withdrew without ever encountering the Honduran army. Honduran officials were reluctant to admit to this acute embarrassment, but U.S. officials used it as proof of Sandinista aggression and were thus able to obtain an additional $100 million in Contra aid from Congress.

Although many Hondurans tended to support U.S. policy toward the Contras, Honduran officials were uneasy about their presence inside the country. In a challenge to the United States, military leaders took decisive steps to close down a Contra hospital and other facilities, and even turned away two U.S. State Department officials intent on touring a Contra training camp. This unusual stance against U.S. policy by the Honduran government likely helped bring an end to the Contra war. But it did little to make the military itself more compatible with democracy.

Turning a Corner? 

Since the end of the Contra war, social movements have sprung up in Honduras much as they have elsewhere. Students, workers, women’s organizations, indigenous groups, and LGBT activists have poured into the streets and into the world of print, radio, and internet journalism. The initial excitement of these democratizing movements gave way, however, as authoritarian brutality continued.

Since the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, leading activists have increasingly been targeted for harassment, arbitrary arrest, and assassination. More journalists have now been murdered in Honduras than in any other country, and many of those under threat have fled to the United States.

In the fertile Lower Aguán Valley where cooperative farmers battle wealthy exporters for the right to farm land, at least 88 peasant activists have been killed, likely at the hands of military forces. Human Rights Watch recently found that such killings are routinely ignored by the police and prosecutors and seldom investigated. In these and other ways the long history of military forces in this country suppressing social activism has continued.

The fact that American citizens are now being subjected to many of the abuses Hondurans have experienced for years has brought the issue to the attention of Congress. Recently, 108 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to review the human rights situation. Newly appointed Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon clearly recognized both the nature and urgency of the problem during his recent confirmation. Coming out against the use of the military in policing, he noted:

A Honduras with greater accountability and transparency will establish stronger rule of law institutions and be more likely to protect human rights. … Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability—a Honduras with strong human rights protections means enhanced security in our region.

With so much at stake and so few allies to count on, the poor and the vulnerable in Honduras are now watching the United States to see what these changes will bring. With the right response on our part, we can hope to see the dawn of a more congenial policy for the United States and a safer and more democratic era for Hondurans.

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Snowden: Citizens Have ‘Civic Obligation to Push Back’ Against Abuses

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The NSA whistleblower defends his actions in address to Europe’s leading human rights organization
– Max Ocean

Edward Snowden addressed the Council of Europe via videofeed Tuesday, June 24.NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden addressed the leading European human rights organization on Tuesday, once again refuting many of the claims made over the last year by members of the national security establishment, journalists, and others.

Speaking to the Council of Europe via videofeed from Russia during a special session on improving the protections of whistleblowers, Snowden denied any connection to the Russian government, and stated that he has stayed in the country not by choice, but as a matter of circumstance.

Snowden’s personal appearance was not made possible under the immunity normally accorded to the Council’s hearings, even though the body said it had gone to “quite some lengths” to do so.

“I did not travel to Russia with the intention of staying,” Snowden told the Council, but was “transiting through Russia to Latin America when the U.S. State Department revoked my passport,” after which he applied for asylum in more than 20 countries, including many Western European ones.

Snowden also disputed the notion that his disclosures had harmed national security. “It is a subversion of democratic rule for any authorities to use state secrecy law as a means to implement programs that they know the public would never agree to authorize,” he argued. A year after the disclosures, “we have never seen the governments in any country point to any specific harm to any individual or any national security priority,” he stated in his defense.

“We saw something very similar to this happen to Chelsea Manning.” Snowden pointed out that “at one point the United States government claimed that the publishers [of the Manning documents] would ‘have blood on their hands.'”

Snowden maintains that more than a year after his initial disclosures rocked the national security establishment, he is satisfied with the results. “Public affairs have to be known by the public to be handled. We can’t be said to be a democracy if we’ve lost our seat at the table of government,” he argued.

“When citizens are reduced to the status of subjects…that diminishes us as a free people, as a society, and as a culture, and I believe that we have not just a right, but a civic obligation to push back when we see lawbreaking, when we see abuse, when we see excesses of simple bad policy,”

Watch a video of the hearing here.

Listen to the audio from it here.

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American Hindsight: Wars Aren’t ‘Worth It’

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Results of new polls paint clear picture: Iraq War not worth the costs.

– Andrea Germanos

An anti-war march in Minneapolis, Minn. in 2011. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)The Iraq war wasn’t worth it, say an overwhelming majority—and increasing number—of Americans.

Results of an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll of over 1,300 voters conducted this month found that 71 percent of respondents said the occupation that began in 2003 wasn’t worth it.

That marks a considerable increase since January 2013, when an NBC/Wall Street Journalpoll showed 59 percent of respondents said it the war wasn’t worth it.

A CBC News/New York Times poll also out this week and conducted this month similarly showed widespread regret for the war; those results showed that 75 percent of respondents said the invasion was worth neither the loss of life nor monetary costs. That’s up from 67 percent in 2011.

Those results show the Iraq War may be even more unpopular than the Vietnam War, but they also follow a pattern.  Gallup polls from the 1960s through 1970 revealed increasing percentages of people who thought that war was a mistake, and a 2000 Gallup poll showed that 69% of Americans said the war in Vietnam was a mistake.

In December 2013, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 66 percent of Americans thought that the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth it—a spike from the 52 percent who in 2010 said it wasn’t worth it.

In addition, a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released earlier this year showed that a majority of Americans thought the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were ‘failures.’

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Ukraine Due to Ink Austerity Pact with EU

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Newly elected President Petro Poroshenko will reportedly sign on Friday a contentious deal that led to months-long upheaval
– Lauren McCauley

A Ukrainian flag. (Photo: Ivan Bandura/ cc/ Flickr)The government of Ukraine is expected to sign on Friday a contentious economic and trade agreement with the European Union, the threat of which had previously polarized the nation and sparked months of violence and upheaval.

Newly elected President Petro Poroshenko is due to sign the document at a ceremony in Brussels, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. The austerity-driven agreement is said to bring sweeping changes to the economy of the country.

In a decision that led to his ouster, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had previously balked at signing what many described as the “harsh” reforms, which were dictated largely by the International Monetary Fund.

The AP describes the agreement as a “1,200-page telephone book of a document crammed with rules on everything from turkeys to tulips, cheese to machinery.”

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Cheney’s Chutzpah – A Rebuttal

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Cheney speaks to US troops at Camp Anaconda, Iraq in 2008. (Creative Commons)

Oscar Levant defined Chutzpah as that quality which enables a man who has murdered his mother and father to throw himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. It was the first phrase that came to mind reading the former US vice president’s recent article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal criticizing President Obama for his Iraq policy. No phrase sums up his attempt better.

Cheney, in his op-ed co-authored with daughter Liz, claims, “rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” This comes from a man who before going to war said, “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” had “in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons,” and in 2005 just before the sharp rise in deadly sectarian conflict that left thousands dead said, “I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” He had also claimed that Saddam “had an established relationship with al Qaeda.”

Cheney writes that Obama told the American public he was “‘ending’ the wars in Iraq …—as though wishing made it so.” It is interesting to note that it was the Status of Forces Agreement signed by President George W. Bush with the Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki back in 2008 that set the timeline for the withdrawal of US troops from the country. The former vice president writes that ISIS jihadists are taking territory that was once secured by American blood and that enemies of the US are emboldened and on the march. He also writes that the establishment of terrorist safe havens in the Arab world has put American security under threat. Perhaps forgetting that there was no Al-Qaeda in Iraq prior to the US invasion and it was the Bush-Cheney administration’s inability to stabilize post-invasion Iraq that led to the rise of militant Islamist groups in the country. Moreover, “once secured” does not even come close to describing the security situation in post-invasion Iraq under the Bush-Cheney administration. A country where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Americans lost their lives, many more were injured and continue to suffer from PTSD, was “secured” only if the dictionary you consult is a work of Rush Limbaugh’s genius. The fact of the matter is that the Bush-Cheney Administration left Iraq with a sham Iranian-backed democracy on the one hand and at the mercy of Al-Qaeda and various other Sunni-insurgent groups on the other. More important than what Cheney has written is what the former vice president has avoided highlighting while criticizing only the Iranian role in the region, the role of the Saudi ruling family in specific, and leaders of other Gulf countries in general – the countries he went “on a trip [to],… this spring” and who share his disdain for President Obama.

He, while criticizing President Obama, cites a RAND study that says, “between 2010 and 2013, there was a 58% increase in the number of Salafi-jihadist terror groups around the world. During that same period, the number of terrorists doubled”. This is especially ironic given the fact that the ideological roots and financial support to most Salafi-jihadist groups, be they in Syria, Iraq or Yemen, can be traced to Saudi Arabia.

The election of Obama in 2008 was a rejection of the neo-conservative ideals championed by the Bush-Cheney administration. Not just that, in the preceding years many in the leadership of Cheney’s own political party decided to keep distance from the former vice president. He did not seek presidency after leaving office and skipped appearances at successive Republican National Conventions held in 2008 and 2012. Over time Cheney lost the support of prominent Republican leaders such as Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Gen. Colin Powell. The criticism he attracts is well-earned. Cheney moved from the traditional-conservative ideological position he held when he served as Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush, to a neo-conservative worldview during President George W. Bush’s administration. A shift most likely shaped by the time he spent at the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (indeed the majority of American Jews are Democrats and do not support the hawkish US political right) after leaving the US Department of Defense. Watching Republican Party mouthpiece and Rupert Murdoch-Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal jointly-owned Fox News’s Megan Kelly taking Dick Cheney to task for his article – it is evidently clear the former vice president is considered no more than a political has-been even in his own backyard. History has probably given its verdict earlier than the Bush Administration expected.

The situation in the region, especially Syria and Iraq, is painful from a human perspective. Though there are historic, ideological, ethnic, and sectarian differences that exist to date, the region had a parallel history of peaceful co-existence and inter-faith harmony. What the Bush-Cheney invasion and incompetence in the handling of post-invasion Iraq did was superimpose the divisions and erase out the commonalities. It took the keys of Baghdad from the Iraqi citizens and handed them over to the rulers in Riyadh and the clerics of Qom.

Andy Borowitz – a brilliant satirist, who writes for The New Yorker, recently probably best summed up what is happening in Iraq when he posted, “Someone needs to tell the Sunnis and Shiites that the mission was accomplished 11 years ago!” Ordinary Iraqis in particular and others in the region in general, one hopes will get the message. This Saudi-Iranian sword fight in the region must end. More US diplomacy and lesser emphasis on drones can play an important role in achieving peace in the long run.

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Presbyterians Divest from the I$raHell Occupation: The End of the Beginning?

NOVANEWS

In East Jerusalem, between Damas Gate and New Gate, Graffiti reads “Free Palestine.” (Photo: Djampa / Wikimedia Creative Commons)When there is a just resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, I will claim that June 20, 2014 marked a turning point.

That was the day that the Presbyterian Church, USA voted to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions as a result of these companies’ continued involvement in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and these companies’ continued refusal to change their policies.

Many people are fond of saying that the Israel/Palestine conflict is complicated. Of course it’s a truism: all interesting things in human affairs are complicated. But frequently the intent of saying that the Israel/Palestine conflict is complicated is to imply that the listener should refrain from trying to do something about it. It’s complicated, so don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Of course, if we accept the idea that we shouldn’t try to do anything because “it’s complicated,” we’re not being neutral. If we do nothing when there is a good opportunity for an ethical and helpful action, we take the side of the status quo.

What’s going on Iraq is complicated. But we don’t need to know and understand every detail of Iraq’s political history to understand that U.S. military force is not going to solve Iraq’s political problems and that demands for direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq are a bad idea that we should oppose. Telling your Member of Congress to oppose U.S. airstrikes in Iraq is an ethical and helpful action. You don’t need a degree in Iraqi history to take the action with a good conscience.

The basic idea of divesting from the Israeli occupation is quite simple. It is generally understood that at the end of the day a just resolution to the conflict is going to be a resolution that’s negotiated. But right now the Palestinian victims of occupation do not have enough political power to negotiate a just resolution.

The U.S.-led (so-called) “peace process” has failed, fundamentally, to produce a resolution because the U.S. and its allies have been unable or unwilling to stop the Israeli government from confiscating and building on Palestinian territory in the West Bank that any representative group of Palestinians would insist would have to be part of a Palestinian state in order for a two state resolution to the conflict to be a just resolution.

If there is to be a just resolution, some sufficiently potent other groups of people will have to effectively weigh in on the side of the Palestinian victims of occupation.

In this context, the Presbyterian vote to divest from the Israeli occupation could be the “end of the beginning” of efforts to bring about a just resolution of the conflict.

Until now, supporters of the occupation have effectively used threats and intimidation to block effective action to help redress the power imbalance so that Palestinians can negotiate a just resolution.

But when the Presbyterians voted to divest, it was a decisive repudiation of these threats. And in the future, if these threats are deployed to try to block action to redress the power imbalance, the power of these threats is going to be greatly diminished.

Suppose that another American Protestant church now contemplates divesting from the Israeli occupation. Suppose that supporters of the occupation try to block this action by accusing the supporters of divestment of being people who hate Jews. Will any significant group of mainstream American Protestants see this as a credible threat?

After June 20, 2014, to assert in the United States that people who support divestment from the Israeli occupation hate Jews you must also assert that 1.8 million Presbyterians in the United States hate Jews. No significant group of mainstream Protestants in the United States will see this as a credible threat, after the Presbyterians succeeded in staring it down. The Presbyterians stood tall in the face of threats and lived to tell the tale, people will say. Why should we be cowards?

This turning point in our national discourse about the Israel-Palestine conflict is a significant political achievement, and the lion’s share of the credit goes to the Presbyterians who have been slogging away on this front for ten years.

But it is beyond reasonable dispute that Jewish Voice for Peace played a decisive role.

I was at the Presbyterian general assembly, following the debate. The argument that was most invoked by the opponents of divestment amounted to this: if we divest from the Israeli occupation, the Jewish community will be mad at us.

The presence – or the “witness,” as some Christians might say – of Jewish Voice for Peace at the Presbyterian assembly undermined this argument. It did not stop this argument from being made; it did not stop this argument from having weight. It undermined this argument just enough to prevent it from carrying the day.

Here’s how the New York Times told the story:

Of more influence was the presence at the church’s convention all week of Jewish activists, many of them young, in black T-shirts with the slogan “Another Jew Supporting Divestment.” Many of them were with Jewish Voice for Peace, a small but growing organization that promotes divestment and works with Palestinian and Christian groups on the left.

Right before the vote, some Presbyterian commissioners sought out Rabbi Alissa Wise, a co-director of organizing for Jewish Voice for Peace, who spent a week inside the convention center and spoke at a prayer service in a Presbyterian church. She told them that divestment can serve a constructive purpose. “To me, this helps Palestinians build their power,” she said, “so that Israel is convinced, not by force, but by global consensus that something has to change.”

Now, given that the Presbyterians were told that the main reason to vote against divestment was that Jews who support the Israeli occupation were going to be mad, what do you suppose is happening now? Jews who support the Israeli occupation are denouncing the Presbyterians.

Of course, Jewish Voice for Peace is pushing back against the people who are attacking the Presbyterians. You can add your voice here.

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Obama’s True Foreign-Policy ‘Weakness’

NOVANEWS

President Obama at a West Point graduation ceremony. (Credit: The U.S. Army/cc/flickr)A favorite neocon meme about President Barack Obama is that he is “weak” – because he failed to bomb Syria, bomb Iran, sustain the U.S. occupation of Iraq and start a full-scale economic war with Russia over Ukraine. But an alternate way of looking at Obama is that he is weak because he has failed to face down the neocons.

Since the start of his presidency, Obama has let the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies push him into militaristic and confrontational policies – even as he is criticized for not being militaristic and confrontational enough. There was the futile “surge” in Afghanistan, the chaotic “regime change” in Libya, excessive hostility toward Iran, intemperate demands for “regime change” in Syria, and hyperbolic denunciations of Russia for its reaction to U.S.-backed “regime change” in Ukraine.

The end result of all this U.S. “tough-guy/gal-ism” has been to get a lot of people killed without actually improving the lot of the people in the countries where the neocon-driven policies have been applied. In each of those cases, a more pragmatic approach to the political and strategic concerns represented by those crises could have saved lives and averted economic pain that only has fed more disorder.

Yet, Obama remains hypersensitive to criticism from well-placed and well-connected neocons. As the New York Times reported on June 16, Obama shaped his foreign policy speech at the West Point graduation in May to deflect criticism from a single neocon, Robert Kagan, who had penned a long and pedantic essay in The New Republic urging the projection of more U.S. power around the world.

In the essay, Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire,” Kagan “depicted President Obama as presiding over an inward turn by the United States that threatened the global order and broke with more than 70 years of American presidents and precedence,” wrote the Times’ Jason Horowitz. “He called for Mr. Obama to resist a popular pull toward making the United States a nation without larger responsibilities, and to reassume the more muscular approach to the world out of vogue in Washington since the war in Iraq drained the country of its appetite for intervention.”

As part of Obama’s effort to deflect this neocon critique, “the president even invited Mr. Kagan to lunch to compare world views,” Horowitz reported.

Kagan apparently sees himself as a vanguard for a new wave of U.S. interventionism, teamed up with his brother Frederick who devised the two “surges” in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009. Robert Kagan is also married to Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs who helped promote the February “regime change” in Ukraine.

According to the Times article, the husband-and-wife team share both a common world view and professional ambitions, Nuland editing Kagan’s articles and Kagan “not permitted to use any official information he overhears or picks up around the house” – a suggestion that Kagan’s thinking at least may be informed by foreign policy secrets passed on by his wife.

Though Nuland wouldn’t comment specifically on Kagan’s attack on President Obama, she indicated that she holds similar views. “But suffice to say,” Nuland said, “that nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.”

Counting on Hillary Clinton

Kagan also has hopes that his neocon views – which he prefers to call “liberal interventionist” – will have an even stronger standing in a possible Hillary Clinton administration. After all, not only did Secretary of State Clinton promote his wife, Clinton also named Kagan to one of her State Department advisory boards.

According to the Times’ article, Clinton “remains the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes.” Kagan is quoted as saying: “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy. …  If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue … it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

Though Obama personally advocates a more multilateral approach to foreign policy – including ”leading from behind” as one aide famously explained – the President allowed the neocons to retain great influence inside his own administration.

After winning the election in 2008, he opted for a “team of rivals” approach that put the hawkish Hillary Clinton at State, retained Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates and kept George W. Bush’s high command, including neocon-favorite Gen. David Petraeus.

That fateful decision meant Obama never asserted personal control over his foreign policy, in part, because Gates, Petraeus and Clinton formed a kind of iron triangle to promote neocon strategies. In his memoir Duty, Gates said he and Clinton agreed on most issues and could push them in the face of White House opposition because “we were both seen as ‘un-fireable.’”

For instance, they teamed up in support of the ill-conceived Afghan “surge” of 2009 – which was devised by neocon theorist Frederick Kagan who sold this “counterinsurgency” plan to Gates. The “surge” led to another 1,000 or so U.S. deaths and many more Afghans killed without changing the trajectory of that ill-fated war. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Is Hillary Clinton a Neocon-Lite?]

The neocons and “liberal interventionists” carried the day on other key policy decisions, such as the U.S.-supported bombing campaign over Libya in 2011. The aerial bombardments broke the back of Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces but also shattered the country’s political cohesion. After Gaddafi was ousted and murdered, radical jihadists seized control over much of the country (and killed four American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi).

At other points, Obama bought into the neocon narrative but dragged his heels about following their policy prescriptions. In Syria, Obama talked tough, saying President Bashar al-Assad “must go” and pushed the interventionist notion of helping “moderate” rebels, but Obama limited the U.S. role after recognizing that the Sunni-dominated insurgents had veered increasingly into radicalism.

Obama’s middling approach provoked heavy criticism from the neocons and the “liberal interventionists” who wanted him to intervene more aggressively in Syria by sending sophisticated weaponry to the “moderate rebels.” Obama also was excoriated for not launching a massive bombing campaign to destroy Assad’s military after a disputed chemical weapons incident outside Damascus last summer.

Turning to Putin

Instead, Obama accepted help from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to defuse the Syrian crisis by getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. But Obama’s halfway approach wouldn’t let him challenge administration hawks who treated Geneva negotiations for a Syrian political settlement as just another excuse to demand Assad’s departure.

Yet, based on this month’s elections, which Assad won handily, the Syrian president appears to retain a substantial base of support among Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other minorities as well as some secular Sunnis. Many Syrians seem to view Assad as the bulwark against a victory by radical Sunni jihadists who have flocked to Syria from around the Middle East with funding from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states.

But Robert Kagan and the neocons see a new vulnerability for Obama now that the Sunni-jihadist war in Syria has spilled back into Iraq where an al-Qaeda spinoff, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, first emerged in reaction to President Bush’s neocon-inspired invasion in 2003. ISIS is spearheading an offensive that has routed the U.S.-supplied Iraqi army from key cities in the country’s north and west.

Referring to Obama’s completion of the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011 and his tepid response to the Syrian civil war, Kagan told the Times that “It’s striking how two policies driven by the same desire to avoid the use of a military power are now converging to create this burgeoning disaster.”

The neocons are also apoplectic about the prospect of the Obama administration cooperating with Shiite-ruled Iran to bolster the Shiite-led government of Iraq. The neocons, along with Israel and Saudi Arabia, consider Iran their top enemy in the Middle East.

For years, the neocons have been hyping the threat of Iran’s nuclear program as a rationalization to bomb Iran. They have been rooting for negotiations that would constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions to fail so the route to war would be opened, much as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants.

Since Russian President Putin helped avert a U.S. war against Syria and cooperated on negotiations for limiting Iran’s nuclear program, he now has emerged as the neocons’ most dangerous adversary on the global stage. And last year, the neocons quickly identified a Putin vulnerability in Ukraine.

Prominent neocons – including National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain – were at the forefront of agitation in Ukraine to overthrow the elected President Viktor Yanukovych and install a rightist regime hostile both to Russia and to Ukraine’s large ethnic Russian population.

The Feb. 22 coup in Kiev – and subsequent anti-Russian actions by the coup regime – prompted the regional authorities in Crimea to hold a referendum seceding from Ukraine and rejoining Russia, a move that Putin supported.

Crimea’s secession prompted hysteria across Official Washington, which billed the move as “Russian aggression.” As the rest of Ukraine descended into a nasty civil war, the neocons pushed for a new Cold War against Russia, including broad economic sanctions designed to undermine Putin by destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia. [See Consortiumnews.com’s What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]

‘Chaos Promotion’

The neocons and the “liberal interventionists,” of course, couch all this chaos promotion as “democracy promotion,” even when their efforts involve overthrowing democratically elected leaders, like Yanukovych, and ignoring the will of the people, such as denying the desire of the Crimean people to escape the failed state of Ukraine and rejoin Russia. It seems elections are only valid when they come out the way the U.S. government prefers; otherwise, the elections are deemed “rigged.”

These U.S. interventionists also talk about respect for international law except when the rules get in their way, such as when they launched the aggressive war against Iraq in 2003, a crime against peace that unleashed havoc and death across Iraq and now much of the Middle East.

This neocon mindset can best be understood as an intellectual outgrowth of the 1990s when the United States emerged as the sole superpower and U.S. military technology advanced to levels beyond the capabilities of any other nation.

Many neocons viewed this moment as a unique opportunity for Israel to move beyond frustrating negotiations with the Palestinians over peace and to dictate whatever terms it wished. The new watchword would be “regime change” against any country that presented a threat to Israel or that supported Israel’s near-in enemies, Palestine’s Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Once the Mideast was remade to isolate Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel could do – or take – whatever it wanted.

This neocon strategy first surfaced in 1996 when leading American neocons, such as Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, went to work for Netanyahu’s campaign for prime minister. The U.S. neocons formalized their bold new plan in a strategy paper called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The paper argued that only “regime change” in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

By 1998, the neocon-organized Project for the New American Century – with Robert Kagan as one of the co-founders – had targeted Iraq as the first Israeli enemy that would face “regime change,” a strategy that became feasible once neocon-backed President George W. Bush took office in 2001 and after the 9/11 attacks generated a U.S. hunger for revenge against Arabs, even if against the wrong Arabs.

There was, of course, the need for a misleading sales job to snooker the American people. So, we were given the fiction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the lie about Iraq’s Saddam Hussein teaming up with al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, when the two were the bitterest of enemies, Hussein leading a secular Arab government and bin Laden representing a fundamentalist Islamic movement.

The neocon thinking apparently was that once the U.S. military won a smashing victory, the American people wouldn’t really care about the excuses used to justify the war; they’d just be swept up in the excitement. But the bloody low-tech war that Iraqis fought against their foreign occupiers soured the American mood — and the absence of any WMD stockpiles angered much of the public.

Over the ensuing decade, the neocons have fought what amounts to a rear-guard action against their critics, a kind of strategic retreat with many key neocon operatives withdrawing to prominent think tanks (Kagan is at the Brookings Institution) and to important op-ed pages (Kagan has been a columnist at the Washington Post) while others (like Victoria Nuland) have behaved as a stay-behind force inside the government bureaucracy.

A Neocon Revival

Now, counting on the notoriously short memories of Americans and on the sympathy of the mainstream U.S. media (which also was complicit in Bush’s Iraq invasion), the neocons are reemerging from their secure positions and mounting a counterattack against Obama, whom they identify as not being one of them, but rather a “realist” who is not averse to collaborating with Russia or Iran in the cause of achieving peace or reducing tensions.

The neocons appear to have Obama on the run, having strategically cut him off from his erstwhile ally Putin because of the Ukraine crisis and having tactically seized the high ground of the mainstream media to blast away at Obama over the Iraq crisis.

The neocons, after all, are skilled at the art of propaganda and “information warfare.” Indeed, I first met Robert Kagan when he was working as a propagandist in President Ronald Reagan’s Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America. Kagan was in charge of palming off propaganda “themes” about Central America on a gullible Washington press corps.

As a correspondent for the Associated Press and Newsweek, I dealt frequently with Kagan’s office and annoyed him and his team by subjecting their “themes” to scrutiny and often revealing them to be either disinformation or hyperbole.

For instance, one of the “themes” in late 1987 was to promote the claims of a Nicaraguan defector that the Sandinista government was building up an army for offensive purposes when the effort was clearly defensive, i.e., to resist U.S. aggression. At a Pentagon briefing, a senior Defense Department official elaborated on the supposed Sandinista threat by warning that there was nothing to stop the Sandinista army from marching through Costa Rica and capturing the Panama Canal.

While my journalistic colleagues dutifully took notes, I raised my hand and impertinently asked whether “the 82nd Airborne might not show up?”

It was in response to my lack of “team play” that Kagan took me aside one day with a warning that if I continued with such behavior, I would have to be “controversialized,” a process that involved having administration officials and pro-Reagan activists make me a special target for criticism and attack, which subsequently did happen.

A Skilled Propagandist

To this day, Kagan remains a skilled propagandist, casting current events in ways most favorable to the neocon cause. For instance, in his New Republic essay, he portrays the complex case of Ukraine, where his wife played a central role, in the most simplistic terms, ignoring the right-wing coup in Kiev that overthrew an elected president and the overwhelming vote for secession in Crimea where thousands of Russian troops were already stationed under an agreement with Ukraine.

Stripping away all the nuance, Kagan simply wrote: “the signs of the global order breaking down are all around us. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea was the first time since World War II that a nation in Europe had engaged in territorial conquest.”

Next, ignoring the fact that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Iran is not working on a nuclear bomb and leaving out that Israel is the one nation in the Middle East that has covertly amassed a nuclear arsenal, Kagan added: “If Iran manages to acquire a nuclear weapon, it will likely lead other powers in the region to do the same, effectively undoing the nonproliferation regime, which, along with American power, has managed to keep the number of nuclear-armed powers limited over the past half century.”

Apparently forgetting his own role and that of the neocons in launching an aggressive war against Iraq and provoking the Shiite-Sunni sectarian conflict that is ripping apart the Muslim world, Kagan added: “If these trends continue, in the near future we are likely to see increasing conflict [and] greater ethnic and sectarian violence.”

Kagan follows with a litany of alarmist warnings on par with the notion that the Sandinistas were about to march south and capture the Panama Canal in 1987 — and reminiscent of the neocon claims that Saddam Hussein was about to launch remote-controlled planes to spray the U.S. mainland with chemical weapons in 2003.

Here is how Robert Kagan, Hillary Clinton’s adviser and Barack Obama’s lunch partner, portrayed the emerging apocalypse: “Could the United States survive if Syria remains under the control of Assad or, more likely, disintegrates into a chaos of territories, some of which will be controlled by jihadi terrorists? Could it survive if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, and if in turn Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt acquire nuclear weapons? Or if North Korea launches a war on the South?

“Could it survive in a world where China dominates much of East Asia, or where China and Japan resume their old conflict? Could it survive in a world where Russia dominates Eastern Europe, including not only Ukraine but the Baltic states and perhaps even Poland? Of course it could. From the point of view of strict ‘necessity’ and narrow national interest, the United States could survive all of this. It could trade with a dominant China and work out a modus vivendi with a restored Russian empire.

“Those alarmed by such developments will be hard-pressed … to explain how each marginal setback would affect the parochial interests of the average American. As in the past, Americans will be among the last to suffer grievously from a breakdown of world order. And by the time they do feel the effects, it may be very late in the day.”

A Path Toward Peace

There is, of course, a more realistic and less hysterical way of viewing these global situations.

If Obama could work with world leaders to stop Saudi Arabia and other Sunni oil sheikdoms from funding Sunni extremists in Syria, a peace settlement could be worked out that might have Assad remaining in power for some transitional period. The neocon preference — to expand the Syrian civil war by having the U.S. intervene on the side of the mythical Syrian “moderates” – is much more likely to lead precisely to what Kagan fears, an expansion of jihadist terror.

If Obama would jettison the neocon narrative about “Russian aggression” in Ukraine – when it’s clear that Putin was reacting defensively to Western intervention, not plotting to reassert the Russian empire – a peaceful resolution of that crisis would be fairly easy to achieve along the lines of a cease-fire plan unveiled by Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko and endorsed by Putin.

The neocon notion that Russia is on the march to conquer the Baltic states is unsupported by any intelligence or other evidence. Russia’s annexation of Crimea resulted from a unique set of circumstances, including the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected Ukrainian president and a popular referendum in Crimea seeking membership in the Russian Federation. It is nutty to suggest that it was some template for a grander “Russian imperialism.”

Indeed, Kagan is not only spinning conspiracy fantasies but – as often is the case with neocons – he is promoting schemes that could facilitate the outcome that he professes to abhor. Possibly the fastest way for the United States to lose its leadership role in the world is through overextension of its global power and overspending on its military might.

The more that Kagan and other neocons push for U.S. suppression of any imaginable threat to U.S. supremacy the more certain it is that America will slide into a precipitous decline – and the more dangerous that collapse may be both for Americans and the rest of the world.

President Obama seems to recognize this reality in his inclination to cooperate with Putin and other leaders to resolve crises, but Obama lacks the nerve to finally stand up to the neocons. That is his true “weakness.”

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