Archive | May 7th, 2020

With apparently fabricated nuclear documents, Naziyahu pushed the US towards war with Iran

An investigation of supposed Iranian nuclear documents presented in a dramatically staged Netanyahu press conference indicates they were an Israeli fabrication designed to trigger US military conflict with Iran.

By Gareth Porter

President Donald Trump scrapped the nuclear deal with Iran and continued to risk war with Iran based on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim to have proven definitively that Iran was determined to manufacture nuclear weapons. Netanyahu not only spun Trump but much of the corporate media as well, duping them with the public unveiling of what he claimed was the entire secret Iranian “nuclear archive.” 

In early April 2018, Netanyahu briefed Trump privately on the supposed Iranian nuclear archive and secured his promise to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That April 30, Netanyahu took the briefing to the public in a characteristically dramatic live performance in which he claimed Israel’s Mossad intelligence services had stolen Iran’s entire nuclear archive from Tehran. “You may well know that Iran’s leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons…” Netanyahu declared. “Well, tonight, I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied. Big time.”

However, an investigation of the supposed Iranian nuclear documents by The Grayzone reveals them to be the product of an Israeli disinformation operation that helped trigger the most serious threat of war since the conflict with Iran began nearly four decades ago. This investigation found multiple indications that the story of Mossad’s heist of 50,000 pages of secret nuclear files from Tehran was very likely an elaborate fiction and that the documents were fabricated by the Mossad itself.  

According to the official Israeli version of events, the Iranians had gathered the nuclear documents from various locations and moved them to what Netanyahu himself described as “a dilapidated warehouse” in southern Tehran. Even assuming that Iran had secret documents demonstrating the development of nuclear weapons, the claim that top secret documents would be held in a nondescript and unguarded warehouse in Central Tehran is so unlikely that it should have raised immediate alarm bells about the story’s legitimacy.

Even more problematic was the claim by a Mossad official to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman that Mossad knew not only in what warehouse its commandos would find the documents but precisely which safes to break into with a blowtorch. The official told Bergman the Mossad team had been guided by an intelligence asset to the few safes in the warehouse contained the binders with the most important documents.  Netanyahu bragged publicly that “very few” Iranians knew the location of the archive; the Mossad official told Bergman “only a handful of people” knew.

But two former senior CIA official, both of whom had served as the agency’s top Middle East analyst, dismissed Netanyahu’s claims as lacking credibility in responses to a query from The Grayzone. 

According to Paul Pillar, who was National Intelligence Officer for the region from 2001 to 2005, “Any source on the inside of the Iranian national security apparatus would be extremely valuable in Israeli eyes, and Israeli deliberations about the handling of that source’s information presumably would be biased in favor long-term protection of the source.” The Israeli story of how its spies located the documents “does seem fishy,” Pillar said, especially considering Israel’s obvious effort to derive maximum “political-diplomatic mileage” out of the “supposed revelation” of such a well-placed source.

Graham Fuller, a 27-year veteran of the CIA who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia as well as Vice-Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, offered a similar assessment of the Israeli claim. “If the Israelis had such a sensitive source in Tehran,” Fuller commented, “they would not want to risk him.” Fuller concluded that the Israelis’ claim that they had accurate knowledge of which safes to crack is “dubious, and the whole thing may be somewhat fabricated.”

No proof of authenticity

Netanyahu’s April 30 slide show presented a series of purported Iranian documents containing sensational revelations that he pointed to as proof of his insistence that Iran had lied about its interest in manufacturing nuclear weapons. The visual aides included a file supposedly dating back to early 2000 or before that detailed various ways to achieve a plan to build five nuclear weapons by mid-2003. 

Another document that generated widespread media interest was an alleged report on a discussion among leading Iranian scientists of a purported mid-2003 decision by Iran’s Defense Minister to separate an existing secret nuclear weapons program into overt and covert parts.  

Left out of the media coverage of these “nuclear archive” documents was a simple fact that was highly inconvenient to Netanyahu: nothing about them offered a scintilla of evidence that they were genuine. For example, not one contained the official markings of the relevant Iranian agency.

Tariq Rauf, who was head of the Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 2001 to 2011, told The Grayzone that these markings were practically ubiquitous on official Iranian files.

“Iran is a highly bureaucratized system,” Rauf explained. “Hence, one would expect a proper book-keeping system that would record incoming correspondence, with date received, action officer, department, circulation to additional relevant officials, proper letterhead, etc.”  

But as Rauf noted, the “nuclear archive” documents that were published by the Washington Post bore no such evidence of Iranian government origin.  Nor did they contain other markings to indicate their creation under the auspices of an Iranian government agency. 

What those documents do have in common is the mark of a rubber stamp for a filing system showing numbers for a “record”, a “file” and a “ledger binder” — like the black binders that Netanyahu flashed to the cameras during his slideshow. But these could have easily been created by the Mossad and stamped on to the documents along with the appropriate Persian numbers.  

Forensic confirmation of the documents’ authenticity would have required access to the original documents.  But as Netanyahu noted in his April 30, 2018 slide show, the “original Iranian materials” were kept “in a very safe place” – implying that no one would be allowed to have any such access.  

Withholding access to outside experts

In fact, even the most pro-Israeli visitors to Tel Aviv have been denied access to the original documents. David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and Olli Heinonen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – both stalwart defenders of the official Israeli line on Iranian nuclear policy – reported in October 2018 that they had been given only a “slide deck” showing reproductions or excerpts of the documents. 

When a team of six specialists from Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs visited Israel in January 2019 for briefings on the archive, they too were offered only a cursory browse of the supposedly original documents. Harvard Professor Matthew Bunn recalled in an interview with this writer that the team had been shown one of the binders containing what were said to be original documents relating to Iran’s relations with the IAEA and had “paged through a bit of it.”  

But they were shown no documents on Iran nuclear weapons work. As Bunn admitted, “We weren’t attempting to do any forensic analysis of these documents.”

Typically, it would be the job of the U.S. government and the IAEA to authenticate the documents. Oddly, the Belfer Center delegation reported that the U.S. government and the IAEA had each received only copies of the entire archive, not the original files. And the Israelis were in no hurry to provide the genuine articles: the IAEA did not receive a complete set of documents until November 2019, according to Bunn.  

By then, Netanyahu had not only already accomplished the demolition of the Iran nuclear deal; he and Trump’s ferociously hawkish CIA-director Mike Pompeo had maneuvered the president into a policy of imminent confrontation with Tehran. 

The second coming of fake missile drawings

Among the documents Netanyahu flashed on the screen in his April 30, 2018 slide show was a schematic drawing of the missile reentry vehicle of an Iranian Shahab-3 missile, showing what was obviously supposed to represent a nuclear weapon inside. 

Technical drawing from page 11 of David Albright, Olli Heinonen, and Andrea Stricker’s “Breaking Up and Reorienting Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” published by the Institute for Science and International Security on October 28, 2018.

This drawing was part of a set of eighteen technical drawings of the Shahab-3 reentry vehicle. These were found in a collection of documents secured over the course of several years between the Bush II and Obama administrations by an Iranian spy working for Germany’s BND intelligence service. Or so the Israeli official story went.  

In 2013, however, a former senior German Foreign Office official named Karsten Voigt revealed to this writer that the documents had been initially provided to German intelligence by a member of the Mujaheddin E-Khalq (MEK).

The MEK is an exiled Iranian armed opposition organization that had operated under Saddam Hussein’s regime as a proxy against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. It went on to cooperate with the Israeli Mossad beginning in the 1990s, and enjoys a close relationship with Saudi Arabia as well. Today, numerous former US officials are on the MEK’s payroll, acting as de facto lobbyists for regime change in Iran.

Voigt recalled how senior BND officials warned him they did not consider the MEK source or the materials he provided to be credible. They were worried that the Bush administration intended to use the dodgy documents to justify an attack on Iran, just as it exploited the tall tales collected from Iraqi defector codenamed “Curveball” to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

As this writer first reported in 2010, the appearance of the “dunce-cap” shape of the Shahab-3 reentry vehicle in the drawings was a tell-tale sign that the documents were fabricated. Whoever drew those schematic images in 2003 was clearly under the false impression that Iran was relying on the Shahab-3 as its main deterrent force.  After all, Iran had announced publicly in 2001 that the Shahab-3 was going into “serial production” and in 2003 that it was “operational.”  

But those official claims by Iran were a ruse aimed primarily at deceiving Israel, which had threatened air attacks on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. In fact, Iran’s Defense Ministry was aware that the Shahab-3 did not have sufficient range to reach Israel.

According to Michael Elleman, the author of the most definitive account of the Iranian missile program, as early as 2000, Iran’s Defense Ministry had begun developing an improved version of the Shahab-3 with a reentry vehicle boasting a far more aerodynamic “triconic baby bottle” shape – not the “dunce-cap” of the original. 

As Elleman told this writer, however, foreign intelligence agencies remained unaware of the new and improved Shahab missile with a very different shape until it took its first flight test in August 2004. Among the agencies kept in the dark about the new design was Israel’s Mossad. That explains why the false documents on redesigning the Shahab-3 – the earliest dates of which were in 2002, according to an unpublished internal IAEA document – showed a reentry vehicle design that Iran had already discarded.

The role of the MEK in passing the massive tranche of supposed secret Iranian nuclear documents to the BND and its hand-in-glove relationship with the Mossad leaves little room for doubt that the documents introduced to Western intelligence 2004 were, in fact, created by the Mossad. 

For the Mossad, the MEK was a convenient unit for outsourcing negative press about Iran which it did not want attributed directly to Israeli intelligence. To enhance the MEK’S credibility in the eyes foreign media and intelligence agencies, Mossad passed the coordinates of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility to the MEK in 2002.  Later, it provided to the MEK personal information such as the passport number and home telephone number of Iranian physics professor Mohsen Fakhrizadh, whose name appeared in the nuclear documents, according to the co-authors of a best-selling Israeli book on the Mossad’s covert operations.

By trotting out the same discredited technical drawing depicting the wrong Iranian missile reentry vehicle – a trick he had previously deployed to create the original case for accusing Iran of covert nuclear weapons development – the Israeli prime minister showed how confident he was in his ability to hoodwink Washington and the Western corporate media. 

Netanyahu’s multiple levels of deception have been remarkably successful, despite having relied on crude stunts that any diligent news organization should have seen through. Through his manipulation of foreign governments and media, he has been able to maneuver Donald Trump and the United States into a dangerous process of confrontation that has brought the US to the precipice of military conflict with Iran.

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The Secretive Zionist Company Developing A Vaccine For Coronavirus

The Secretive Israeli Company Developing A Vaccine For Coronavirus

2020 05 06 16 44

OurCrowd said the former attorney for Donald Trump will be acting as a partner responsible for “building ties with the Middle East region.”

by Steven Woskow 

Shortly after a message to Israelis on May 4 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that the Israel Institute For Biological Research (IIBR) had identified a monoclonal antibody that neutralizes the coronavirus. This would be an important discovery since it could lead to a broad treatment for coronavirus disease. The Israel Institute For Biological Research is also working to develop a vaccine for coronavirus and has secured a sight for Israels first vaccine production facility in the southern town of Yeroham. The company is seeking funding from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is negotiating for a third partner with a pharmaceutical company from India and The Unites States.

But, what is the IIBR?  According to a report at The Jerusalem Post:

Like Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona, the IIBR operates under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office and works closely with the Defense Ministry. Most of the work carried out by the secretive institute is a heavily guarded secret reinforced by military censorship. But its history began before the founding of the State of Israel. 

Prof. Shmuel C. Shapira, an anesthesiologist by training, has headed it since 2013. The IIBR employs some 350 people, including about 160 scientists with doctorates in biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, pharmacology, mathematics, physics and environmental science. There are another 160 technicians and administrative staff.

It continues to be viewed by the defense establishment as one of the country’s most secretive defense installations. The public rarely knows what goes on behind the highly guarded walls of the institute.

Though it has expanded its research, according to foreign publications, the institute is still involved in developing biological and chemical weapons.

And, it has a shady past:

In 1983, the deputy director of the IIBR, Marcus Klingberg, was arrested along with his wife for passing the institute’s secrets to the Soviets. Klingberg, who was regarded as one of the world’s most-respected epidemiologists and an expert on top-secret biological and chemical research, was one of the founding members of the IIBR after he served in HEMED BEIT.

During his 30 years at the institute, he was questioned twice by security officials (in 1965 and 1976) but was only arrested close to a decade later. His arrest was kept secret until 1993.He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, including 10 years in solitary confinement, before he was released in 2003. He died in 2015 in Paris.

While the majority of the case remains classified, according to foreign reports, it is believed that he gave the Soviets some of Israel’s most sensitive military secrets in the field of CBW.

In 1992, an El Al transport plane carrying some 189 liters of dimethyl methylphosphonate (DMMP), a dual-use chemical used in the production of Sarin nerve gas, crashed in Amsterdam, killing more than 40 people. The DMMP was designated for the IIBR, according to The New York Times.

“Since 1995, the institute has operated as a government-affiliated unit that researches all areas of defense against chemical and biological weapons, including the operation of national laboratories for detection and identification of such threats,” the institute says on its website.

During the “Omer-2” project, some 760 soldiers served as guinea pigs over the course of eight years in the 1990s as the country worked to develop a vaccine against anthrax. The project, headed by Dr. Avigdor Shafferman (who later became the director general of the IIBR), was carried out in cooperation with the Defense Ministry and the IDF Medical Corps.

Troops were injected with up to seven doses of the vaccine but were not informed of the risks of being infected with the deadly disease.

In 2007, dozens of soldiers were interviewed by Israel’s Uvda television show. They suffered from medical conditions such as skin tumors, intestinal and digestive issues, severe lung infections, serious migraines, bronchitis, epilepsy and feelings of constant tiredness and weakness.

According to a 2011 report in Haaretz, the soldiers from the military’s elite Unit 8200, paratroopers and others “participated in these experiments, in complete contravention of the Helsinki Accords, which established rules for medical experiments on human subjects.”

While the exposure of the project sparked a massive public uproar and saw army regulations for conducting trials on human subjects tightened, Shafferman and others involved were not prosecuted, Haaretz reported.

The institute also was reported to be behind the poison injected into senior Hamas official Khaled Mashaal in Amman, Jordan, in 1997. Israel admitted to the failed assassination attempt and provided the serum that saved his life in return for the Mossad agents who had been captured.  The antidote, which was originally meant for Israeli operatives should they come into contact with the poison, was allegedly developed at the IIBR.

The company has also secured $12 million funding from the Israeli VC Fund OurCrowd. Just so happens that OurCrowd has a convenient connection to the Trump administration.

Trumps ex-mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt announced February, 2020 that he would be joining OurCrowd as a Business Developer for the region:

Greenblatt was the architect of Trump’s recently unveiled Mideast plan that largely favored Israel. He worked as the White House’s special representative for international negotiations until resigning in October 2019.

And, you can be sure of this:

OurCrowd’s founder Jon Medved said in a statement that he expects Greenblatt’s addition “to open up a new world of opportunities for our growing portfolio of 200+ companies and 20 funds.”

Posted in ZIO-NAZI1 Comment

50 Years Of Unhinged, Televised Presidential Warmongering

by Jim Bovard 

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Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon popped up on national television on a Thursday night to proudly announce that he invaded Cambodia. At that time, Nixon was selling himself as a peacemaker, promising to withdraw U.S. troops from the Vietnam War. But after the sixth time that Nixon watched the movie “Patton,” he was overwhelmed by martial fervor and could not resist sending U.S. troops crashing into another nation.

Presidents had announced military action prior to Nixon’s Cambodia surprise but there was a surreal element to Nixon’s declaration that helped launch a new era of presidential grandstanding. Ever since then, presidents have routinely gone on television to announce foreign attacks that almost always provoke widespread applause—at least initially.

Back in 1970, congressional Democrats were outraged and denounced Nixon for launching an illegal war. In his televised speech, Nixon also warned that “the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.” Four days after Nixon’s speech, Ohio National Guard troops suppressed the anarchist threat by gunning down thirteen antiwar protestors and bystanders on the campus of Kent State University, leaving four students dead.

Three years after Nixon’s surprise invasion, Congress passed the War Powers Act which required the president to get authorization from Congress after committing U.S. troops to any combat situation that lasted more than 60 days. Congress was seeking to check out-of-control presidential war-making. But the law has failed to deter U.S. attacks abroad in the subsequent decades.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton launched a missile strike against Sudan after U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by terrorists. The U.S. government never produced any evidence linking the targets in Sudan to the terrorist attacks. The owners of the El-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries plant—the largest pharmaceutical factory in East Africa—sued for compensation after Clinton’s attack demolished their facility. Eleven years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit effectively dismissed the case: “President Clinton, in his capacity as commander in chief, fired missiles at a target of his choosing to pursue a military objective he had determined was in the national interest. Under the Constitution, this decision is immune from judicial review.” Presidential determinations based on secret (and often false) information were sufficient to legally absolve any killings or calamities abroad.

In 1999, Clinton unilaterally attacked Serbia, killing up to 1,500 Serb civilians in a 78 day bombing campaign justified to force the Serb government to embrace human rights and ethnic tolerance. Serbia had taken no aggression against the United States, but that did not deter Clinton from bombing Serb marketplaces, hospitals, factories, bridges, and the nation’s largest television station (which was supposedly guilty of broadcasting anti-NATO propaganda). The House of Representatives took a vote and failed to support Clinton’s war effort, and 31 congressmen sued Clinton for violating the War Powers Act. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit after deciding that the congressmen did not have legal standing to sue. Most of the U.S. media ignored dead Serb women and children and instead portrayed the bombing as a triumph of American benevolence.

After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush acted entitled to attack anywhere to “rid the world of evil.” Congress speedily passed an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which the Bush administration and subsequent presidents have asserted authorizes U.S. attacks on bad guys on any square mile on earth. Congressional and judicial restraints on Bush administration killing and torturing were practically nonexistent.

Bush’s excesses spurred a brief resurgence of antiwar protests which largely vanished after the election of President Barack Obama, who quickly received a Nobel Peace Prize after taking office. That honorific did not dissuade Obama from bombing seven nations, often based on secret evidence accompanied by false denials of the civilian casualties inflicted by American bombings of weddings and other bad photo ops.

In 2011, Obama decided to bomb Libya because the U.S. disapproved of its ruler, Muammar Gaddafi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notified Congress that the White House “would forge ahead with military action in Libya even if Congress passed a resolution constraining the mission.” Plagiarizing the Bush administration, the Obama administration indicated that congressional restraints would be “an unconstitutional encroachment on executive power.” Obama “had the constitutional authority” to attack Libya “because he could reasonably determine that such use of force was in the national interest,” according to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Yale professor Bruce Ackerman lamented that “history will say that the War Powers Act was condemned to a quiet death by a president who had solemnly pledged, on the campaign trail, to put an end to indiscriminate warmaking.”

On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump denounced his opponent as “Trigger Happy Hillary” for her enthusiasm for foreign warring. But shortly after taking office, Trump reaped his greatest inside-the-Beltway applause for launching cruise missile strikes against the Syrian government after allegations the Assad regime had used chemical weapons.

The following year, the Trump administration joined France and Britain in bombing Syria after another alleged chemical weapons attack. Several officials with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons leaked information showing that the chemical weapons accusations against the Syria government were false or contrived but that was irrelevant to the legality of the U.S. attack.

Why? Because the Justice Department ruled that President Trump could “lawfully” attack Syria “because he had reasonably determined that the use of force would be in the national interest.” That legal vindication for attacking Syria cited a Justice Department analysis on Cambodia from 1970 that stated that presidents could engage U.S. forces in hostilities abroad based on a “long continued practice on the part of the Executive, acquiesced in by the Congress.” The Justice Department stressed that “no U.S. airplanes crossed into Syrian air-space” and that “the actual attack lasted only a few minutes.” So the bombs didn’t count? If a foreign government used the same argument to shrug off a few missiles launched at Washington D.C., no one in America would be swayed that the foreign regime had not committed an act of war. But it’s different when the U.S. president orders killings.

In the decades since Nixon’s Cambodia speech, presidents have avoided repeating his reference to America being perceived as “a pitiful, helpless giant.” But too many presidents have repeated his refrain that failing to bomb abroad would mean that “our will and character” were tested and failed. Unfortunately, the anniversary of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia passed with little or no recognition that the unchecked power of American presidents remains a grave threat to world peace.

Posted in USA, C.I.A, VietnamComments Off on 50 Years Of Unhinged, Televised Presidential Warmongering

The Coronavirus Will Make A Mirage Of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

by Tyler Durden

As Saudi Arabia struggles to salvage its ailing economy and move away from oil dependency, the coronavirus crisis has rendered Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MbS) future ambitions even more fragile. And as the world faces the prospect of a global recession, there’s good reason to believe Saudi Arabia will not be spared.

As nations the world over moved into lockdown, reigning King Salman on 19 March warned that the kingdom faced a “more difficult” battle ahead amid the coronavirus crisis and oil price war with Russia, both of which put the Saudi kingdom’s very stability at risk. 

Though Saudi Arabia has presented itself as a leader in the battle against coronavirus, with King Salman hosting the G20 meeting on 26 March to address responding to the pandemic, Riyadh’s own emerging troubles and apparent mismanagement of the crisis were brushed over, in what was was largely a PR measure.

Saudi Arabia initially politicised the coronavirus pandemic, for instance cordoning off the Shia-majority Qatif region on 8 March, after pilgrims returned from Iran, and then blamed Iran for not managing the problem. One Saudi journalist even crudely accused Qatar of creating the virus to undermine Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai Expo 2020.

Furthermore, in a move which migrant advocates deemed inhumane, Saudi Arabia deported thousands of Ethiopian migrants in the first 10 days of April, as its economy contracted, risking further spreading the virus.

Reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia faces a staggering 200,000 recorded cases, and that up to 150 members of the royal family already have Covid-19, mean that the virus could shake the kingdom to its foundations. Such fears have forced Riyadh to act more seriously, imposing 24-hour curfews in major cities on 6 April, and creating a stimulus package of 120 billion Saudi riyals ($32 billion) to revitalise the economy and provide extra assistance to small and medium sized businesses.

This week in Saudi Arabia concerns over food shortages emerged, after promotional deals on food staples, including rice and vegetable oil were banned.

Yet Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030, designed to diversify and “modernise” Riyadh’s economy while reducing its oil dependency, could be one of coronavirus’ greatest casualties. The scheme has already stagnated, highlighting the far-fetched prediction that by 2020 the kingdom would shift away from oil dependency – a far cry from the reality. 

More critically, MbS could lose out on one of his prized assets: the annual Hajj pilgrimage, due to take place from 28 July until 2 August this year.

The Hajj pilgrimage is a central element of Saudi Arabia’s economic prosperity, offering more immediate revenue than other new and so far unstable sources. The two holy cities of Mecca and Medina have long been used to legitimise Saudi Arabia, positioning itself as Islam’s patron.

Under MbS’ plan to shift away from oil, the annual Hajj pilgrimage started to bring in on average $12 billion per year, and revenues were forecast to reach $150 billion by 2022.

Yet unprecedented and shocking scenes of the Kaaba inside  Mecca’s empty Grand Mosque point to a grim reality for MbS’ plans. Even the deadly so-called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) of 2012 did not force a cancellation of Hajj.

After halting travel to Mecca and Medina in late February, Saudi Hajj Minister Mohammed Banten on March 31 requested the roughly 2 million pilgrims to Hajj put their plans to make the trip in July and August on hold. Umrah, the ‘lesser’ but still significant pilgrimage which can take place annually, has also been indefinitely closed.

Experts believe that lockdowns ending and some normal activity resuming by summer 2020 is an absolute best case scenario, while others predict travel plans may not resume for longer. This threatens Riyadh with a loss of vital religious tourism revenue, after having built luxurious hotels to commercialise Hajj, and damaging MbS’ moves to further profit from the pilgrimage.

However, this is not the only impact of coronavirus on Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which will face further disruptions in the short and medium term. Riyadh will have to put many business and tourism projects on hold, such as its $500 billion futuristic city, Neom.

As much of the world will likely fall into a recession, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects Saudi Arabia’s economy to contract 2.3 percent in 2020, with its non-oil GDP falling by 4 percent. Though less than the United States’ expected loss of 5.9 percent, Riyadh still stands to make long-term losses for its plans. A recession would impact investors’ desire to invest in Saudi Arabia, leaving Vision 2030 an even more distant prospect.

In fact, Riyadh’s economic vulnerability became clear after demand for oil plummeted amid the coronavirus crisis and the oil price war with Russia, creating the biggest oil shock since 1973 – which, in contrast to the current crisis – created higher oil prices.

Though both countries agreed to a mutually acceptable deal to cut production last week, oil prices are still arguably too low to revitalise Riyadh’s economic growth. Demand has fallen by between 25 and 35 million barrels per day – still much higher than the 9.7 billion barrels per day oil producing nations agreed to cut. Analysts are already warning that continued lower oil prices could further widen Saudi Arabia’s deficit.

More critically, Saudi Arabia’s price war with Russia revealed an ongoing dependency on oil economic development, while lower revenues mean less ability to invest in its non-oil sectors. With exports sinking, and limited hope for short-term recovery, Saudi Arabia is ultimately likely to struggle as a result.

Unlike other countries, Saudi Arabia has enough financial reserves to withstand this current crisis, though MbS will face an uphill battle to restore his vision. Already pursuing an erratic power-grab with another round of royal arrests in March, MbS has driven Saudi Arabia’s increasingly aggressive nationalist stance in parallel with these economic reforms.

Coronavirus will further trigger panic in MbS’ mind, likely leading to more irrational measures to protect his grip on power. More so than ever before, Saudi Arabia’s future looks increasingly fragile.

Posted in Middle East, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on The Coronavirus Will Make A Mirage Of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire And Ten Steps to Take to Do So

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is nationunmade.jpg


By Chalmers Johnson

However ambitious President Barack Obama’s domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there — 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony — that is, control or dominance — over as many nations on the planet as possible.

We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past — including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)

Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.

1. We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism

Shortly after his election as president, Barack Obama, in a speech announcing several members of his new cabinet, stated as fact that “[w]e have to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” A few weeks later, on March 12, 2009, in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., the president again insisted, “Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world.” And in a commencement address to the cadets of the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22nd, Obama stressed that “[w]e will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

What he failed to note is that the United States no longer has the capability to remain a global hegemon, and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster.

According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism. The University of Chicago’s Robert Pape, author of the important study Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), typically writes:

“America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today’s world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony.”

There is something absurd, even Kafkaesque, about our military empire. Jay Barr, a bankruptcy attorney, makes this point using an insightful analogy:

“Whether liquidating or reorganizing, a debtor who desires bankruptcy protection must provide a list of expenses, which, if considered reasonable, are offset against income to show that only limited funds are available to repay the bankrupted creditors. Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them… He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases.”

In other words, the United States is not seriously contemplating its own bankruptcy. It is instead ignoring the meaning of its precipitate economic decline and flirting with insolvency.

Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books, 2008), calculates that we could clear $2.6 billion if we would sell our base assets at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and earn another $2.2 billion if we did the same with Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. These are only two of our over 800 overblown military enclaves.

Our unwillingness to retrench, no less liquidate, represents a striking historical failure of the imagination. In his first official visit to China since becoming Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner assured an audience of students at Beijing University, “Chinese assets [invested in the United States] are very safe.” According to press reports, the students responded with loud laughter. Well they might.

In May 2009, the Office of Management and Budget predicted that in 2010 the United States will be burdened with a budget deficit of at least $1.75 trillion. This includes neither a projected $640 billion budget for the Pentagon, nor the costs of waging two remarkably expensive wars. The sum is so immense that it will take several generations for American citizens to repay the costs of George W. Bush’s imperial adventures — if they ever can or will. It represents about 13% of our current gross domestic product (that is, the value of everything we produce). It is worth noting that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the Euro Zone is a deficit no greater than 3% of GDP.

Thus far, President Obama has announced measly cuts of only $8.8 billion in wasteful and worthless weapons spending, including his cancellation of the F-22 fighter aircraft. The actual Pentagon budget for next year will, in fact, be larger, not smaller, than the bloated final budget of the Bush era. Far bolder cuts in our military expenditures will obviously be required in the very near future if we intend to maintain any semblance of fiscal integrity.

2. We Are Going to Lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us

One of our major strategic blunders in Afghanistan was not to have recognized that both Great Britain and the Soviet Union attempted to pacify Afghanistan using the same military methods as ours and failed disastrously. We seem to have learned nothing from Afghanistan’s modern history — to the extent that we even know what it is. Between 1849 and 1947, Britain sent almost annual expeditions against the Pashtun tribes and sub-tribes living in what was then called the North-West Frontier Territories — the area along either side of the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Durand Line. This frontier was created in 1893 by Britain’s foreign secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand.

Neither Britain nor Pakistan has ever managed to establish effective control over the area. As the eminent historian Louis Dupree put it in his book Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 425): “Pashtun tribes, almost genetically expert at guerrilla warfare after resisting centuries of all comers and fighting among themselves when no comers were available, plagued attempts to extend the Pax Britannica into their mountain homeland.” An estimated 41 million Pashtuns live in an undemarcated area along the Durand Line and profess no loyalties to the central governments of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The region known today as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is administered directly by Islamabad, which — just as British imperial officials did — has divided the territory into seven agencies, each with its own “political agent” who wields much the same powers as his colonial-era predecessor. Then as now, the part of FATA known as Waziristan and the home of Pashtun tribesmen offered the fiercest resistance.

According to Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, experienced Afghan hands and coauthors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story (City Lights, 2009, p. 317):

“If Washington’s bureaucrats don’t remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world’s sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States.”

In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated: “We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers” (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.

The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of “collateral damage,” or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts, among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.

When in May 2009 General Stanley McChrystal was appointed as the commander in Afghanistan, he ordered new limits on air attacks, including those carried out by the CIA, except when needed to protect allied troops. Unfortunately, as if to illustrate the incompetence of our chain of command, only two days after this order, on June 23, 2009, the United States carried out a drone attack against a funeral procession that killed at least 80 people, the single deadliest U.S. attack on Pakistani soil so far. There was virtually no reporting of these developments by the mainstream American press or on the network television news. (At the time, the media were almost totally preoccupied by the sexual adventures of the governor of South Carolina and the death of pop star Michael Jackson.)

Our military operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been plagued by inadequate and inaccurate intelligence about both countries, ideological preconceptions about which parties we should support and which ones we should oppose, and myopic understandings of what we could possibly hope to achieve. Fitzgerald and Gould, for example, charge that, contrary to our own intelligence service’s focus on Afghanistan, “Pakistan has always been the problem.” They add:

“Pakistan’s army and its Inter-Services Intelligence branch… from 1973 on, has played the key role in funding and directing first the mujahideen [anti-Soviet fighters during the 1980s] and then the Taliban. It is Pakistan’s army that controls its nuclear weapons, constrains the development of democratic institutions, trains Taliban fighters in suicide attacks and orders them to fight American and NATO soldiers protecting the Afghan government.” (p. 322-324)

The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm are staffed, in part, by devout Muslims who fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan to meet the needs of their own agenda, though not necessarily to advance an Islamic jihad. Their purposes have always included: keeping Afghanistan free of Russian or Indian influence, providing a training and recruiting ground for mujahideen guerrillas to be used in places like Kashmir (fought over by both Pakistan and India), containing Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan (and so keeping it out of Pakistan), and extorting huge amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf emirates, and the United States to pay and train “freedom fighters” throughout the Islamic world. Pakistan’s consistent policy has been to support the clandestine policies of the Inter-Services Intelligence and thwart the influence of its major enemy and competitor, India.

Colonel Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army (retired), an adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, summarizes our hopeless project in South Asia this way: “Nothing we do will compel 125 million Muslims in Pakistan to make common cause with a United States in league with the two states that are unambiguously anti-Muslim: Israel and India.”

Obama’s mid-2009 “surge” of troops into southern Afghanistan and particularly into Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, is fast becoming darkly reminiscent of General William Westmoreland’s continuous requests in Vietnam for more troops and his promises that if we would ratchet up the violence just a little more and tolerate a few more casualties, we would certainly break the will of the Vietnamese insurgents. This was a total misreading of the nature of the conflict in Vietnam, just as it is in Afghanistan today.

Twenty years after the forces of the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, the last Russian general to command them, Gen. Boris Gromov, issued his own prediction: Disaster, he insisted, will come to the thousands of new forces Obama is sending there, just as it did to the Soviet Union’s, which lost some 15,000 soldiers in its own Afghan war. We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives, and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.

3. We Need to End the Secret Shame of Our Empire of Bases

In March, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert noted, “Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing.” He continued:

“New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults — 2,923 — and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan [over the past year]. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them.”

The problem is exacerbated by having our troops garrisoned in overseas bases located cheek-by-jowl next to civilian populations and often preying on them like foreign conquerors. For example, sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been out of control in Okinawa, Japan’s poorest prefecture, ever since it was permanently occupied by our soldiers, Marines, and airmen some 64 years ago.

That island was the scene of the largest anti-American demonstrations since the end of World War II after the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor. The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.

The military itself has done next to nothing to protect its own female soldiers or to defend the rights of innocent bystanders forced to live next to our often racially biased and predatory troops. “The military’s record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it’s atrocious,” writes Herbert. In territories occupied by American military forces, the high command and the State Department make strenuous efforts to enact so-called “Status of Forces Agreements” (SOFAs) that will prevent host governments from gaining jurisdiction over our troops who commit crimes overseas. The SOFAs also make it easier for our military to spirit culprits out of a country before they can be apprehended by local authorities.

This issue was well illustrated by the case of an Australian teacher, a long-time resident of Japan, who in April 2002 was raped by a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, then based at the big naval base at Yokosuka. She identified her assailant and reported him to both Japanese and U.S. authorities. Instead of his being arrested and effectively prosecuted, the victim herself was harassed and humiliated by the local Japanese police. Meanwhile, the U.S. discharged the suspect from the Navy but allowed him to escape Japanese law by returning him to the U.S., where he lives today.

In the course of trying to obtain justice, the Australian teacher discovered that almost fifty years earlier, in October 1953, the Japanese and American governments signed a secret “understanding” as part of their SOFA in which Japan agreed to waive its jurisdiction if the crime was not of “national importance to Japan.” The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.

Since that time the U.S. has negotiated similar wording in SOFAs with Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark. According to the Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces (2001), the Japanese practice has become the norm for SOFAs throughout the world, with predictable results. In Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. In Iraq, we have just signed a SOFA that bears a strong resemblance to the first postwar one we had with Japan: namely, military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes will remain in U.S. custody while Iraqis investigate. This is, of course, a perfect opportunity to spirit the culprits out of the country before they can be charged.

Within the military itself, the journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007), speaks of the “culture of unpunished sexual assaults” and the “shockingly low numbers of courts martial” for rapes and other forms of sexual attacks. Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009), quotes this figure in a 2009 Pentagon report on military sexual assaults: 90% of the rapes in the military are never reported at all and, when they are, the consequences for the perpetrator are negligible.

It is fair to say that the U.S. military has created a worldwide sexual playground for its personnel and protected them to a large extent from the consequences of their behavior.  I believe a better solution would be to radically reduce the size of our standing army, and bring the troops home from countries where they do not understand their environments and have been taught to think of the inhabitants as inferior to themselves.

10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire

Dismantling the American empire would, of course, involve many steps. Here are ten key places to begin:

1. We need to put a halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.

2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the “opportunity costs” that go with them — the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can’t or won’t.

3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.

4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters — along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth — that follow our military enclaves around the world.

5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.

6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world’s largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army’s infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)

7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.

8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.

9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.

10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.

Chalmers Johnson was the author of Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006), and editor of Okinawa: Cold War Island (1999).  His final book was Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope (2010).

[Note on further reading on the matter of sexual violence in and around our overseas bases and rapes in the military: On the response to the 1995 Okinawa rape, see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, chapter 2. On related subjects, see David McNeil, “Justice for Some. Crime, Victims, and the US-Japan SOFA,” Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 8-1-09, March 15, 2009; “Bilateral Secret Agreement Is Preventing U.S. Servicemen Committing Crimes in Japan from Being Prosecuted,” Japan Press Weekly, May 23, 2009; Dieter Fleck, ed., The Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces, Oxford University Press, 2001; Minoru Matsutani, “’53 Secret Japan-US Deal Waived GI Prosecutions,” Japan Times, October 24, 2008; “Crime Without Punishment in Japan,” the Economist, December 10, 2008; “Japan: Declassified Document Reveals Agreement to Relinquish Jurisdiction Over U.S. Forces,” Akahata, October 30, 2008; “Government’s Decision First Case in Japan,” Ryukyu Shimpo, May 20, 2008; Dahr Jamail, “Culture of Unpunished Sexual Assault in Military,” Antiwar.com, May 1, 2009; and Helen Benedict, “The Plight of Women Soldiers,” the Nation, May 5, 2009.]

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When “Fake News” Was Banned

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An America Trump Might Have Loved
By Adam Hochschild

Every month, it seems, brings a new act in the Trump administration’s war on the media. In January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo exploded at National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly when he didn’t like questions she asked — and then banned a colleague of hers from the plane on which he was leaving for a trip to Europe and Asia. In February, the Trump staff booted a Bloomberg News reporter out of an Iowa election campaign event.

The president has repeatedly called the press an “enemy of the people” — the very phrase that, in Russian (vrag naroda),was applied by Joseph Stalin’s prosecutors to the millions of people they sent to the gulag or to execution chambers. In that context, Trump’s term for BuzzFeed, a “failing pile of garbage,” sounds comparatively benign. Last year, Axios revealed that some of the president’s supporters were trying to raise a fund of more than $2 million to gather damaging information on journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media outfits. In 2018, it took a court order to force the White House to restore CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass. And the list goes on.

Yet it remains deceptively easy to watch all the furor over the media with the feeling that it’s still intact and safely protected. After all, didn’t Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan rail against the press in their presidencies? And don’t we have the First Amendment? In my copy of Samuel Eliot Morison’s 1,150-page Oxford History of the American People, the word “censorship” doesn’t even appear in the index; while, in an article on “The History of Publishing,” the Encyclopedia Britannica reassures us that, “in the United States, no formal censorship has ever been established.”

So, how bad could it get? The answer to that question, given the actual history of this country, is: much worse.

Censoring the News, Big Time

Though few remember it today, exactly 100 years ago, this country’s media was laboring under the kind of official censorship that would undoubtedly thrill both Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo. And yet the name of the man who zestfully banned magazines and newspapers of all sorts doesn’t even appear in either Morison’s history, that Britannica article, or just about anywhere else either. 

The story begins in the spring of 1917, when the United States entered the First World War. Despite his reputation as a liberal internationalist, the president at that moment, Woodrow Wilson, cared little for civil liberties. After calling for war, he quickly pushed Congress to pass what became known as the Espionage Act, which, in amended form, is still in effect. Nearly a century later, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden would be charged under it and in these years he would hardly be alone.

Despite its name, the act was not really motivated by fears of wartime espionage. By 1917, there were few German spies left in the United States. Most of them had been caught two years earlier when their paymaster got off a New York City elevated train leaving behind a briefcase quickly seized by the American agent tailing him.

Rather, the new law allowed the government to define any opposition to the war as criminal. And since many of those who spoke out most strongly against entry into the conflict came from the ranks of the Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World (famously known as the “Wobblies”), or the followers of the charismatic anarchist Emma Goldman, this in effect allowed the government to criminalize much of the Left. (My new book, Rebel Cinderellafollows the career of Rose Pastor Stokes, a famed radical orator who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act.)

Censorship was central to that repressive era. As the Washington Evening Star reported in May 1917, “President Wilson today renewed his efforts to put an enforced newspaper censorship section into the espionage bill.” The Act was then being debated in Congress. “I have every confidence,” he wrote to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, “that the great majority of the newspapers of the country will observe a patriotic reticence about everything whose publication could be of injury, but in every country there are some persons in a position to do mischief in this field.”

Subject to punishment under the Espionage Act of 1917, among others, would be anyone who “shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States.” 

Who was it who would determine what was “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive”? When it came to anything in print, the Act gave that power to the postmaster general, former Texas Congressman Albert Sidney Burleson. “He has been called the worst postmaster general in American history,” writes the historian G. J. Meyer, “but that is unfair; he introduced parcel post and airmail and improved rural service. It is fair to say, however, that he may have been the worst human being ever to serve as postmaster general.”

Burleson was the son and grandson of Confederate veterans. When he was born, his family still owned more than 20 slaves. The first Texan to serve in a cabinet, he remained a staunch segregationist. In the Railway Mail Service (where clerks sorted mail on board trains), for instance, he considered it “intolerable” that whites and blacks not only had to work together but use the same toilets and towels. He pushed to segregate Post Office lavatories and lunchrooms.

He saw to it that screens were erected so blacks and whites working in the same space would not have to see each other. “Nearly all Negro clerks of long-standing service have been dropped,” the anguished son of a black postal worker wrote to the New Republic, adding“Every Negro clerk eliminated means a white clerk appointed.” Targeted for dismissal from Burleson’s Post Office, the writer claimed, was “any Negro clerk in the South who fails to say ‘Sir’ promptly to any white person.”

One scholar described Burleson as having “a round, almost chubby face, a hook nose, gray and rather cold eyes and short side whiskers. With his conservative black suit and eccentric round-brim hat, he closely resembled an English cleric.” From President Wilson and other cabinet members, he quickly acquired the nickname “The Cardinal.” He typically wore a high wing collar and, rain or shine, carried a black umbrella. Embarrassed that he suffered from gout, he refused to use a cane.

Like most previous occupants of his office, Burleson lent a political hand to the president by artfully dispensing patronage to members of Congress. One Kansas senator, for example, got five postmasterships to distribute in return for voting the way Wilson wanted on a tariff law.

When the striking new powers the Espionage Act gave him went into effect, Burleson quickly refocused his energies on the suppression of dissenting publications of any sort. Within a day of its passage, he instructed postmasters throughout the country to immediately send him newspapers or magazines that looked in any way suspicious.

And what exactly were postmasters to look for? Anything, Burleson told them, “calculated to… cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny… or otherwise to embarrass or hamper the Government in conducting the war.” What did “embarrass” mean? In a later statement, he would list a broad array of possibilities, from saying that “the government is controlled by Wall Street or munition manufacturers or any other special interests” to “attacking improperly our allies.” Improperly?

He knew that vague threats could inspire the most fear and so, when a delegation of prominent lawyers, including the famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow, came to see him, he refused to spell out his prohibitions in any more detail. When members of Congress asked the same question, he declared that disclosing such information was “incompatible with the public interest.”

One of Burleson’s most prominent targets would be the New York City monthly The Masses. Named after the workers that radicals were then convinced would determine the revolutionary course of history, the magazine was never actually read by them. It did, however, become one of the liveliest publications this country has ever known and something of a precursor to the New Yorker. It published a mix of political commentary, fiction, poetry, and reportage, while pioneering the style of cartoons captioned by a single line of dialogue for which the New Yorker would later become so well known.

From Sherwood Anderson and Carl Sandburg to Edna St. Vincent Millay and the young future columnist Walter Lippmann, its writers were among the best of its day. Its star reporter was John Reed, future author of Ten Days That Shook the World, a classic eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution. His zest for being at the center of the action, whether in jail with striking workers in New Jersey or on the road with revolutionaries in Mexico, made him one of the finest journalists in the English-speaking world.

A “slapdash gathering of energy, youth, hope,” the critic Irving Howe later wrote, The Masses was “the rallying center… for almost everything that was then alive and irreverent in American culture.” But that was no protection. On July 17, 1917, just a month after the Espionage Act passed, the Post Office notified the magazine’s editor by letter that “the August issue of the Masses is unmailable.” The offending items, the editors were told, were four passages of text and four cartoons, one of which showed the Liberty Bell falling apart. 

Soon after, Burleson revoked the publication’s second-class mailing permit. (And not to be delivered by the Post Office in 1917 meant not to be read.) A personal appeal from the editor to President Wilson proved unsuccessful. Half a dozen Masses staff members including Reed would be put on trial — twice — for violating the Espionage Act. Both trials resulted in hung juries, but whatever the frustration for prosecutors, the country’s best magazine had been closed for good. Many more would soon follow.

No More “High-Browism”

When editors tried to figure out the principles that lay behind the new regime of censorship, the results were vague and bizarre. William Lamar, the solicitor of the Post Office (the department’s chief legal officer), told the journalist Oswald Garrison Villard, “You know I am not working in the dark on this censorship thing. I know exactly what I am after. I am after three things and only three things – pro-Germanism, pacifism, and high-browism.”

Within a week of the Espionage Act going into effect, the issues of at least a dozen socialist newspapers and magazines had been barred from the mail. Less than a year later, more than 400 different issues of American periodicals had been deemed “unmailable.” The Nation was targeted, for instance, for criticizing Wilson’s ally, the conservative labor leader Samuel Gompers; the Public, a progressive Chicago magazine, for urging that the government raise money by taxes instead of loans; and the Freeman’s Journal and Catholic Register for reminding its readers that Thomas Jefferson had backed independence for Ireland. (That land, of course, was then under the rule of wartime ally Great Britain.) Six hundred copies of a pamphlet distributed by the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, Why Freedom Matters, were seized and banned for criticizing censorship itself. After two years under the Espionage Act, the second-class mailing privileges of 75 periodicals had been canceled entirely.

From such a ban, there was no appeal, though a newspaper or magazine could file a lawsuit (none of which succeeded during Burleson’s tenure). In Kafkaesque fashion, it often proved impossible even to learn why something had been banned. When the publisher of one forbidden pamphlet asked, the Post Office responded: “If the reasons are not obvious to you or anyone else having the welfare of this country at heart, it will be useless… to present them.” When he inquired again, regarding some banned books, the reply took 13 months to arrive and merely granted him permission to “submit a statement” to the postal authorities for future consideration.

In those years, thanks to millions of recent immigrants, the United States had an enormous foreign-language press written in dozens of tongues, from Serbo-Croatian to Greek, frustratingly incomprehensible to Burleson and his minions. In the fall of 1917, however, Congress solved the problem by requiring foreign-language periodicals to submit translations of any articles that had anything whatever to do with the war to the Post Office before publication.

Censorship had supposedly been imposed only because the country was at war. The Armistice of November 11, 1918 ended the fighting and on the 27th of that month, Woodrow Wilson announced that censorship would be halted as well. But with the president distracted by the Paris peace conference and then his campaign to sell his plan for a League of Nations to the American public, Burleson simply ignored his order.

Until he left office in March 1921 — more than two years after the war ended — the postmaster general continued to refuse second-class mailing privileges to publications he disliked. When a U.S. District Court found in favor of several magazines that had challenged him, Burleson (with Wilson’s approval) appealed the verdict and the Supreme Court rendered a timidly mixed decision only after the administration was out of power. Paradoxically, it was conservative Republican President Warren Harding who finally brought political censorship of the American press to a halt.

A Hundred Years Later

Could it all happen again?

In some ways, we seem better off today. Despite Donald Trump’s ferocity toward the media, we haven’t — yet — seen the equivalent of Burleson barring publications from the mail. And partly because he has attacked them directly, the president’s blasts have gotten strong pushback from mainstream pillars like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN, as well as from civil society organizations of all kinds.

A century ago, except for a few brave and lonely voices, there was no equivalent. In 1917, the American Bar Association was typical in issuing a statement saying, “We condemn all attempts… to hinder and embarrass the Government of the United States in carrying on the war… We deem them to be pro-German, and in effect giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” In the fall of that year, even the Times declared that “the country must protect itself against its enemies at home. The Government has made a good beginning.”

In other ways, however, things are more dangerous today. Social media is dominated by a few companies wary of offending the administration, and has already been cleverly manipulated by forces ranging from Cambridge Analytica to Russian military intelligence. Outright lies, false rumors, and more can be spread by millions of bots and people can’t even tell where they’re coming from.

This torrent of untruth flooding in through the back door may be far more powerful than what comes through the front door of the recognized news media. And even at that front door, in Fox News, Trump has a vast media empire to amplify his attacks on his enemies, a mouthpiece far more powerful than the largest newspaper chain of Woodrow Wilson’s day. With such tools, does a demagogue who loves strongmen the world over and who jokes about staying in power indefinitely even need censorship?

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Trump’s Own Military Mafia

Political cartoon U.S. Trump Mexico border troops military parade ...

Posted by Danny Sjursen

I’m sure you still remember them. The president regularly called them “my generals.” They were, he claimed, from “central casting” and there were three of them: retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, who was first appointed secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and then White House chief of staff; Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who became the president’s national security advisor; and last (but hardly least) retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, whom Trump particularly adored for his nickname “Mad Dog” and appointed as secretary of defense. Of him, the president said, “If I’m doing a movie, I pick you, General Mattis, who’s doing really well.”

They were referred to in Washington and in the media more generally as “the adults in the room,” indicating what most observers (as well as insiders) seemed to think about the president — that he was, in effect, the impulsive, unpredictable, self-obsessed toddler in that same room. All of them had been commanders in the very conflicts that Donald Trump had labeled “ridiculous Endless Wars” and were distinctly hawkish and uncritical of those same wars (like the rest of the U.S. high command). It was even rumored that, as “adults,” Kelly and Mattis had made a private pact not to be out of the country at the same time for fear of what might happen in their absence. By the end of 2018, of course, all three were gone. “My generals” were no more, but the toddler remained.

As TomDispatch regular, West Point graduate (class of 2005), and retired Army Major Danny Sjursen explains in remarkable detail today, while the president finally tossed “his” generals in the nearest trash can, the “adults” (and you do have to keep that word in quotation marks) didn’t, in fact, leave the toddler alone in the Oval Office. They simply militarized and de-militarized at the same time. In fact, one class from West Point, that of 1986, from which both Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo graduated, is essentially everywhere in a distinctly militarized (if still officially civilian) and wildly hawkish Washington in the Trumpian moment. Tom

“Courage Never Quits”?
The Price of Power and West Point’s Class of 1986
By Danny Sjursen

Every West Point class votes on an official motto. Most are then inscribed on their class rings. Hence, the pejorative West Point label “ring knocker.” (As legend has it, at military meetings a West Pointer “need only knock his large ring on the table and all Pointers present are obliged to rally to his point of view.”)Last August, the class of 2023 announced theirs: “Freedom Is Not Free.” Mine from the class of 2005 was “Keeping Freedom Alive.” Each class takes pride in its motto and, at least theoretically, aspires to live according to its sentiments, while championing the accomplishments of fellow graduates.

But some cohorts do stand out. Take the class of 1986 (“Courage Never Quits“). As it happens, both Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are members of that very class, as are a surprisingly wide range of influential leaders in Congress, corporate America, the Pentagon, the defense industry, lobbying firms, Big Pharma, high-end financial services, and even security-consulting firms. Still, given their striking hawkishness on the subject of American war-making, Esper and Pompeo rise above the rest. Even in a pandemic, they are as good as their class motto. When it comes to this country’s wars, neither of them ever quits.

Once upon a time, retired Lieutenant General Douglas Lute (Class of ’75), a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, taught both Esper and Pompeo in his West Point social sciences class. However, it was Pompeo, the class of ’86 valedictorian, whom Lute singled out for praise, remembering him as “a very strong student — fastidious, deliberate.” Of course, as the Afghanistan Papers, released by the Washington Post late last year, so starkly revealed, Lute told an interviewer that, like so many U.S. officials, he “didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking in Afghanistan.” Though at one point he was President George W. Bush’s “Afghan war czar,” the general never expressed such doubts publicly and his record of dissent is hardly an impressive one. Still, on one point at least, Lute was on target: Esper and Pompeo are smart and that’s what worries me (as in the phrase “too smart for their own good”).

Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist, had particularly hawkish views on Russia and China before he ever took over at the Pentagon and he wasn’t alone when it came to the urge to continue America’s wars. Pompeo, then a congressman, exhibited a striking pre-Trump-era foreign policy pugnacity, particularly vis-à-vis the Islamic world. It has since solidified into a veritable obsession with toppling the Iranian regime.

Their militarized obsessions have recently taken striking form in two ways: the secretary of defense instructed U.S. commanders to prepare plans to escalate combat against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, an order the mission’s senior leader there, Lieutenant General Robert “Pat” White, reportedly resisted; meanwhile, the secretary of state evidently is eager to convince President Trump to use the Covid-19 pandemic, nowdevastatingIran, to bomb that country and further strangle it with sanctions. Worse yet, Pompeo might be just cunning enough to convince his ill-informed, insecure boss (so open to clever flattery) that war is the answer.

The militarism of both men matters greatly, but they hardly pilot the ship of state alone, any more than Trump does (whatever he thinks). Would that it were the case. Sadly, even if voters threw them all out, the disease runs much deeper than them. Enter the rest of the illustrative class of ’86.

As it happens, Pompeo’s and Esper’s classmates permeate the deeper structure of imperial America. And let’s admit it, they are, by the numbers, an impressive crew. As another ’86 alumnus, Congressman Mark Green (R-TN), bragged on the House floor in 2019, “My class [has] produced 18 general officers… 22-plus presidents and CEOs of major corporations… two state legislators… [and] three judges,” as well as “at least four deans and chancellors of universities.” He closed his remarks by exclaiming, “Courage never quits, ’86!”

However, for all his gushing, Green’s list conceals much. It illuminates neither the mechanics nor the motives of his illustrious classmates; that is, what they’re actually doing and why. Many are key players in a corporate-military machine bent on, and reliant on, endless war for profit and professional advancement. A brief look at key ‘86ers offers insight into President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex in 2020 — and it should take your breath away.

The West Point Mafia

The core group of ’86 grads cheekily refer to themselves as “the West Point mafia.” And for some, that’s an uplifting thought. Take Joe DePinto, CEO of 7-Eleven. He says that he’s “someone who sleeps better at night knowing that those guys are in the positions they’re in.” Of course, he’s an ’86 grad, too.

Back when I called the academy home, we branded such self-important cadets “toolbags.” More than a decade later, when I taught there, I found my students still using the term. Face facts, however: those “toolbags,” thick as thieves today, now run the show in Washington (and despite their busy schedules, they still find time to socialize as a group).

Given Donald Trump’s shady past — one doesn’t build an Atlantic City casino-and-hotel empire without “mobbing-it-up” — that mafia moniker is actually fitting. So perhaps it’s worth thinking of Mike Pompeo as the president’s latest consigliere. And since gangsters rarely countenance a challenge without striking back, Lieutenant General White should watch his back after his prudent attempt to stop the further escalation of America’s wars in Iraq and Iran in the midst of a deadly global pandemic. Worse yet for him, he’s not a West Pointer (though he did, oddly enough, earn his Army commission on the very day that class of ’86 graduated). White’s once promising career is unlikely to be long for this world.

In addition to Esper and Pompeo, other Class of ’86 alums serve in key executive branch roles. They include the vice chief of staff of the Army General Joseph Martin, the director of the Army National Guard, the commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command, the deputy commanding general of Army Forces Command, and the deputy commanding general of Army Cyber Command. Civilian-side classmates in the Pentagon serve as: deputy assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and environment; a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army; and the director of stabilization and peace operations policy for the secretary of defense. These Pentagon career civil servants aren’t, strictly speaking, part of the “mafia” itself, but two Pompeo loyalists are indeed charter members.

Pompeo brought Ulrich Brechbuhl and Brian Butalao, two of his closest cadet friends, in from the corporate world. The three of them had, at one point, served as CEO, CFO, and COO of Thayer Aerospace, named for the “father” of West Point, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, and started with Koch Industries seed money. Among other things, that corporation sold the Pentagon military aircraft components.

Brechbuhl and Butalao were given senior positions at the CIA when Pompeo was its director. Currently, Brechbuhl is the State Department’s counselor (and reportedly Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff), while Butalao serves as under secretary for management. According to his official bio, Butalao is responsible “for managing the State Department on a day-to-day basis and [serving as its] Chief Operating Officer.” Funny, that was his exact position under Pompeo at that aerospace company.

Still, this mafia trio can’t run the show by themselves. The national security structure’s tentacles are so much longer than that. They reach all the way to K Street and Capitol Hill.

From Congress to K Street: The Enablers

Before Trump tapped Pompeo to head the CIA and then the State Department, he represented Wichita, Kansas, home to Koch Industries, in the House of Representatives. In fact, Pompeo rode his ample funding from the political action committee of the billionaire Koch brothers straight to the Hill. So linked was he to those fraternal right-wing energy tycoons and so protective of their interests that he was dubbed “the congressman from Koch.” The relationship was mutually beneficial. Pompeo’s selection as secretary of state solidified the previously strained relationship of the brothers with President Trump.

The ’86 mafia’s current congressional heavyweight, however, is Mark Green. An early Trump supporter, he regularly tried to shield the president from impeachment as a minority member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The Tennessee congressman nearly became Trump’s secretary of the Army, but ultimately withdrew his nomination because of controversies that included sponsoring gender-discriminatory bills and commenting that “transgender is a disease.”

Legislators like Green, in turn, take their foreign-policy marching orders from the military’s corporate suppliers. Among those, Esper, of course, represents the gold standard when it comes to “revolving-door” defense lobbying. Just before ascending the Pentagon summit, pressed by Senator Elizabeth Warren during his confirmation hearings, he patently refused to “recuse himself from all matters related to” Raytheon, his former employer and the nation’s third-largest defense contractor. (And that was even before its recent merger with United Technologies Corporation, which once employed another Esper classmate as a senior vice president.) Incidentally, one of Raytheon’s “biggest franchises” is the Patriot missile defense system, the very weapon being rushed to Iraq as I write, ostensibly as a check on Pompeo’s favored villain, Iran.

Less well known is the handiwork of another ’86 grad, longtime lobbyist and CNN paid contributor David Urban, who first met the president in 2012 and still recalls how “we clicked immediately.” The consummate Washington insider, he backed Trump “when nobody else thought he stood a chance” and in 2016 was his senior campaign adviser in the pivotal swing state of Pennsylvania.

Esper and Urban have been close for more than 30 years. As cadets, they served in the same unit during the Persian Gulf War. It was Urban who introduced Esper to his wife. Both later graced the Hill’s list of Washington’s top lobbyists. Since 2002, Urban has been a partner and is now president of a consulting giant, the American Continental Group. Among its clients: Raytheon and 7-Eleven.

It’s hard to overstate Urban’s role. He seems to have landed Pompeo and Esper their jobs in the Trump administration and was a key go-between in marrying class of ’86 backbenchers and moneymen to that bridegroom of our moment, The Donald.

Greasing the Machine: The Moneymen

Another ’86er also passed through that famed military-industrial revolving door. Retired Colonel Dan Sauter left his position as chief of staff of the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command for one at giant weapons maker Lockheed Martin as business developer for the very systems his old unit employed. Since May 2019, he’s directed Lockheed’s $1.5 billion Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) program in Saudi Arabia. Lockheed’s THAAD systems have streamed into that country to protect the Kingdom, even as Pompeo continually threatens Iran.

If such corporate figures are doing the selling, it’s the Pentagon, naturally, that’s doing the buying. Luckily, there are ’86 alumni in key positions on the purchasing end as well, including a retired brigadier general who now serves as the Pentagon’s principal adviser to the under secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Finally, there are other key consultants linked to the military-industrial complex who are also graduates of the class of ’86. They include a senior vice president of Hillwood — a massive domestic and international real estate development company, chaired by Ross Perot, Jr. — formerly a consultant to the government of the United Arab Emirates. The Emiratis are U.S. allies in the fight against Pompeo’s Iranian nemesis and, in 2019, awarded Raytheon a $1.5 billion contract to supply key components for its air force missile launchers.

Another classmate is a managing partner for Patriot Strategies, which consults for corporations and the government but also separately lands hefty defense contracts itself. His previous “ventures” included “work in telecommunications in the Middle East… and technical security upgrades at U.S. embassies worldwide.”

Yet another grad, Rick Minicozzi, is the founder and CEO of Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG), which prides itself on “building” corporate leaders. TLDG clients include: 7-Eleven, Cardinal Glass, EMCOR, and Mercedes-Benz. All either have or had ’86ers at the helm. The company’s CEO also owns the Thayer Hotel located right on West Point’s grounds, which hosts many of the company’s lectures and other events. Then there’s the retired colonel who, like me, taught on the West Point history faculty. He’s now the CEO of Battlefield Leadership, which helps corporate leaders “learn from the past” in order to “prepare for an ever-changing business landscape.”

A Class-wide Conflict of Interest

Don’t for a moment think these are all “bad” people. That’s not faintly my point. One prominent ’86 grad, for instance, is Lieutenant General Eric Wesley, the deputy of Army Futures Command. He was my brigade commander at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 2009 and I found him competent, exceptionally empathetic, and a decidedly decent man, which is probably true of plenty of ‘86ers.

So what exactly is my point here? I’m not for a second charging conspiracy or even criminal corruption. The lion’s share of what all these figures do is perfectly legal. In reality, the way the class of ’86 has permeated the power structure only reflects the nature of the carefully crafted, distinctly undemocratic systems through which the military-industrial complex and our political world operate by design. Most of what they do couldn’t, in fact, be more legal in a world of never-ending American wars and national security budgets that eternally go through the roof. After all, if any of these figures had acted in anything but a perfectly legal fashion, they might have run into a classmate of theirs who recently led the FBI’s corruption unit in New Jersey — before, that is, he retired and became CEO of a global security consulting firm. (Sound familiar?)

And that’s my point, really. We have a system in Washington that couldn’t be more lawful and yet, by any definition, the class of ’86 represents one giant conflict of interest (and they don’t stand alone). Alums from that year are now ensconced in every level of the national security state: from the White House to the Pentagon to Congress to K Street to corporate boardrooms. And they have both power and a deep stake, financial or otherwise, in maintaining or expanding the (forever) warfare state.

They benefit from America’s permanent military mobilization, its never-ending economic war-footing, and all that comes with it. Ironically, this will inevitably include the blood of future West Point graduates, doomed to serve in their hopeless crusades. Think of it all as a macabre inversion of their class motto in which it’s not their courage but that of younger graduates sent off to this country’s hopeless wars that they will never allow to “quit.”

Speaking of true courage, lately the only exemplar we’ve had of it in those wars is General “Pat” White. It seems that he, at least, refused to kiss the proverbial rings of those mafia men of ’86.

But of course, he’s not part of their “family,” is he?

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History Is More or Less Bunk


The Light at the End of the Tunnel?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is revisedvictory.jpg


By Tom Engelhardt

Let me quote a Trumpian figure from long ago, Henry Ford. That’s right, the bigot who created the Ford Motor Company (and once even ran for president). Back in 1916, in an interview with a Chicago Tribune reporter, he offered this bit of wisdom on the subject of history:

“Say, what do I care about Napoleon? What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? I don’t know whether Napoleon did or did not try to get across and I don’t care. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.”

As it happened, Napoleon Bonaparte died only 42 years before Henry Ford was born and I’m not sure he tried to cross anything except a significant part of Russia (unsuccessfully). My suspicion: Ford may have been thinking, in the associative fashion we’ve become used to in the age of Trump, of Julius Caesar’s famed crossing of the Rubicon almost 2,000 years earlier. But really, who knows or cares in a world in which “bunk” has become the definition of history — a world in which Donald Trump, in news conference after news conference, is the only person worth a tinker’s dam (or damn)?

In fact, call Ford a prophet (as well as a profiteer) because so many years after he died in 1947 — I was three then, but you already knew I was mighty old, right? — we find ourselves in a moment that couldn’t be bunkier. We now have a president who undoubtedly doesn’t know Nero — the infamous fiddling Roman emperor (although he was probably playing a cithara) — from Spiro — that’s Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s vice president who lived god knows how long ago. In fact, Agnew was the crook who fell even before his president was shown the door. But why linger on ancient history? After all, even yesterday’s history is water through the gate, if not under the bridge, and in these glory days of Donald Trump, who cares? Not him, that’s for sure.

A President Who Deserves the Medal of Honor?

All of this is my way of introducing a vivid piece of imagery that our president snatched out of the refuse pile of history and first used in late March. It was a figure of speech he’s repeated since that didn’t get the kind of media commentary — hardly a bit of it — it deserved. Nor did The Donald get the praise for it he deserved. Henry Ford would have been deeply proud of him for bunking, as well as debunking, history in such a fashion.

We’re talking about a president who couldn’t get a historical fact right if he tried, which he has absolutely no reason to do. After all, in early March, facing the coronavirus, he admitted that he had no idea anyone had ever died of the flu. Weeks later, he spoke at a news conference about mobilizing military personnel to deal with the modern equivalent of the flu pandemic of “1917.” (“We’ll be telling them where they’re going. They’re going into war, they’re going into a battle that they’ve never trained for. Nobody’s trained for, nobody’s seen this, I would say since 1917, which was the greatest of them all.”) He was, of course, referring to the catastrophic “Spanish flu” of 1918 in which his own grandfather died, but no matter. Truly, no matter. After all, that must have been 1,000 years ago in a past beyond the memory of anyone but a very stable genius. Under the circumstances, what difference could a year make?

Which brings me to the bunkable historical image I referred to above. At his March 24th coronavirus briefing, speaking of scary death counts to come (or perhaps, given what I’m about to mention, I should use that classic Vietnam-era phrase “body counts”), President Trump offered an upbeat glimpse into the future. His exact words were: “There’s tremendous hope as we look forward and we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ah, yes, the light at the end of the tunnel. Such a bright, hopeful, and striking image that others among his supporters and administration figures promptly ran with it. Speaking of the then-latest grim coronavirus figures from New York state, for instance, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham said: “If that trend does hold, it’s really good news about when this nightmare actually peaks, and then we start seeing light at the end of the tunnel.” Surgeon General Jerome Adams added, “What the president, in my mind, is doing is trying to help people understand that there is a light at the end of this tunnel.” And Admiral Brett Giroir,the administration’s coronavirus testing coordinator, chimed in: “There are beginning to be indicators that we are getting ahead of this — that there’s light at the head of the tunnel.”

A week later when things had grown far worse than he predicted, the president added, “We’re going to have a very tough two weeks” before the country sees the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Now, historically speaking, here’s the strange thing: you could barely find a hint — whether from Donald Trump, his advisers, or media sources of any kind — of where, historically speaking, that striking image had come from. In official Washington, perhaps the sole echo of its ominous past lay in the sardonic response of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “The light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, “may be a train coming at us.” Or, as a friend commented to me, maybe it was light from a refrigerated truck like the ones New York hospitals are now using to store the overflow of dead bodies from the pandemic.

History? Yes, there actually is a history here, even if it’s from a past so distant that no one, not even a president with a “very, very large brain,” seems to remember it. And yet few who lived through the Vietnam War would be likely to forget that phrase. It was first used, as far as we know, in 1967 when the war’s military commander, General William Westmoreland, returned to Washington to declare that the conflict the U.S. was fighting in a wildly destructive manner was successfully coming to an end, the proof being that “light” he spotted “at the end of the tunnel.” (He later denied using the phrase.) That memorably ill-chosen metaphor would become a grim punch line for the growing antiwar movement of the era.

So let’s say that there’s a certain grisly charm in hearing it from the president who skipped that war, thanks to fake bone spurs, and has talked about his own “Vietnam” as having been his skill in avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, in various home-front sleep-arounds. He once even claimed to radio personality Howard Stern that he should have gotten “the Congressional Medal of Honor” for doing so. (“It’s Vietnam. It is very dangerous. So I’m very, very careful,” he told Stern, speaking of those STDs.)

In any case, to have picked up that metaphorical definition of failure from the Vietnam era seems strangely appropriate for a president who first claimed the coronavirus was nothing, then a “new hoax” of the Democrats, then easy to handle, before declaring himself a “wartime president” (without the necessary tests, masks, or ventilators on hand). In some sense, President Trump has been exhibiting the sort of detachment from reality that American presidents and other officials did less openly in the Vietnam years.  And for this president, Covid-19 could indeed prove to be the disease version of a Vietnam War.

Given his success so far with that largely unchallenged light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel metaphor, I thought it might be worth mentioning a few other choice phrases from the Vietnam era that the president could wield at future news conferences. Take, for instance, President Nixon in his 1971 State of the Union Address: “We have gone through a long, dark night of the American spirit, but now that night is ending.” Or the classic description by an anonymous U.S. major of the retaking of the town of Ben Tre in the wake of the Tet Offensive of 1968: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Or, should the president want to stick with General Westmoreland, there’s always his 1967 National Press Club speech highlighting progress in the war: “We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view.”

Give Donald Trump credit. He seems to be leading the richest, most powerful country on the planet in an ill-equipped, ill-organized, ill-planned battle (though not in any normal sense a war) against the pandemic from hell. Whether or not it ends in a Vietnam-style helicopter evacuation from that hell (or even from the White House) remains to be seen, but at least the imagery chosen so far has been unnervingly apt, though next to no one in our increasingly bunkable world even noticed.

Peace in the Dark?

Still, in a Trumpian spirit, let’s take the president and his team at their word for a moment. Let’s consider what glimmer of grim hope might be discovered in that light they claim to see flickering at the end of the coronaviral tunnel — at least when it comes to twenty-first-century American war.

Let’s start with the obvious: like the Black Death of the 14th century that ended feudalism, it’s at least reasonable to assume that, whenever it finally disappears (if it goes at all), Covid-19 will indeed have ended something on this planet of ours. Imagine an American future (more than 100,000 body bags worth of it) in which the global economy has been thoroughly cracked open and the Pentagon and the U.S. military, perhaps the most powerful institutions in twenty-first-century America, find themselves among the wounded and the crippled.

Let’s imagine, as with the USS Theodore Roosevelt, that the coronavirus is likely to run riot through the closed ranks of that military, filling some of those very body bags. What, then, of the conflicts our twenty-first-century “warriors” have been fighting from Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia and beyond, those never-ending post-9/11 wars of terror (officially, of course, “on terror”)? Will our troops, trainers, advisers, and military contractors soon find themselves in what may be little short of pandemic wars?

Can you even imagine what that might involve? One thing crosses my mind, at least: that such wars will become too dangerous to fight and that, sooner or later, American troops might simply leave Covid-19 battle zones for home. Such possibilities aren’t in the headlines yet, although reports of the first tiny evacuations — of Green Beret units — from such pandemic battlegrounds are just beginning to pop up and the first U.S. trainers in Iraq seem to have been withdrawn (“temporarily”) due to the spread of the coronavirus in that country.

It’s true that these initial small steps seem like anything but the equivalent of the final dramatic evacuation from the U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975 as North Vietnamese troops moved into town. Still, with the first tiny evacuations seemingly underway, my question is: Could the coronavirus turn out, in some strange fashion, to be a grim, death-dealing peacemaker for Americans? The United Nations of diseases? Is it possible that, on the hotter, more imperiled planet to come, the hundreds of American bases still scattered around the globe in a historically unprecedented fashion and all those troops, as well as the forever wars that go with them, could be part of our past, not our future?

Could a post-coronavirus planet be one on which the U.S. military and the national security state were no longer the sinkholes for endless trillions of taxpayer dollars that could have been spent so much more fruitfully elsewhere? Could there, in other words, be just the faintest glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel from hell or is that still darkness I see stretching into the distant future?

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Mohammed bin Salman never was a reformer. This has proved it

 By: Dilip Hiro

The Saudi crown prince allowed women to drive, but the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi reveals his true nature

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
 Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ‘has already been more despotic than previous rulers’. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

In June, when the ban on Saudi women driving ended, it was portrayed around the world as part of a modernising, liberalising agenda by the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Yet the authorities ordered female activists not to speak out in its favour. Their blunt message was that what was being offered was the gift of King Salman and his crown prince son, and not a result of the campaign by female activists. In fact, the government had arrested 11 of these activists a month beforehand. Though four were released, the remaining seven had led a petition demanding that the female guardianship system – which treats adult women as legal minors – be abolished. They remain in detention without charge, but could face up to 25 years in jail.

 Khashoggi’s fate isn’t a surprise: Trump has emboldened Saudi Arabia

Mohamad Bazzi Read more

In this way, what happened was nothing to do with reform but more like business as usual. In many ways the crown prince has already been more despotic than previous rulers, so the murky events in Istanbul surrounding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate should not be quite as shocking as they may have first appeared.

In the summer of 2017, 30 Saudi clerics, writers and intellectuals were jailed for expressing their opposition to the policies of the Royal Palace driven by Bin Salman. It was then that, sensing his arrest was imminent, Khashoggi fled to Washington. An eminent journalist and editor for 30 years, he had been banned from publishing articles or appearing on TV in December 2016 after his criticism of US president-elect Donald Trump.Advertisement

In his opinion articles in the Washington Post, he lambasted Riyadh’s diplomatic and commercial blockade of Qatar, its forcing of Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri to resign (later revoked), and the crackdown on dissent and the media.

Before the ascension to the throne by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz in January 2015, the Saudi monarchy allowed space, however reluctantly, for non-establishment Wahhabi clerics, and silenced dissenters by intimidation, co-option through cash handouts, and in the case of foreign-based opponents, periodic kidnaps. With the swift ascendancy of the headstrong Bin Salman, this changed.

He has grabbed all centres of power, not only in the government – defence, the National Guard, interior ministry and its intelligence agencies – but also in the form of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil corporation, as well as in construction and broadcasting. Bin Salman achieved this under the guise of launching a seemingly popular anti-corruption campaign, sanctioned by his father, in November 2017 – detaining 326 businessmen and princes in the swanky Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Royal court officials said the detainees had stolen assets from the government.

It was thus that the kingdom’s topmost duo eliminated their rival powers, including descendants of former King Abdullah. His son, Prince Mutaib, was removed as commander of the powerful National Guard.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the richest Saudi, with a net worth of $17.4bn, was confined to the Ritz-Carlton for almost 12 weeks. Eventually, after reaching an undisclosed deal and telling a TV interviewer that “everything’s fine”, he was released. His vast mansion was placed under armed guard. Like all other freed detainees, he had to wear ankle bracelets so that his movements could be traced.

In January, security services arrested 11 princes after their refusal to leave the historic Qasr al-Hokm palace in old Riyadh. They were held at al-Hair maximum-security prison. They had gathered there merely to frame an objection to a decree in which the government would stop paying the princes’ utility bills.

The detained women’s rights activists have been smeared in the state-guided newspapers, which have accused their campaign of treason and implied it is funded by the much maligned Qatar.

 The world can no longer ignore Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses

Rodney Dixon Read more

Thanks to their sympathisers, and international human rights organisations, the women’s rights activists remain in the public eye. In sharp contrast, the fate of the dissenting clerics, writers and intellectuals held without trial remains unknown. Equally unknown is the fate of the 56 Ritz-Carlton detainees who were brave enough to resist official coercion and threats, and were then transferred to traditional jails. These persecuted groups have become non-persons, the early victims of a totalitarian regime in the making under the 33-year-old Bin Salman.Advertisement

Yet history shows that the brutal suppression of dissent leads to a build-up of popular discontent to a boiling point, with disastrous consequences. King Salman is old enough to remember what happened to the shah of Iran. He should share his memory with his most favoured son.

Posted in Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Mohammed bin Salman never was a reformer. This has proved it

Bailing Out the War State

Posted by Mandy Smithberger

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In this century, the war-fighting performance of the U.S. military has proven woeful indeed and both the Pentagon high command and key Trump administration officials have evidently been incapable of drawing obvious conclusions from that fact. Or think of it another way: even the president who can’t tell Lysol from a helpful prescription drug has noticed that something is truly wrong with America’s war in Afghanistan. This should have long been obvious. After all, almost 19 years after the U.S. invaded that country on a mission to destroy the Taliban, as well as al-Qaeda, and “liberate” Afghans, thousands of American troops, advisers, and contractors (though officially being drawn down) remain there, along with striking amounts of U.S. air power. And, of course, Washington is still embroiled in a conflict with the Taliban, which now controls ever more of the Afghan countryside, as well as other insurgent groups, including a spinoff of the Islamic State. (Meanwhile, spin-offs from the original al-Qaeda operate across significant parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa.)

Now, add into that equation the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s clear that the coronavirus is spreading from Iran into poverty-stricken Afghanistan via hundreds of thousands of Afghans heading home from that country into crowded cities lacking the most basic health care or even hot water and soap for hand-washing. In other words, as I’ve written elsewhere, the U.S. military is now certain to find itself embroiled in pandemic wars that could make events on the Covid-19-ridden aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt look like next to nothing. Stranger yet, the “very stable genius” who often seems to grasp so little has, NBC News reports, grasped this and has been pushing his national security team daily “to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan amid concerns about a major coronavirus outbreak in the war-torn country.” By now, you probably have some sense of what it might be like to have Donald Trump push you daily.

Yet hand it to the Pentagon and crew: they haven’t agreed to his request. Instead, his “military advisers” have reportedly pointed out to him, in true Trumpian fashion (via an analogy from hell), that “if the U.S. pulls troops out of Afghanistan because of the coronavirus, by that standard the Pentagon would also have to withdraw from places like Italy.” Gasp!

Now, don’t misunderstand me: this country’s top military figures and national-security types may be hopeless when it comes to waging war successfully in the twenty-first century, but they’re by no means hopeless. They couldn’t be more skilled or more successful when it comes to getting themselves and the rest of the military-industrial complex funded at levels that are historically mind-boggling. As TomDispatch regular and director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight Mandy Smithberger points out so strikingly today, their skill in making use of this pandemic moment to ensure that funding flows ever more quickly and copiously into the complex is beyond compare. If America’s forever wars were funding ones, the winners would be instantly obvious. Tom

Beware the Pentagon’s Pandemic Profiteers
Hasn’t the Military-Industrial Complex Taken Enough of Our Money?
By Mandy Smithberger

At this moment of unprecedented crisis, you might think that those not overcome by the economic and mortal consequences of the coronavirus would be asking, “What can we do to help?” A few companies have indeed pivoted to making masks and ventilators for an overwhelmed medical establishment. Unfortunately, when it comes to the top officials of the Pentagon and the CEOs running a large part of the arms industry, examples abound of them asking what they can do to help themselves.

It’s important to grasp just how staggeringly well the defense industry has done in these last nearly 19 years since 9/11. Its companies (filled with ex-military and defense officials) have received trillions of dollars in government contracts, which they’ve largely used to feather their own nests. Data compiled by the New York Timesshowed that the chief executive officers of the top five military-industrial contractors received nearly $90 million in compensation in 2017. An investigation that same year by the Providence Journal discovered that, from 2005 to the first half of 2017, the top five defense contractors spent more than $114 billion repurchasing their own company stocks and so boosting their value at the expense of new investment.

To put this in perspective in the midst of a pandemic, the co-directors of the Costs of War Project at Brown University recently pointed out that allocations for the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health for 2020 amounted to less than 1% of what the U.S. government has spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone since 9/11. While just about every imaginable government agency and industry has been impacted by the still-spreading coronavirus, the role of the defense industry and the military in responding to it has, in truth, been limited indeed. The highly publicized use of military hospital ships in New York City and Los Angeles, for example, not only had relatively little impact on the crises in those cities but came to serve as a symbol of just how dysfunctional the military response has truly been.

Bailing Out the Military-Industrial Complex in the Covid-19 Moment

Demands to use the Defense Production Act to direct firms to produce equipment needed to combat Covid-19 have sputtered, provoking strong resistance from industries worried first and foremost about their own profits. Even conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot, a longtime supporter of increased Pentagon spending, has recently recanted, noting how just such budget priorities have weakened the ability of the United States to keep Americans safe from the virus. “It never made any sense, as Trump’s 2021 budget had initially proposed, to increase spending on nuclear weapons by $7 billion while cutting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding by $1.2 billion,” he wrote. “Or to create an unnecessary Space Force out of the U.S. Air Force while eliminating the vitally important directorate of global health by folding it into another office within the National Security Council.”

In fact, continuing to prioritize the U.S. military will only further weaken the country’s public health system. As a start, simply to call up doctors and nurses in the military reserves, as even Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has pointed out, would hurt the broader civilian response to the pandemic. After all, in their civilian lives many of them now work at domestic hospitals and medical centers deluged by Covid-19 patients.

The present situation, however, hasn’t stopped military-industrial complex requests for bailouts. The National Defense Industrial Association, a trade group for the arms industry, typically asked the Pentagon to speed up contracts and awards for $160 billion in unobligated Department of Defense funds to its companies, which will involve pushing money out the door without even the most modest level of due diligence.

Already under fire in the pre-pandemic moment for grotesque safety problems with its commercial jets, Boeing, the Pentagon’s second biggest contractor, received $26.3 billion last year. Now, that company has asked for $60 billion in government support. And you undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that Congress has already provided Boeing with some of that desired money in its recent bailout legislation. According to the Washington Post, $17 billion was carved out in that deal for companies “critical to maintaining national security” (with Boeing in particular in mind). When, however, it became clear that those funds wouldn’t arrive as a complete blank check, the company started to have second thoughts. Now, some members of Congress are practically begging it to take the money.

And Boeing was far from alone. Even as the spreading coronavirus was spurring congressional conversations about what would become a $2 trillion relief package, 130 members of the House were already pleading for funds to purchase an additional 98 Lockheed Martin F-35 jet fighters, the most expensive weapons system in history, at the cost of another half-billion dollars, or the price of more than 90,000 ventilators.

Similarly, it should have been absurdly obvious that this wasn’t the moment to boost already astronomical spending on nuclear weapons. Yet this year’s defense budget request for such weaponry was 20% higher than last year’s and 50% above funding levels when President Trump took office. The agency that builds nuclear weapons already had $8 billion left unspent from past years and the head of the National Nuclear Security Agency, responsible for the development of nuclear warheads, admitted to Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) that the agency was unlikely even to be able to spend all of the new increase.

Boosters of such weapons, however, remain undeterred by the Covid-19 pandemic. If anything, the crisis only seems to have provided a further excuse to accelerate the awarding of an estimated $85 billion to Northrop Grumman to build a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), considered the “broken leg” of America’s nuclear triad. As William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, has pointed out, such ICBMs “are redundant because invulnerable submarine-launched ballistic missiles are sufficient for deterring other countries from attacking the United States. They are dangerous because they operate on hair-trigger alert, with launch decisions needing to be made in some cases within minutes. This increases the risk of an accidental nuclear war.”

And as children’s book author Dr. Seuss might have added, “But that is not all! Oh, no, that is not all.” In fact, defense giant Raytheon is also getting its piece of the pie in the Covid-19 moment for a $20-$30 billion Long Range Standoff Weapon, a similarly redundant nuclear-armed missile. It tells you everything you need to know about funding priorities now that the company is, in fact, getting that money two years ahead of schedule.

In the midst of the spreading pandemic, the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command similarly saw an opportunity to use fear-mongering about China, a country officially in its area of responsibility, to gain additional funding. And so it is seeking $20 billion that previously hadn’t gained approval even from the secretary of defense in the administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. That money would go to dubious missile defense systems and a similarly dubious “Pacific Deterrence Initiative.”

How Not to Deal With Covid-19

Along with those military-industrial bailouts came the fleecing of American taxpayers. While many Americans were anxiously awaiting their $1,200 payments from that congressional aid and relief package, the Department of Defense was expediting contract payments to the arms industry. Shay Assad, a former senior Pentagon official, accurately called it a “taxpayer rip-off” that industries with so many resources, not to speak of the ability to borrow money at incredibly low interest rates, were being so richly and quickly rewarded in tough times. Giving defense giants such funding at this moment was like giving a housing contractor 90% of upfront costs for renovations when it was unclear whether you could even afford your next mortgage payment.

Right now, the defense industry is having similar success in persuading the Pentagon that basic accountability should be tossed out the window. Even in normal times, it’s a reasonably rare event for the federal government to withhold money from a giant weapons maker unless its performance is truly egregious. Boeing, however, continues to fit that bill perfectly with its endless program to build the KC-46 Pegasus tanker, basically a “flying gas station” meant to refuel other planes in mid-air.

As national security analyst Mark Thompson, my colleague at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), has pointed out, even after years of development, that tanker has little hope of performing its mission in the near future. The seven cameras that its pilot relies on to guide the KC-46’s fuel to other planes have so much glare and so many shadows that the possibility of disastrously scraping the stealth coating off F-22s and F-35s (both manufactured by Lockheed Martin) while refueling remains a constant danger. The Air Force has also become increasingly concerned that the tanker itself leaks fuel. In the pre-pandemic moment, such problems and associated ones led that service to decide to withhold $882 million from Boeing. Now, however, in response to the Covid-19 crisis, those funds are, believe it or not, being released.

Keep all of this behavior (and more) in mind when you hear people suggest that, in this public health emergency, the military should be put in charge. After all, you’re talking about the very institution that has regularly mismanaged massive weapons programs like the $1.4 trillion F-35 jet fighter program, already the most expensive weapons system ever (with ongoing problems galore). Even when it comes to health care, the military has proved remarkably inept. For instance, attempts of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to integrate their health records were, infamously enough, abandoned after four years and $1 billion spent.

Having someone in uniform at the podium is, unfortunately, no guarantee of success. Indeed, a number of veterans have been quick to rebuke the idea of forefronting the military at this time. “Don’t put the military in charge of anything that doesn’t involve blowing stuff up, preventing stuff from being blown up, or showing up at a place as a message to others that we’ll be there to blow stuff up with you if need be,” one wrote.

“Here’s a video from Camp Pendleton of unmasked Marines queued up for haircuts during the pandemic,” tweeted another. “So how about ‘no’?” That video of troops without masks or practicing social distancing even shocked Secretary of Defense Esper, who called for a military haircut halt, only to be contradicted by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, desperate to maintain regulation cuts in the pandemic moment. That inspired a mocking rebuke of “haircut heroes” on Twitter.

Unfortunately, as Covid-19 spread on the aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt, that ship became emblematic of how ill-prepared the current Pentagon leadership proved to be in combatting the virus. Despite at least 100 cases being reported on board — 955 crewmembers would, in the end, test positive for the disease and Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr. would die of it — senior Navy leaders were slow to respond. Instead, they kept those sailors at close quarters and in an untenable situation of increasing risk. When an emailed letter expressing the concerns of the ship’s commander, Captain Brett Crozier, was leaked to the press he was quickly removed from command. But while his bosses may not have appreciated his efforts for his crew, his sailors did. He left the ship to a hero’s farewell.

All of this is not to say that some parts of the U.S. military haven’t tried to step up as Covid-19 spreads. The Pentagon has, for instance, awarded contracts to build “alternate care” facilities to help relieve pressure on hospitals. The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is allowing its doctors and nurses to join the military early. Several months into this crisis, the Pentagon has finally used the Defense Production Act to launch a process to produce $133 million worth of crucial N95 respirator masks and $415 million worth of N95 critical-care decontamination units. But these are modest acts in the midst of a pandemic and at a moment when bailouts, fraud, and delays suggest that the military-industrial complex hasn’t proved capable of delivering effectively, even for its own troops.

Meanwhile, the Beltway bandits that make up that complex have spotted a remarkable opportunity to secure many of their hopes and dreams. Their success in putting their desires and their profits ahead of the true national security of Americans was already clear enough in the staggering pre-pandemic $1.2 trillion national security budget. (Meanwhile, of course, key federal medical structures were underfunded or disbanded in the Trump administration years, undermining the actual security of the country.) That kind of disproportionate spending helps explain why the richest nation on the planet has proven so incapable of providing even the necessary personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, no less the testing needed to make this country safer.

The defense industry has asked for, and received, a lot in this time of soaring cases of disease and death. While there is undoubtedly a role for the giant weapons makers and for the Pentagon to play in this crisis, they have shown themselves to be anything but effective lead institutions in the response to this moment. It’s time for the military-industrial complex to truly pay back an American public that has been beyond generous to it. 

Isn’t it finally time as well to reduce the “defense” budget and put more of our resources into the real national security crisis at hand? 

Posted in USA, AfghanistanComments Off on Bailing Out the War State

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